[-empyre-] complicit post

Sean Cubitt scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
Sun Jan 3 12:01:51 EST 2010

My favourite among the bizarre marriages is the defusing and capitalisation
of the situationists over recent years.

There is a letter from Adorno to Benjamin which sets up the problem neatly:
he refers to high and low culture as 'the two torn halves of an integral
freedom to which, however, they do not add up'(this is such an important
quote for me,  I looked up the date of it -- 18 March 1936 - it's in the
correspondence, and in the old NLB collection Aesthetics and Politics)

I'm reading up on Lavater; in a collection of essays the editor, who takes
the physiognomist to task for populism *and* a claim to high aesthetic
values, asks whether it is not an absolute contradiction to be in favour of
popularising the nobility of aesthetics. I think I have to answer, yes, in
the dialectical sense. The contradiction - between cheap commercial culture
and (pick your favourite exemplars: mine would almost all be media artists)
the best in art - is what drives forward the idea of democratising the best,
not just the good-enough.

I have been trying to climb out form under the long shadow of Adorno for a
decade now. Johanna is right: the formula is a problem, Even more so is the
historical oddity, that TWA wrote from his experience of gazing into the maw
of the end of european enlightenment in the horror of fascism. His pessimism
is what has become academic, and sentimental, in the sense that 'we're all
doomed' is a position occupied without taking responsibility for the
consequences - an excuse for quiescence

If I follow right, the argument is that we are all complicit, and have to
get used to the idea that we have to work within the beast. There are other
ways than negativity (in Adorno's sense of refusal): open source,
peer-to-peer, gift economies and the line stretching back to at least the
counterculture of the 60s of building alternatives, for example. Today the
market seems like the almighty engine of history, as perhaps a hundred years
ago (almost to the day) nations seemed the only source of pride and power.
Going into the teens, networks are just beginning to look like they might be
the alternative (and just as Marx emerged in the period of nation-state
hegemony to critique the market, so the first critics of the networks are
beginning to appear).

Avant-gardes were always based on the principle that whatever they invented
would be commercialised in time - often very swiftly nowadays. No technique
is intrinsically safe from the process. Perpetual innovation is art's job,
an innovation which constantly fuels capital, which is now so regimented it
is incapale of generating its own novelty. But that is another
contradiction, and if there is one thing worth keeping from Teddy
Wiesengrund it is the dialectic!

So happy new decade to one and all - a year isn't long enough!


On 3/01/10 4:48 AM, "G.H. Hovagimyan" <ghh at thing.net> wrote:

> gh comments below:
> On Jan 2, 2010, at 9:59 AM, Johanna Drucker wrote:
>> But the legacy of Adorno¹s aesthetics is problematic for us because
>> it has become academic, and because it is premised on a description
>> of the world and of art that have become formulaic.
> gh comments:
It occurs to  
> me how bizarre a marriage the art world is taking academic theory and
> philosophy and melding it with the aesthetics of marketing and desire.

> G.H. Hovagimyan
> http://nujus.net/~gh
> http://artistsmeeting.org
> http://turbulence.org/Works/plazaville
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

Prof Sean Cubitt
scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
Media and Communications Program
Faculty of Arts
Room 127 John Medley East
The University of Melbourne
Parkville VIC 3010

Tel: + 61 3 8344 3667
Fax:+ 61 3 8344 5494
M: 0448 304 004
Skype: seancubitt

Editor-in-Chief Leonardo Book Series

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