October 26, 2012

Kitsch

Perhaps it's just that I've become more curmudgeonly with age, but these days, when I look at social stationery catalogs I am utterly disgusted by how militantly light, bright, and cheerful the worlds of these social stationers seem. Nothing but desserts, babies, and springtime! 

Unfortunately, it's all too easy to fall into the sweetness trap when you consider the letterpress process, materials, and suppliers make a world of soft pastels on pillowy soft paper, awash with nostalgia for the delicate, decorated, and handmade. Plus, marketability of positive messages and images over opinionated or asocial ones (I mean, it IS called 'social stationery') makes the path of kitsch an easy choice. 

So I felt extremely affirmed when I discovered this passage in The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera:
“The daily defecation session is daily proof of the unacceptability of Creation. Either/or: either shit is acceptable (in which case don't lock yourself in the bathroom!) or we are created in an unacceptable manner.  
It follows, then, that the aesthetic ideas of the categorical agreement with being is a world in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist.  This aesthetic ideal is called kitsch.  
“Kitsch” is a German word born in the middle of the sentimental nineteenth century, and from German it entered all Western languages. Repeated use, however, has obliterated its orignal metaphysical meaning: kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.
[...] 
The feeling induced by kitsch must be a kind the multitudes can share. Kitsch may not, therefore, depend on an unusual situation; it must derive from the basic images people have engraved in their memories: the ungrateful daughter, the neglected father, children running on the grass, the motherland betrayed, first love. 
[...]   
Though touched by the song, Sabina did not take he feeling seriously. As soon as kitsch is recognized for the lie it is, it moves into the context of non-kitsch, thus losing its authoritarian power and becoming as touching as any other human weakness. For none among us is superman enough to escape kitsch, completely. No matter how we scorn it, kitsch is an integral part of the human condition.”


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