[-empyre-] Fascination

Michael Angelo Tata, PhD mtata at ipublishingllc.com
Sat Apr 4 20:17:26 EST 2009

I think that thus far what I have been trying to advocate is a certain poetics of capital, as this is the way I personally access phenomena like stocks, bonds, futures, even the brute physicality of Wall Street and that giant bull with larger-than-life genitalia presiding over all those wild exchanges (even when those exchanges involve randy execs racing over to the Wall Street Sauna to release some tension with a stranger).
If we keep Marx in the discussion, it is really the transformation of “money” into “capital” that mystifies concrete relations—even networks—into metaphysical concepts that are more efficient at mobilizing human desire, and hence keeping the network going in all its self-sustaining wonder.  The mystifications of Wall Street complicate the simple quid pro quo of exchange, whether we root that change in the body’s relation to an external or even interstitial environment (metabolism), in the confabulations of a psyche negotiating the effusions of the body it animates and the meanings its flows assume (object relations) or within structures and strictures like the community itself (intersubjectivity, communicative reason).  For me, the opportunities which find themselves fetishized within the market are, to use Joseph’s term from the Warhol discussion, “fascinating”—but without fascination, it is not clear to me that the networks animating our or any societies would continue to function at all.  Enter the media, a perpetual motion machine of fascination and enrapturement, even when all it can present are sensational stories about unnerving Dow Jones fluctuations, suburban execs forced to live in tent communities, or “the new face of the poor.”
As for Warhol vs. J.S.G. Boggs, Warhol’s early paintings of $2 bills vis-a-vis Boggs’ gorgeous and cheeky counterfeits (like the $0 Pittsburgh note) call to mind a host of observations.  First off, how strange that money itself can come and go with other fads and impulse items: and so the canvas depicting this money, as demystified object identical with its physicality, becomes a documentary of a past order and of instrumental complexes which have taken on different imperatives, making me think of kindly grandparents handing me a stash of $2 bills so I could buy a new Izod or venture over to the arcade, while also highlighting the fact that capital necessarily transcends money itself, which is little more than its temporary and transitional home: no bill can contain it, no denomination assert its control of how it will be organized, mobilized, deployed.  If only there were Susan B. Anthony canvases as testament to the logistics of cash and its failures in the day-to-day use of its tokens.  Comparatively, Boggs does not paint money: he makes money.  As when we attend the best Felix Gonzalez-Torres installation, we are able to take something away from the experience (for Boggs, bills we might or might not spend, depending on our bravery and whether or not we have inherited the criminal gene; for Torres, a Baci chocolate or piece of paper graced by the presence of cloudbanks).  Still, both artists effect a critique of art and value and are hence in conversation with themselves, and with our panel. 
As for the issues of an us/them, cultural war and complicities raised by Nick and Joseph, I gravitate towards Bataille and his contrast of a general economy with a restricted economy in The Accursed Share.  When times are swell, and capital is coolly traversing its networks fueled by its own mystique, the economy can afford to support innovation, experimentation, even deviation, so much so that even a fantastic junk bond salesman like Derrida or Lacan can risk nonmeaning, nonsense and dispensing with the external referent altogether (think, for example, of the poetry of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school; in fact, Charles Bernstein cites Bataille as one way of making sense of a poet like Gertrude Stein as well as the often impenetrable work of his Language cohorts).  Times like these call for potlatch, and it is almost our duty to join in the frenzy—for, as Rimbaud demands, we must be absolutely modern.  
This is all fine and dandy, but when capital—which, I would argue, still maintains its prestige and seductiveness even in the worst of times—dries up or diminishes, the economy cannot afford to tolerate, let alone propagate or finance, transgressive work: culturally, it is simply too expensive in terms of capital proper and cultural capital (the transmission of knowledge from one generation to another, the preparation of individuals to take up an active position within the social fabric, the creation of disciplinary value and worth to justify salary and status).  
To draw on Joseph’s very particular and concrete observations about the fate of new discourses and disciplines after the Wall Street fiasco, I turn to my own history teaching English and Comp Lit at Hunter College in NYC.  Before the dotcom crash and 9/11, I was fortunate enough to have been invited to create and teach honors seminars on the work of Madonna Ritchie, Quentin Crisp, and Jeff Dahmer, among others, but after these historical and economic traumas transformed the City and world, it was straight back to Romantic poetry seminars for me.  The new, chastened City University system could afford William Wordsworth, and on a good day might have some cultural capital left over for Dorothy Wordsworth, but, alas, the Material Girl had gone out of bounds with regard to the “cost” of reflecting upon her: she had suddenly become expensive and frivolous, and these were not times for rash speculation or semantic excess.             

Michael Angelo Tata, PhD  347.776.1931-USA

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