New to nonsite
Complexity enchants ANT, new materialism, posthumanism, media studies, affect theory, and the literary undertakings of postcritique, new descriptivism, and “weak theory.” Its prophets claim as virtue that reality is immanent to itself, that no individual element of a complex web can be said to activate “a more fundamental reality” than any other. There is therefore a propulsive purpose accorded to critics: count up the everything, trace out the complexities, caress nuance, feel the vibe, what is connected to what. When everything is complicated and criticism calls itself to the tasks of phenomenological witnessing and empiricist tabulating, the vocation of criticism to make a cut in the swath of experience, to shift registers to a different order of knowing, is abandoned.
With the Super Bowl set to kick off on Sunday and media-fueled football fanfare ramping up accordingly, it is worth revisiting the NFL’s preseason scandal that wasn’t—its apparent use of biological racism in denying the compensatory claims of black former players for traumatic brain injuries sustained while playing in the league. Here we interrogate this case, the impotence of disparitarian antiracism to confront it, and its implications for egalitarian politics.
Ben Lerner’s second Adam Gordon novel, The Topeka School, offers both a genealogy of right-wing political speech and, presumably, an alternative. But insofar as the novel’s politics culminate in political theater, that alternative is reduced to the politics of the status quo. The Topeka School, and those critics for whom its success rises or falls on its ability to provoke aesthetic experience, conflate political experience and political action. While no work of art is likely to do the work of dismantling structures of inequality for us, the work of art that asserts its irreducibility to the “inflexible laws” of the political status quo, and our experiences of it, might provide a new way of seeing or imagining it together—something that the attention to aesthetic and political experience alone cannot do.
The pathological perspective ignores the historical character of racism and race and fixes individuals (perpetrator and victim) in place and, notably, outside of time. In lieu of understanding the conditions that shape the vast inequities that exist within society, explanations that naturalize racism lead us to believe that it is a universal and unchanging force. This way of seeing reinforces and perpetuates the notion that racism is a problem lodged permanently in people’s heads and bodies, not a problem of public policy. The rise of unprecedented levels of inequality offers us an opportunity to comprehend the ways capitalism harms the vast majority of its subjects. We can choose to unite in the struggle against the damage present social relations inflict on all human life, or we can proliferate more categories that pathologize and divide us.
From the first the landscape Impressionists were seen as pursuing an “advanced” pictorial agenda with roots mainly in Manet’s painting, a view of their collective enterprise which rendered all but invisible what I have been calling the momentousness of their shift away from the figure painting project. To this day, that shift has escaped comment by students of Impressionism. Ultimately, the advent of landscape Impressionism amounted to nothing less than the emergence of a new paradigm for ambitious painting, keyed not to figure painting and antitheatricality as theorized by Diderot but rather to a linked series of “formal” issues and demands that had no single master critic or theoretician.
I began reviewing the question of whether anything substantial would be changed to the solution of Kant’s antinomy if I reverted to the common sense-understanding of proper names. Then my thoughts drifted to whether I really needed the theory of art as proper name / rigid designator. Weintraub thinks so. His critique was that the theory is inconsistent and therefore threatens to invalidate every other claim I make for art. My reply was that the theory is a catalyst and leaves all my other claims about art intact. But I agreed with him that I needed the theory.
I am thus arguing here for an expanded view of aesthetic intentionality that comprises both the intentional and the immediately unintentional aspects of a work, since all of these aspects participate in the fundamentally intentional act of making an artwork. And the unintentional aspects include both the intentionally unintentional ones such as Cage’s aleatory results and real world contingencies, and the unintentionally unintentional ones such as my accidentally getting red paint on the brush when I’d meant blue (and my keeping the red blotch anyway in the final painting). Whether the materials are controlled or not, the overall action is intentional, and this is true no matter how aleatory or indeterminate its elements. An aesthetic action has two inalienably intentional moments, the beginning and the end: the decision to begin it and the decision to accept everything in it (no matter how unexpected) by signing, publishing, performing or showing it.
Despite its proponents’ assertions, antiracism is not a different sort of egalitarian alternative to a class politics but is a class politics itself: the politics of a strain of the professional-managerial class whose worldview and material interests are rooted within a political economy of race and ascriptive identity-group relations. Moreover, although it often comes with a garnish of disparaging but empty references to neoliberalism as a generic sign of bad things, antiracist politics is in fact the left wing of neoliberalism in that its sole metric of social justice is opposition to disparity in the distribution of goods and bads in the society, an ideal that naturalizes the outcomes of capitalist market forces so long as they are equitable along racial
Poverty and Politics: Bolsonaro, Neoliberalism’s Authoritarian Alternative, and the Ongoing Assault on Democracy in Brazil
As the struggle against the authoritarian neoliberal regime continues to unfold, the actions of the organized labor-left in general, and the PT in particular, will be pivotal for constructing an opposition capable of defeating right-wing neoliberal authoritarianism. The heightened quality of the political conflict ahead will also challenge the way in which left and progressive forces perceive and develop political action, demanding a left capable of organizing and mobilizing resistance in multiple (institutional and non-institutional) spheres of politics simultaneously.
It hardly needs saying that the term “decolonize” once meant something wholly different than it does now. To put it not a little too bluntly, in the heyday of the anticolonial movement it was the colonies and the colonized that needed decolonizing, not the colonizers, but now even that need, as we like to say, has been “colonized.” Of course we understand that the “decolonize” in the slogan “decolonize your syllabus” is metaphorical, that it means diversify or “decenter” (as we also like to say), but that does little to allay the fact that, formally, rhetorically, it collapses the distinction between colonizer and colonized. Sometimes, decentering oneself and one’s syllabi means little more than absolving oneself of accountability for the colonial past. Just to give it a name, we might call this phenomenon “colonial narcissism.”
Many of us are familiar with the ending of Jorge Luis Borges’s “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” in which the world is being taken over by a man-made universe turned real, in a now too clear reference to Nazism: “Then English and French and mere Spanish will disappear from the globe. The world will be Tlön.” The story, however, contains one more line, not as well-known, but perhaps more significant to the real meaning behind the narration: “I pay no attention to all this and go on revising, in the still days at the Adrogue hotel, an uncertain Quevedian translation (which I do not intend to publish) of Browne’s Urn Burial.”
The Vanishing Frame began as an attempt to understand the origins and consequences of a postdictatorial reality that was emerging in Latin America during the 1980s and 1990s, one that centered on the commitment to human rights as the primary position through which the Left articulated the concept of injustice and how to confront it. This political reality was as much a consequence of the state that inflicted abuses on its citizens as it was the upshot of international solidarity movements that sought to address and bear witness to these abuses.
Every time racial disparity is invoked as the lens through which to see American inequality, the overwhelming role played by the increased inequality in the American class system is made invisible. And this is, of course, true on the right as well as the left—think of all the conservative commentators defending the police by invoking the spectre of black-on-black murder. And then think of the widespread agreement among criminologists that the Gini coefficient “predicts murder rates better than any other variable.” Conservatives who try to blame black crime on race and liberals who try to blame it on racism are both missing the point. If you want to distinguish between the left and the right, the relevant question is not what they think about race; it’s what they think when race is taken out of the equation.
In order to show that race—which is to say, the confrontation with blackness—and not something else prompts the interaction, the poem’s early scenes happen within the domain of the professional managerial class. The salience of the assault, whether psychic or physical, depends on a prior sense of wellbeing among those who are reasonably well off. Rankine also notes that this sense of wellbeing is illusory—the “eternally stupid or everlastingly optimistic” outlook of highly successful black people who continue to play the game.” These assaults are not merely inconveniences but potentially life and death matters.
Autonomy names the fact not that artworks are free from external circumstances, but that precisely those external circumstances are actively taken up by works of art in ways that are irreducibly normative.