[-empyre-] Unfolding Complicity

Saul Ostrow sostrow at cia.edu
Thu Jan 7 05:49:52 EST 2010

In accord with this general hypothesis that political change may be realized through cultural means, is that of the artist as an agent of change can transform the cultural sphere into a domain capable of implementing or facilitating social change by employing or exploiting in a contextually responsive manner the knowledge- information derived from varied fields. This objective, it is believed can be achieved by drawing their audiences attention to the complex interchange between objects, subjects, images, media, its materiality and the phenomenal that come to constitute our social knowledge - the categories, behaviors and logics that order everyday life. To achieve their goal the agents of critical and social practices as they traverse the fields of philosophy, psychoanalysis, theology, history and political theory, technology, popular culture, literature, jokes, etc., rhetorically and discursively attempt to form intricate economies (systems of exchange and value,) which all too often problematically include the categorical imperatives within which is embedded the very model of "being" that they would undo.

An obvious source of this flaw is in that these agents have failed to address their own epistemologies, taxonomies and ethics while attempting to persuade their audiences to do so. By excluding their own assumptions, and intentions the agents of critical culture implicitly come to represent their personal production as being immune to the over-riding influences of the dominant social and political logics that they claim to be critical of. The consequence of this failure to self-reflexively address the respective logic, source, and form/ structure of the information, data, experience, materiality and knowledge they deploy results in the lived experiences which they seek to redress, being transformed into aesthetic objects, anecdotal narratives, or apparatuses of diversion rather than into a critical vision of self and being.

This latter condition, more often then not is a consequence of a failure of the critical agent to actually be concerned with how we might imagine who we want to be and how art may facilitate in that helping to formulate this. This assumption that the form and content of our being is a given stems from the fact that much critical work is premised on historical and theoretical assumption rooted in the humanist paradigms of consciousness and self-improvement. As such, the who and what of being comes to be expressed in the form of (didactic) interventions into the normative values of existent social relationships. Because such an approach confines itself to the symptomatic and the empirical, it does not require either the artist, or their audience to conceptualize the integral nature of the systemic shift that they would need to initiate to reorder the economy of social knowledge. Reciprocally, in identifying the social dimension of their complaint as residing with some other the artists see themselves as always already as agents of change given they are engaged in re-forming art into a socially critical practice. Subsequently, there is an unacknowledged contradiction inherent these critical practices, which are meant to promote an understanding of the construction of social knowledge, while in turn inhibiting, or reformulating the conventional logics by which subjectivity is ordered and social relations constructed.

By ignoring the structural logics of their own complicity and that of their audience much of the work that is generated by those engaged in social and critical practices advance  reified models of change and existence, while  failing to acknowledge how one might stem from the other. This condition is a result of  the pragmatic goal of much of this production, which is a consciousness raising that is meant to create a sense of empowerment, no matter how limited that might alleviate the general conditions of alienation. This effort leaves the audiences for such work feeling either a sense of affirmation, that something has been done or more often then not with is a sense of melancholia, wishing for the return of some imagined past-present. Central to this condition is the failure on the part of these artists to consider the deep structure of the logics that circumscribe or structure their own assumption concerning the nature of self, community, history relative to the production, distribution and consumption of the information, images, spatial relationships, etc., that they employ.

If skills are actually imparted by critical or social practices they tend to be those that are relevant to existent organizational structures rather than the critical skills necessary to construct a vision of an optimal future-present. Polemically it would seem that for critical culture to actually resist, expose, or have affect it would need to identify the duplicity of its own premises by referencing how its project of cultural recuperation differentiate itself from the dominant logics of bourgeois ideology and its system of capitalist production. Yet, for instance, because of the received vanguardist matrix of opposition and resistance, the shift away from the production of fixed aesthetic and iconic figures to the more transient forms and subjects of criticality were heralded as a radical repositioning of art and artist, even though it coincides with the paradigmatic shifts in the means of social production, distribution, and consumption as  economies premised on service and information were being established
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