Vigis The dramatic events in Russia and Ukraine over the past two years have begun a new phase in the struggle over the legacy of communism in the post-Soviet space. Here the history of radical art is that of an endless war on a spectacle, which is perpetually seizing the weapons of resistance. Fumes are rising from the engine. Historical consciousness, thus, is rendered not as historical knowledge or understanding or insight as they are usually understood, but as a manner of self -consciousness, as the experience of subjectivity per se, of self as history, in a world that would have that experience be otherwise.
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This dialectic of a fully internalized reality principle and a seemingly compulsive desire for a different order, even disorder, was in fact one of the constitutive conditions of modernity and avantgarde culture from the s until the mids: Artists had throughout that period created imaginary subjects, models of alternative social relations, languages and spaces of difference, concepts of critique and countermemory and of oppositional transgression.
These practices pointed toward profoundly different, and often actually possible, alternative models for the cognitive, perceptual, and linguistic structuring of social, sensual, and psychosexual experience. As countermodels, such propositions and strategies were often defined either by taking recourse to subjective or collective negations of existing orders—in primitivizing discourses, for example from those that privileged the alterity of different geopolitical spaces to those that championed the alterity of unconscious desires —or by mobilizing technoscientistic counterdiscourses, emphatically insisting on the fulfillment of the promises of Enlightenment culture, which in the actualities of everyday life were being withheld in an order of instrumentalized protototalitarian rationality.
Or, in a third model, under the conditions of extreme political duress in the late s, for example, artists claimed direct political agency. They explicitly associated themselves with politically transgressive utopian propositions of nonhierarchically ordered social relations or else engaged in outright oppositional struggles against ideological domination and state control. In keeping with this dialectic, all of the strategies that had been initiated by different avant-garde cultures in various geopolitical contexts were met throughout the history of modernity with a whole arsenal of means by which to ignore them or defy them, to control them or defer them, to dismiss them if not liquid ate them altogether: Indifference, quarantine, exclusion, marginalization , pathologization, and , finally, co- optation were the most successful operations in response to the political and social challenges of the historical avant-garde.
And under certain extreme political conditions of authoritarian state power, if none of these strategies could complete the project of containment, stringent state control and brutal oppression would inevitably ensure the continuity of a fully uncontested hegemony and proto-totalitarian social order.
The longer we have studied the history of avantgarde culture, the more compelling the insight has become that the horizons and spaces of utopian thought, and the practices of political and artistic transgression, were tolerated within the bourgeois capitalist order only so long as they did not cross these boundaries of discursive and institutional containment i.
Rather, we had to recognize- with belated hindsight-that Warhol had in fact prophesied what we finally came to experience: the total permeation of the cultural sphere by the economic operations of finance capital and its attendant ethos and social structures.
What were the symptoms of these new conditions of the "common culture" that had emerged perhaps most vehemently in the United States but also abroad during the so-called Reagan-Thatcher era? And what structural transformations had taken hold in the sphere of artistic production and reception, which we had until that moment naively associated with those other institutions of the public sphere where the production of knowledge and the memory of experience had been socially sustained and collected: the library, the university, and the museum?
A number of multifaceted transformations, at first developing slowly yet steadily, soon picked up a precipitous pace and expanded globally. I will enumerate some of these perceived changes, in the manner of a paranoiac whose list of enemies and threats has only increased continuously ever since the initial diagnosis of the condition. THE FIRST—and perhaps most startling—symptom was the emergence of a hitherto totally unknown social species, the blindly producing purveyors and the blindly ingesting consumers of culture blindness, for the time being, simply defined here as absolute diffidence and total indifference with respect to any remotely rigorous criteria of evaluation.
Under the conditions of affluence reigning among the newly emerging subclass of Wall Street financiers, real estate speculators, and state- sponsored plutocrats in Western societies, a new generation of artists—Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, and Richard Prince, to name only a few—and their respective collectors, speculators, and spectators positioned themselves as the chosen representatives of the culture of these social strata. Their perceptions and consciousness had been partially formed by the politically administered cynicism toward, if not the outright defamation of, the legacies of utopian and critical political thought of the twentieth century—a cynicism all the more triumphant after the fall of the Communist regimes.
As the new spectatorial subjects voluntarily accepted the annulment of social and political utopian thinking, artistic production sutured itself to the universal reign of spectacularized consumption. Embracing the new technologies and market formations, the new audiences seemed to seriously believe that an expansion of artistic practices into the registers of the culture industry would compensate for the destruction of the emancipatory promises of the avant-garde cultures of the twentieth century.
For Koons, Hirst, Murakami, Prince, and their ilk cannot in truth be said to "address" the total fetishization of object relations and the collective cult of marketing and branding; rather, they perform, if anything, parasitic assimilation to the very codes that enforce universal fetishization. They enact an homage to precisely those subjects and corporations that sustain their regimes by enforcing the dictates of a collectively operative pathology, the narcissistic systems of compulsive distinction.
We cannot really call this new social stratum of cultural producers a class, yet its members if much better dressed and perhaps more polished in their simulated manners bear astonishing similarities to what Marx had long before identified as the Lumpenproletariat.
In his essay "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon" , Marx refers to the lumpens as the "refuse of all classes," including "swindlers, confid ence tricksters, brothel keepers, rag and bone merchants, beggars, and other flotsam of society," a class fraction that constituted the political power base for Louis Bonaparte of France in Marx argues that Bonaparte only succeeded in positioning himself above the two main classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, by seemingly aligning himself with the lumpens, an apparently independent base of power.
In truth, Louis was deeply committed to advancing the material interests of the " finance aristocracy," which, exactly like the lumpen proletariat, did not have any direct interest in any actual productive enterprises. The similarities to the people presentl y populating the various spheres of contemporary cultural production and distribution, the so-called art world , are striking, in spite of the semblances of distinction and optical differentiation provided by the apparatus of the fashion industry.
Yet few, if any, of these new spectators could position themselves in the privileged places of the collectors and producers who succeeded in entering the ascendant celebrity culture.
At best, the rapidly expanding class of gallery- and museumgoers would define themselves as competent consumers of contemporary art, as the spectatorial strata disseminating the new culture of total affirmation, operating in the institutional and commercial intersections where advertising and the circulation of the commodities of art take place frenetically active at the openings of gallery and museum exhibitions, as well as within the traveling circuits of biennials, auctions, art fairs, and so on.
In short, what had emerged in the s was a new public and a new apparatus of culturalindustrial production heretofore unknown to, and unthinkable at any earlier moment in, the history of modernity. This was the moment when artists such as Marina Abramovic recognized that the time had come for them to fully and finally identify with the seemingly inescapable order of spectacularization as the foundational modus of their practice.
In this way, contemporary artistic practices have become totally dependent on a neoliberal subjectivity for which the entire spectrum of once-radical avantgarde legacies is now available as gratuitously exchangeable devices if not gadgets. Under the current cultural dispensation, affirmation of corporate culture can be fused with remnants of a critical subversion of discursive and institutional formations in any imaginable manner.
Even formal regressions that had initially been deployed to induce the labor of historical memory can now be turned into more or less instantaneous spectacularization as evident in the recent work of Christian Boltanski and Anselm Kiefer, to cite only the most prominent exemplars.
Just as architects, since the very beginning of the twentieth century, have inevitably succumbed with rare exceptions to conflating and eventually integrating into their projects both the ideological and the economic structures they were bidden to serve, artists have been increasingly integrated into an everexpanding structure of cultural control by mirroring in their work the apparatus of industrialized culture itself.
And their production is incorporated immediately within those systems of representation such as advertising and commodity design that stand in constant need of expanding the audiences and consumers of what are now the professionalized and standardized domains of premeditated excess, regress, and transgress—the very parameters that once defined the aesthetic sphere. Once the radical, utopian sociopolitical horizons that had previously licensed avant- garde practices as agencies of actual transformation of cognition and perception had been foreclosed, all criteria of the judgment of artistic objects were inevitably erased as well.
After all, according to what criterion should artistic production be judged, if not by its dialectical capacities of critical negativity and utopian anticipation? What had previously been the rarest of conditions—namely, the exceptional credibility of artistic propositions, wherein a partial and temporary relapse into quasi-mythical forms of experience, called aesthetic, could be reluctantly accepted—had now been turned into pseudodemocratic claims for universally accessible artistic competence in the sphere of production, buttressed by the matching myth of a universally available competence in the sphere of artistic reception.
A new generation of artist claimed the legacies of Duchamp and Warhol without so much as an atom of the transgressive and subversive intelligence that these two putative forebears had historically initiated. This state of affairs was at least to some degree the immediate result of a much larger process of de-skilling and of aesthetic desublimation, the two strategies that had, paradoxically, been defined as integral to the avant-gardes since the first decade of the twentieth century, if not already in the nineteenth century modernist subversions of the academy and the Beaux-Arts traditions.
Concomitant with this process of de-.
Farewell to an Identity
This dialectic of a fully internalized reality principle and a seemingly compulsive desire for a different order, even disorder, was in fact one of the constitutive conditions of modernity and avant-garde culture from the s until the mids: Artists had throughout that period created imaginary subjects, models of alternative social relations, languages and spaces of difference, concepts of critique and countermemory and of oppositional transgression. These practices pointed toward profoundly different, and often actually possible, alternative models for the cognitive, perceptual, and linguistic structuring of social, sensual, and psychosexual experience. As countermodels, such propositions and strategies were often defined either by taking recourse to subjective or collective negations of existing orders--in primitivizing discourses, for example from those that privileged the alterity of different geopolitical spaces to those that championed the alterity of unconscious desires --or by mobilizing techno-scientistic counterdiscourses, emphatically insisting on the fulfillment of the promises of Enlightenment culture, which in the actualities of everyday life were being withheld in an order of instrumentalized proto-totalitarian rationality. Or, in a third model, under the conditions of extreme political duress in the late s, for example, artists claimed direct political agency.
Malazahn For the investigations that occupy Buchloh promise their own sort of intoxication, albeit one different than that of farfwell art, which charms us with illusions and oblivion. In a manner now generally anathema to scholars both junior and senior alike, this book breathes its allegiance to the old ideal throughout with rarely ever a sigh or sense of fatigue. Fumes are rising from the engine. The rise of information and the struggle between Conversations — A Farewell to Totality. This is a terrific collection of essays that provides a valuable opportunity to review the intellectual development and ambitions of one of the leading critics of our time. And history goes on, too, however frightened and hopeless its continuation might make us feel. But who can hear what is said in this language?