The popular is not a German farmer wrestling a deer to the ground

America's Most Wanted Painting, Komar and Melamid

Rereading the Brecht/Lukács debates about realism, totality, and all the rest, and struck by the gestures Brecht makes toward thinking the popular. In trying escape the deadlock of Heimat (i.e. said farmer in front of the undulating slopes of Bavarian wheat), habit, and fetishized folk traditions, on one hand, or the gargantuan beast of mass media production, on the other, Brecht ventures this:

"Let us recall that the people were for long held back from any full development by powerful institutions, artificially and forcefully gagged by conventions, and that the concept popular was given an ahistorical, static, undevelopmental stamp. We are not concerned with the concept in this form - or rather, we have to combat it.

Our concept of what is popular refers to a people who not only play a full part in historical development but actively usurp it, force its pace, determine its direction. We have a people in mind who make history, change the world and themselves. We have in mind a fighting people and therefore an aggressive concept of what is popular."

Against any sense of the popular as a verification of the inherited status quo of a historical moment, of the average measure of what is taken to be acceptable to the people, this counter-sense of the popular is the process of emergence of a people becoming unacceptable to the average of their moment. It comes only after, and on the scorched ground of, all the idiocy of what we otherwise call popular. If our struggle is one that necessarily takes the form of expressions of minority will - in the name of the common - against the average functioning of things, we need an equivalent aggressive concept of the popular as that which does not exist outside the attack on what is assumed to be popular, tacitly agreed on, ground into the carpet of habit through repetition, and falling under the shadow of the "mass choice," as if the way things are expressed the general will and the legitimate choice of how we want things to be.

As such, the popular is nothing if not the stark realism of any and all who make unpopular combat.

(Thanks to Hunter for the title line, a negative definition if ever there was)

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