[-empyre-] complicit post

Sean Cubitt scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
Mon Jan 4 12:03:34 EST 2010

Thanks for the kind words Johanna

Aesthetic - in the old Greek sense of aesthesis, of sensory, sensual - isn't
that about a mode of appreciating? Some days even the things you prize most,
poem, song, food, seem tired and jejune. Seizing on something beautiful
remedies that soul-sickness, and isn't essentially about a class of things
(art) but a way of overcoming the objectness of objects, the isolation of
the psyche. A branch of bougainvillea, a Stephen Gerrard goal, the scent of
roasting garlic wafting over a wall, watching your grad students argue about
Agamben and games engines: these things are aesthetic, without the
preciosity of art. The elegance of an algorithm - as Gelernter argued - has
this quality, if a more mental one, also profoundly sociable, and on scales
(vide Linux, P2P) far beyond the amiable but in this case unambitious
Nicholas Bourriaud.

A friend sends his review of Baudrillard's last book, with this passage on
existential subjectivity, whose
³great disappearance² is, in his
belief, not just that of the virtual
metamorphosis of objective
reality, but that of the ceaseless
annihilation of subjectivity
For JB this is a matter for distress: but isn't it the cost we have to pay
for the renewal of a polity which has advanced by exclusion? If the subject
par excellence of globalisation is the migrant, and the subject of the
coming network society the cyborg of the actor-network, cultural identity
and human identity are in question, and with them the idea of subjectivity
that has dominated modernity (even in schizophrenic forms). So perhaps we
have a few more twists and turns before we can shed even the 19th century
dialectic of individual vs social.

I guess this is a way of saying: we will almost certainly go 'beyond art'
before we go beyond the dialectic.

Co-dependence and autopoesis are too invested in the primacy of individuals
to resolve the question of the social (as witness for example the truly
unreadable paroxysms of Luhmann as he tries to make the autopoetic model fit
human lives). Luckily for the empyre community, tho, both also include a far
more important and as yet un-worked-out idea of mediation, flow, flux,
connectivity. Reversing their polarities, what if connectivity comes first
and the elements it connects are secondary? Isn't that what the aesthetic
experience infers?

So yes indeed, negotiations and complexities that do not offer themselves
for resolution, but the dialectic is about the difficulty of contradiction,
together with its necessity

Now this is getting too 'academic' - sorry! But one last effort at
relevance: complicity derives from the Latin 'complex' which, to add
confusion, means 'accomplice' or 'partner'. (There's a false etymology which
suggests it's from the French 'pli', fold, for all the Deleuzeans out
there). I like the idea that the complexity of accomplices is implicit in
'complicit' - the complex partnerships that predate the people or things
that fill those roles (the system chair-table-computer-modem . . .) which I
slot myself into to write this . . .



On 4/01/10 1:21 AM, "Johanna Drucker" <drucker at gseis.ucla.edu> wrote:

> Nice post, Sean. I agree, it's the pessimism that we have to get over
> -- we can't afford it, personally or culturally. What I want to
> salvage from Adorno is his insight into the workings of aesthetic
> objects--the qualities that make them distinct from other objects--
> which of course is not merely formal/conceptual, but situational/
> historical. Do you think we can also move beyond the dialectic? I
> think notions of co-dependence and autopoieis are less mechanistic,
> more systemic, less about resolution, more about sustained
> negotiations and complexity that can't resolve. Anyway, just wanted to
> note my appreciation of what's below.
> Johanna
> On Jan 2, 2010, at 5:01 PM, Sean Cubitt wrote:
>> 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!
>> sean

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