[-empyre-] welcome and initial ruminations

Brian Holmes bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com
Sat Nov 9 17:37:42 EST 2013

Hello everyone -

I am entirely out of this loop right now, but I just read Irina's post 
and it was very thought-provoking. Probably the below is totally off 
track, in which case, let it slide.

It seems to me that work made for a specific professional sphere (like 
museums or academia) becomes extremely codified and participates in the 
self-blinding effect of all so-called spheres, which tend to look inward 
toward the inner circles, often for more or less unspoken reasons of 
internal competition. To that extent, the pretence of documenting 
activism - or making art out of it, for that matter - becomes a terrible 
thing, a neutralization.

That said, art and academia are two hugely important vectors of culture 
in the world today. No reason to give those up. The question: how to 
overcome that sphere-effect and help the work and oneself open up to to 
issues of the common good, or the specific danger, or the struggle that 
can be won or lost - or just the person you don't know, never met or 
dreamed of?

I'm a theorist, not a day passes that I don't think of Hegel and Norbert 
Wiener and Frantz Fanon and hundreds of other proper names, often old 
dead European suits. But decades ago I decided to seriously fuck off the 
internalized handcuffs of people with titles and immaculately combed 
hair and what they might think about me and my commas or hyphens. I 
decided to write in a way that could just possibly be read by all kinds 
of different people, including some who will hate it and become enemies. 
I feel responsible to people I work with, to efforts I document, to 
courage I admire; and I don't trust the state of things or its 
hierarchies. Yet I'm still an intellectual. I'd even say, that's what 
makes a person an intellectual.

Those are pretty widely held attitudes these days. Yet so many people 
seem paralyzed by the fear they will say a word out of place. Am I 
imagining this? I totally understand the need to keep a paycheck coming, 
but still it's wierd to me how stunted so much work seems to be, by 
obeisance to a competitive milieu - or even by the hypercompetition of 
who can appear more trangressively activist, etc etc.

Mainstream society, or capitalism or postcolonial domination or whatever 
you want to call it, has clearly evolved into such predatory and 
dangerous forms that new ethics have to be invented. It seems crazy to 
go on as if the institutions were going to endure, when inequality is 
threatening the foundations of all culture and climate change seems 
ready to have fearsome effects within all our lifetimes. The disaster's 
already here. If we could share the admission of this need to invent new 
ethics, and start formalizing what those ethics are, it would help quite 
a lot in making all sorts of work more trustworthy and more relevant.

Society's diverse and complex and all too simple, simultaneously. You 
can't make work for everyone. But you can say: process is as important 
as product; public institutions should have use value outside their own 
walls; crossing class and color and gender lines matters; war and 
pollution and advertising and surveillance are all present dangers. You 
can say it and act on it, in your daily practice, in your works, in your 
collaborations and teaching and learning. When I came back from France 
to the USA, I was glad to find that for a lot of people, that's just 
common sense. Then I realized how many of those same people suffered 
infinite anxiety at their university or in their art scene, where they 
hardly dared show either their beliefs, or their disbeliefs. How to 
change that, how to impress on the system a more positive demand, is 
what I want to know. I am sure many people here have ideas about it, and 
it could add something important to the discussion.

Otherwise, I guess we could document activism forever. And never change 

best, Brian

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