Tain’t So

By (University of Chicago)

To lay out, as clearly and as programmatically as we could, the reasons why despite protestations to the contrary, antiracism, understood as insisting on the symmetry of fighting discrimination and fighting exploitation, suppresses the development of a working class politics rather than offering a road to it. To make this point, the essays printed here, perhaps a little more insistently than our previous responses to critics, attend to the way that antiracism is an expression of the class position of those of us who produce the bulk of the commentary on injustice, and who routinely confront race and gender disparities in our everyday lives.

Black Politics After 2016

By (University of Pennsylvania)

Largely because of the challenge posed by the alternative political vision that Sanders advanced and the subsequent struggle over how to interpret the meanings of Trump’s victory, the 2016 election and its aftermath have thrown into relief the extent to which antiracism, and other formulations of politics based on ascriptive identities, are not simply alternatives to a (working) class politics, as Clinton’s cheesy put-down during the campaign implied. What is typically called identity politics reflects the perspective of a different class, the professional and managerial strata who are relatively insulated from the negative impacts of the four decades long regime of regressive redistribution and better positioned to take advantage of the opportunity structures it opens. That perspective suggests a reason many high-profile antiracists have become so vehement in their opposition to a politics centered on downward economic redistribution.

The Political Economy of Anti-Racism

This is why some of us have been arguing that identity politics is not an alternative to class politics but a form of it: it’s the politics of an upper class that has no problem with seeing people left behind as long as they haven’t been left behind because of their race or sex. And (this is at least one of the things that Marx meant by ideology) it’s promulgated not only by people who understand themselves as advocates of capital but by many who don’t.

More Neoliberal Art History

By (Emory University) and (College of William & Mary)

That individual experience is what is at stake in an analysis like Lee’s and in projects like the Multinode Metagame and the Opsroom installation means that they are always different, always changing, always occasioning new “meanings.” This is the polysemic, and the polysemic is not the opposition, but the alibi of neoliberalism. It provides cover for exploitation, the glitter of a thousand stars to transfix the thousands of victims while their pockets are being picked.

Grimstad on Experience, Flatley on Affect:
A Response

Which suggests not only that it would be puzzling for a critical practice to declare itself against affect but that it’s equally puzzling to think of any critical practice as being for affect—to think, for example, of “reading for mood” as “a mode of reading.” There are no such things as modes of reading—there’s only trying to understand what a text is doing.

Experience and Experimental Writing:
Literary Pragmatism from Emerson to the Jameses

By , (Trinity University), , and (Johns Hopkins University)

Consider looking at that cursive “c” through a microscope, the edges of the dried ink branching out in irregular furrows into the fabric of the paper. Could Dickinson mean that? Could any human mean that? Would ever more powerful microscopes uncover more and more layers of meaning? It made sense to me to think the answers here should be “no.”

Modernism, Theatricality, and Objecthood

The imperative to establish an artistic medium means that the artist herself must somehow assume the authority to determine and declare how her work is to count for us, determine as just what medium of art it is to confront its specific possibilities of success and failure. In art, as well as in ordinary speech and gesture, possibilities of meaning and expression exist only insofar as there are answers to the criterial questions of what sort of thing is the subject of expression here, what speech, what action, what medium of expression.

Authors and Authority
On Art, Objects, and Presence

How do we know what counts as true to art, of “art as such”? Take a parallel case: In the sixteenth century, arguments over what counts as Scripture raised the question of precisely what makes something Scripture. What can count as proof—for one cannot ask the author, and certainly not the Author? The key here is the experience of finding oneself in (absorbed by) what has a claim to be art—or in this case in what claims to be Scripture. “Art as such” gives this: art is thus never primarily representation.

Missed Connections

Thinking in this way, we might recast Fried’s wonder about why modernist artists went to the cinema. Perhaps they were not (just) seeking refuge from the burdens of the seriousness of their work; perhaps they saw in the cinema a range of different ways of negotiating the same questions about the relation of artwork to beholder that they were themselves preoccupied with. On this view, cinema does not stand apart from Fried’s modernist history; it continues that history by other means.

The Stakes of Modernist Acknowledgment

By (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle)

It is important to recognize, when reading his critique of literalist sensibility in “Art and Objecthood,” that his view of literalness and contingency is not that these should be abolished from artworks (as though that could ever be possible! Mallarmé reminds us that it’s not), but that the literal and contingent properties of a work should be acknowledged and incorporated into it, creating an intimate and non-arbitrary relation between a work’s literal conditions and its configuration, between its situation and its syntax. The problem is not literalness, but what one does with it.

On the End(s) of Black Politics

By (University of Chicago), (University of Pennsylvania), (University of Illinois at Chicago), (Illinois State University), (Mount Holyoke) and (South Carolina State University)

A politics whose point of departure requires harmonizing the interests of the black poor and working class with those of the black professional-managerial class indicates the conceptual and political confusion that underwrites the very idea of a Black Freedom Movement. The prevalence of such confusion is lamentable; that it go unchecked and without criticism is unacceptable. The essays that appear in this section will critique this tendency and offer in its stead a vision of what we think ought to be.

Issue #23: Naturalizing Class Relations

In this issue we address the various ways in which class has been naturalized by popular political alternatives. As Warren, Reed, Legette, and Michaels argue, there is a class politics to antiracism, which has been mostly expunged from public debate. Grasso considers the rehabilitative ideology of the prison system, Sowa the stakes of the new populism. Finally, Cronan and Palermo look at a current variant of neoliberalism in art history.

The Unity of Individualism and Determinism in the Rehabilitative Ideal

By (University of Pennsylvania)

In recent years, political debates over American crime policy have become centered on whether prisons should aim to rehabilitate rather than punish offenders. While rehabilitative discourse appears to be a progressive alternative to punitive politics, I argue that rehabilitative ideology is built on theoretical premises that justify punitive politics. By conceptualizing criminality within individualistic and deterministic frameworks, the rehabilitative ideal of American criminal justice depicts crime as a function of individual-level faults rather than as symptoms of the deeper social and political inequalities that shape the class profile of the prison population. When criminality is viewed as a function of defects and deficiencies entirely rooted in the person, criminality can only be cured through individual level responses rather than more systematic structural reform.

The Role of Race in Contemporary U. S. Politics:
V.O. Key’s Enduring Insight

By (South Carolina State University) and (University of Pennsylvania)

Today, race performs the function of suppressing working-class politics in the interests of both white and black political elites who are equally committed to capitalist class priorities as defining the boundary of political possibility.

Populism or Capitalist De-modernization at the Semi-periphery:
The Case of Poland

By (Polish Academy of Sciences)

It’s here again, that we encounter the basic flaw of liberal common sense, with its fixation on cultural factors and the importance of ethos. What they neglect is an element that was entirely wiped out of both public and academic discourse in Poland as well as elsewhere, for example, in the US: the issue of class and its indelible materialist component. Populism is a kind of displaced and perverted class revolt. It derives from an oppression of double kind: material for the poor and symbolic for the lower-middle class.

What I Really Mean

Deposit doesn’t mean cash. I mean the layer of ash
Distributed equally on both my palms.

Eclogue III: Catching the Ball Makes the Catcher Feel Good

…But if “catching
the ball makes
the catcher feel good,” what
makes any of this history?

Issue #22: “Art and Objecthood” at Fifty
Part Two

For fifty years, Michael Fried’s “Art and Objecthood” has set the terms for the discussion of minimalism, or as he prefers to call it, literalism.  More than just a commentary on a controversial set of works that challenged and largely eclipsed high modernism, “Art and Objecthood” has itself remained the subject of intense debate since it was first published in Artforum.  It raises questions about the nature of art, of experience, of criticism, and of the relation of history to all of the above.  For some of us, partisans as well as opponents of Fried’s views, “Art and Objecthood” is inevitable–a challenge that cannot be avoided.  The essays and appreciations gathered in this issue offer variety.  They are by “Art and Objecthood”‘s admirers, if not partisans, and suggest the breadth of ways its challenge can be felt and met.  Fried’s battle with minimalism may be a topic for art historical study, but we are not finished reading “Art and Objecthood” yet.  The discussion continues here.

Alone In A World of Objects:
Videogames, Interaction, and Late Capitalist Alienation

Is feeling good an aesthetic? We might say that feeling a kind of subjective pride is a commodified politics—an affiliation of progressive sentiment with market forces that we have seen in such ad campaigns as Oreo’s LGBTQ-positive viral advertising, a way to align politics with preferences. This preferential politics is mobilized, at least in part, by Gone Home as form and content marry to create a limited political efficacy, a reaffirmation of the player’s good politics regarding sexuality (or, conversely, a negative pleasure for the player in experiencing politics that they do not find agreeable). But while preference can produce a politics, it is difficult to imagine that “feeling good” can count as an aesthetic.

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