[-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 62, Issue 13

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Wed Jan 13 04:19:23 EST 2010

This is shaping up to be an interesting week on Empyre.  Thank you, everyone.

Sometimes, I think it is good to think about art, politics, criticism,
theory, morality, etc. from a naive perspective, a sort of psychic
backtracking, so that we follow the paths that we have avoided in the
past, and imagine what would be if we were not where we are today.

The knot of art, theory, politics, and  commerce that we live in right
now is singular, and so it is treacherous to extrapolate this into a
general theory of how artists or critics or anyone should operate (in
fact, all speculation is fraught with peril, because other people do
and want other things).

If art is not meant to communicate, what is it for?  Is it for the
artist to express him or herself?  If so, then for what end?  I don't
want to burden art with too much of a redemptive mission...  but at
the very least, I think art ought to be communicable in some way.
That the event can be reproduced (as a concept, as a record, a trace,
an object, a text, whatever)...  that it is has to go from one person
to another person in some way that intervenes against the flow of time
and space.  Art has to refer to an idea that at least one other person
(even a hypothetical one) could agree upon.  To offer the most meager
definition of art, at the very least, it could be like the words in
your head that give shape to your ideas.  Undoubtedly, our brains do
things.  Animals' brains do things.  But when we put these neural
actions into representation, whether we share this representation or
not, we enter into that socially constructed space outside of the
whatever-would-have-happened-had-we-not-intervened (nature?  the
animal?  physics?).  Now, this is a naive explanation of art.  It
ignores many of the specifics that determine what we think about when
we talk about art today.  It even lends art a certain "innocence" that
might be a good conceit to work under, but which itself is just an
artifice erected against doubt.  But I think it also ties the notion
of art to politics in the sense that art always has something to do
with the other (the other who it aims to represent, the other who is
its intended audience, the other who it is supposed to be hidden from,
etc.)  Art, as long as it is made and has any meaning, would seem to
be concerned with communication of some sort.  And thus it seems that
it cannot easily be untangled from the moral, the ethical, the
political.  Furthermore, anything that expresses human will could
conceivably be formed in the awareness of how this will effect others
(friends, enemies, nations, environments, species...  even, perhaps,
yourself....the other that you will become).

What limits we want to draw around introspection and moral
accountability are things that we might be able to hammer out some
kind of agreement on.  We might even be able to establish some system
like the one sketched out by Matthew Arnold, where artists do the
primary work (and make the messes) while critics do the lesser work
(present the work as socially valuable).  Maybe we can hammer out some
other system of art....  with no critics, but just robots which count
"diggs" and direct individuals to works that were sufficiently "dugg"
by people like you (with a little bit of extra recommending going to
sponsored content --yuck).  In any case, figuring out just what the
relationship between art, criticism, and audience carries with it
moral implications.

But to just say that art and politics or art and theory do not belong
together, while it might solve some historically specific problems we
have today with art institutions, theoretical fashions, a debased
public sphere, and out of control financial markets....  We live in an
age where capitalism has radically separated itself from moral
concern.  It is a social invention that we treat as though it operates
through natural laws, and should protected from human intervention,
protected from "art."  The greatest artifice in the history of
civilization....  and its priests proclaim it beyond art, beyond
representation, beyond control.  I don't know what we gain, what
artists gain, by following the examples of a degraded culture.  I
don't know why artists should resist social, moral, political
intervention.  I don't see why artists should disentangle themselves
from the responsibility of theorizing their work.  Or why artist
should be shielded from criticism, either.  (On the other hand, I can
see why artists might want to avoid the sort of normative stances we
associate with Theory or Politics, as these terms relate to
"respected" schools of thought).  And if we are looking at "radical"
interventions....  I cannot see how art can intervene against a system
which is, at its root, hostile to culture, community, life....  by
removing itself from the very kernel of hope that we have....  the
idea that maybe we ought to take better care of each other.


On Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 9:47 AM, Saul Ostrow <sostrow at cia.edu> wrote:
> Pragmatically, it would seem that it is necessary tactically as well as
> strategically to preserve critical culture
>  as a realm of relative freedom, and to sustain the promise that through
> experimentation, it can contribute to the development of the experiential
> knowledge that is necessary not only to formulate hypothetical alternative
> to the instrumentality of bourgeois thought, but also to act upon them in a
> promiscuous manner and therefore be capable of manifesting the ungovernable,
> the indeterminate, and other imagined as aspects of being. Consequently, art
> should not be viewed as an apparatus - mechanism capable of achieving
> specific purposes – be they aesthetic, moral, or political. Being an
> apparatus places art at risk of becoming instrumental – that is at loosing
> itself to fixed logics, forms, and functions – of being formal. For it is
> the systemic or procedural aspect of apparatuses, which make them useful in
> that they accomplish a task in a predictable manner. Such devices are not
> neutral in that they delineate via their reasoning and rules (guide-lines)
> what the task is to which they are to be applied, and the objectives to be
> achieved. In this the user – whose real desires may have originally brought
> the apparatus into being – now gives over some aspect of their self to it –
> their being.  In this exchange the apparatus effectively creates a separate
> sphere, or territory over which it has domain.
> Subsequently, it is still necessary to identify the role that art as
> critical apparatus,  that is  as a self-critical practice which plays a role
> in the reproduction, replication and distribution of the existent logics
> that order social knowledge and its attendant subjectivities. In other words
> how  art as social and cultural practices is always already an apparatus of
> subjectification in that it seeks the replication of its own truths rather
> its own emancipation from them. As such, art as an apparatus of critique,
> cannot be thought of as merely a means to present ones analysis of how
> values, standards, criteria, and aesthetics become tools (apparatus) of
> social control, or how they inhibit our ability to engage in effective acts
> relative to the division and the exercise of social power and wealth.
> Relative to this it is important to take into account how art as an
> apparatus even that of social or critical change may contradictorily order
> our experiences, and understanding and therefore must be dealt with
> cautiously, perhaps even in cynical manner, that is in all good faith
> continue to explore it as a social practice, with the intent to acknowledge
> its failings, or limitations as a mechanism of social change. In doing this
> art might reveal what role it is to serve in the constitution of a
> conception of being that is in keeping with the present conditions of our
> existence, and as such would no longer necessitate the preservation of the
> present organization of large-scale social production and exchange under its
> present terms.
> _______________________________________________
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> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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