[-empyre-] Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Michael Angelo Tata, PhD
mtata at ipublishingllc.com
Sun Jan 10 16:12:17 EST 2010
You’ve really piqued my curiosity with those comments about Parc de la Villette and that little chat you attended back at Columbia. There’s a lot to think about here: your own uneasiness, displeasure, even outrage as these intensities surface and are encouraged to be denied expression by a fellow colleague (gender?), the irony of a big-wig suggesting revolutionary design for potential parkgoers and neighborhood locals, who might otherwise be lulled to sleep by an ergonomic opiate rendering the ugly beautiful, even desirable, and the various complicities attending the reception of his ideas among the leaves and tendrils of an Ivy where rapt professors examine the productive role of misery in the lives of the unfortunate. This story is just loaded, and takes me to Zola, where this ideal, fantasy park would be the site of a hideous tragedy inflicted on the wrong party, and also to John Waters, where killer trannies would somehow find a way to make it fabulous.
I wonder: what would it be like to design difficult and treacherous parks in the best ‘hoods, making CPW a spike garden with acid pools, or converting Kensington Gardens into a field of Venus Fly Traps? This could be an interesting twist, and might inspire something marvelous. True, discomfort and displeasure do get the gears of a coup turning, reminding me of Charles Bernstein’s theory of language, indeed, his own ‘complicity,’ if we might call it that, with regard to Analytic Philosophy, whose currency he is quite smart to trade: here, opacity makes us stumble, and stutter, as absorptions are refused and the necessity for action surfaces, calling us to make language into something more than transparency machine. On the other side, the silence of Wittgenstein and Laura Riding Jackson await, complicities with quiet, renunciations of community and convocation. Ladders take us so deeply into this world that we leave it.
As you have noted, the switch from the language of contingency to that of complicity is a telling mutation, one with its own material history and spectrum of concrete ramifications influencing cultural production and reception alike. Within this schema, I implicitly want to ally complicity with necessity, which makes some sense, given that the nature of complicity is to necessitate certain acts and events which in many ways are a logical consequence of the constellation of tessellated interests that preceded and facilitated them in the first place. But what would this mean, to contrast the contingency of a site-specific, potentially non-collectible installation that might otherwise be dispersed to the four corners of the world with the necessity of Business Art, as Warhol called it in the 80s?
I know that Pop in particular invokes the language of complicity, and that Warhol does the most to bring to the foreground connections among lucre and aesthetic creation. And speaking of Warhol, I am sure some one of his many reviewers—I would look at Arthur Danto—used the word ‘complicity’ or some homonym as a response to one of his exhibitions (my suggestions would be any reviews of the “Celebrity Portraits,” “Still Life (Hammer and Sickle)”, the Mao series, or any of those dollar signs, since these collections inherently beg the question of a necessary and productive connection to capital). Stephen Koch might have also used the word in a Warhol film review in his Stargazer.
You are correct to suggest draining complicity of its pejorative connotations, since otherwise we will be blinded and miss the Fibonacci motion of its unfolding. The point is not to judge it, but to examine, maybe even appreciate it. I would go so far as to say indulge it. As Nicky has pointed out, there is complicity in an ornate altarpiece of High Catholicism, just as complicity suffuses a Nine Inch Nails track: the trick is to examine the specificities and particularities of each alliance as it crystallizes in a particular space, place and time and among unique accomplices—for example, the complicity of the system of patronage is not identical to that fostered by popular entertainment within the global village; each must be investigated in kind, savored in its own right. 'Complicity’ cannot be reified: it changes over time, as new connections materialize and older ones are eradicated, even within the life of a particular accomplice. I am drawn to evolving complicities, those ententes and unions that transform chronologically, as, for example, in the political career of Alcibiades, or even Arnold Schwarzenegger. I am thinking in particular of his recent break with Gold’s Gym, which is now forbidden to run his image in the wake of steroid scandals. Perhaps Arnold will forbid his Mapplethorpe from being exhibited as well, since it, too, can be read as document of a past medical order he can no longer avow. Reversed complicities, such as Sartre/nicotene, are also curious developments, calling the temporality of complicity into question (what can complicty be, if it might take be undone posthumously, subjected to historical revision and its motivating forces?).
On this map, which border separates complicity from collaboration? For example, in the 80s triumvirate Debbie Harry, Stephen Sprouse, Andy Warhol, so much more is at stake then electric camouflage. Is there an art of complicity, an almost honest duplicity, as we find with Jeff Koons, or perhaps Machiavelli (and Makaveli, as revised by Tupac)? Where does complicity meet the gesamtkunstwerk?
To turn to your own fascinating work on visuality and textuality, what relationships do Dada orthography embody, create, mobilize, move, erase? Is the intertextuality of Dada script, its evocation of other venues, other surfaces, other dialogues, other languages and language games, relevant here, pointing to a cultural complicity riddled with revolutionary aspirations via the twists and turns of a détournement? And what of those secret complicities that surprise us in their emergence: for example, Man Ray’s displeasure when his famous eye-metronome (Object to Be Destroyed) is actually destroyed, or efforts on the part of Agrippa’s publisher to violate Heisenberg and make Gibson’s poem both readable and collectible? Are these acts of aesthetic treason, secret moments when an entente between art and temporality is revealed, and ephemerality finds itself suddenly and surprisingly dissipated, when all along it has been promised to us as the glittering content of modernism?
Perhaps we have moved from complicity to imbrication, to use the word so popular among New Historicist circles. This would gel with systems theory and its interconnected networks redefining humanism and ethics, as well as cyborg subjectivity, which rejects models of depth in favor of those emphasizing intertwining, conjunction, nexus. The CSO cannot be complicit, but it can be caught up (ironically, via disinterest and counterproduction). Most notably, your experimental poetic hypertexts call out for a technocracy even before one properly exists, emitting a telepoetic call not unlike Nietzsche’s addressing of a community-to-come in texts like Zarathustra (and hence a complicity-to-come). Yet in here somewhere, we must locate that elusive term, which, as the post-différance Derrida reminds us, might or might not exist. Philosophically, it is only a rumor, a ripple transmitted from Aristotle to Montaigne to Nietzsche to us, its inheritors and heirs and signatories, and the site of a recoil: friendship. I am reminded of Hannah Arendt’s forgiveness of Heidegger, as well as Levinas’ withholding of this gift. But if there is no friendship, can there be complicity? Perhaps complicity is an idealized or perverted version of friendship, or friendship an idealized/perverted version of complicity? I pass this stream along to Cinzia, who holds the key.
Love to All, Michael Angelo Tata
Michael Angelo Tata, PhD 347.776.1931-USA
From: drucker at gseis.ucla.edu
To: jhaber at haberarts.com; empyre at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au
Date: Mon, 4 Jan 2010 06:44:40 -0800
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Unfolding Complicity
Great to read all this! I find myself nodding and wanting to underline and put notes and check marks in the margins of these texts! So much for the awful physical impermeability of screen space. So here are a few affirmative comments and a couple more thoughts.
Since I find myself so much in agreement, I will only mention one or two things. John's comment at the end of his last post seems really important -- we really DO have to make judgments because that is part of the ongoing civil project. I remember once, years ago, when I was a young prof teaching contemporary art. I was a guest in public forum addressing free speech issues and took the, to my mind at the time, only position which was that all speech should be free and all censorship avoided. A visitor from Scandinavia raised his hand and said very gently that no, that was not the case, that in fact the very nature of a civil society was that it was always engaged in figuring out what was permissible/acceptable and what was not. That remark changed my thinking in many ways, most profoundly, because it pointed out the always unfinished and ongoing foundation of ethical behavior. So, that is just to extend John's significant remark.
I originally thought of complicity as a way to complicate the historical sequence of concepts that began with modern autonomy and was replaced by contingency in a post-modern formulation. It was meant to express much of what Cynthia put eloquently into her post -- the combination of our understanding of ourselves within a structuralist/poststructuralist sense of subjecthood (enunciated and enuciating) but also with the recognition that pace Baudrillard et al, we are still individuals with actual quirky selves and lives that matter in a humanistic sense. I'm resolutely against the notion of posthumanism, as I think it makes concessions to a mind set that is destructive to the social values of a culture that needs to keep the fictions of humanism alive -- that is, the respect for individuals within the polis -- while evolving a more conscientious and sophisticated understanding of community. I guess I think that for all I love Luhmann's work, he seems not to be able to create a model in which the somewhat contradictory conditions of system theory, complexity, and autopoiesis, and humanist self-hood fictions all co-exist. I see all of those things in daily life, and hear them in what Cynthia and Sean are saying (though do correct me if I am misreading).
Finally, here is a story about hypocrisy and academics to make my other point clear, because of course I am an academic as well as an artist and love critical thought as much as any other theory-head. Once, when I was teaching at Columbia, I had occasion to attend a talk by a very famous architect and theorist whose name I honestly do forget, though someone else will no doubt remember. He was talking about the then recent renovation of Parc de la Villette in Paris. He took issue with the design that had been developed-which was created to make a recreational, pleasant outdoor space in a high density neighborhood whose demographic was working class and at the lower end of the economic scale. He suggested instead that the park should be made as unpleasant as possible, disagreeable, difficult to use, grating on the senses because then and only then would the working classes rise up and overthrow the capitalist masters. This from a person whose yearly income had long since topped out the salary scale at the University and who lived a life of security and relative luxury. I found this appalling, but the colleague I was with told me to hold my tongue because the audience was in thrall -- all thought this was the most brilliant and radical talk they had heard in ages. This seems to me to be a completely different thing from teaching students Foucault, for instance, to give them tools for critical thought.
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