[-empyre-] Eddies, Whirlwinds, Trade Winds

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Fri Apr 3 01:54:59 EST 2009

(Before I forget again:  Thank you Dr. Ruiz for putting this great
project together.  And thanks for inviting me to participate.)

I'm not pretending that this is any kind of an original insight,
because Marx clearly identifies the idea that money is a fetish
object.  And from a basic sort of reverence of the fetish object, we
move towards fictitious capital.  Today, we have reached a point where
neoliberal ideology has held up the idea, initiated by Marx's initial
deconstruction of cash, that if money ultimately means nothing, but
that we all rely upon it, that those who accumulate great deals of the
stuff can steer this signifier to make it do whatever they want it to.
 Hence, the absolutely political character of finance--its political
influence in national capitals, the obsession over things like
"consumer confidence," etc.

This does directly parallel the crisis of language which is initiated
by Saussure's observation of the arbitrary nature of the sign
(although you can look back in philosophy and literature to find other
figures who recognized this).  I see folks like Derrida, Barthes,
Lacan, Foucault, etc, basically moving from this initial insight (the
arbitrary nature of the sign) towards full blown criticism of
discourse and the inherently constructed nature of the entire system
of signs (which mirrors Marx's notion of fictitious capital).  Where I
think that critical theory has gotten off track is in the leap from
this observation--that signs are arbitrary and unstable and have no
inherent truth--into this view that whoever can assert power over
discourse can make language do whatever they want it to.

The analog in the visual arts might be the move from Duchamp to
Warhol, which performs similarly deconstructive work in terms of the
values we associate with "art."  (And where everyone needs to look at
J.S.G. Boggs, perhaps the artist of our times).  Where, again, art
goes awry is in this idea that, since signs are unstable we can make
them mean anything is art.

Where these views ultimately fail is that they have followed a
particular cultural object down the path to the point where they have
realized it's indeterminate origin.  But since, philosophically, they
are committed to the idea that the answer must reside on the path of
their inquiry, that the thing they study is the center of subjective
experience....  and this center is empty.  If you are committed to
finding ultimate meaning in a particular system of signs, but find no
meaning, there is a temptation to say, "I have found the ultimate
meaning: nothing."  But this view ignores the fundamental similarity
between bankrupt systems of representation--if money is ultimately
meaningless, if language is ultimately meaningless, it art is
ultimately meaningless--perhaps the "meaning" of money, art, or
language does not reside in money, art, or language, respectively.
Perhaps these things are what we have always known them to
be--representations--and a representation always has to represent
something other than itself.  Money only means something when we
consent that it stands for some other quantity.  Language only means
something when we use it to stand in for a non-linguistic order.  Art
only means something when it stands for something other than art.

The idea of an infinitely malleable language that has no referent
outside of itself, the idea of language that is purely discursive with
no outside, is ultimately a language that does nothing.  There is no
mediation between the individual and the collective, if discourse
cannot exert influence or power from the individual consciousness to
the other and if it cannot bring the other to individual.  On the one
hand, it is a form of post-Christian idolatry and theodicy, integrated
into an elaborate collective solipsism.  At the extreme ends of this
are those discourses which imagine the stock market to be a living
organism, a higher form of life which governs all of us lesser forms.
It's a similar ideology to the kind of naive postmodernism which most
people experience at some point when they become disenchanted with
mass culture.

I guess this is why I enjoy Zizek, Badiou, Stiegler, and Hardt and
Negri.  In these three scholars, you see some truths about the nature
of systems of representation.  Zizek says that the sign always
represents something other than what it directly pretends to be.
Badiou says that systems of signs become meaningful when they
represent a particular set of relations, that meaning is only stable
when it is contained within a set which can account for their relative
meanings.  Stiegler includes language and representation in his
umbrella of "technics," meaning that it is never natural, but at the
same time, insofar as humans could be said to have anything resembling
a "nature" it would have to be this technical orientation.  Hardt and
Negri come back to basic questions of what most people would recognize
as justice--the right of people to exist.

I don't entirely disagree Paglia, because I do think that Derrida is a
junk bond trader (but she does seem like a huckster in her own way).
I think this is something Derrida engages in self-consciously, he
knows that ultimately language, money, or whatever is representation.
And there is a tendency to pull back from this realization with a flat
denial.  But the real philosophical move is to say, yes, language or
money is a representation, but what does it represent?  Failure to
take this step is a denial of consciousness and a denial of the
social.  Maybe these things do not exist, but my limited looks in
these directions indicate that the the power of discourse, commerce,
and aesthetics flow come from the difference between the individual
and the collective, the self and the other, etc.  And any effort to
find meaning through any modernist obsession with the pure essence of
art for art's sake, money for money's sake, or language for language's
sake, is going to run into an aporia.  And mistaking this aporia for
the totality of existence is just another type of provincialism that
tells us nothing about nothing.


On Thu, Apr 2, 2009 at 8:03 AM, G.H. Hovagimyan <ghh at thing.net> wrote:
> On Apr 1, 2009, at 8:35 PM, Michael Angelo Tata, PhD wrote:
> Aside from Warhol, the place toward which my mind immediately turns as I
> think about what Nicholas refers to as the Immaculate Deception is Camille
> Paglia’s identification of Jacques Derrida as a junk-bond salesman in her
> “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders” (part of Sex, Art, and American
> Culture).  I think my mind races to this piece of writing because it does
> raise the important question of the potential bankruptcy of theory in
> general (a risk that does not seem to plague philosophy quite the same
> way).
> Well now what.
> As a child of the 1970's art world, I remember Warhol as more commerce than
> art.  He did have three areas of production that related to each other and
> were reflections of commodity capitalism, the mode of America in the late
> '60's.  The three areas were his films which involved a party culture at the
> factory, his silkscreen paintings and Interview newspaper.  The social
> scene,party culture migrated to Studio 54 and the clubs in the 1970's. My
> friend the Art Historian Alan Moore coined the term, "Clubism" when that
> scene morphed into the Late Seventies East Village Punk/Performance scene.
> The idea of a brand name and signature style was the legacy of Warhol's
> silkscreen paintings.  Interview was a sort of media art work that was about
> celebrity as a commodity.
> The progression of these notions in American Culture continues. Reality TV
> shows are about banal people being promoted to celebrities. celebrity as
> commodity becomes a quality that can be created by obsession.  The signature
> style/ brand name  products of Warhol became appropriation in the late
> seventies and copyright, remixing and sampling culture in the present.  The
> other part of this commodity matrix continued in the 1980's  when the market
> became more important than the art object or the ideas behind it. This
> occurred with the Neo-Expressionists and Neo-Geo. The discussion was that if
> there is an end to historical modernist progression than all styles are
> viable. The market decides what is art.  Money trumps ideas.  This market
> logic was manifested in the first explosion of 400 galleries in the East
> Village in Mid-80's and continues today in various art market expansions  in
> particular the latest L.E.S galleries and the art fair as a
> sped-up/condensed art buying experience.
> I come from the intellectually opposite camp. I believe in Idea overs form
> and in particular that art should be a force for experimentation that
> critiques the main culture rather than glorify it. I also feel that the
> utopian spirit in art is alive and is an anathema to the "Extreme Marketism"
> of the art world mantra of unique object/signature style/ brand name.  What
> this means is that in this 21st century art world the signature style and
> uniqueness of any any art work gives way to collaboration and collective
> expressions.  Interestingly enough that doesn't mean that individual
> expression and creativity goes away. Within any collaboration there is
> something else that occurs; the collaboration encourages the individuals to
> push their practice further and to look at the world from unthought of
> points of view.
> What has occurred in the USA with bubble markets is a lot of money (capital)
> in the world seeking a safe haven and a decent rate of return. The US has
> been the beacon for this because most of the rest of the world is
> politically unstable or doesn't give a decent rate of return.  Essentially
> it's capital looking for an investment instead of a producer looking for
> capital. It's essentially a disease of success like obesity.  It's also a
> consequence of the dismantling of our manufacturing base.  Manufacturing
> creates wealth. The logic o Capitalism is the differential.  Labor is still
> the basis of that.  What happens now is that we have a situation where the
> culture and the world are trying to find a new world system based solely on
> ideas and abstractions. The problem is that the motivating force behind this
> is greed and markets. In an earlier time it might have been war, conquest
> and plunder that was an organizing principal for societies.  This current
> moment is about creating small utopias that are outside of the markets.
> G.H. Hovagimyan
> http://nujus.net/~gh/
> http://artistsmeeting.org
> http://transition.turbulence.org/Works/plazaville
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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