[-empyre-] some thoughts on complicity

Saul Ostrow sostrow at cia.edu
Mon Jan 11 13:29:35 EST 2010

Politics is the economy of social power - it deals with the attributes  
of value and the terms of exchange

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On Jan 10, 2010, at 7:23 PM, "Sally Jane Norman" <s.j.norman at newcastle.ac.uk 
 > wrote:

> it's odd but so much of what I'm reading in this forum makes sense  
> and I'd be inclined to call it some kind of collectively  
> elaborated / negotiated critical theorising (not to say there's  
> attainment of consensual positions, but a mindfulness of difference  
> which allows/ predicates dialogue), so I'd be curious to know how  
> you would characterise it Gerry?  for me this (admittedly unusual)  
> quality of "critical theory" is largely what empyre at its best is  
> about.
> I'm also uncomfortable with the blanket value statement re politics:  
> isn't it we people who somehow make up the polis?  I'd certainly  
> admit that we/ it are pretty sick, but that a sign of health is the  
> struggle Johanna's eloquently resumed below.
> still already ever struggling to understand
> best
> sjn
> ________________________________________
> From: empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre- 
> bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of Gerry Coulter  
> [gcoulter at ubishops.ca]
> Sent: 10 January 2010 21:48
> To: soft_skinned_space
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] some thoughts on complicity
> Johanna,
> We are no longer in a place where critical theory makes sense.
> What we can do now is forge radical approaches. Theory as challenge.
> Art that operates as challenge participates in this.
> Re: "Politics is change..." Politics is sick. Art has to stay well  
> clear of it or it dies rapidly.
> As for Marx: Capitalism never had a better friend.
> best Gerry
> ________________________________
> From: empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre- 
> bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of Johanna Drucker  
> [drucker at gseis.ucla.edu]
> Sent: January 10, 2010 2:44 PM
> To: soft_skinned_space
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] some thoughts on complicity
> All,
> Again, thanks all for all this rich discussion. Here's a few  
> thoughts in response to the various strains introduced in the last  
> days and across posts, which I've enjoyed and agreed with in many  
> ways.
> My formulation of complicity was meant to focus full force on the  
> hypocrisy of critical approaches that presume moral superiority to  
> the objects under their examination. It was also meant as a call to  
> formulate aesthetics outside of the legacy of political theory. Why?  
> Because critical theory as currently practiced seems inadequate as a  
> description of either the world and its workings, or the workings  
> and force of artistic activity. Almost all aesthetic theory today is  
> premised on the idea that it is necessarily political theory. Why?  
> Separating aesthetics from politics is not meant to annihilate  
> either, but to demonstrate the distinction of the two domains.
> Politics is change, the transformation of the structures,  
> instruments, means, and relations of power.
> Aesthetics is the form of knowledge specific to perception.
> Metaphysics is the realm of ideas  beyond physics. Most quantum  
> physicists would not call themselves metaphysicans, but would have  
> been labelled so by earlier generations for whom "the mysterious  
> influence of objects at a distance" would have seemed like magic.  
> Metaphysics, I think, can be understood without the Cartesian  
> opposition between mind and body. All thought, expression,  
> experience are embodied, as per Ken Knoebel's wonderful formulation  
> of "continuous materiality." But there are orders of experience  
> outside of individual perception that have yet to become  
> apprehensible -- we don't see heat, and we also don't see systems- 
> based dynamics in our own lives. We see entities, not events, we  
> grasp objects, not their codependent emergence from dynamic  
> conditions. Metaphysics can be understood as the "beyond" of  
> classical (mechanical) physics, rather than as a spiritual  
> discipline, and thus a rubric under which to examine what we do not  
> yet know, pushing past habits of though
> t and limits of perception and cognition. Is there a virtue to this?  
> A value? Should there be? Need there be?
> Of course. The world is broken and needs fixing. "The point is to  
> change it," Marx said, giving political philosophy a different  
> charge and responsibility than other philosophy. Secular salvation  
> is the legacy of marxism. Utopianisms are attempts to create  
> paradise on earth. A good goal. Why not? Imagine a world in which  
> standards of living and quality of life are just, fair, equitable,  
> and, today's buzz-meme, sustainable. Art activity would be the  
> ongoing hum of creative and imaginative life, interventions in and  
> creations of the symbolic, even as the happy bodies serving as  
> theater to such aesthetic events were content in the well-being of  
> their chop-wood-carry-water integration of physical and intellectual  
> labor. Art would be about pleasure, amusement, engagement, the joys  
> of individual and communal dialogue (recent research shows  
> conversation produces the same physiological effect as other  
> intimate pleasures). But we aren't there yet. So we struggle.
> Artistic work gives form and expression to ideas, however ephemeral  
> that expression is (performance, utterance, trace, or monumental  
> work). The great gift of conceptualism was pointing out that these  
> two -- idea and expression -- can be conceived independently, as a  
> kind of thought experiment, though of course the very act of  
> thinking, speaking, describing is material. I like work that is both  
> well-thought and well-made (that is, where production values and  
> conception values have an interesting relation). Value judgments are  
> silly, in many ways, but as a dear friend and critic I know said,  
> life is short, and what you want from critics is to point you to the  
> things that are interesting because they are not always easy to find  
> in the mass of other stuff.
> These are somewhat random thoughts, but I wanted to clarify that for  
> me, at least, the exposure of complicity is not a call to  
> complacency, or to abandonment of ideals, activism, pacifism,  
> judgment, or indulgence--just a call to the end of careerism  
> masquerading as politics, smugness pretending to be critique,  
> opportunism acting in the of something else, etc. Can we be  
> subversive? Can artworks introduce ideas, social change, political  
> impulses, spiritual epiphany, etc. etc. Yes and no. The moving  
> target of awareness--individual, cultural, social--is another well- 
> recognized phenomenon. The Theory Death of the Avant-Garde, Paul  
> Mann (not to be confused with Paul de Man). As to elite critics  
> making their careers by annointing artists for supposedly  
> "subverting" the very system on which they depend for their own  
> success.... I remain silent, my tongue bitten hard between my teeth.  
> Somewhere between the Scylla of condemning mass culture for its  
> numbness and the Charybdis of condemn
> ing esoteric thought for its elitism lies a path of aesthetic  
> innovation, imagination, and delightenment.
> Johanna
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