Issue #18: The Subject in Culture
The subject of trained artistic gesture or of the ganzfeld chamber; understanding itself within liberal ideology or within a crisis of man. This issue considers the relation of the subject to various cultures—psychological, political, historical.
Inside the issue
What should the revolutionary poet be doing, when crisis – whether it be economic, social, environmental, or for that matter, aesthetic – appears increasingly frequent, inevitable, and irreversible? Or to ask the question in a slightly different form: What poetic forms do these conditions of crisis seem to require?
Art as such does not pre-exist capitalism and will certainly not survive it, but rather presents an unemphatic alterity to it: art is not the before or after of capitalism, but its determinate other.
Injured bone. Blynken and Nod. Visor your irises, handle with tongs. We all think the Mandate of Heaven belongs To him who gets-away-with.
Take, for example, Turrell’s description of one of his recent ganzfeld chambers at the Henry Moore institute in Halifax, England: “It could induce an epileptic fit. You could really render someone useless if you choose to. The Henry Moore Institute had to have a neurologist from London…. It is serious business from that point of view. But there have been art pieces, by Christo and Serra, that actually killed people. I don’t in any way intend that…. It is invasive, closing your eyes will not stop this…”
In the fall of 1943 Max Horkheimer composed multiple drafts of an essay entitled “On the Sociology of Class Relations.” The essay was intended for inclusion in the collaborative project with Theodor W. Adorno which came to be called The Dialectic of Enlightenment. One indication that the essay was crucial to their project was that Horkheimer solicited several responses to the working drafts including comments from Franz Neumann and Herbert Marcuse (on the East coast) and Friedrich Pollock and Adorno (in Los Angeles with Horkheimer). Here for the first time is Horkheimer’s original essay in full and in its original English-language format plus five contemporary responses.
Both as intellectual and as literary history — as an account of the relation between the two in the mid-20th century and an attempt to reimagine the relation between the two in the early 21st century — Mark Greif’s The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-1973 (Princeton University Press, 2015) is an important and original book. We asked a number of critics working in related areas to say what they thought about it, and Greif to respond.
From the beginning of Picasso’s career to the end, he depicted life-size figures. An essential aspect of this way of working is made curiously prominent in Boy Leading a Horse—because an effortful, first moment of learning reinstalls itself in an uninvited fashion. Recall that the palmar grasp affords a longer range but simultaneously deprives the artist of his ability to maintain the hand in a flowing continuous movement across the surface (as evident in the photograph of the École).
Is damaged art still art? There are two ways to approach the question. The first is ontological; it is a question of how much a work of art can be changed, damaged, or altered (the water-logged painting, the shattered sculpture, the abridged novel) and still be thought of as the same work. The other way to approach it is political: as a question of what it means for art to represent or reflect the damage—the compromise, concession, and instrumentalization—that is an inescapable consequence of its place in a market economy and a capitalist world. To put the question this way is to inquire into the conditions of an artwork that doesn’t pre-exist its damage, one that arrives already in damaged form; “totaled in advance,” to use Jennifer Ashton’s excellent phrase. But the artwork that is totaled in advance raises in turn a further question, which is whether it is possible to differentiate intentional damage from unintentional damage, the preemptive from the inevitable. Does art that takes up the unavoidable demands of the market as its subject thereby somehow escape those demands? Or is the very point of art under such conditions simply to demonstrate its own impossibility in the face…