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POPismReview - POPism
The Warhol Sixties
by Andy Warhol (and Pat Hackett)
Harcourt, 2006
Review by Aakash Singh, Ph.D.
Jan 9th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 2)

I usually wish I were younger. I think it's the natural inclination. Reading POPISM: The Warhol Sixties, however, made me long to be older; to have been born, like Warhol himself, in the late '20s so that I could have been thriving during Warhol's '60s. Martin Scorsese called POPISM "a vivid recreation of a great time to live and a great time to die" (jacket cover). Calling the era a great time to die is rather disingenuous (unless Scorsese is earnestly regretting that he didn't die then, and now unfortunately will be forced to die in our quotidian day), but a great time to live--of that I am truly convinced. Take just the insignificant example of Warhol's description of a young man named Taylor: "When Taylor left his stockbroker job in Detroit, he had just fifty dollars in his pocket. 'Kerouac's On the Road put me on the road,' he said, 'and Allen's Howl...had a big effect on me'" (49). What a time, when a book or a poem could alter and shape a young man's destiny!

Harcourt is to be lauded for publishing the book, which the reader will regard as easily worth the $14 just for the first fifty pages alone. With 400 flawlessly-proofed pages and 8 photo plate inserts (B/W), along with a 14-page Index of names (great for tracking down all Warhol's statements on Bob Dylan or Roy Lichtenstein or Jim Morrison or Tennessee Williams and so on), the book truly is a bargain. While speaking of the production side of the work, it was clearly the wrong decision to list Pat Hackett as coauthor. The entire narrative employs the first person (i.e., Warhol), and Pat Hackett is not once mentioned in the book. She is simply not coauthor, but transcriber/compiler/editor, and Harcourt should have correctly represented this on the jacket cover.

The book is divided into eras as its sections instead of chapters: first is 1960-1963; then 1964, 1965, 1966, and 1967 are each treated separately; and then the last (or sixth) section is 1968-1969; there is also a 2-page Postscript discussing a handful of events (deaths, actually) from post-1969. This temporal treatment serves to bring the reader into the times described, and makes for a much better read than his other autobiography, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, which has thematic chapters, like "Love," or "Beauty," that force Warhol into the uncomfortable position of having to attempt to convey profound or even coherent thoughts. That's simply not his forte. POPISM is such a great book because it tries to convey deeds rather than thoughts. This contrast comes out starkly when looking at the photo plates provided in the book: when we see photos of Warhol at work in his studio (called "the Factory"), we cannot help but to feel some reverence for him, or in other words to take him seriously. On the other hand, when reading the fruits of his pontification, it is scarcely possible to take him seriously at all.

And perhaps this contrast jibes perfectly well with what Popism is. Actually, it is difficult to try to garner the definitive reason for why the book is called POPISM, rather than, say, Warhol's Dolce Vita, or simply The Warhol Sixties. However, there are four or five remarks about the nature of Popism strewn throughout the book. For example, Warhol says once that "the Pop idea...was that anybody could do anything" (169), whereas he also makes the sardonic remark that Pop refers to "just the surface things" (235). In line with the latter comment, Warhol also characterizes Pop as "doing the easiest thing" (249), but more consonant with the former, at one place he hits on a truly brilliant insight when he comes to realize the equation between Popism and the USA: "Pop America was America, completely" (277).

This equation of Popism and the USA may itself seem to touch upon "just the surface things," but I would argue that -- something like Henry James' caricature of decadent Europe in contrast to wholesome America -- though nave it nevertheless captures something fundamentally true. In The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, Warhol states that one thing that always looks beautiful to him is "U.S. Customs on the way back home" (72). If the equation between Popism -- with its Campbell's soup cans, Marilyns, and Elvises --and America is debatable, it is well beyond doubt that the father of Popism is fundamentally and absolutely American.

Not only contemporary America but all of the globalized parts of the planet have been so deeply penetrated by Popism (whatever it is) that it is no exaggeration to claim that we live in a world partly but significantly created by Warhol -- albeit, ironically perhaps, a world essentially different from Warhol's '60s. We may believe that we now understand more fully the inner significance, and consequently the limitations, of Warhol's Pop art, but that does not mean that we have not been deeply imbued by it. It is important to note, in fact, that Warhol was himself fully aware of the limitations of his movement. He recounts the following diatribe of one of his friends while walking through a museum:

The days of true art are over and I'm afraid they have been for quite some time...There is no art anymore; there's just bad graphic design...All modern art is, is graphics and slabs being overanalyzed by a bunch of morons...You go into a gallery today and you look at some drippings and you ask..."What is this? Is it a candle? Is it a post?" and instead, they tell you..."It's a Pollock." They tell you the artist's name! (274-275)

POPISM, indeed, itself functions in some way as a museum: it presents to us externally what is in fact somehow internal to us. And it does so without pretense. Indeed, this work seems more honest and transparent than Warhol's earlier autobiography, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, wherein he attempted to conceal just as much as he tried to reveal. Perhaps the five years that separated the two works provided Warhol just the time he needed to mature.

Whatever the reasons, POPISM is astonishingly superior to Warhol's earlier attempts at autobiography, and it is simply a great read. The new Harcourt edition is also great value for money, and thus I cannot see any reason to dampen my enthusiasm with respect to the book: buy it, read it, and live or relive Warhol's outrageous times.

 

2007 Aakash Singh

 

Aakash Singh, Reader in Philosophy, University of Delhi, South Campus, India


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