(Anti)Intellectualizing Andy Warhol

I have lately, on a whim, been reading The Andy Warhol Diaries, and have been wanting to write a philosophical/psychoanalytic analysis of Andy Warhol, but it turns out that another fellow, Christopher Schmidt, has written it for me, and titled it “From A to B and Back Again: Warhol, Recycling, Writing.” From his references to numerous theoreticians (Austin, Barthes, Bataille, Kittler, Lacan, Wilde, Wittgenstein, even tacit traces of Bourdieu), the essay is gorgeous, and extremely well-thought out. It’s uncanny how Schmidt’s theoretical foci are so similar to my own (e.g. resisting intellectualist doxa; the way Warhol’s favored medium―the tape recorder―affected his thought; Warhol’s libidinal economy & fetishisms), similar enough that I’m obliged to shelve my hopes to analyze Warhol, at least for the time being.

My one major complaint about Schmidt’s essay is his conjecture that Warhol was illiterate; this is groundless speculation, and is flatly contradicted numerous times in The Andy Warhol Diaries, particularly when the editor points out that Warhol often (along with his autograph) wrote inscriptions dictated to him by fans; the editor’s inclusion of this fact likely was explicitly aimed at refuting accusations of Warhol’s illiteracy. From this mistaken conjecture it is clear that Schmidt has no extensive knowledge of McLuhan, who provides a much simpler explanation: Warhol was simply more attuned to the audial paradigm, and was uncomfortable with intense literariness. Besides the latter complaint, my only others are that there is an odd disjuncture between the initial part of the essay (a typical review) and the latter part (an intense theoretical analysis of Warhol), and that Schmidt’s ‘wild’ psychoanalysis gravitates toward ‘pop’ interpretations, seen acutely in his two-dimensional, cliché versions of the ‘anal’ personality and of narcissism.

To any theoretician even vaguely intrigued by Warhol, I highly recommend this essay. Schmidt does a magnificent job tying together seemingly disparate conceptual threads (particularly the bottom paragraph of pg. [13] with an earlier quotation by Warhol, which is not made explicit, but left for the reader to make on his/her own) and diverse theoretical perspectives. Schmidt has written a wonderfully ‘writerly’ text, the open-ended tangents of which provoke intellectual excitement and sparks of creativity in its readers.


Some of Christopher Schmidt’s Writings:
From A to B and Back Again: Warhol, Recycling, Writing
The Waste-Management Poetics of Kenneth Goldsmith
The Raw & The Cooked [a review of several books of poetry]
“Baby, I am the garbage”: James Schuyler’s Taste for Waste

Biographical Information for Christopher Schmidt:
Short bio for a conference paper
Author’s bio for his poetry book The Next In Line

**Note: To explain in brief why I think Warhol is worth taking seriously as a thinker: he exposes & sidesteps the flaws of literary intellectualism, foresees the vast implications of consumer society, and deftly uses a quasi-narcissist ethos to counteract his working class habitus.

P.S.  Happy birthday, Andy. You would have been 83 today.


About Graham Joncas

We are a way for capital to know itself.

Posted on August 6, 2011, in Psychoanalysis, Review and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Sixteen-or-so minutes into the documentary “A Walk into the Sea” (currently streaming on Netflix), Paul Morrissey says matter-of-factly that Andy couldn’t read. Surely he was in a position to know.

    I’ve read that Warhol’s education was disrupted by childhood illness, and that when he was well enough to go back to school it was a deeply traumatic thing for him.

    Have you ever seen one of these inscriptions you mention?

    • Prior to writing that post, I read the entire Andy Warhol Diaries, which were intended to be private, and which at times were extremely personal. There was no indication whatsoever that he could not read. He even talked several times about reading certain books. There are some inscriptions by Warhol here and here. I’m sure you could find more if you looked.

      It’s possible that the editor of the Warhol Diaries tried to conceal Warhol’s illiteracy, even though I can’t imagine the point of doing this. I’ll leave it to you and Warhol’s biographers to unravel the mystery.

  2. “Andy Warhol – The Complete Picture” (2002) is on YouTube. Ruminations by those with first-hand knowledge of Warhol, beginning at 1:14:15, again suggest that Andy had a difficult time with words. The word “dyslexic” enters the mix.

    Bob Colacello, one of the editors of Warhol’s autobiography details how the manuscript originated as chapters written by Colacello (presumably in his idea of “Warhol’s voice”), which Warhol then read over the phone to Brigid Berlin, tape recording her responses. The tape and manuscript then went to Pat Hackett, who mixed and embellished the materials further, using her own intuition of the sorts of things Andy would say.

    Colacello: “You couldn’t just transcribe Andy because there wasn’t enough there. You had to sort of extend his thoughts, in his voice.”

    I’ve gathered elsewhere that Warhol dictated his diary on a daily basis to Hackett. That is, he called her up every day and told her what he did the day before. I take it this started as a means of keeping his affairs straight, not necessarily to offer future readers a glimpse into his psyche.

    I bring none of this up to belittle Warhol or diminish his accomplishments. (I like Warhol’s work.) As for *why* Warhol or others would omit mention of his illiteracy, personally I would propose “because illiteracy is embarrassing,” but, again, I think you can only you go by the available first-hand testimony on the subject. The “absence of evidence” to be gleaned from reading the Warhol books is not, to borrow Donald Rumsfeld’s phrase, “evidence of absence.”

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