Wrongful Convictions
The Nineteenth-Century Droit d’Auteur and Anti-Authorial Criticism

By analyzing the Gros case in relation to nineteenth-century French law concerning the droit d’auteur, this essay offers evidence against one of the central historiographical postulates advanced in anti-authorial criticism: that the displacement of an interest in an author’s meaning onto a reader’s productive activities represents or would have represented a subversive blow to the modern proprietary regime of authorship. More specifically, I will dispute the plausibility of certain supposedly critical alternatives to the author, be they Roland Barthes’s modern scriptor or his emboldened readers, by demonstrating that the criticality of these positions depends upon a mistaken view of what historical authorship entailed and, more tendentiously, by suggesting that these same alternative “authors” had already been furnished with rights of their own.

Reading Art and Objecthood While Thinking about Containers

Fluxus containers, in summary, initiate the beholder (a holding, handling beholder, maybe a tool-being holder in the Heideggerian sense) to explore and take interest in the world. The boxes sensitize the user to a world where the public is overwhelmed and numbed by the excess goods proliferating, literally ad nauseum, in the world and landing in  the seconds bins along Canal Street, where Maciunas made use of them as artworks. The kits express a collective obligation (or opportunity) to repurpose the excess manufactured articles of late capitalism.

The Luminous Elsewhere

By (Texas Tech University)

Eighteenth-century intentionality was less a directional striving or will, than disclosive, something that made us aware of our being in the world. What the senses do, in this sense, is to make the world available, rather than keep it at a skeptical remove. Perception…is a “skilled attunement.” It is Lajer-Burcharth’s singular achievement to give us a very different eighteenth century, a “luminous elsewhere” that’s also right here with us. And radically ordinary.

Theaster Gates’ Social Formations

By (Tulane University)

As artist and urbanist, Theaster Gates is his own patron, his own institution, his own LLC. He is start-up and content creator combined. Though artists have long engaged in corporate parodies, Gates goes beyond the twee anarcho-entrepreneurship of the Bernadette Corporation or the politicized media takeovers of the Yes Men. He creates new art spaces as anchor institutions in blighted blocks. His works propel white creative types to penetrate black areas of the city formerly unknown to them. His renown encourages art tourists to travel beyond the usual downtown museum circuit. But Gates does not draw attention with mural paintings or large public sculptures. Gates’ artwork is, simply, real estate. And there is real money at stake.

Defamiliarization and the Unprompted (Not Innocent) Eye

By (University of Antwerp)

The aim is to revive the concept of defamiliarization by showing that it has nothing to do with the Innocent Eye and to propose a new interpretation of it in terms of distributed attention. This reinterpreted concept of defamiliarization can be useful for contemporary post-formalist accounts of the history of vision, imagination, and visual attention.

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 #25: Authorship/Anti-Authorship: Legal and Aesthetic

Roundtable on Jackson Pollock’s Modernism, counter-narratives to anti-authorship in the nineteenth century, in Fluxus, and in 1960s Brazil, also the beginnings of an Anti-Global art history.

Never Mind the Pollocks

By (Trinity University), (National Gallery of Art), (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin) and (University of Southern California)

It might seem idiosyncratic to scrutinize such tiny details in such a large painting: Cathedral’s surface area is eighteen square feet, each dot I have discussed smaller than a dime. Yet my purpose in calling attention to Pollock’s small-scale painterly decisions, the evidence of which he left plainly in sight, is to demonstrate his fastidious concern with the integrity of his surfaces. From the perspective of their studied particularity, limiting the use of “all-over” to describe stylistically the putative uniformity of Pollock’s canvases forecloses the possibility that “all-over” might just as well designate the intentional character of every mark. In Pollock’s automatism, everything matters, at least potentially.

Hélio Oiticica, Tropical Hyperion

Helio Oiticica’s career tells the story of the democratic leap of art off the wall and into life, out of contemplation and into action and experience, from autonomy to involvement, from elite contemplation to democratic participation, from aesthetics to politics. This narrative, which carries the authority of being the story Oiticica himself wanted to tell at one point in his life, is not false. And yet the truth lies elsewhere: closer to the works themselves and, only apparently paradoxically, in the great political crosscurrents that tore through the Brazilian 1960s.

Even More Neoliberal Art History
Globalizing Art History

By (College of William & Mary)

Again: is this Farago’s politics, or is this something deep in the DNA of global art history?  Insofar as globalization concerns itself with “subject positions,” it seems clear that struggles for state power and deep changes to the relations of production and the exploitation of labor are not just beyond its grasp but irrelevant to it.

From a Rooseveltian Dream to the Nightmare of Parliamentary Coup

By (University of São Paulo)

In Brazil, the first decade of the twenty-first century was characterized by a successful but moderate reformist program spearheaded by its president from 2003-2010, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, universally known as Lula. His successor hoped to accelerate the project on the wings of a Rooseveltian dream: to create “in just the space of a few years” a country in which the majority could lead “recognizably similar and remarkably decent material lives.” What happened?

Class Struggle in Brazil:
The Neoliberal Coup, an Attack on Workers and the Poor

By (Indiana University)

The neoliberal program includes: a) the drastic reduction of the federal budget, with a direct impact on social welfare, education, public health, and research spending, a.k.a. “the death budget”; b) labor legislation reform, removing or weakening many of the longstanding protections enjoyed by Brazilian workers and, under the guise of creating “flexible” labor relations, undermining the country’s trade-union movement; and c) social security reform, imposing stricter and longer work requirements, which, given the current and past employment structure would make full retirement unattainable for large sectors of Brazil’s working class.

Two Poems

In the office park he spoke of the land.
To the loan officer, of the land.
At the temp agency, the land.

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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