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.
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.
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.
It is one of the accomplishments of Kleist’s writing to have brought the openness of the now—its unforeseeable character, its multiplicity and fluidity of circumstantial determinants, its catastrophic turns, its capacity to carry one along, in short: everything Goethe meant by the phrase gewaltige Gegenwart—into the very structure of the sentence.
It is at this point that, because of this negative dependence on Hegel, it matters a great deal that Adorno has misidentified the heart and soul of Hegel’s Absolute Idealism.
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.
My aim is to evaluate the underlying claims in de Duve’s Kant after Duchamp. First, I raise concerns about his reliance on the unmodified readymade as a foundation for his post-Duchampian paradigm—the pure readymade is inconceivable as a work of art and thus could not satisfy the judgment, “This is art”—and second, I evaluate the validity of his treatment of the term art as a proper name or rigid designator, which elevates the objects to which art refers over the meaning of art.
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.
What I mean is the following: the technology photographs appear full of—in effect charged with—the evidence of human intentions. That is, we do not doubt for a moment that every wire, every length of tubing, every switch, diode, transistor, condenser, resistor, amplifier, oscillator, and voltage regulator…every electronic device and accessory however small and inconspicuous, was positioned where it is shown to be by a human agent or a team of human agents so as to bring about a nested series of specific outcomes. At the same time, equally crucial to my account, no matter how hard or closely or committedly one looks one is absolutely unable to grasp either the larger, overarching purpose of the tokamak itself…or for that matter the lesser, partial purposes of the individual devices and their connections.
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.