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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.
My proposal, then, is that we interpret artworks in the light of intention, that magic feature that turns cardboard into a box, A Modest Proposal into something cunning, and a bag of trash into part of an installation. But that intention is a display-intention. When it comes to generic aims, such as “making a work of art,” we could perhaps make do, in many cases, with conception-intentions; but when it comes to specific projects, like that of raising questions about agency or the aesthetic, display-intentions are going to be indispensable. Further, the display-intention is that of the postulated artist, not that of the empirical maker.
But there are many ways to be an intentionalist. Time is always limited, of course, but each of the various historical predecessors I sketched a moment ago offers distinct nuances, and mentioning them reminds us of the sheer variety of positions—about what’s possible, about where the challenges lie, about where the accent should go—that have been available to thinkers trying to understand intentions in a material world.
Meaning in art (what you have actually done and said) slips away from the artist’s ranges of control within the environment, for example, of the unprecedented circulation of commodities. But instead of allowing meaning and intention to be coopted, predictably and inevitably, the artists Michaels admires evacuate the work of emotional, affective, or personal forms of address preemptively, as though anti-pathos and anti-sentiment were a shield or defense.
We should be struck by the similarity between Davidson’s position and the Tractarian one that Anscombe rejects. Both positions depict the core of agency (either “willing” or “primitive action”) as on one side of a divide and the world (the results, the wider descriptions) as on the other, with the connection between these things depicted as something further that a human agent must presume but is powerless to effect. And this is exactly the opposite of Anscombe’s own view.
Michaels is confusing the issue when he says that a human artwork that looks like nature in Kant’s sense is participating in “the refusal of intentionality;” rather, it is the outcome of an overcoming of artifice, where the work achieves a naturalness that we could never find in the rest of nature, and so does not let us forget we are beholding something intended. Perhaps chimpanzee paintings fall into an obscure grey area between Kant’s two poles, not achieving the status of painting while—because we cannot but see some intimation of meaning in them—making it impossible for us to appreciate them in the way we do sunsets.
Black Lives Matter sentiment is essentially a militant expression of racial liberalism. Such expressions are not a threat but rather a bulwark to the neoliberal project that has obliterated the social wage, gutted public sector employment and worker pensions, undermined collective bargaining and union power, and rolled out an expansive carceral apparatus, all developments that have adversely affected black workers and communities. Sure, some activists are calling for defunding police departments and de-carceration, but as a popular slogan, Black Lives Matter is a cry for full recognition within the established terms of liberal democratic capitalism. And the ruling class agrees.
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
Carthusians refer to their cells as deserts. The cell is a remote site at the margins of civilization, distant from the noise of society and mundane temptations. A desert is not only the place where all customs, traditions, and historical stratifications fall apart, but also where any consolidated societal structure can be questioned and examined from an estranged point of observation.
By contrast, what the idea of the rule provides is a relation to the self—to sleeping, washing, eating, excreting and reflecting—that embodies an understanding of the social constituted neither by an assemblage of solitaries nor by the model of the epistolary relations between the writer and the “others” whose “help” he needs to cultivate himself properly. It would be too much to say that in the seven “Deserts” we see the struggle between capital and labor. But it would be exactly right to say that we see emblems not of self-care but of both conflict and of ideology.