Arbtirary thoughts on nearly everything from a modernist poet, structural mathematician and functional programmer.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

On kitsch

Milan Kundera brings up kitsch a lot in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He defines kitsch (incorrectly):
kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.

This is not quite correct. Kundera is confusing two types of rejection: denial and exclusion. Denial seeks to forget, while exclusion makes the conscious effort to remember-- with disdain. Rather than deny shit, kitsch excludes shit from the beautiful with such vehemence that if something is not shit, it is regarded as beautiful.

"But!" you may be thinking, "kitsch rejects the truly artistic. This surely is not shit!" And you are correct; but I think Kundera offers a response: since shit is at the opposite end of the spectrum of beauty from art, they are, to use Kundera's words, "vertiginously close." And so, in order to exclude shit, kitsch rejects everything that reminds it of shit, including the artistic. The result is than kitsch accepts only the mediocre.

A pretty bathroom is an excellent example of kitsch. In order to exclude shit fully, all nonshit must be beautiful. The only way a pretty bathroom can be made ugly is for it to be covered in shit, so when there is no shit, beauty is guaranteed.

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