[-empyre-] art and ethics

Nicholas Ruiz III editor at intertheory.org
Tue Jan 26 01:17:32 EST 2010

...as I see it, without getting too heady about a common labor dispute, if art is an accomplice of life, it's difficult to see how the theater artists could ignore the circumstances interfering in their art lives...unless, 'injustice' was a welcomed function of that art life...I think you do well to bring up the Law, because it is more than a trope we can dismiss, in the sense that, for most of life, it is inescapable in its major forms of action and side-effects of governance; the Law may only be edited, or even for some, avoided, but never escaped. I think I can appreciate the Law, then, as what you mean by the shared ground upon which complicity, of all kinds, eventuates...



From: simon <swht at clear.net.nz>
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Sent: Sun, January 24, 2010 8:44:32 PM
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] art and ethics

Dear Empyreans,

Having just picked up a copy of Philosophy in the Present (Polity, 
2009), from its pages Alain Badiou announces incommensurability as 
constitutive of the philosophical situation, the situation in which 
philosophy can create problems (or concepts). This would seem to be 
pertinent to the turn this discussion has taken, to the potentials for 
complicity between the corporation and art - perhaps I am reading it 
wrongly. But then again perhaps this turn can in turn be characterised 
in terms of its Kantian inflection, specifically an inspiration to 
consider ethics as a shared ground upon which complicity eventuates: on 
the Law. So, then, just asking for it, for a critique that goes to 
unground this implicit and unhappy co-incidence of art and ethics by 
this simple and easily repeatable formula: the time of art is not that 
of power; the ethics - on which, the Law or from which, the Law - the 
rules - of the power are incompossible with those of art - with those 
little laws of difference, that immanent Rule, which in making art is 
the only one worth listening to - and may just as soon make us outlaws; 
in short, what we are dealing with here are incommensurables. So, 
Badiou, invoking Mizoguchi's /Crucified Lovers, /particularly the 
lovers' "withdrawal into the smile" as they are led to the punishment 
which the law against adultery has conferred upon them - crucifixion - 

"Well, in these magnificent shots, Mizoguchi's art not only resists 
death but leads us to think that love too resists death. This creates a 
complicity between love and art - one which in a sense we've always 
known about." [trans. P. Thomas & A. Toscano]

He is led here himself by Deleuze quoting Malraux to the effect that art 
is what resists death and in this situation will not give that the 
lovers are happy to meet their fate but that in a sense they have 
already overcome it. So in a similarly philosophical situation - one in 
which disinterest can possibly prevail - Badiou relates the story of 
Archimedes's summons to the Emperor Marcellus's court; wherein the 
soldier sent to collect the great scientist on behalf of the great power 
of the victor is ignored and eventually takes his sword and ends the 
former's life: Archimedes has asked for time to complete his 
'demonstration,' a drawing in the sand of geometrical figures. Badiou 
glosses this confluence of incommensurables in terms of time: the 
impatience of the Emperor's emissary and the artist's time's otherness, 
an internal time, created with the problem in the act of describing the 
problem, or in the act of the problem's expression.

However, I have followed this discussion with interest, because of an 
experience of a complicity which I haven't yet found here, and which 
I've ever since thought of as the complicity of the artist... with the 
destruction of the institutions on which the artist depends. In the 
early eighties in New Zealand theatre workers went out on strike, 
nationally. All seven professional theatres closed. Actors had voted to 
back technical and backstage workers, against the management, at that 
time a loaded word. And words, it must be said, were at the cutting 
edge, not of the dispute, but of the problem: the co-option of the 
language of the artform by the language of industrial relations. 
Productivity replaced productions. Industry displaced theatre or art. 
Artists redesignated themselves workers, workers all. The unforeseen 
outcome was that the formerly egalitarian theatres were stratified: 
where pay parity had existed between backstage and acting company, where 
in fact unity of the company had been the unofficial prejudice as it 
included back- and front- of the house, on-stage as well, demarcation 
made it thereafter almost impossible that an actor might, say, hang a 
light, and the theatres slipped back into star-systems, into British rep 
style hierarchizations, into, therefore, older formations. One step 
forward, two back. Could actors have envisaged that by their industrial 
action, by their complicity with, well, their ideological complicity, 
they would reposition themselves at the top of the industrial hierarchy 
and of the pay scale? positions of which the industrial action was 
intended as abrogating?

And, to clarify what may appear a contradiction: yes, the actors top the 
payscale, but professional theatres as institutions bankrupted - 
ideologically and fiscally. Who are here the artists? Theatre is 
possibly not an indicative demonstration or example; but it surely goes 
to illuminate something in the sense that collaboration has been talked 
about, particularly online?

I present this sense of complicity for interest and diversion only.


Simon Taylor

empyre forum
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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