Let me be clear, the problems I raise do not stem from a dissatisfaction with the way October authors repeat a kind of party line. In fact, I envy the unity and consistency of the resolve and of course their massive impact on the discipline (what is there, politically speaking, besides anti-hierarchy in the humanities?). My point is that the basic set of claims shared by many of these authors is mistaken.
For admirers of the work of Walter Benjamin, a translation of Paul Scheerbart’s Lesabéndio: An Asteroid Novel is a major event. Benjamin’s interest in Scheerbart spans the whole of his career, from Gershom Scholem’s gifting him the book at his wedding to an essay on Scheerbart written near the end of his life. Most significantly, Benjamin intended to write an extensive essay on the book that was meant as a fulfillment of the claims set out in “The Destructive Character” and was to be provocatively entitled “The True Politician.” As the Benjamin literature grows, so does Scheerbart’s reputation.
Photography helps us to see and to feel what we are but cannot know. Then again, knowing when to trust our feelings—when we feel them to be right and not just ours—is not just a matter of affect, but of assertion, about what we think others could have meant. Not knowing what they could have meant does not mean they did not mean something or that we cannot know it. Properly acknowledging one’s “kin” requires that we risk the public and corrigible claim to understanding what was said.
Once the door had been opened onto the phenomena of the chronically unemployed, it appeared there was no closing it. Which is to say, even though the intervening period—at least between 1945 and 1979—was characterized by something wildly different than rank unemployment, nothing about this fact altered the vision of revolutionary progress centered on the figure of the precariat. It would be fairer to say exactly the opposite. The “affluent society,” as Kenneth Galbraith described it in 1958, was the source of endless lament on the Left (the Right’s attitude toward the growing equality in wealth is another, but related, story).
As critics have ceaselessly argued, the core problem with Brecht’s art and theory is his didacticism. Brecht undoubtedly saw art in moral and political terms. Moreover, he thought that morality was a consequence of his works. He described all works of art as “necessarily…bound to release emotional effects.” The only difference between his moralism and the moralism of “bourgeois” art was that he believed his effects could fail. Even though all works produce emotional effects, the job of the (non-bourgeois) artist was to defeat the free play of affect. Brecht’s art continually thematizes open-ended affect as the thing to be overcome, or to show how it had not been overcome by his characters, making that failure a problem to be resolved outside the theater.
Putting aside the one-dimensional account of artworks as “reifications”—“mediums lead to objects, and thus reification”—it would take only a moment’s reflection to see that the distribution of wealth in the “era of art,” at precisely the moment Joselit’s “reframing, capturing, reiterating, and documenting” paradigm first emerged (a set of procedures exemplified for him by the work of Sherrie Levine) was also the moment at which the US economy began its most aggressive turn away from equality.
Video of Todd Cronan and Simon Critchley in conversation at The Photographic Universe II.
A review of Lisa Siraganian, Modernism’s Other Work: The Art Object’s Political Life. Oxford University Press, 2012.
Video from talk given at Publishing and the PhD, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, October 18.
In one of his last interviews Michel Foucault famously said “As far as I’m concerned, Marx doesn’t exist.” What he meant was that “Marx” as an author was something largely fabricated from concepts borrowed from the eighteenth century, in particular the writings of David Ricardo. From Ricardo he derived his most crucial idea: the labor theory of value. As Clune explains, neoliberalism has made that theory obsolete and with it, Marxist analysis. For Foucault there were several Marxisms in Marx.
The battle that Marx fought against “milieu theory” was against the idea that culture determined consciousness. His great achievement was to see that economics was not a matter of culture but of exploitation. Which is to say Adorno’s emphasis on domination and difference (how bourgeois culture shapes being), rather than exploitation and the proletariat, is pre-Marxist in orientation.
Affects are, Berlant insists, “radically private, and pretty uncoded,” and like the fetishized commodity, they make their dazzling appearance with the labor behind them obscured. These private experiences are in fact beyond analysis—an affect, after all, “is just a fact.”
Marie Claire and affect theory; Gombrich and neoliberalism; reparations for the ugly and the continuing hold of Degenerate art.
Poet and critic Paul Valéry held two strong and conflicting views of literary meaning. On the one hand, he affirmed his “verses have whatever meaning is given them.” And in a phrase that entered into the post-modern literary canon, he declared “Once a work is published its author’s interpretation of it has no more validity than anyone else’s.” On the other hand, he suggested that “One is led to a form by a desire to leave the smallest possible share to the reader.” Valéry’s career can be divided along these lines of anti-intentionality and intentionality. My larger claim is to show the primacy, or perhaps the invention of a dominant mode of twentieth- and twenty-first century thought.
Paul Cézanne famously observed to Joachim Gasquet that “The landscape thinks itself in me and I am its consciousness.” “Nature is on the inside,” Cézanne further reflected. He clearly felt landscape painters before him were insufficiently responsive to—too detached from—the natural world and he hoped to break down the barriers that separated observer from the […]