Journal of Aesthetics & protest
Conversations and Theory in
practice. go post-money!!!
By Marc J Leger
The widespread abandonment of critical dialectical realism on the Left has occasioned a number of theoretical common points among anti-capitalist artists and activists. Whereas one often hears that this is an outcome of historical experience and therefore progress in matters of theory, the widening gap between theory and practice demands of us that we work through the aporias of this dilemma, as Theodor Adorno once argued in his essay on commitment: "the controversy over commitment remains urgent, so far as anything that merely concerns the mind can be today, as opposed to sheer human survival." Following the success of Foucault and Deleuze in academic circles, and the subsequent importance of Hardt and Negri's Empire in the wake of Seattle and subsequent antiglobalization protests, North American activists have in the last decade turned to the theoretical work of the Italian autonomists and post-operaists associated with the work of Antonio Negri, Maurizio Lazzarato and Paolo Virno, among others. The latter have famously argued that the conditions of production in post-Fordist societies require new thinking in matters of social organization, changes that are facilitated by networked resistance and new forms of cooperation and worker self-management. Mixed in with protest activity and writing are the ongoing debates between anarchism and communism, anarcho-syndicalism and social democratic trade unionism. Beyond the many examples of grass-roots and institutionalized "anti-capitalist" organizing, the current view among activists is that the "movement of the movement" needs to move past counter-summit protest as well as designated protest sites and shift toward popular front-type mobilizations, as witnessed for example with the initial success of the new French Anti-Capitalist Party.
In these same years, the work of Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière and Slavoj Žižek in particular have provided a lively counterpoint to the theoretical shortcomings of the anti-globalization movement, in particular on "philosophical" matters having to do with concepts of totality, infinity, the theory of the state, the subject's implication in ideology and the relation of radical democratic politics to class struggle. These writers have excoriated both the New Left and postmodernists for their lack of inventiveness concerning the weight of the historical past on contemporary action. The notoriety of their ideas, somewhat in contrast to the direct influence of Deleuze and Guattari's schizo-anarchism on the counter-globalization Left, has yet to fully take root. What I wish to provide in this essay are some reflections on the relation of social class to cultural production that could potentially bridge some of the aporias that separate the more anarchist tendencies from those of communists. By crossing Pierre Bourdieu's work on culture and class distinction with Peter Bürger's sociological model of the "institution art," I hope to provide a working model with which to think about the contradictory situation in which today's international petty bourgeois class deliberates the possibility of enabling ever more authoritarian forms of state capitalism.
On many levels, the potential for critical discussion and action today is seriously circumscribed by institutional conservatism. In his four-volume theory of the state, Henri Lefebvre argued that official humanism had accomplished little for humans and more in terms of the consolidation of the state. From this, humanism passes to individualism, sustained by libertarian ideals but nevertheless abandoned by the state in economic and political terms. Only bourgeois anarchism affirms individualism in its reductive dimensions, where it cannot even be named as such and instead passes over into struggles for identity, without, however, altering the mode of statist production and emerging as petty bourgeois initiatives. Here the role of elite intellectuals is circumscribed by their connection to the middles classes and the relation of this class to the state. It believes itself cosmopolitam, open to strangers and foreignness (within) and to innovation, but all of this hides the reality that foreigners do not have access to this elite faction. From this group leftist intellectuals have difficulty distinguishing themselves and come to believe in their marginality; focused on culture, they offer new models of consumption as a form of revolution. Investments of affect and romantic individualism, he writes, flounder against the harsh reality of global markets and capital investment. Whereas the Left's intellectual contribution to thinking through the limits of neoliberal economics, both socially and economically, has gained respectability in the wake of the economic downturn of 2008, the ideological reaction is already palatable. None of this comes as a surprise when we consider the prohibition on class politics that has structured so much social thinking in the decades since Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney. However, because neoliberalism has remained the privileged formula for both state policy as well as international forms of governance, class polarization – a process of actual polarization between the rich and the poor combined with an entrenched "middle" class phenomenon of petty bourgeois identification with the liberal ideology of classlessness – has taken place on an increasingly global dimension. This transformation has occurred primarily in relation to the growth of a distinctly international petty bourgeois class formation. Its optimism concerning the public virtues of parliamentary democracy masks the latter's basis in market capitalism and altogether ignores the imperialist relations on which industrial and post-industrial capitalism have been built.
What are the political characteristics of this tertiary "middle" class and what can an unabashedly "orthodox" class analysis contribute to thinking through the perils of anticapitalism in a world commandeered by forms of neoliberal governance? If we could adequately address this question, I argue, we could better understand the relentless capitalization of culture through the mediating role of political and cultural institutions. What do the current institutional forms of cultural production reveal about the ideological function of class? Furthermore, what kinds of cultural criticism are appropriate to a renewed engagement in cultural and political contestation that takes class analysis into consideration?
Autonomy, Institution, State
Among the key Marxist concepts that allow for an appreciation of the superstructural function of culture is the concept of autonomy, the relative autonomy of art from its economic conditions of production. Modern art, a product of the division of labour, is structured unevenly in relation to class distribution – a simple fact that we could say eludes even the most astute of post-structuralists if it were not for the more sober truth of the active repression of sophisticated Marxist analyses in institutional milieux. Understood in terms of ideological relations, autonomous art is a relatively independent aspect of the social space. While some seek to find here a space of utopian possibility and projection, they typically ignore what Henri Lefebvre referred to as the mode of state production, a reality of modern technocratic production that since Stalinism has effectively outgrown the cultural and nationalist trappings of the state form. No wonder then that so much writing has currently focused the place of culture in economic growth, from concerns with the precarious working conditions of unproductive labour to the culture industries boosterism of urban governments and the cost accounting of federal agencies. Notwithstanding the lingering confusions about the sublation of art and life that finds simpler solutions in cultural studies-style work on representation, it is this new discourse of the neoliberal engineering of culture that has led many on the mystified Left to do away with autonomy, especially since the strings attached demarcate the lines of politicization just as surely as prisons and police lines. However, no amount of blind tactical theorization will alter the reality. Art is, like capital, a concrete universal that structures the chain of signifiers in the hegemonic production of social relations.
In his landmark text on the sociology of culture, Pierre Bourdieu described modernist aesthetic autonomy as a function of the reproduction of class society. Cultural practice, he argued, and in order to reproduce itself, avoids the objectification of culture through the very transgression of the conventions of cultural production. Because artistic transgression further distances the cultivated dispositions of the dominant classes from the ethical dispositions of the dominated classes, cultural transgression works to reproduce class inequality. The contradictory aim of transgression, Bourdieu argued, is "contained within the limits assigned to it a contrario by the aesthetic conventions it denounces and the need to secure the aesthetic nature of the transgression of the limits". The historical avant-gardes attempted to counter this process through a politically motivated suspension of aesthetic priorities, a strategy of sublation that is sometimes mistaken as "political art." Bourdieu's sociological and anthropological approach toward the sense of taste and questions of cultural disposition is one of the means whereby critical theory has followed a path that is distinct from the modernist emphasis on a priori assumptions concerning cultural authority. In contrast to Adorno, for whom the inexorable precariousness of culture was to be attributed to its resistance to the exchange values of liberal capitalism, Bourdieu defined the eradication of the sacred boundary that separates art from everyday life as a necessary stage in the resistance to the logic of accumulation.
In the same decade, a second major criticism of the concept of autonomy was put forward by Peter Bürger in his Theory of the Avant Garde. Bürger defined the goal of avant-garde aesthetics as a subordination of the specific formal characteristics of the work of art to the general characteristics of the work's social and political content. In this sense, the historical avant-gardes were not so much anti-aesthetic as dialectical in the proper Hegelian sense: art was to be mediated according to its social conditions of production, a notion that was best expressed by Walter Benjamin in his essay on "The Author as Producer." The institutionalization of this critical or realist approach to autonomy by the capitalist culture industries, Bürger argued, had led in the postwar period to the separation of art from praxis and from the radical confrontation of class society. According to Jochen Schulte-Sasse's introduction to the English translation of Bürger's book, it was Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge's notion of the consciousness industry that led beyond Horkheimer and Adorno's pessimistic view of negative dialectics – autonomy's withdrawal and compensatory function in a world of instrumentalized integration – towards a recognition of proletarian experience as a "historically concrete production of meaning". While few have accepted Bürger's critique of the postwar neo-avant gardes, his theory of the development of bourgeois culture has more or less become an invaluable text in the sociology of art.
While postmodernism and cultural studies have made significant claims for the heterogeneity of language games and the inevitable diversity of modes of reception, Bourdieu and Bürger have effectively demonstrated that the reception of art coincides primarily with changes to its institutionalization. Bürger's thesis concerning the discursive institutionalization of art/autonomy, however, might mask some significant changes related to the eclipse of the theory and practice of avant-gardism. Few commentators today would deny the fact that cultural institutions are the object of constant criticism on the part of its own constituencies. If anything, this vanguard posture is enacted today through its "post-political" reversal: complicity, compliance, identification and relationality as "critical" strategies. This cool, affirmative strategy, pressured by the logic of networking and careerism, is little more than a survival strategy within conditions of neoliberal governance.
It is in the 1960s and 70s, in the paradigm shift from the old Left to the New Left that the critique of alienation and reification was replaced by the critique of institutions, a consequence of the view that class struggle had been abolished, or neutralized, by parliamentary democracy and the welfare state, on the hand, and by bureaucratic socialism on the other. According to Gerald Raunig, the student rebellions of the late 60s were considered irresponsible by traditional Left organizations because they disabled institutions: "They refused to channel their rage into the available political parties or labor unions and instead used Situationist and other artistic-cum-political methods to call for a thoroughly political objective: 'L'imagination au pouvoir'." While the New Left, informed by postcolonial struggles and the American civil rights movement, challenged sexism, militarism, imperialism, environmental degradation and commercialism, it tended to conflate class struggle with the struggle to create alternative institutions. Today, as a consequence, a hegemonic view of classless society has come to operate as the groundless ground of class struggle. Class struggle disappears inasmuch wealth creation in industrial societies has led to the disappearance of boundaries between classes and the rise of a tertiary "middle" or petty bourgeois class that is neither bourgeois nor proletarian. Despite its position as a working class, the new petty bourgeois class of managers, office and service workers, has witnessed a class polarization that plays a determining structural role vis-à-vis class praxis. As Nicos Poulantzas long ago argued, the petty bourgeois social formation reproduces itself through polarization; in the postwar period, its distinct class practice has been to abandon class struggle in favour of identity struggles and the struggle against institutions.
While the critique of institutions has allowed numerous forms of oppression to become the object of criticism, analysis and research, it also contributes to class inequality. What is missing from many of the new models of aesthetic practice is a distinction between the kind of cultural criticism that accepts the concept of social formation as an expression of the mode of production, and a Marxist sociology that explains social formation as the mode of reproduction of the modes of production. Institutions are key in this regard as they create a space of mediation that allows for the separation of modes of production from social relations.
The search for a post-avant-garde aesthetic in contemporary art can be attributed to the dismantling of a nineteenth-century notion of the historical subject, including that of the proletariat as the historical class that is best able to overcome the contradictions of capitalist class relations. The main trends in contemporary culture remain thoroughly aesthetic, however, and because of this, the polarization of class factions as a feature of the dominant mode of capitalist production goes unrecognized.
What Siegfried Kracauer once termed "the salaried masses" and what C. Wright Mills later referred to as the "white collar" world of the new middle class defines the situation of the majority of people today who are in the position of traditional labour inasmuch as they do not control the means of production. However, because of their class situation, education and lifestyle ambitions, they identify with Capital. Class polarization, rather than cultural difference, is the open secret, the obscene supplement of contemporary post-politics and its cultural manifestations. Contemporary aesthetic practices are thus not moves away from the emphasis on economic determination, but function more precisely as adjuncts to an impossible non-relational, and indeed, despotic class politics inasmuch as they make no claims to universality and abandon hegemonic struggle. The proper orientation for critical practice is not to find in the autonomy of the aesthetic sphere a free space for the figuring of utopian social possibilities, but to recognize in aesthetic autonomy an already compromised class practice, a self-relating that takes its own denial into account and that is constructed around its own constitutive void. Cultural formations do not exist in themselves but through various rule-bound and antagonistic social structures that question the self-evidence of modes of production and normalization. If contemporary critical art practices pretend to dispense with autonomy, they do so in the same way that the rationalized capitalist economy dispenses with the language of class: in both cases, social classes are presumed to precede the structures and institutions through which they are reproduced. What is truly tragic for us today is not the loss of autonomy per se, but the sense of what this autonomy was and the kinds of resistance it might still provide.
Il n'y a pas de relation idéologique
One of the most succinct expressions of the links between globalization and social reproduction through culture was Bill Readings' book, The University in Ruins. In it Readings argued that in a world of transnational globalization, the language of economic management replaces that of cultural and class conflict. He cites Giorgio Agamben, whose book, The Coming Community, proposes that a new planetary petty bourgeoisie has replaced social classes and has "freed itself from the Fascist positioning of the [prewar] petty bourgeoisie". According to Agamben,
The planetary petty bourgeoisie has instead freed itself from these dreams [of false popular identity] and has taken over the aptitude of the proletariat to refuse any recognizable social identity... They know only the improper and the inauthentic and even refuse the idea of a discourse that could be proper to them. That which constituted the truth and falsity of the peoples and generations that have followed one another on the earth – differences of language, of dialect, of ways of life, of character, of custom, and even the physical particularities of each person – has lost any meaning for them and any capacity for expression and communication. In the petty bourgeoisie, the diversities that have marked the tragicomedy of universal history are brought together and exposed in a phantasmagorical vacuousness.
According to Readings, this global petty bourgeoisie refuses a specifically political dimension in favour of a purely economic and post-historical logic of administration. In this sense, the liberal belief that North America represents a classless society has paved the way for the economic dominance of a global class that refuses all recognizable or fixed social identity. Because of this, it considers both traditional bourgeois and socialist society to have nothing to do with its technical expertise and vision of the good life. For the global petty bourgeoisie, one could say, there is no ideological relation.
The paradoxical class position of the petty bourgeoisie is that it is neither working class nor middle class but both; its ideological effect is, one the one hand, polarization, and on the other, a certain invisibility inasmuch as it privileges the thesis of classlessness. Technocratic powers have learned to exploit this contradiction to great effect and could do so because neoliberalism once seemed not only the engine of trade and deregulation, as the most advanced form of "turbo" capitalism, but also as a protective reaction to the vagaries of uncontrolled markets – noticed in particular in the creation of international trade blocks, in religious fundamentalisms and xenophobic nationalisms. In ways that Agamben could not have foreseen in the early 1990s, the militarization of the state in the capitalist democracies has been deepened through the biocapitalist manipulation of fear and delegitimation measures that have been normalized through the reactionary transformation of "civil society" institutions.
These contradictions are apparent in both the recuperation and disciplining of cultural criticism. One example of this is the recent arrest, interrogation and detainment of sociology professor Andrej Holm by the German federal police. Holm was detained because his publications contained words like "inequality," "precarization" and "gentrification," words that were construed by authorities as the kind of language used by militant terrorist organizations. Softer forms of censorship can take place through economic sanctions. For example, among the $45 million in cuts to arts funding announced by the Conservative Party of Canada in August 2008, Prime Minister Steven Harper singled out small grants that had gone to "radicals," "left-wing and anti-globalization think tanks," "ideological activists or fringe and alternative groups" and "highly ideological individuals exposing their agendas." If the civil liberties of artists and intellectuals producing politically-motivated work can be so easily revoked through repressive state action, it is partly because political power is distributed anonymously across all social institutions. One should be careful not to overstate the control exerted by disciplinary state apparatuses, however, since the purpose of neoliberal governmentality is largely to produce self-interested subjects who can act autonomously within market relations of inequality.
According to Readings, the standards of excellence and evaluation criteria that now operate in universities, museums, the publishing industry and similar culture industry sectors, are subject to a constant evaluation vis-à-vis performance indicators, opinion polls, cost-benefit analysis, economic development statistics and marketing objectives. The integrative functionalization of culture requires that artists and institutions be allowed to experiment so that they can better be controlled by the power of bureaucracies and so that research can be synergistically tied to economic development.
Following Readings' analysis, contemporary cultural production can benefit from a re-contextualization of Bourdieu's theory of the "cultural goodwill" of the lower middle class as a key political sector of the social space. The general mode of production and consumption, or class habitus, that Bourdieu defined as the petty bourgeois mode was that of allodoxia: an empty form of goodwill and reverence towards high culture that is based in mistaken identifications combined with anxiety about one's social status. While allodoxia owes its sense of distinction to the mode of consumption that is proper to legitimate culture, it confuses aesthetic disinterestedness with popular culture and prefers accessible versions of avant-garde experimentation. Here, as with avant-garde intervention, the political content of the artwork functions at the social level above that of its formal specificity, but the content is the impossible one of an unspecified form of the political.
The petty bourgeois mode of production and consumption attempts to operate as a disengaged and neutral index of the power of institutions to impose cultural capital. By adapting Bürger's model of the sociological development of aesthetic autonomy to Bourdieu's study of the social space of positions, I would like to propose the formation of a new field of relations. Such a re-mapping of the universe of possibles allows us to perceive some of the ways in which the imposition of news forms of cultural legitimacy, including progressive models of practice, avoids what Bourdieu described as a discernment of reality in terms of class composition. Furthermore, the ascendancy of a global petty bourgeois mode of cultural production helps to explain the current status of dialectical materialism and its submerged conditions of efficacy.
Within a petty bourgeois framework, the kind of avant-garde arrogance and insolence that is derived from the "heroic" certainty of possessing culture through serious engagement is replaced by the permanent anxiety of those who pretentiously overidentify with culture. They are, we could say, "possessed" by culture in the same way that bourgeois ideology is "possessed" by class. According to Bourdieu, the pretense of identification is objectively based in the petty bourgeois desire to escape from proletarianization and to subsume culture under the sign of class mobility. Because of this race against the order of time, a process that installs class identity as a surplus mode of enjoyment, and because the order of time is marked by the growing gap between the working poor and the wealth of a small number of individuals and mega corporations, the petty bourgeois mode of appropriating culture dominates the so-called creative industries.
Among the modalities of petty bourgeois allodoxia, Bourdieu proposed the following processes: structural indeterminacy vis-à-vis the social field; countercultural resentment that verges on nihilism; a taste for the new and a willingness to submit to lifestyle changes (especially among the rising, executant petty bourgeoisie); the creation and selling of new products; new occupations that allow symbolic rehabilitation strategies; occupations that emphasize symbolic production, especially in the areas of communications and new media; the euphemization of seriousness and the fun ethic; relaxation strategies and conviviality; affectation in simplicity; flair combined with bluff; sympathy with discourses that challenge the cultural order; the denunciation of hierarchy; an emphasis on personal health and psychological therapy; an imperative of sexual relation; the offering of one's art of living as an example to others; pragmatic utopianism; a measure of psychic distance from the direct impact of market forces. All of these liberated manners and lifestyle choices, Bourdieu argued, betray an effort to defy the gravity of the social field. The challenge to authority is a particularly telling feature of class structure and is one that figures prominently in relation to the charismatic conception of the artist – a fact that facilitated challenges to bourgeois power as a general condition for the constitution of the field of aesthetic autonomy. Authority boundaries, however, are the most permeable of class boundaries, in comparison with the more static boundaries of skill, knowledge, and property.
One of the features of neoliberalism has been to weaken the value of skill and knowledge – and the corresponding mechanisms of professionalism – in favour of property relations. This was an overt feature of the "neoconservative" years of Thatcher and the downsizing mentality that witnessed the wholesale restructuring of institutions and corporations. In this, petty bourgeois allodoxia plays a crucial role, setting what appear to be the social criteria of affect above all considerations of necessity. However, as Thomas Frank argues in his book The Conquest of Cool, these conservative values are part and parcel of what appears to be their opposite: the countercultural (petty bourgeois) resistance to what is construed in idealist terms as traditional and outdated forms of authority and morality. This slight of hand allows for the perpetuation of relations of misrecognition. For example, cultural and educational institutions today cavalierly address their constituencies as consumers, as though the real relation inheres in the unquestioned value of culture and knowledge itself, oftentimes held to be homologous to the field of power. However, the field of power is not static, a fact that becomes more visible in cases of discordance. As Mina Möntmann has argued, the "twilight of the welfare state" has resulted in the eclipse of the bourgeoisie as the legitimate peer group for cultural institutions. Because middle class liberalism by and large continues to function as the stated and unstated ideology of capitalist institutions, the actual sociological entrenchment of the petty bourgeois habitus remains largely invisible. As Poulantzas recognized, the ideological and political articulation of the social position of the new petty bourgeoisie is very narrowly defined by the high level of competition and hierarchy in creative fields. While the economic profile of the cultural worker may effectively be middle class, their relationship to culture is, sociologically speaking, petty bourgeois. According to Möntmann, the ideal trait of the flexible person within the new capitalism is the ability to look for the new, to detach oneself from all ties and to abandon habitual behaviour. One of the structuring problems here is the fact that the erosion of the welfare state in "developed" countries is due to the declining base of full-time, industrial or "Fordist" workers, a result of neoliberal globalization and a basis to the proliferation of nonproductive creative, cognitive and immaterial labour. This tendency, when thought of in terms that ignore class analysis, the intermediary role of the state and the labour theory of value, contributes to the proliferation of petty bourgeois polarization.
This perception is not entirely new. In the late 1970s, Bourdieu was more precise in showing how the new petty bourgeois habitus was in the process of supplying the economy with the perfect consumer. His conclusions were supported by the postmodern withdrawal from the metadiscourse of class politics. By the mid-1980s, Hal Foster could refer to the administrative mediation of legitimate forms of art as "arrière-avant-gardism," a fashionable, cyclical mechanism obsessed with marginal forms of art as well as the popular past. Against critical complicity as well as the allegorical concept of redemptive criticism (the return of the old), Foster proposed that the "liberation" from history that was celebrated as postmodern pluralism was irredeemably tied to late capitalism. Almost twenty years later, Foster's position on the post-neo-avant-garde is largely the same: "This 'end of art' is presented as benignly liberal – art is pluralistic, its practice pragmatic, and its field is multicultural – but this position is also not-so-benignly neo-liberal, in the sense that its relativism is what the rule of the market requires." Caught between the promise of a cosmopolitan identity and the pressures of an increasingly administered social context, most postmodernists simply abandoned the language of class analysis as well as its cultural counterpart, critical autonomy. What is the avant garde to do?
From Politics to Fantasy and Back
Rainer Rochlitz has argued that the avant-garde emphasis on political consciousness in twentieth-century art may have been part of an effort to maintain criteria of quality in the absence of a transformation to a singularly aesthetic logic. My argument is that such a transformation of the bourgeois criteria of aesthetic autonomy has not taken place and that petty bourgeois allodoxia only appears to be playing a dominant role. However, because of the extent of class polarization, the major shifts to cultural production that have marked the twentieth century often go unrecognized. In the developed countries of the West, neither has the concept of aesthetics been displaced, nor has a cultural revolution begun to change this fact. Instead, the features of polarization have gained in symptomatic ascendancy. Inasmuch as the field of culture continues to exploit the reserves of "legitimate" culture, new subjectivities are compelled to engage in the schizoid performativity of individual competition, sometimes translated into activist engagement, subsuming interestedness to the contradictions of bourgeois culture. What this means is that aesthetics should not be thought of in positive terms; there is no properly bourgeois, petty bourgeois or proletarian aesthetic – there are only works, gestures and images that substitute for a fundamental social antagonism. Full symbolization of any sort, either a politicized aesthetic or an aestheticized politics, seeks to eliminate this antagonism. The real of social antagonism, rather, could be thought of in terms of the radical difference between art and politics.
In the context of neoliberalism, the reduction of the cultural sphere to a positive signifying economy functions as an attempt to politically and economically manage class differences. Radical practice, instead, strives to create culture that is unconstrained by a privileged social mediation. Thus, whatever operates as an avant-garde, we could say, functions as the supernumerary of aesthetic autonomy; its activity corresponds to the failure of culture to produce social coherence. The problem for avant-garde practitioners is to find a way to enable critical dissatisfaction and to subvert established forms of (dis)identification through a radical subjectivation of politics. In terms of criticism, this implies the diversifyication of art's audience, being, as Baudelaire once declared, "partial, passionate, and political."
From the outset, what the analysis of class composition suggests for cultural praxis is something along the lines of what Žižek refers to as revolution, the dialectical action of participating and not participating with those institutional arrangements that we cannot do without. This sinthomeopathic activity is set against three decades or more of complicit reconciliation with consumer capitalism that has by and large ignored the practical reality and consequences of capital accumulation and the restructuring of global capitalism. Lacan's concept of the sinthome is defined as a stage beyond the fundamental fantasy (ideological misrecognition), and which allows for a nonpathological (political) subjectivization (organization) of the symptom (cultural practice). In his Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan presented the dilemma of justified paranoia. In our case, this would mean that to oppose the symbolic order of institutionalized art practice is to risk exclusion; to negotiate with it is to allow one's actions to be determined by it. Since artistic freedom can no longer be thought of in terms of sacrificing oneself to the competitive struggle of aesthetic transgression, one must construct what after Lacan we could call sinthomeopathic solutions: lending oneself to institutional arrangements, the symptoms of contemporary cultural production, while still maintaining the fantasy of critical distance. This implies a "tarrying with the negative," which includes practical approaches to autonomy, institutions and the state. Without this a popular front will exist in name only and thousands more micro systems will contribute to the expansion of the system of systems.
Theodor Adorno, "Commitment" in Terry Eagleton and Andrew Milne, eds. Marxist Literary Theory (London: Blackwell, 1996) 187. Adorno's opening salvo from 1962 finds its dark echo in one of Žižek's latest books, In Defense of Lost Causes, which he concludes with the question: "Does, then, the ecological challenge not offer a unique chance to reinvent the 'eternal Idea' of egalitarian terror?" My answer to the question, inspired by the book itself is no. If so, ecological catastrophe would operate our era's big Other. Of course the ecological crisis must be confronted with harsh measures but we should bear in mind that capitalist logic has so far been the "spontaneous" logic of large-scale collective decisions. See Slavoj Žižek, In Defense of Lost Causes (London: Verso, 2008) 461.
Henri Lefebvre, De L'État, Tome I: L'état dans le monde moderne (Paris: 10/18, 1976) 143-151.
Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Translated by Richard Nice. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, , 1984).
Peter Bürger distinguishes the nineteenth-century "bohemian" avant gardes (Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Symbolists, Fauves) from the critical, utopian and future-oriented twentieth-century "historical" avant gardes (Expressionists, Cubists, Futurists, Constructivists, Dadaists, Surrealists and Situationists) and from the postwar "neo" avant gardes (Neo-Dadaists, Neo Realists, Pop Art, Minimalists, Conceptualists) that recovered the strategies of the former (collage, montage, readymade, monochrome, construction) despite institutionally imposed ignorance of critical precedents. It is often held that seventies pluralism and postmodernism mark the end of avant-garde praxis. See Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde. Translated by Michael Shaw. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, , 1984.
See Walter Benjamin, "The Author as Producer," in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (New York: Schocken Books, 1978) 220-238.
Bürger, xxviii. See Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge, Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere. Translated by Peter Labanyi et al. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
In one of the more well-known critiques of Bürger's thesis, Hal Foster argues that the neo-avant gardes can be better understood through the concept of deferred action. Foster's work develops from some of the practices that may not and could not, for historical reasons, have been known to Bürger, beginning with the institutional critical work of Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren and Michael Asher through to the discourse analysis of Fred Wilson, Andrea Fraser and Renée Green and the abject art of David Hammons and Robert Gober. However, in relation to more recent practices, Foster remains silent on the question of how class operates in relation to the chain of signifiers: class, race, gender and sexuality. See Foster, "What's Neo about the Neo-Avant-Garde?" October #70 (Fall 1994) 5-32.
Gerald Raunig, "On the Breach," Artforum (May 2008) 342. See also Raunig's Art and Revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century. Translated by Aileen Derieg (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007).
See Robert Paul Resch, Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist Social Theory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).
Nicos Poulantzas, Les classes sociales dans le capitalisme aujourd'hui (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1974) 195-207.
C. Wright Mills, White Collar: The American Middle Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953) 71. Twenty years before Mills, Kracauer, following the insights of Emil Lederer, suggested that office life had become the new space of social domination and that the struggle for better working conditions had been replaced by the rationalization of play and the construal of public life as culture. See Siegfried Kracauer, The Salaried Masses: Duty and Distraction in Weimar Germany. Translated by Quintin Hoare. (London: Verso,  1998) 32. For an interesting followup to The Salaried Masses, see Kracauer, From Caligary to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film. Edited by Leonardo Quaresima. (Princeton: Princeton University Press,  2004).
I have in mind here Nina Möntmann's assertion that "the challenge for art is to create a temporary model situation of community – one that can be experimental, provisional, informal and maybe prototypical, even Utopian." Nina Möntmann, "Community Service," Frieze #102 (October 2006). http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/community_service/.
Bill Readings, The University in Ruins. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996).
Readings, 49. See Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community. Translated by Michael Hardt. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, , 2007).
Agamben cited in Readings, 50.
Readings' analysis of a symbolic, managerial class is supported by numerous studies, including: Alain Touraine, The Post Industrial Society. (New York: Random House, 1971); Barbara and John Ehrenreich, "The Professional-Managerial Class," in Pat Walker, ed. Between Labour and Capital. (Boston: South End Press, 1979) 5-45; Robert Reich, The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism. (New York: Knopf, 1991); Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991).
Strictly speaking, the contemporary petty bourgeoisie is unlike the middle class in that it does not own the means of production and numbers among salaried professionals and white collar "post-industrial" workers – referred to by Andrew Ross as "no-collar" workers. Post-industrial theory assumes that such workers require more autonomy and decision-making power. Psychologically, the new de-proletarianized petty bourgeois class wishes to be distinguished from the working poor and from the proletariat. This reflects the fact that they are in fact less proletarianized and have more technical training and access to knowledge production than the industrial proletariat. The relation of the petty bourgeoisie towards the middle class is similar to that of the small and medium size business owner vis-à-vis the large capitalist enterprise. In contrast to the view that class conflict implies a direct relation between the working class (socialism) and the middle class (capitalism), Marx argued that in modern societies, a petty bourgeois class is created, which fluctuates between the two but renews itself as a supplementary part of bourgeois society. Another term used by Marx and Engels is that of a bourgeois proletariat, alienated from its revolutionary role by industrial capitalism. We can also speak of a "petty bourgeois complex," a fantasy of capitalistic affluence that has become a permanent feature of late capitalism, which includes post-Keynesian palliatives, structural unemployment or chronic underemployment, third world debt, war expenditure, commodity fetishism and sales promotion, inflation, and environmental catastrophe. See Asok Sen, "Marxism and the Petty-Bourgeois Default," in P.C. Josji, ed. Homage to Karl Marx: A Symposium. (New Delhi: People's Publishing House, 1969) 158-162. See also Erik Olin Wright, Class Counts: Comparative Studies in Class Analysis. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
In some respects, it could simplify matters to understand today's petty bourgeoisie as simply the middle class: it is not the ruling capitalist class, able to devalue both labour and professionalism, and it is not the working class, against which the middle class resentfully guards its symbolic capital against demands for equal opportunity. Resch argues that the "middle" class of professional petty bourgeois workers is divided between a liberal humanist fraction that is based in the public sector, the media and universities, and a Darwinist fraction based in the private sector and corporations. (Notice Richard Florida's enthusiasm for the concept of adaptation.) This class as a whole is unable to understand and resist the restructuring of global capitalism inasmuch as it refuses to consider the analysis of economic determination as class struggle. The more blatant the recent effects of economic determination and class exploitation, he argues, the more the ideological response of this class is to blame its failures on the concessions it once gave to Marxism, whether at the level of the welfare state, state socialism, or at the level of social theory. See Resch, 11.
According to Brian Holmes, in his introductory lecture for the Continental Drift conference at New York City's 16 Beaver Group, neoconservatism acts as the protective reaction to neoliberal market capitalism. Holmes mentions in this regard the current interest in the work of Karl Polanyi and his 1944 publication The Great Transformation. According to Yahya Madra, Polanyi argued that society would develop protective responses to market capitalism and warned that nothing could guarantee that such reflexes would be democratic. Madra adds that in addition to regulation, the market needs to be socially embedded. See Yahya M. Madra, "Karl Polanyi: Freedom in a Complex Society," Center for Popular Economics (May 19, 2004): www.fguide.org/?=127; and Brian Holmes, "Articulating the Cracks in the World of Power," (2005): http://18.104.22.168/drift/091505_brianintro.mov.
Sen cites Gramsci's view that the main task of progressives in the capitalist West is to win in the area of civil society and culture (p.167). Today, however, authoritarian governments have learned to recoup the humanitarian efforts of NGOs, church groups and citizens' movements. Another aspect of this, on a broader scale, is the rise of a symbiotic relation between civil society groups, NGOs and micropolitical groups, on one side, and capitalist institutions. The virtue made by anticapitalist forces in the form of the post-Marxist multitude and micropolitical struggles that abandon "class essentialism" is that they are non-linear, that they can assemble and disperse at will, put pressure on state organizations and intervene tactically and anonymously. However, this tendency to make a virtue out of a weakness is only the moral aspect of a more fundamental ideological component, that is, the analytic philosophical support of petty bourgeois pragmatism. In other words, the existence of the movement can be only verified as a virtuality. This appeal to our "animal disquiet" and to difference, leads, as Alain Badiou argues, to a hallowed vitalist terrorism, a "speculative demagogy whose entire strength lies in addressing itself (...) to everything that makes us scurry about blindly on the desolate surface of the earth." See Badiou, Theoretical Writings. Translated by Ray Brassier and Alberto Toscano (London: Continuum, 2006) 70. See also Corey Robin, Fear: The History of a Political Idea. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). For a Marxist critique of Gramsci's "anarchist" emphasis on civil society, see Henri Lefebvre, De L'État, Tome II: De Hegel à Mao par Staline (Paris: 10/18, 1976).
Holm was also a participant in the demonstrations against the World Economic Summit in Heiligendamm in June of 2007. See Richard Sennett and Saskia Sassen, "Guantánamo in Germany," The Guardian (August 21, 2007) http://www.education/guardian.co.uk/higher/ comment/story/. Consulted September 30, 2007.
See David Akin, "Conservatives cancel $4.7M arts travel program," The Ottawa Citizen, August 8, 2008.
Gregory Sholette, "Disciplining the Avant-Garde: The United States versus The Critical Art Ensemble," Circa #112 (Summer 2005) 52.
In Lacanian terms, we could draw some simple correspondences between the petty bourgeois mode of late capitalist production and the "discourse of the University." On this, see Mark Bracher, Lacan, Discourse and Social Change: A Psychoanalytic Cultural Criticism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993). We could further supplement Lacan's discourse of the University with his discourse of the Capitalist: $/S1 S2/a. In this scenario, the rhetoric of stakeholders, the idea of students as clients, quantitatively measured public opinion, and market-driven curriculum determine what constitutes knowledge through a fantasmatic identification with the prevailing capitalist discourse. The web site Edu-Factory provides links to various anti-capitalist struggles taking place within the global corporate university. See www.edu-factory.org.
The opposite of allodoxic overidentification would be the critical overidentifications strategies of artists, as described in BAVO, ed. Cultural Activism Today: The Art of Over-Identification (Rotterdam: Episode Publishers, 2007).
Holloway argues that the starting point for theoretical reflection should be an awareness of social realities like the fact that in 1998, the assets of the 358 richest people were worth more than the combined wealth of 45 per cent of the world's population – more than 2 billion people. John Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power (London: Pluto Press, 2002) 1. On this we should remember Marx's critique of political economy, as summarized by Engels in his Preface to Marx's critique of Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy: "If mass moral consciousness declares an economic fact to be unjust, as it did at one time in the case of slavery and statute labour, that is proof that the fact itself has outlived its day, that other economic facts have made their appearance due to which the former has become unbearable and untenable. Therefore, a very true economic content may be concealed behind the formal economic incorrectness."
Bourdieu 318-371. One possible objection that should be addressed is the view that Bourdieu's work prevents forms of analysis that are not based in class analysis. In the section on "Social Space and Its Transformations," Bourdieu argues against the concept of class as a container or property. Instead, he states that social class is defined by a "structure of relations" that must also take into account "secondary characteristics" and determinants. Specific agents cannot be defined by one set of characteristics only, and in the context of struggle, secondary principles of division can become primary principles and therefore no determinants are necessarily and always primary. See Bourdieu, 99-107. Secondary determinants, like the unconscious, should not be viewed as truths revealed, but as indices of the structure of subjectivity. In this, we should insist that subjects are incomplete, created and self-created in conditions not of their making. Within capitalist society, class operates in terms of ideology, as a fantasy that attaches us to a particular social formation. As a mode of enjoyment, this ideology, as Jodi Dean writes in relation to Žižek's interpretation of Lacan, structures "the practices in which we persist even as we know better". Ideology creates a distance that relieves us of responsibility for what we do, and, moreover from the belief that I act as an individual. As long as I believe that others act in ways that are class specific, I can continue believing that my actions are individual and autonomous. In this, I can act collectively; I can participate in anti-capitalist organizing. That is why, at this moment of disintegration of the belief in individualism, liberals argue, allodoxically, that economic and political inequality can be resisted by "rebuilding" either the middle class or civil society, which amounts to the same thing. According to Žižek, this false presupposition leads in the direction of a greater distance between capitalism and democracy. See Jodi Dean, Žižek's Politics (New York: Routledge, 2006).
Wright, 199. Does the triad of skill, knowledge and property not address the symbiotic link between creative innovation and urban renewal?
Mina Möntmann, "Art and its Institutions," in Mina Möntmann, ed. Art and its Institutions: Current Conflicts, Critique and Collaborations (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2006) 8.
It could be argued that this shift is only apparent and that behind the petty-bourgeois displacement of national representation lies an unbroken alliance between bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, as Roland Barthes argued in his 1957 text, Mythologies. What I am suggesting here is the logical progression of the bourgeoisie's "ex-nomination," its passing into an undifferentiated nature that is not perceived as directly political.
Möntmann borrows these ideas from Richard Sennett and his book, The Culture of the New Capitalism. See Möntmann, 9. These same traits are sometimes treated as departure points for new forms individuation and networked resistance to corporate capitalism. See also, Brian Holmes, "Unleashing the Collective Phantoms: Flexible Personality, Networked Resistance," in Re/Public (January 2002): http://www.republicart.net.
On this, see Max Henning, "Money for Nothing?" in Turbulence #1 (June 2007): available at http://turbulence.org.uk/turbulence-1/.
Hal Foster, "Against Pluralism," in Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics. (Seattle: Bay Press, 1985) 23. Foster's previous book, The Anti-Aesthetic (1983), made an important distinction between a postmodernism of reaction and a postmodernism of resistance. The tenuousness of this distinction, however, became more apparent as the field of visual studies enlarged the problematic of (psychological) identification and as the editors of the journal October, among them Foster and Rosalind Krauss, argued that advanced culture, including visual studies, is helping to "produce subjects for the next stage of globalized capitalism." The latter phraseology, derived from the "Visual Culture Questionnaire" is markedly different from Krauss' phraseology in "Welcome to the Cultural Revolution" (both of these from the Summer 1996 issue of October) where she states: "advanced culture – far from being contestatory or resistant – is continually preparing its subjects to inhabit indeed, the next, more demanding stage in the development of capital." (84; my emphasis) In this phrasing, the Lacanian insights she presents in her essay are skewed in favour a more Heideggerian reading. No wonder then that Michael Fried's notion of "absorption" makes an unlikely return. If capitalism can operate here as the pre-ontological dimension, we should bear in mind that we are nevertheless talking about subjects, who, as Žižek argues in Hegelian terms, always exist in a way that is "out of joint" with regard to their circumstances. On this see Slavoj Žižek, "The Night of the World," in The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology (London: Verso, 1999) 9-69.
Hal Foster, "The Funeral is for the Wrong Corpse," in Design and Crime (and Other Diatribes). (London: Verso, 2002) 125. The relativism that attends culture understood in terms of art and formal culture of course extends to the idea of multiculturalism and ethnicity and is part of this same process of neoliberal engineering. For instance, the 2008 European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, proposed by the European Commission, was focused on the way that cultural diversity, identity politics and transnationalism contribute to economic prosperity.
See for example Johanne Lamoureux, "Avant Garde: A Historiography of a Critical Concept" in Amelia Jones, ed. A Companion to Contemporary Art Since 1945. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006) 191-211. See also Grant Kester's response to Claire Bishop's essay, "The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents" (Artforum 44:6 (February 2006) 178-183) in "Another Turn," Artforum 44:9 (May 2006) 22.
Rochlitz, Subversion et subvention: Art contemporain et argumentation esthétique (Paris: Gallimard, 1994).
Donald Callen, "The Difficult Middle," rhizome #10 (Spring 2005) http://www.rhizome.net/ issue10/callen.htm.