Writing in The Atlantic, Vann R. Newkirk II has an eloquent and moving account of his visit to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, which recently opened in Washington, D.C. The museum is a project of the Smithsonian, which is essentially the national museum department of the US government. So perhaps surprisingly, writes Newkirk II, the museum provides an unsparing and thorough look at the brutalities visited on African Americans throughout their history, and at the efforts to deny and bury that history. Here's an excerpt from the piece:
The underground placement of the history exhibit is probably better described as a purposefully subversive use of space, rather than relegation. After an initial walk down a stairwell framed by a mural of the triumphs of black history—the photos of Muhammad Ali and Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr. that most people expect—viewers are essentially deposited into the bowels of the slave ships that stole so many souls from the African coasts. Hushed, claustrophobic halls display the worst of the bloody origins of slavery and detail how the slaves who were lucky—or unlucky—enough to survive the trip below the decks could only expect to live an average of seven years after being sold into plantations.
The resulting climb up through history is a barrage of information and an assault on the senses, an intentional juxtaposition of promise with sorrow. At one point, after walking past a proud depiction of a black Revolutionary Patriot, viewers encounter an huge multi-story exhibit embossed with the most famous words of the Declaration of Independence: All men are created equal. Standing underneath those words like Damocles under his sword is a statue of the framer Thomas Jefferson. Beside him is a pile of bricks representing the Monticello, with each brick representing one enslaved human that built it.
The descent and ascent achieve an effect similar to Dante’s harrowing journey in Inferno, and the walk upwards through Reconstruction, Redemption, the civil-rights movement, and into the present day is a reminder of the constant push and pull of horror and protest. Black towns that don’t exist anymore and black neighborhoods that were burned down are memorialized alongside the works of Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. DuBois. One exhibit features the names of lynching victims, a soul-rending litany that feels even more awful because of the names themselves. How many freedmen renamed themselves as Freemans or after Founding Fathers in aspiration only to be killed? At least a few George Washingtons show up on the list.
Image: A woman passes a display depicting the Mexico Olympic protest at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Via The Atlantic.
On the heels of the NY Art Books fair, Dan Fox at the Frieze blog profiles three small presses doing interesting things with the freedoms and constraints of indy publishing. Fox deliberately chose three presses that are each at a different stage in their lifespan. RE/SEARCH is an established punk press founded thirty-six years ago. Primary Information, which focuses on archival publications and contemporary mongraphs, has been around for ten years. And LA-based Hat & Beard just launched. Here's Fox on the new press:
Started this year in Los Angeles by J.C. Gabel, Jessica Hundley, Brian Roettinger and Darren Romanelli, Hat & Beard have already generated an impressively beautiful list of books, with their interests ranging wide across music, art and cinema. Slash: A Punk Magazine From Los Angeles 1977–80 (one to sit on your bookshelves alongside the collected run of Search & Destroy published by RE/SEARCH) is a weighty tome that not only does beautiful justice to the LA punk publication, but includes a selection of fascinating reflections from Gary Panter, Vivien Goldman, Allan MacDonell, Kristine McKenna, and Philomena Winstanley, amongst others. Belladonna of Sadness is a sumptuous hardback, essentially a storyboard book of stills of the cult Japanese anime film of the same name, whilst Beyond the Beyond: The Music of David Lynch is essential reading for all Lynchophiles out there, the interview with composer Angelo Badalamenti worth the price of admission alone. With next year’s slated publication of Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself, the essay-book-of-the-essay-film, including updated material for 2016, Hat & Beard promise much to look forward to.
For the New Yorker, Hua Hsu write about the writer Greg Tate. A critic for the Village Voice in its 1990s heyday, Tate published several collections with paragraphs that to Hsu reverberated like "throbbed like a party and chattered like a salon." Read the profile in partial below, in full via the New Yorker.
Greg Tate published his first book, a collection of essays titled “Flyboy in the Buttermilk,” in 1992. It drew from his work at the Village Voice, where he had initially been hired, in the late eighties, to help the alternative weekly cover black music. As he would wryly note years later, the opportunity was born of the paper’s unusual belief that “Afro-diasporic musics should on occasion be covered by people who weren’t strangers to those communities.” At the Voice, Tate became known for the slangy erudition he brought to bear on a range of topics, not just hip-hop and jazz but also science fiction, literary theory, movies, city politics, and police brutality. His best paragraphs throbbed like a party and chattered like a salon; they were stylishly jam-packed with names and reference points that shouldn’t have got along but did, a trans-everything collision of pop stars, filmmakers, subterranean graffiti artists, Ivory Tower theorists, and Tate’s personal buddies, who often came across as the wisest of the bunch.
By the time I learned about “Flyboy,” it was out of print. A friend lent it to me, and, for the first time in years, I contemplated theft. Most critics can recall the encounters with art that left them so entranced that—motivated by mystery, ecstasy, or something in between—they felt compelled to reckon with the experience through writing. And most critics can also recall the critical essays that convinced them that this form of writing could be as exhilarating as art. When I first read Tate, I had cycled through a few of the more obvious approaches to cultural criticism, from the twisty and gonzo to the arch and obscurantist. But, reading Tate, I was drawn to his sense of otherness; he wrote from a perspective that felt both inside and outside. The possibilities of that perspective struck me when I got to the piece in “Flyboy” about Don DeLillo. Tate admires DeLillo, but, in the essay, he muses playfully on the vast literary terrain available to the alienated white male writer.
For a generation of critics, Tate’s career has served as a reminder that diversity isn’t just about a splash of color in the group photo; it’s about the different ways that people see, feel, and move within the world. These differences can be imperceptible, depending on where your eye lingers as you scan the newsroom. What made Tate’s criticism special was his ability to theorize outward from his encounters with genius and his brushes with banality—to telescope between moments of artistic inspiration and the giant structures within which those moments were produced. “Flyboy 2,” published earlier this month by Duke University Press, largely consists, like its predecessor, of critical essays, interviews, profiles, and short riffs. But, a quarter of a century on, the question animating his work has come into sharper focus. What he’s been exploring through his criticism has been something “less quantifiable,” as he puts it, than culture, identity, or consciousness. What Tate wants to understand is “the way Black people ‘think,’ mentally, emotionally, physically,” and “how those ways of thinking and being inform our artistic choices.”
*Image of Greg Tate via the New Yorker
Join us at e-flux on Friday, September 30 at 7:30pm EST for the lecture “And: Phenomenology of the End,” by Franco “Bifo” Berardi. On this very thread, Tyler Coburn (@tylercoburn) will respond live to Bifo’s lecture. The talk will be live broadcast here, so you might open two tabs & follow along by screen both here and there.
A bit more on the lecture:
Everywhere we see signs of exhaustion and collapse. The end is everywhere, but this is only an illusion, because things never stop concatenating, so the end is replaced by the endless replication of the “and.” Simultaneously however, conjunction is replaced by connection. This shift from conjunctive to connective sensibility is the subject of Berardi’s recent book, and of this lecture. What happens to the aesthetic and erotic perception of the world as experience is replaced by simulation? How does this connective mutation reframe the legacy of history?
Franco “Bifo” Berardi is a contemporary writer, media-theorist and media-activist. He founded the magazine A/traverso (1975–81) and was part of the staff of Radio Alice, the first free pirate radio station in Italy (1976–78). Like other intellectuals involved in the political movement of Autonomia in Italy during the 1970s, he fled to Paris, where he worked with Felix Guattari in the field of schizoanalysis. He has been a contributor to Semiotext(e), Chimerees, Metropoli , Musica 80, and Archipielago, and he’s currently writing for the monthly LINUS.
Berardi’s publications include Le ciel est enfin tombé sur la terre (Paris, 1978), Mutazione e Ciberpunk (Genoa, 1993), Cibernauti (Rome, 1994), Felix (Rome, 2001, and London, 2009), Generacion Postalfa (Buenos Aires, 2007), Skizomedia (Rome, 2005), La fabrica de la infelicidad (Rome, 2000, and Madrid, 2004), and El sabio el guerrero el mercader (Madrid: Aquarela, 2006), The Soul at Work (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009), After the future (Oakland: AK Press, 2012), and The Uprising (Semiotext(e), 2012), and the recent books HEROES (London: Verso Futures) and AND: Phenomenology of the end (Lost Angeles: Semiotext(e)), both published in 2015. Berardi teaches Media Theory at the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, and has lectured in many universities around the globe.
Tyler Coburn is an artist and writer based in New York. Coburn received a BA in Comparative Literature from Yale University and an MFA from the University of Southern California. He also served as a fellow in the Whitney Independent Study Program from 2014-2015. His work has been been presented at South London Gallery; Kunstverein Munich; Kunsthalle Wien; CCA Glasgow; Western Front, Vancouver; Grazer Kunstverein; UCCA, Beijing; and Sculpture Center, New York. Coburn participated in the 11th Gwangju Biennale and the 2014 Shanghai Biennale. His writing has appeared in e-flux journal, Frieze, Dis, Mousse, and Rhizome.
Ben Quinn and Noah Charney report for the Guardian that a Dutch court has ordered performance art doyenne Marina Abramović to pay her former collaborator and partner Ulay, aka Frank Uwe Laysiepen, €250,000 in back royalties and €23,000 in court fees. For all intents and purposes, Abramović is having a rough summer, just last month getting into hot water for extremely problematic comments on Australian Aboriginals in her forthcoming biography.
Read Quinn and Charney in partial below, in full via the Guardian.
Nearly a year on from the launch of Ulay’s lawsuit against Abramović however, a Dutch court on Wednesday ordered her to pay him more than €250,000 arising from the sales of joint works and a commercial re-enactment for Adidas of a joint piece.
Ulay launched a lawsuit last year in which he claimed that Abramović has violated a contract they signed in 1999 covering works they had created together. He claimed that Abramović failed to provide him with accurate statements of sales, and had paid him only four times in the course of 16 years.
In its ruling, the court in Amsterdam found that Ulay was entitled to royalties of 20% net on the sales of their works, as specified in the original 1999 contract, and ordered Abramović to back date royalties of more than €250,000 (£215,000) as well as more than €23,000 in legal costs
Additionally, she was ordered to provide full accreditation to joint works listed as by “Ulay/Abramović” covering the period from 1976 to 1980 and “Abramović/Ulay” for those from 1981 to 1988.
Abramović was also given two weeks to provide a complete written record relating to all reproductions, copies made of work from 2007 to the present, and sales.
Ulay sounded remarkably respectful (though not without a little drama) regarding the whole affair:
On Wednesday, Ulay described the protracted legal dispute as “unpleasant and distressful” and likened the battle to his own successful victory over cancer.
“I won the case on the most crucial points,” he said. “The relief was like shedding my skin, physical and mental.
**Image: Ulay/Marina, "AAA-AAA" (1977), via Pomenanz Collection
Antoine Volodine is a prolific and perplexing French writer who, according to Ben Ehrenreich in The Nation, captures the madness and political despair of our times better than almost any living writer. Through strange characters and fantastical plots, Volodine reflects the "shittiness" of the present not via realism or verisimilitude, but rather via a depiction of the chaotic psychic atmosphere we inhabit. Here's an excerpt from Ehrenreich's article on Volodine:
More than most of Volodine’s other works, Lesson 11 anchors itself to a recognizable chronology. He offers straightforward Gregorian years for the arrests of his incarcerated avatars, from the first batch locked up in 1975 (fully half of them named Maria) to Manuela Draeger, the most recent, whose incarceration dates to 2001. The movement’s roots, we learn, reach back to the 1960s, those “years of underground hope, luminous despite the lead and despite the violence of the prisons.” No surprise, then, that Volodine’s novels began appearing in the mid-1980s, with that insurrectionary hope banished and the forces of reaction—neoliberal this time—confidently in power. From that decade on, any overt political resistance voiced through literature would be (and with few exceptions still is) deemed a quaint and dated affectation. Recall Varvalia Lodenko, who in Minor Angels preached of “a cynicism so well-oiled that the merest allusion to its existence…condemns you to a place of invisible marginality.”
Volodine aims to occupy those margins, in defiance spitting out a voluminous and at times triumphant literature of defeat. In one of the stories collected in the volume titled Writers, the beautiful Linda Woo, an accomplished guerrilla assassin, “speaks the world” while standing alone in her cell. “Like us, she has lost all battles,” writes Volodine. She channels the voice of another incarcerated writer, one of the Marias, and, crying in solitude and grief, defines post-exoticism as “a final useless and imaginary testimony spoken by the exhausted or by the dead and for the dead.” Elsewhere in that collection, in one of Volodine’s most haunting stories, Nikita Kouraline, a solitary and alcoholic factory watchman, “writes” a novel, reciting it aloud for an audience of rags and scraps of metal and wood. It has no plot, just griping rants and a list of the names and bare details of the thousands who were executed in one of Stalin’s more ambitious purges on the day of Kouraline’s birth. The revolution is also a defeat. It always was, but Volodine’s soldier-monk-shaman-scribes fight on. Their doomed mission is to save what can be saved, to make an offering of sorts, to preserve some space just outside the frame of what gets called literature where a dying, insurrectionary humanism might breathe on a little longer.
Image of Antoine Volodine via The Nation.
In the latest issue of Bookforum, Jabari Asim reviews two books by American writers that grapple with ongoing conflagrations around racism in the US, including police killings of Black people and the Black Lives Matter movement. In The Fire This Time, an anthology edited by Jesmyn Ward, a new generation of fiction writers and poets confront the reality that despite the nation's pretense to equality, Black life has never truly mattered in the US. And in Jeff Change's We Gon’ Be Alright, the author explores, among other things, the way the Black-White racial binary in the US conditions how other ethnicities experience American racism. Here's an excerpt from Asim's review:
All of which brings me back to Richard Wright’s suggestion, in Native Son (1940), that literature is a battleground on which blacks and whites have often fought over the very “nature of reality.” All too often, differing approaches to language reflect sharply contrasting visions of American society. For African Americans, the disparate language of our country’s racial majority has seldom been separate from customs and policies that hinder complete access to the “grand experiment” we continue to hear so much about. Into this schism steps Jesmyn Ward, whose novel Salvage the Bones won the 2011 National Book Award. In her introduction to the new anthology The Fire This Time, she finds evidence of this clash of visions in George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin. She looks at images of the latter’s baby face and sees a child. But she recognizes that “most Americans” look at the same person and see someone quite different: “some kind of ravenous hoodlum, perpetually at the mercy of his animalistic instincts.”
Around a year after Martin’s death, Ward began the project that became The Fire This Time. She writes that she wanted to provide writers of her generation with an opportunity “to dissent, to call to account, to witness, to reckon.” Anthologies of this sort are plentiful and powerful, at least to African American readers, those most likely to engage and embrace such efforts, which include The New Negro (1925), Black Fire (1968), and Step into a World (2000). That there have been so many of these books, decade after decade, speaks to their limited utility beyond the sympathetic circles where black artists and thinkers congregate—there always have been new atrocities to respond to, clueless assessments to refute, hostilities to defend against. Nonetheless, the desire to offer thoughtful reflection while setting the record straight pulses resoundingly through the essays and poems Ward has collected. The lineup of stellar contributors invites comparison to a major-league all-star team, with a tremendously gifted writer patrolling every position. The essays and poems stand on their own, but together, they also build into a powerful collective statement, particularly in their attention to how racist narratives have been perpetuated through American history. As Ward states in her introduction, the contributions “confirmed how inextricably interwoven the past is in the present, how heavily that past bears on the future; we cannot talk about black lives mattering or police brutality without reckoning with the very foundation of this country.”
Image: Titus Kaphar, Traveler, 2014. Via Bookforum.
Writing in Pacific Standard magazine, Rick Paulas examines the ethics of life-extension science in a modern world sharply divided by class. Even absent live-extension technologies, the existing difference between the life expectancy of someone born into a rich country and that of someone born into a poor country is staggering. How can life-extension technology avoid simply widening this divide? Is it even ethical to develop life-extension technology at all?
Here's an excerpt from Paulas's piece:
The argument for life extension is obvious: People get to live longer and, theoretically, healthier lives. And the argument for extension techniques being used by the rich is also obvious: They can afford it and the poor can’t. (They’re also kind of strange about how they go about doing it.) But as a society, we need to consider the moral implications of a world where the lifespans of the rich and poor are so dramatically different.
In 2007, Martien Pijnenburg and Carlo Leget tackled “three arguments against extending the human lifespan” in a paper for the Journal of Medical Ethics. Their first argument regarded the moral problem of “unequal death”—that is, the different realities between First and Third World countries when it comes to life extension. “Our efforts to prolong life ought not to be separated from the more fundamental questions relating to integrity,” they concluded, “given the problem of unequal death, can we morally afford to invest in research to extend life?”
In other words, what has more value: high-priced research that allows a certain segment of the population to live longer? Or aiming budgets at trying to raise everyone’s lifespan by focusing on clean water, eliminating diseases, and finding cheaper ways to deliver life-saving surgeries to the poor?
Image via Pacific Standard.
Editorial note: Published in English for the first time, philosopher Boris Groys and dramaturge Carl Hegemann speak here about Frank Castorf, Volksbühne and the new offensive from the right. This interview will be published in a series of three entries and is translated from the original German by Janto Schwitters for e-flux.
Carl Hegemann: Let's start at the beginning. I remember you appearing very early on, just after Castorf took over Volksbühne, on his radio show “Castorf, der Eisenhändler” [Castorf the ironmonger].
Boris Groys: Yes, that was pretty scary.
BG: Our drive into the studio complex. It was rather late already.
CH: Yes, Babelsberg Studio. Radio Fritz used to be there.
BG: Yes, exactly. We arrived in Babelsberg and there was nothing but “no entry” signs. It was unclear how you were supposed to go on from there at all. Coming from the East I suggested to just keep going and ignore the signs. We somehow managed to get there in the end.
CH: Was that the first time you met?
BG: I think so.
CH: When I was just beginning at Volksbühne in 1992, they were making a lot of film trailers as part of an image campaign. In one, you see Castorf lying on the couch in his director’s office with a picture of Stalin on the wall saying “Stalin is peace,” which is still there today. Your book “The Total Art of Stalin” is clearly visible.
BG: I know this book was read a lot back then. Heiner Müller liked it a lot in any case. Castorf and I got along really well.
CH: It actually used to be the case that Castorf provocatively toyed with Stalin. As can be seen in his latest production he still does today, but only in theater, as an artistic stance, not as a political one. I believe he was attempting to transform the “Gesamtkunstwerk” total art of Stalin into an aesthetic kingdom in accordance with Schiller. In this “joyous realm” of art, and only there, everything was and should be permitted. That’s why you could work for Castforf without fear of getting your head chopped off.
BG: The question of retribution actually never came up for me because I’ve never worked with or as a member of a collective. When you are a painter, or, like me, a writer, you are autonomous, because you can, so to speak, unconditionally assume your own full control over the medium and the material. It gets more complicated if you move further, for example to architecture, design, theater or film, because there collaboration occurs. There you have to ask yourself: What is my relation to others? Are they part of the material? And do I have an independent connection to this material, because these people are actually part of the artistic material I am forging? Then indeed I would be close to the “Gesamtkunstwerk.” Or rather, should my relation to others have some sort of democratic quality? That would more accurately reflect contemporary alternative ideas about post-totalitarian society. For artists, that is the question about the position of humankind. Do we belong to the medium or—shall I say—to the message?
CH: If I interpret humans as individual beings, you have to come to terms with….
BG: …then they are part of the message.
CH: Yes. And if I see people as part of the material from which I create my artwork, then they belong to the medium through which I articulate myself. This thought captures the whole structural problem of collective artistic work and the problem of individuality in the collective. Maybe at this point I can ask you the following: Back in 1992, before I started working at Volksbühne, I spent about three days and nights with Castorf talking and boozing. Eventually he said, I would be his Bucharin. To this day I don’t really understand what he was trying to say. Was I part of the medium or part of the message?
BG: Bucharin also didn’t know. That’s the problem, you don’t know. It is hard to say. You can, of course, do it like Brecht who tried sometimes, not always, to make the medium itself the message. The ambivalence of message and the medium creates internal tension, and I believe it is this tension Castorf was tracing in different historical circumstances. If you take religion, or better literature, for example the relation between a novel’s author and its protagonist, then the novel is something like—Bakhtin expressed this in different terms—a model of the totalitarian state. Because the behavior of the literary hero always is subordinated to the will of the author. The consideration now is whether you can try to challenge this relationship. I believe the question asking whether I am part of the medium or message is not only a formal literary one, but also a question of substance, which Castorf consistently considered. It is exactly from this question that he developed the core tension characterizing his productions.
CH: If you look at this aspect of tension between medium and message, everything began with ambivalence and contradiction. Among the Volksbühne staff you would encounter many dissidents who in the GDR had fought the “real existierenden Sozialismus“ [real socialism], as it used to be called then, and it was those who would retain their East German identity, as almost everything around them was becoming unreflectively westernized. The Volksbühne was one of the very few East German institutions maintaining historical awareness and dissidence after the reunification. Now, 25 years later, this is to be corrected by giving the theater a markedly western and explicitly non-dissident management. Conflict, aggression and unrest are to disappear and harmony and happiness are to prevail instead, more dancing than theatre and presumably breath-taking art installations, too. In 1992/93 there was a combative, aggressive spirit of renewal, and at the same time, all hope seemed lost. In early 1993 we dealt with “Totalitäre Strategien” [totalitarian strategies] in politics and art, under the ambivalent motto from a Laibach cover of a Queen song: ”Gebt mir ein Leitbild” [give me a role model]. That’s what Castorf was talking about when he was lying on that sofa holding your book in his hand. He said something like: “While Rosa Luxemburg was still able to name an alternative, socialism or barbarism, now there is only a tautological alternative: barbarism or barbarism.” Behind that is the fatal but unavoidable insight that prompted us to say that we could only properly do tragedies. But these tragedies were—for people from East Germany at any rate, but also for many from the West—connected to a great deal of paradoxical hope and joy. Because at least you could admit to the ambiguity. Roughly according to the motto: It is possible to have fun without deceiving yourself.
BG: Yes, because this had still been connected with a great cultural tradition. If barbarism was actually established, we wouldn’t have tragedies any more. Only those who don’t want to be barbarians anymore and keep posing the question of individual autonomy are able to do tragedies. The birth of tragedy in the Hellenistic sense happens in the moment I am positioning myself as a autonomous individual, as a subject of my own experiences. Only then am I confronted with fate, and then with the state, the masses, and then I am confronted with all of what I am not and what is preventing me from exercising this autonomy. And then I die, because individually I am powerless, but I will die in an impressive, formidable way—I will die gloriously. In today’s society you don’t anymore feel like beginning from an autonomous position, as in Greek tragedy, because from the start you think things like: oh, my issues could stem from a hormone deficiency or from not consuming the right food or drugs, or maybe there’s some kind of erotic distortion in my subconscious. There is nothing left of the autonomy that initiates tragedy, there are only minor ailments and dysfunctions. In the beginning of tragedy there is an autonomous individual. If this autonomous individual cannot establish itself, no tragedy takes place.
CH: We don’t have many options in our lives, but showing this lack on stage is an act of autonomy so pleasurable that we enjoy being alive.
BG: That is exactly the feeling—this confrontation with fate and the inevitable. This feeling of doom proves to you that you are actually an autonomous, individual being. And it is the same with the critique of socialism. Criticism of socialism actually affirms socialism, which means the critique saves what is criticized, by attributing merit to it, in fact, because I will only criticize that which seems valuable, worthy and fateful to me, as Nietzsche said.
CH: Which would then also be the so-called Antifa’s problem: Are they actually just valorizing fascism?
BG: They certainly overestimate fascism at times. But this question is also of interest because of the current return of fascism in Germany and all over Europe. That means early Antifa was a sectarian organization that survived for a long time without having real fascism as an opponent. Now real fascism is coming, however, which is why now is the time for real anti-fascism.
CH: Yes, now the situation is fundamentally different. Now we’re experiencing real, mass-scale struggles too, instead of marginal, mostly symbolic conflicts among few. I believe 23 years ago when we said there is only the tautological alternative between barbarism and barbarism left that there was a already sense of this.
Even then, Volksbühne didn’t participate in this hype after the reunification, when it was said the free market economy didn’t have enemies anymore and offered unlimited opportunities for all who were ready to take them on. Even when there were many in East Germany who, fixated on the D-Mark, immediately wanted to become capitalist 150 percent. This was especially the case in everyday life, which is something I hadn’t experienced before in West Germany. Suddenly, your behavior had to orient itself to the market economy. For example, for bands that performed at our venue, I wasn’t able to offer them payments according to quality, but according to market value. This was supposing they were happy to perform at Volksbühne at all, and I was supposed to have them play for free. When I said I would pay them anyway, because I like them, I was told I wasn’t able to think in a market-oriented way. I had never heard anything like that in West Germany.
BG: Yes, but now the situation has changed completely. I think we’re dealing with a new revolution, this time from the right. This revolution has been announcing itself for some time. When I was living in Germany in the early 90s, I already noticed many German intellectuals shifting to the right. They were saying that the Frankfurt school and all critical theory in general should be forgotten, that there should be no negative thinking, and that there should be a return to the theory of Carl Schmitt. It was a gigantic shift to the right. And this shift, which back then had occurred in the intelligentsia, has now captured the whole of society. It isn’t about the market economy anymore. The market economy means the same for the right wing and the political center. There is no questioning the market economy from the right. That is the difference between the left and right. The right does not challenge the market economy, their questions regard the range of participation in the market only. They ask who is participating in the market. The market economy is a zone, it is always territorially limited. Globalization doesn’t change this—quite the contrary. The market economy is not something equally open to everyone. The market economy takes place according to rules and these rules first and foremost regulate who has access under which conditions, and who does not. This is exactly the issue of access about which we are fighting now: who can participate, who can’t, who should be let in, who should stay out. I believe we’re experiencing, in the sense of these questions of access issues, a massive shift to the right in Europe and increasingly in the United states too.
CH: It reminds me of the speech Hitler gave to the Club of German Industry in 1932: “there is not enough for all,” which Heiner Müller cited in one of his last texts, written after the reunification.
BG: The end of socialism first of all led to a strengthening of the petty bourgeoisie—a strengthening of the center. These questions came from society’s mainstream. But the questions being posed now are coming from the right. And I find myself wondering: what is the reason for the strengthening of the right wing?
CH: In 1992 we saw the same thing as today: burning the housing for asylum seekers in Rostock and Hoyerswerda, the attack in Solingen—and here at the theater we still did upstanding Antifa work. It said “stop the pogroms” on every other page of the program. But then it vanished from awareness again and the idea emerged: Now we have freedom, we get to work according to our needs. Capitalism itself abolishes alienation, but we falter under freedom because we are incapable of making use of it. That was an extended intermediary stage in which the art world too received marketing strategies and management manuals that suggested cutting edge entrepreneurship and the innovative practice of the arts were somehow the same, and during which there was talk of making mistakes, of failure and follies, supported by arguments taken from market economy, too. “Crazy times need crazy companies” was one of these revolutionary slogans and something with which Christoph Schlingensief for example, could identify. For some time there was a certainly illusory feeling that the economy would learn from artists and the market could function as correction of exploitative, manipulative forms of authority. We dealt with this under the heading of capitalism and depression.
BG: Yes, but what we find today is a complete transformation of the economic sector towards the emergence of oligarchies and the disappearance of the middle class. It’s heading in an entirely different direction from the supposed awakening in the 90s. Foucault analyzed this back then: the problem of symbolic capital, or human capital (that, what has been given to me by nature) and the question to what extent I, as an independent participant of the market, am able to use it. This also was an issue neoliberalism dealt with in the 70s and 80s: The question to which extent our participation in capitalism is autonomous, precisely because we are endowed with original capital from nature.
CH: …because I have my talents, I can make the most of….
BG: I command language, I have certain capabilities, for example intelligence and so on, all these are abilities I possess, given to me by nature, not by society. And I can use them strategically, I can tactically work with them and this means: I have a certain autonomy in regard to symbolic capital. And this is where we find the problems you had been discussing at Volksbühne back then. Is this really the case? To what extent do I have control over my capabilities? Is it really my own capital or has it already been dispossessed?
I believe your main problem in that era was the question, “To what extent do I have control over my attitudes, my passions, my political stance?” But, it was also about my talents and abilities. When, after/following the capitalist logic of alienation, does this autonomy switch into fatality? And how, in the middle of this conflict between autonomy and fatality, do you arrange a tragedy worth being staged at Volksbühne, one that would provoke and divide an audience willing to pay for and watch it? What has changed fundamentally since then is that this symbolic capital has become a capital of identification. We have an increasingly impoverished middle class and we have an oligarchy. The right-wing stance consists of reframing my symbolic capital, through mutual ethnic, cultural and historic attributes, into a way to identify with a ruling oligarchy. That means, as a German, belonging to German culture, I get to participate symbolically in the German oligarchies success, even without participating financially. Even if I don’t get any money, I have symbolic capital, not only do I share a common currency with this oligarchy, but also a common symbolic currency. And when the oligarchy is successful in their own interest, I get something out of it too, symbolically I belong to the one percent. In fact don’t get any money, but through my symbolic capital I participate .
*The second section of this interview will be published next week, July 29th.
If I find Derrida a little longwinded does that make me American? According to the man himself, it probably does. Below we find the philosopher talking about directness that Americans have that doesn't seem to allow for the contextual complexity that seems so important to French thinking. "It happens in radio or televised interviews with hurried, manipulative journalists who think that because someone is a philosopher, you can suddenly ask them about Being. As if you can push a button and there's a readymade discussion." Derrida says that cinema, as nurtured by Americans, is a good example of this--that you can say "action" and people will start talking and moving. Watch in full via Youtube below.
Comic books have experienced a surprising cultural ascendence in the past decade or so. Thanks in part to "serious" comic works like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2003), Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (2006), and Chris Ware’s Building Stories (2012), comics have gone from a vernacular diversion to a fine art, with countless university-level courses devoted to the "graphic novel." But in the latest issue of Public Books, Ivan Kreilkamp, professor of English at Indiana University, asks whether there is still a place for "antisocial, pulpy" comics today. The answer he gives is resounding yes, as he examines some of the most disreputable and delightful comics being published now. Here's an excerpt from the article:
No fan of the genre can complain about such a turn of events—and yet, surely something is also always lost in this kind of upward-mobility success story. Alison Bechdel observed a few years ago that “one of the reasons I became a cartoonist was so that I could write and draw free from the kind of critical scrutiny that I was sure would wither me if I dared to enter the lists of the fine art or literary writing worlds. Comics was a dark, disreputable place … You could do what you wanted here.”
Is there a risk now that highbrow success will wither too much of the life out of comics? Is there still room for an antisocial, pulpy “comics” within the newly canonized and pro-social “graphic novel”? Amid all of the nuanced accounts of adversity, self-realization, and historical conflict in comics form, there is, fortunately, still no shortage of cruder stuff aiming for less high-minded effects. The work of cartoonist Simon Hanselmann, author of the two collections Megahex and the new Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam (and Other Stories), for example, comes to mind. Hanselmann says of his childhood in Tasmania (the island state at the bottom of Australia, which he describes as “haunted by convicts’ ghosts”),“I was raised by my bar-working mother. My biker father left her, and she raised me on her own while doing a lot of drugs … [She was] a hardcore junkie … regularly passing out in the bathroom, overdosing.” Hanselmann, who calls himself a “‘cross-dresser’/‘transvestite,’ whatever you want to call it,” with a fluid gender identity, says he fell in love with comics as a young child after reading a Spider-Man comic that he found “strangely sexual.”
Image: Page from Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam (and Other Stories). Via Public Books.
James T. Hong speaks to Artforum's Lauren O'Neill Butler about his performance and installation "Nietzsche Reincarnated as a Chinese Woman and Their Shared Lives," currently featured within the 10th Taipei Biennial. He speaks about interest in Nietzsche as a young man and the crystallization of his project. He says, "My experiment is not a strict Buddhist interpretation of Nietzsche’s thought (to me this doesn’t work), but rather a quasi-Nietzschean interpretation of Mahayana Buddhism vis-à-vis morality—if that makes any sense." Read Hong in partial below, in full via Artforum.
I FIRST HEARD OF NIETZSCHE as a critic of Christianity (“God is dead and we have killed him”) while I was in high school, but I didn’t study him until college. Like many other disaffected young people, I was drawn to Nietzsche’s writings as a sort of antidote to mainstream malaise and as a weapon against the status quo. I was actually led to Nietzsche via Schopenhauer, as I was studying Western philosophy and interested in the metaphysics of the will and theories of truth at the time. By graduate school I had grown beyond Nietzsche, or so I thought, but I always returned to his writings for inspiration or simply out of boredom.
Two things inspire my current project: I had been researching the concept of morality in East Asia and then I got the chance to revisit Nietzsche’s grave and birthplace in Germany. Nietzsche’s critique of morality and my own research took some similar roads, though I am now more influenced by Buddhist and Confucianist thought than by any antiquated critique of Christianity. I remembered that Nietzsche claimed to be the “Buddha of Europe” in a crazed letter, and then the project just crystallized. My experiment is not a strict Buddhist interpretation of Nietzsche’s thought (to me this doesn’t work), but rather a quasi-Nietzschean interpretation of Mahayana Buddhism vis-à-vis morality—if that makes any sense.
The performances entail a live monologue that takes place inside a sizable room bounded by four large video screens—a chamber of thoughts and images. Since the screens are arranged in a square, only two adjacent screens are completely visible to the viewer from any particular perspective. Screens that face each other cannot be viewed simultaneously; one must turn one’s head. Thus different perspectives will offer different combinations, different interpretations. Audience members are invited to sit on benches in the center of this room, though they are free to move around (or leave), if they so choose. I can’t say much more about the installation, as some details are still in flux. My inspirations include live theater, benshi (the Japanese art of narrating silent movies, which was also performed in Taiwan during Japanese occupation), karaoke, and propaganda rituals in schools that indoctrinate students with state-sponsored ideologies.
As an experiment, I see this project as an unusual biography, not of Nietzsche’s life, but rather of his afterlife. Relative to the metaphysical chronology of my project, “soul number zero” refers to Nietzsche himself, as the work begins at his death in 1900 and proceeds through a number of his post-1900 incarnations, souls, and memories—as a single-celled organism, an invertebrate, a bug, definitely a worm, and eventually a Chinese woman—metempsychosis on four video screens. The woman as narrator will mention the idea of the eternal recurrence, while images will illustrate it in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Incidentally, some metaphysical aspects of Buddhism echo Nietzsche’s thought of the eternal recurrence.
*James T. Hong, Nietzsche Reincarnated as a Chinese Woman and Their Shared Lives, 2016, four-channel video projection, color, sound, 45 minutes. Image via Artforum.
Theresa May's new digital and culture minister Matt Hancock recently said that "the hipster is a capitalist," and well, who are we to argue? Though the hipster fancies himself a socialist, the bearded beast is one defined by his consumer habits, creates small businesses, and collects objects as a passion--neoliberalism's wet dream. Stephen Pritchard writes about the hipster and Matt Hancock's controversial comments, in partial below, in full via the Guardian.
The hipster is a capitalist.” So said Matt Hancock, Theresa May’s new minister for digital and culture, who replaced Ed Vaizey in July this year. A standout soundbite from Hancock’s buzzword-laden keynote speech delivered last Friday at the Creative Industries Federation meet and greet event for culture’s great and good at the British Film Institute. Many creative industries “leaders” lapped up his speech which, as well as lauding micro-enterprising hipsters, also depicted James Bond delivering a post-Brexit “global calling card” – UK cultural capital – from his Aston Martin, bizarrely named-checked King Canute, and heralded “Uber-style dynamic pricing”.
Cultural capital has always been Britain’s soft power weapon of choice; the perfect accompaniment to a, let’s politely say, “proudly robust”, heritage of rampant jingoism that has long served to justify our lust for colonialism and imperialism in all its forms. Hancock recognises this, and the fact that the hipster epitomises both the old and the new. A perfectly preened vision of 21st century Conservativism.
The hipster may be a capitalist, although aren’t we all nowadays? The hipster is also ethical, sustainable and highly mobile. Retro, beautifully reconditioned fixed wheel bikes with 70s steel frames and state of the art aero wheels are their trusty steeds. With carefully coiffed beards and retro haircuts, they dwell in craft beer drinking dens, pop-up shops, tattoo parlours, and restaurants selling cereal. The hipster is so very carefully considered: everything stylised; everything thought through.
Unlike the colonising pioneer of the past, however, the hipster is postmodern, post-industrial, and post-Fordist. It is little wonder, then, that Hancock fetishises the hipster as both an ideal actor in his post-Brexit creative industries fantasy and an exemplar of small-scale, micro-enterprise: a capitalist. An article in the Evening Standard suggested that the minister’s comments might surprise many hipsters, who pride themselves in “breaking away from the mainstream economy with independent-minded and ethical ideas and work practices”. But isn’t this an exact description of the kind of small-scale capitalist “innovation” that Hancock envisages as driving the core of Britain’s much-hoped-for creative industries revolution; itself a coded form of cultural imperialism?
The trouble is that this model of art as part-cultural civiliser, part-economic driver, part-social cohesion improver is deeply problematic. Hancock believes that knocking-up more glass-fronted “cultural quarters” will bring multiple benefits to everyone: “The lesson is clear: make an area interesting and you attract interesting people to work there.” You see, for Hancock, “cultural rebirth, connectivity, and economic revival go hand in hand”. And, of course, the hipster seems to personify these neoliberal ideals. However, whereas the minister said he was keen to avoid the state adopting a “top-down” and “prescriptive approach”, the state is actually doing exactly that, along with the support of capitalist bodies, like the Orwellian-sounding Creative Industries Federation.
*Image: Cereal Killer Cafe owners, image via the Standard
For The North Star, Chris Knight writes about Noam Chomsky--who he says he loves--and the curious "double life" that he has led as both an anarchist activist and military-sponsored scientist working at MIT. Read Knight in partial below, in full via The North Star.
I need to start by saying that I love Noam Chomsky. I have often watched television images of a US drone strike perpetrated on an Afghan wedding party, or perhaps by the Israeli state on a school in the occupied West Bank or Gaza. And then onto my screen comes Noam Chomsky, speaking loud and clear, in a monotone, absolutely steadfastly, telling it like it is. As his admirers say, ‘speaking truth to power’.
If politicians were honest, if they told the truth, if the mass media were not so mendacious, we would not need a Noam Chomsky. But, of course, as we know, politicians lie. The media is full of professional liars. So we do need a Noam Chomsky. If he did not exist we would have to invent him. What other academic who has something to lose says it like it is with such extraordinary tenacity and courage? He has been doing so since the 1960s and is still at it today, as lucid and effective as ever.
So what is my book, Decoding Chomsky – Science and revolutionary politics, all about? When people ask me, they usually want to know whose side I am on. Am I one of Noam’s fans, they ask, or a critic? I can never answer this question because it all depends on whether you mean Noam the activist, or Noam the scientist. You cannot give the same answer to both.
And it is not just me who says there are two Noam Chomskys. He says it himself. By way of explanation, he once suggested, with a bit of a smile, that if his brain is a computer, it is a special one with ‘buffers’ between its two separate parts. He flits between the half of his brain that covers science and the other half that does activism. ‘[I live a] sort of schizophrenic existence’, he elaborated on another occasion. An interviewer once asked him ‘What do [the two Chomskys] say to each other when they meet?’ Chomsky replied that there was ‘no connection’. So I am not the only one who says there are two Noam Chomskys.
The first Noam Chomsky is the one you most likely know about – the political activist who has spent his life denouncing the US military. But then there is this paradox: the man who made his reputation as the world’s most famous critic of the US military is also the man who has spent his whole working life in one of the world’s foremost research institutes specialising in weapons design. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been central to the development of all the most ingenious helicopter stabilisation machines, multiple weapons guidance systems and much of what made Ronald Reagan salivate over the prospect of Star Wars during the 1980s. Many of these inventions were incubated inside the laboratories that Chomsky spent his life working in. So there we have the Chomsky paradox. One of those two Chomskys has spent his life attacking the US military; the other has been developing linguistics in the employ of a Pentagon-funded military laboratory.
Let me begin by referring to a chapter near the middle of my book, entitled ‘The Cognitive Revolution’. I am always a bit surprised when I talk to Marxists, socialists, Jeremy Corbyn supporters, Occupy or Green activists about the cognitive revolution. Their eyes simply glaze over. So I tend not to start by talking about it. It is really strange that so many left activists show no interest in the cognitive revolution. It is as if they considered the biggest intellectual upheaval since Galileo’s discovery of a moving Earth to be unimportant.
The cognitive revolution is essentially the computer revolution. More accurately, it’s the effect of the invention of computers on how we think. From the early 1960s onwards, digital computation has been revolutionising the way that philosophers, cognitive scientists, psychologists – even archaeologists – think about what it means to be human. So let me just explain a little about this.
There is something about digital communication that is strange. As you know, if you have a vinyl disc and you make a pressing from it, and then make a pressing from the pressing, and so on, after a while you cannot hear the recording clearly – it degrades with each copy you make. It is the same with a photocopier – with successive copyings, eventually the pattern is lost. However, with a digital starting point you can make a million copies of copies and all of them in sequence will be perfect. That is because digital signals are either fully on or fully off and there is no intermediate position. Any digital piece of information is made up of lots of switches, each totally off or totally on, and therefore impossible to degrade.
Linked to that is the fact that when communication is digital it makes not a blind bit of difference what material you are using to encode the stream of signals. Whether you are sending your message using copper, fibre-glass optical cable, pigeons or whatever makes no difference at all. As long as the signal is either off or on and the receiver can tell the difference, a faithful copy of the message will be transmitted.
In other words, the information is autonomous with respect to the material in which it is encoded. Or you could say that information is now floating free of the composition of matter. When US philosophers discussed the implications of all this, they began to think that possibly it had solved the great problem that the ancient Greeks and Descartes faced long ago: how such an intangible thing as the soul can influence or be influenced by the material body. They imagined they now had the solution to the mystery: if mind can be seen as software and the body as hardware, all was now clear. It even meant that we might be able in the future to discard our hardware – our bodies – while remaining who we really are.
Take cognitive science’s Marvin Minsky – brilliant co-founder in 1958 of MIT’s artificial intelligence laboratory and described as the ‘father of artificial intelligence’. As I discuss in my book, Minsky’s main interest lay in building computer models capable of replicating the activities of human beings. Among other things, he was the scientist who advised Stanley Kubrick on the capabilities of the HAL computer in his 1968 film 2001: a Space Odyssey.
If the mind really is a digital computer, concluded Minsky, then our bodies no longer really matter. Our arms, legs and brain cells are all just imperfect and perishable hardware – essentially irrelevant to the weightless and immortal software, the information that constitutes who we really are.
At a public lecture delivered by Minsky in 1996 on the eve of the Fifth Conference on Artificial Life in Japan, Minsky argued that only since the advent of computer languages have we been able to properly describe human beings. ‘A person is not a head and arms and legs,’ he remarked. ‘That’s trivial. A person is a very large multiprocessor with a million times a million small parts, and these are arranged as a thousand computers.’
For the New York Times, Thomas Fuller writes about the harsh realities of San Francisco, namely the city's unbridled homelessness that stands in stark contrast to its newly minted tech millionaires and the luxury services that target them as customers. Fuller has just moved from Bangkok to the US after spending decades in Asia. Read him in partial below, in full via New York Times.
During all my years in Asia I constantly grappled with the perniciousness of poverty. Yet somehow I was unprepared for the scale and severity of homelessness in San Francisco.
The juxtaposition of the silent whir of sleek Tesla electric vehicles, with the outbursts of the mentally ill on the sidewalks. Destitution clashing with high technology. Well-dressed tourists sharing the pavement with vaguely human forms inside cardboard boxes.
I’m confounded how to explain to my two children why a wealthy society allows its most vulnerable citizens to languish on the streets. My son, when he first encountered a homeless man, asked why no one “wanted to adopt him.”
It seems a terrible statement about my home country that my children will encounter homelessness and mental illness much more vividly in the wealthiest nation in the world than they did in Thailand, where we previously lived.
During a trip back to Bangkok I spoke about this paradox with Nopphan Phromsri, the secretary general of the Human Settlement Foundation, an organization that assists the homeless there.
Greater Bangkok, a sprawling metropolis with more than 10 million people, has 1,300 homeless people, a survey this year found.
San Francisco has less than one-tenth Bangkok’s population but six times as many homeless people. I’m sure you could fill a book with the reasons for this. Ms. Nopphan believes that homelessness is more intractable in rich societies. “In wealthy countries there are systems for everything,” she said. “You’re either in the system or out of the system.” There is no in-between in America. In Bangkok, by contrast, rich and poor coexist. There are vast tracts of cheap, makeshift homes and a countryside where people in the cities can return to if they lose their jobs or hit hard times.
On most days Asia feels very far away.
In the web-based multilingual journal transversal, Gerald Raunig reflects on recent grassroots municipal movements in Spain, examining developments in Barcelona, Málaga, and Sevilla. Linked to the 15M movement, grassroots organizations in Spain have been trying to influence politics on the municipal level in recent years, and some have even entered municipal governments. Raunig writes about the potential and limitations of this approach to bottom-up democracy. Here's an excerpt:
Just as linear imaginaries of history and progress in general tend to erase the complex ruptures and leaps of political histories, so is the linear portrayal of the genealogy of social struggles from their origins up to the seizure of power always problematic. In the case of the Spanish movement this applies to its simplistic deduction from the squares occupations of 15M, insofar as these were limited to a traditional founding myth. Genealogy is not a straight line from a historical origin to a heroic future, it is produced in now-time. In the here and now it twists and turns into anarchistic history, into the “Arab Spring,” into the translocal practices of the antiglobalization movement, the social forums and the university occupations, into the Paris Commune or into thousands of various concatenations of postcolonial translation processes, especially from and to Latin America.
It would be equally inadequate to describe the relation of the movement of municipalisms to the municipalities as a subject/object relation, as revolutionary subject that captures its object of desire. Not simply seizing the vessels emptied by representative democracy, corrupt parties and state apparatuses that have become obsolete, the municipalisms change the institutional form itself, the modes of subjectivation and instituent practices that begin not only after the capture of the state apparatus, but before and beyond linear imaginaries of development. The new institutionality is already before and before every form of capture. And it is, as Stefano Harney and Fred Moten conceptualize this “before and before,” a spatial and temporal before, withdrawing itself from the double compliance with a linear spatiotemporal order – as municipalism will in other spaces and at other times have had its traces, opened its breaches, drawn its lines.
Image: Members of Barcelona En Comú.
Writing for the website Public Seminar, Siobhan Kattago pays homage to a remarkable and nearly forgotten essay by Hannah Arendt called "We Refugees." Originally published in 1943, the essay reflects poignantly on the dislocation and tragedy endured by countless European Jews in the first half of the twentieth century. It also obliquely touches on Arendt's own experience with statelessness, which lasted from 1933 to 1951. In Kattago's appreciation of the essay, she highlights how Arendt's insights help us understand the struggles of refugees today. Here's an excerpt:
Whether pariah or parvenu, once Jews lost their citizenship and political rights during the Third Reich, they lost their own distinct place in the world. “The pariah Jew and the parvenu Jew are in the same boat, rowing desperately in the same angry sea. Both are branded with the same mark; both alike are outlaws.” Can we not say the same about today’s refugees, who are “rowing desperately” to avoid war and violence, but who are regarded as “outlaws” when they reach the borders? At the end of “We Refugees,” Arendt outlines a way to overcome the stigma of being refugee, pariah or outlaw. By becoming a “conscious pariah,” she was able to speak for those in her generation and maintain her identity. “Refugees driven from country to country represent the vanguard of their people — if they keep their identity.”
The stateless, as an unwanted and superfluous product of the international order, are a fact that can neither be ignored nor wished away. Today, more than seventy years after the publication of “We Refugees,” we face a similar problem. There are approximately 60 million refugees in the world, half of them children, who will spend much of their childhood in a refugee camp. What is, of course, different about the refugees then and now, is that today’s refugee is not European, and often Muslim. And yet the question remains: how should we respond? Arendt reminds us that patterns of exclusion, the proliferation of refugee camps and masses of people seeking refuge, bear more than a passing family resemblance to 20th century statelessness. “We Refugees” is more than an early essay outlining her later analysis of rights and the nation-state. It speaks both to the refugee crisis of the 20th century and to ours.
Image via Public Seminar.
At Open Space, the blog of SFMoMA, music journalist Sam Lefebvre examines recent efforts by various museums, universities, and independent collectors to preserve and digitize influential punk zines from the 1980s and '90s. The process is fraught with controversy and contradiction, exposing the fundamentally conflicting values of DIY subcultures and market-oriented art institutions. Here's an excerpt from Lefebvre's article:
Do vitrines elevate or negate fanzines? Is digitization a viable alternative for preservation, one that sidesteps institutional hegemony? As scholarly interest mounts, the quibbles and convictions swirling around the punk rags of yore significantly impact how narratives form or collapse — and who does the spinning. Who should we listen to? Are the punks who were there estranged from the significance of their own scene, or are they our only reliable sources?
Some of this tension emerged during the Void California panel. Professors examined the show through the prisms of their respective disciplines. A debate erupted in the audience between an academic and an exhibited artist about intentionality. “When I approached one of my professors at [San Francisco Arts Institute] about doing a project about punk, he scoffed,” remembered Wobensmith, the only non-academic panelist. “The fact that we’re having this show now is almost an indictment of the way these places work. Maybe we should be looking for the things that professors are telling people not to study right now.”
Matt Wobensmith, 45, arrived in San Francisco in 1989. Between 1992 and 1997, he published Outpunk and ran a record label of the same name, chronicling the queercore scene that emerged alongside riot grrrl. In 2009, he opened Goteblüd, a perusable, appointment-only fanzine emporium in the Mission District that does most of its business with university libraries; three years later, he donated his personal papers to the Riot Grrrl Collection at NYU’s Fales Library & Special Collections.
Wobensmith has a nuanced, somewhat conflicted view of preservation. “Zines present a challenge to both the art world and to the internet,” he said. “The art world wants them behind glass. The internet wants them digitized and shared. Neither honors the radicality of the objects themselves.”
Image: The San Francisco headquarter of the punk zine Search & Destroy, 1977. Via Open Space.
Writing in The Nation, poet and theorist Joshua Clover teases out the momentous origins and endings depicted in Baz Luhrman's recent Netflix series The Get Down, which traces the rise of hip hop in the South Bronx of the late 1970s. Clover writes that even as the show goes to great lengths to depict the moments of proletarian artistic creation that gave birth to hip hop, the historical backdrop of the show is an American capitalism that was starting to disintegrate. And this disintegration continues apace today. Here's an excerpt from Clover's piece:
These are the two limits the show runs up against: representing crisis and representing origins. But these are one and the same. The show’s outsized claim is that the sum of black and Latin pop aesthetics arises from the destruction of the South Bronx and more broadly from the uneven catastrophe unleashed by crisis. The proliferation of beginnings marks the beginning of the end for US expansion, US power. The underclasses, the vulnerable, people of color: They all bore more of the weight. The Bronx burned. But the center could not hold. Beyond the imperial core (here played by Manhattan), the wasted peripheries hosted an incomparable artistic flourishing. Our romantic leads, having fantasized about making it to Manhattan just like Tony Manero, finally let that dream go. It’s as if they know what Tony Manero can’t: Manhattan’s not even there anymore.
To say anything has ended is always a wager against persistence, inertia, power. It’s a wager worth making. Things end. It may be wise to look back on that moment—the one that begets our own endless proliferation of rubble and fatal stagnation—and say it’s never going to get better than that. The period from 1977 to 2007, Get Down to iPhone, was the cresting of a peak, a remixed and extended descent, the cut-up 12″ of disaster. We could enjoy its last emulsions, its closing beats, the outro. We could make America great again. We could insist it’s still great. Or we could see these are both charades and fight like hell for something else, for what comes next.
Still from The Get Down via The Nation.
We all knew it was coming: zombie abstraction has tanked, as Bloomberg reports that auction forecasts for "process-based abstraction" painters Lucien Smith and Hugh Scott-Douglas are being listed at bargain basement prices--up to 90% off of their peak price in 2014. While I feel sorry for these artists (where do you go from here?), I absolutely do not feel sorry for the dealers and collectors who artificially drove up these artists' markets. One of them, the dealer and collector Niels Kantor, is reported as saying that he's okay with taking a loss because Scott-Douglas's work is "like a stock that crashed."
Read Katya Kazakina's Bloomberg report in partial below, or in full here.
Art dealer and collector Niels Kantor paid $100,000 two years ago for an abstract canvas by Hugh Scott-Douglas with the idea of quickly reselling it for a tidy profit. Instead, he is returning the 28-year-old artist’s work to the market this week at an 80 percent discount.
Such is the new art season. At auction houses in London and New York, sellers are preparing to bail on their investments after the emerging-art bubble burst and the resale market for once sought-after artists dried up.
“I’d rather take a loss,” said Kantor, who is offering the Scott-Douglas work at the Phillips auction in New York on Sept. 20. “I feel like it can go to zero. It’s like a stock that crashed.”
Prices for works by young artists such as Scott-Douglas and Lucien Smith soared with the auction market in 2014, sometimes reaching hundreds of thousands of dollars, when they were traded like bull-market tech stocks. But since auction sales began to drop in late 2015, the emerging names have been hit especially hard. Sales by some artists are down 90 percent or more as the glut of work and nosebleed prices scare away buyers.
That’s because speculators purchase art to resell it, not to keep it.
“When those speculators realize that there is no end user at a higher price, then they scramble to sell the work before they lose everything,” said Todd Levin, director of Levin Art Group, who advises collectors. “The demand is driven by greed, the selloff by fear. It’s Economics 101.”
*Image: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered 3 by Lucien Smith Photographer: CLX Europe
In the latest issue of Public Books, historian Serge Gruzinski reviews What Is Global History?, an ambitious new book by German historian Sebastian Conrad. As economic and political institutions have become global in recent decades, academic historians have responded by attempting to develop a new subdiscipline and methodology called "global history." But this subdiscipline has been full of pitfalls, chief among them the danger of reproducing and reinforcing a Eurocentric view of non-European history. Conrad's book attempts to navigate these pitfalls and define a truly "global history" worthy of the name. According to Gruzinski, he does a masterful job. Read an excerpt of the review below or the full text here.
Can we move beyond a global history that is only the history of globalization? How to avoid the illusion of continuity, or the teleological fallacy that would transform the course of history into a succession of globalizations progressively embracing more regions of the globe? Conrad warns us to be cautious with the concept of integration: “Integration, then, is not an issue of scale (the entire planet) and quantity (the amount of trade), but of quality: the commodification of things and social relations creates a systemic coherence, as it enables compatibility and exchangeability across geographical, cultural, and ethnic borders.”
After sketching the genealogy of “thinking globally” and outlining the singularity of the global approach, Conrad analyzes its relations with time and space and discusses “positionality and centered approaches.” Since the end of the 20th century, one of the main causes for complaint about history and the social sciences has been their innate and deep Eurocentrism. And it is true that these disciplines, as they are taught all over the world, were first born and formatted in Europe before being exported abroad. It is true also that historians have attempted to “provincialize” Europe—to relegate the continent’s history to a marginal place in the larger narrative of the globe—in order to decontaminate these intellectual tools.
But many worry: is global history itself just a new manifestation of Eurocentrism? This is the hazard whenever globalization is employed as a synonym for modernity or neoliberalism. Yet is it still the best way to escape from the century-old domination of the West over the Rest? One way out of the teleological trap is to emphasize the many roads of modernization and integration. It seems that global history, more than any other subdiscipline, is apt to foster the diversity of local narratives: the multiplicity of views on the globe’s past, including different and alternative ways of conceiving the past itself.
Image: A printed map from a 15th-century edition of Ptolemy’s 2nd-century Geography. Via Public Books.
In Pacific Standard, Katie Kilkenny talks to queer filmmaker Jenni Olson about her latest experimental documentary, The Royal Road. The titular road is Highway 101, which runs the length of California and which Olson uses as a device to meditate on the remnants of colonial history in California—a history that most Americans would prefer to forget. In the film, Olson mixes long, contemplative landscape shots with quirky personal narrative to approach her subject matter in a very different way than traditional documentary. Here's an excerpt from the interview (and below that, the trailer for the film):
What contemporary social-justice struggles does the film grapple with?
Just as the film was about to premiere at Sundance [Film Festival], Pope Francis made his announcement that he was going to canonize Junipero Serra, and there was this huge outpouring of discussion about what a problematic figure he was that continued through the actual canonization. It was exciting for the film to end up being a part of that dialogue. Now, Stanford [University] is looking at removing Serra’s name from some of the buildings there.
The film’s analysis of the Mexican-American War, meanwhile, looks at the way that we as a society tend to want to forget about the problematic, difficult, violent history of our country. [It regards] Native Americans as well as our Latino citizens, and the general anti-Mexican sentiment particularly,[in] Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric. In the film, I say that it’s understandable that the United States as a country would want to forget about the Mexican-American war — but in this time of anti-Mexican sentiment, it’s easy to see the importance of remembering.
The initial impetus for that aspect of the film was this sense that so many Californians and Americans in general don’t really know the history of the Mexican-American War and that California and the entire American Southwest actually belonged to Mexico and that we provoked a war to seize it from them after having offered them $30 million for it — and they declined. I didn’t set out to make a conventional social-justice documentary, but the film does have those aspects to it.
Image: Still from The Royal Road. Via Pacific Standard.
For n+1, Joshua Cohen writes about two very depressive, inter-related things: Atlantic City and Donald Trump (and, by extension, Trump's failures in Atlantic City. Apparently Cohen, a novelist, grew up there, eating boardwalk food and working in casinos. It's a fun read--in partial below, in full via n+1.
I FIRST NOTICED THIS SEA CHANGE LAST FALL, when a certain type of red-faced, overweight, whatcha-gonna-do-about-it New Jersey/New York male commandeered our national politics. Both Donald Trump and Chris Christie were talked about in my family constantly—Trump since before I was even in utero, and Christie since George W. Bush appointed him US Attorney for New Jersey in 2001, and especially since he became governor in 2010. But it was only after suffering through their schoolyard-bully penis-contests during the 2016 Republican primaries that I began to recognize how similar they were, how alike in personality and in unctuous, disingenuous style. If I hadn’t detected their toxic resemblance before, it was only because they’d been menacing different playgrounds: Trump having always been nominally private sector, brandishing the better, or just more recognizable, brand; Christie having always been nominally public sector, an elected official who must be held to higher standards. The ongoing SEC and Congressional and New Jersey State investigations into Christie’s alleged misappropriation of Port Authority monies, his allegedly having made federal emergency relief funds available to Jersey cities affected by Hurricane Sandy contingent on city-government support of unrelated state-government initiatives, and, finally, his allegedly having ordered the George Washington Bridge closed as an act of political retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee—and so snarling a major artery from Manhattan—will likely continue beyond the conclusion of his term in 2018. Jersey’s governor has always been such an unmitigated prick that what stunned me most last spring wasn’t Trump’s emergence as the GOP frontrunner, but Christie’s dutiful dropping-out and endorsing him—his assuming a role, even after Trump passed him over for VP, halfway between that of a catamite-butler and henchman-capo, the butt of Trump’s insulting fat jokes and the fetcher of his milkshakes and fries.
The Republican primary debates marked the televised degeneration of their friendship—or whatever a friendship can mean in politics—which began only in 2002, when Trump’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, then a Philadelphia-based judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, nominated to that position by Bill Clinton, introduced her brother to the governor. The Christies were invited to Trump’s third wedding, to Melania; the Trumps were invited to Christie’s first inauguration. A year into Christie’s first term, and six years after the State of New Jersey had started to pursue collection of the almost $30 million in back taxes owed by Trump’s casinos, the State suddenly reversed course and settled for $5 million. Trump contributed an exceedingly modest share of the money he saved to the restoration of New Jersey’s historic gubernatorial residence, Drumthwacket. New Jersey’s near-miraculous tax-forgiveness must be understood in the same way as its governor’s near-miraculous abjection: neither are demonstrations of Trump’s master outmaneuvering, but rather of Christie’s cravenness. Christie will do anything to win, or be on the winning team. If he can’t be President, or VP, he’ll plump for chief of staff, or attorney general, or even just settle for a monogrammed-T swag bag with a Trump hat, Trump steaks, Trump wine. Christie’s not only inept, he’s also running out of options: there isn’t much of his party left to knock around. Politics (budget meetings in the State House in Trenton) used to be distinct from entertainment (The Celebrity Apprentice in syndication), but no more. Christie seems jealous of Trump, not just of his financial success or his nomination, but of how well and recklessly Trump, as a former/current reality TV star, can lie. Christie has always just ignored, withheld, or fastidiously obfuscated. Trump, by contrast, can’t afford not to be blatant or audacious in his untruths, so as to keep earning free airtime from the cable networks and radio stations whose ratings and ad revenues increase—blatantly, audaciously—in correspondence.
To me, Trump was always a blusterer, a conniver, a mouth: a cotton-candy-haired clown who crashed the AC party late and left it early and ugly. To my parents and their cadre, the Republican nominee was a more malevolent breed of fraud: a dishonest client and dysfunctional boss. I spent my first weekend in AC convincing my parents to introduce me, or reintroduce me, to their casino friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, and spent my first week explaining my presence to many concerned and baffled adults, to people who didn’t recognize me from childhood, to people I didn’t recognize from childhood, and to strangers and all and sundry who’d make the time to talk Trump with me. The word I heard most often in reference to the GOP candidate—from Steven Perskie, the former New Jersey assemblyman and state senator whose original gaming referendum brought casinos to AC in 1976; from Nelson Johnson, the New Jersey superior court judge who wrote the book version of Boardwalk Empire; from Mayor Don Guardian, one of the few AC mayors in my lifetime not to have been charged with corruption; from Ibrahim Abdali and his cousin who’d only identify himself as Mohammed, Afghan refugees who sell pipes and bongs and martial arts weaponry on the Boardwalk—the word I heard most often was failure.
Every Trump account I was given in AC described a man so extraordinarily bad at business, or at being anything besides a business-celebrity, that he was forced to switch from building casinos to branding casinos with his name, that polysemous pentagrammaton he charged his partners to use and then sued them to remove once the decaying properties became a liability. In the 1980s and ’90s, the casinos with which Trump was associated comprised between a third and a quarter of AC’s gaming industry. The Playboy Hotel and Casino, which was founded in ’81, became the Atlantis in ’84, and went bankrupt in ’85, was acquired by Trump in ’89 and renamed The Trump Regency; he renamed it again as Trump’s World’s Fair in ’96, and it was closed in ’99 and demolished in 2000. Trump Castle, built in cooperation with Hilton in ’85, was rebranded as Trump Marina in ’97, sold at a loss to Landry’s Inc. in 2011, and is now operated by Landry’s as the Golden Nugget. Trump Plaza, built in cooperation with Harrah’s in ’84, went bankrupt and shuttered in 2014 and now just rots.
And then there’s the Trump Taj Mahal, which Trump built with the help of Resorts International in 1990 on financial footings so shaky and negligent that by the end of the decade he’d racked up more than $3.4 billion in debt, including business (mostly high-interest junk-bond) and personal debt which he handled by conflating them. By lumping them together under the auspices of a publicly traded company, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, he dumped all his burdens onto the backs of his shareholders even as he continued to treat his casino receipts as profits, to be raided and reinvested in development in New York. Even while Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts bled an average of $49 million a year into the late ’90s, even while its share price plummeted from $35 to $0.17 through the early 2000s, Trump himself continued to receive a salary in the millions, not to mention bonuses and the monies his personally held companies made from his publicly traded company leasing office space in Manhattan’s Trump Tower and renting Trump Shuttle helicopters and Trump Airlines airplanes to fly around showroom-acts and high-rollers. Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts finally went bankrupt in 2004, and in its restructuring became Trump Entertainment Resorts, which itself went bankrupt in 2014 and was fire-sold to Icahn Enterprises, whose subsidiary, Tropicana Entertainment Inc., has run the Taj into a $100 million hole. Carl Icahn, the conglomerate’s chairman, was once a wary adversary who now endorses Trump, though he’s declined Trump’s offer to become the next secretary of the treasury: “I am flattered but do not get up early enough in the morning to accept this opportunity.”
On July 1, at the height of the season, the Taj’s unionized employees from UNITE HERE Local 54 went on strike, demanding a wage increase and the reinstatement of health and pension benefits suspended in the transfer of ownership. Negotiations were never scheduled; Icahn and the union couldn’t agree on a venue, let alone an agenda. In early August, Icahn announced that he’d be closing the Taj after Labor Day. And so the fall forecast kept getting grimmer, with the loss of the city’s most prominent casino and more than 2,800 jobs.
The Taj’s demise would be chronicled throughout the summer by the New York Times and the Washington Post, in articles framed as analyses of Trump’s finances. These articles, like the leveraged-debt practices they documented, were virtuoso feats, given that they were researched without access to the candidate’s tax returns, which he refuses to release. But reading them induced headaches: all those loans and defaults and shell-companies shattered, keeping track of them was like counting the beach, grain by grain.
The main issue I had with this out-of-town finance journalism, however, was that it was finance journalism: none of its unbiased sums could account for Trump’s meanness—that petty vile villainy that was being described to me when I was casting around for a place to write.
Because my parents had remodeled my old bedroom into the room of dusty disused exercise equipment, and because AC has no leisurely cafés or bookshop spaces and its public library is only open 9 to 5, I prevailed upon my uncle to make me a key to the office of one of his companies, Fishermen’s Energy, a consortium of commercial fishermen who are trying to establish what would be New Jersey’s first offshore wind farm, in AC. The building was the Professional Arts Building, which went up in the 1920s and flaunts it; its windows gave onto Resorts. I moved into the conference room, adjacent to the cubicles of my uncle’s three employees, who, given Jersey’s disinterest in renewable energy, didn’t have much work to do—or to put it positively, had the occasional leisure to talk.
The receptionist, Karen Carpinelli, previously worked for a family-run Atlantic County–based neon sign firm that found itself working for Trump, who preferred to contract with family-run firms because they were easily abused. Trump consistently failed to pay the full amounts he owed, which forced the sign-makers to inflate their prices: apparently the totals didn’t matter, only the discounts did, and if Trump paid at all it was usually half of whatever they billed him. Fishermen’s Energy Project Director Tim Axelsson, who hails from a distinguished fishing family in Cape May, recounted to me how, in 1988, Trump had planned to arrive in AC for the first time in the Trump Princess, a $29 million yacht formerly owned by the Sultan of Brunei and, before him, by Saudi arms-dealer Adnan Khashoggi. The Princess, however, being one of the largest yachts in the world at the time, was too large to navigate the channel, and so Trump paid to have the channel dredged, which it was, without any impact studies conducted or permits obtained (though the NJ Department of Environmental Protection did issue a belated stop work order). Fishermen’s Energy COO and General Counsel Paul Gallagher, who prior to working for my uncle served as AC City Solicitor, once served as manager of the Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm, whose five inshore wind turbines, situated hard by the inlet, help power the city’s wastewater treatment plant. When that project went up, Trump made a call: there were five turbines, he said, as if he were counting up the notoriously short fingers on his notoriously small hands, and there were also five letters in his name—did Paul understand? Would the Jersey-Atlantic people be interested in festooning the poles of their turbines with T R U M P? Apparently, Trump would let them do it free of charge. And this was just the lore to be found in a single office—the lore that was dumped on me about five minutes after moving in.
*Image of Atlantic City postcard via n+1
Ian Parker writes a very long and very entertaining profile on the New York Times Food critic Pete Wells. Since taking up his post in 2012, Wells has become the stuff of criticism legend, notably reviewing Guy Fieri's Time Square establishment in the form of many sequential, exasperated questions: Did panic grip your soul as you stared into the whirling hypno wheel of the menu, where adjectives and nouns spin in a crazy vortex? When you saw the burger described as “Guy’s Pat LaFrieda custom blend, all-natural Creekstone Farm Black Angus beef patty, LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion + pickle), SMC (super-melty-cheese) and a slathering of Donkey Sauce on garlic-buttered brioche,” did your mind touch the void for a minute?
As it happens, Wells is actually somewhat of a quiet man who has a complicated relationship to the power his reviews hold. As Parker notes, he also somewhat looks like a cartoon police sergeant. Read Parker in partial below, or in full via the New Yorker.
In 1962, Craig Claiborne became the first person at the Times to review restaurants regularly; two decades later, he published a memoir, noting that he had “disliked the power” of being a critic. He added, “It burdened my conscience to know that the existence or demise of an establishment might depend on the praise or damnation to be found in the Times.” Much of that power remains, even as it has seeped away from reviewers of theatre and painting; Wells is a vestige of newspaper clout. And, because successful chefs now often sit atop empires, a single bad review can threaten a dozen restaurants and a thousand employees. When Wells reviewed Vaucluse, on the Upper East Side, he began by identifying the restaurant’s parent company, founded by the chef Michael White and Ahmass Fakahany, a former Merrill Lynch executive: “A critic could run out of new ways to express disappointment in Altamarea Group restaurants if Altamarea didn’t keep coming up with new ways to disappoint.”
The Momofuku Group, run by the thirty-nine-year-old chef David Chang, has in recent years expanded into fast food, overseas restaurants, and a quarterly magazine named Lucky Peach. But Momofuku Nishi was the company’s first full-scale, sit-down restaurant to open in New York in five years. A visit from Wells was a certainty. A copy of the one photograph of him that is widely available online, in which he looks like a character actor available to play sardonic police sergeants, was fixed to a wall in the restaurant’s back stairwell. Chang recently told me that, despite the profusion of opinion online, he still thought of the Times as the “judge and jury” of a new venture, if not the executioner.
In the logjam by the restaurant’s door, a young woman in a dark fitted jacket—later identified as Gabrielle Nurnberger, one of the restaurant’s managers—smiled at Wells, then turned away. Wells said to me, “Look at this,” and we watched as she strode toward the kitchen with her arms down, like a gymnast starting a run-up. (At the equivalent moment of discovery in another restaurant, I saw a manager mouth to Wells’s server “Good luck,” and place a reassuring hand on her arm.) There was increased activity in and out of the kitchen, which was half exposed to the room. We waited a few more minutes, and were then shown to a spot at the edge of the hurricane, against a wall. Our neighbors were taking photographs directly above their bowls of Ceci e Pepe. The dish, a riff on pasta cacio e pepe, using fermented chickpea paste in place of Pecorino, was central to the restaurant’s promoted identity, suggesting technical expertise in the service of amused nonconformity. (Chang told me, later, that he had conceived of the menu as a “Fuck you” to Italian cuisine.) We were given menus with wry footnotes. Wells took off his fake glasses and put on his reading glasses.
Nurnberger became our server. Wells is an unassuming man who has become used to causing a stir, and this can be disorienting: it’s odd to hear him wonder, not unreasonably, if restaurants ever think of bugging his table. But a restaurant can’t openly acknowledge him. A while ago, he happened to sit next to Jimmy Fallon, the host of the “Tonight Show,” at the counter of a sushi restaurant in the Village. Both men were recognized. As Wells recalled it, Fallon “got the overt treatment”: “big smiles and ‘Thank you for coming in’ ” and perhaps an extra dish or two. Wells’s experience was that “every dish of mine was an object of attention and worry before it got to me”—he often has a slower meal than other diners do, because dishes get done again and again until they are deemed exemplary. As usual, his water glass “was always being topped up.” But it was “as if none of this were happening.”
Experienced for the first time, this covert cosseting feels slightly melancholy, like an episode of Cold War fiction involving futile charades and a likely defenestration. Nurnberger was a gracious server but, understandably, not quite at ease. She risked overplaying her role, like Sartre’s waiter in “Being and Nothingness,” who “bends forward a little too eagerly” and voices “an interest a little too solicitous for the order of the customer.” In her effort to help, Nurnberger came close to explaining what a menu was. Rote questions about how we gentlemen were getting on—usually asked of me—had a peculiar intensity. “I’m very reluctant to break the fourth wall,” Wells had said to me earlier, speaking of restaurant staff. “But I wish there were some subtle way to say, ‘Don’t worry!’ ” He sighed—he often sighs—and added, “I can’t honestly say that. Because sometimes they should worry.”
When Wells speaks, his fingers often flutter near his temples, as if he were a stage mentalist trying to focus. He ordered several plates of food; after hesitation, he asked for a glass of white wine. He does not follow Craig Claiborne’s practice, in the nineteen-sixties, of weighing himself every day, but he has begun to think of alcohol as calories that he can skip without being professionally lax. He is not fat, but the job stands between him and leanness: he can’t turn down food. “My body is not my own,” he said.
When dishes arrived, he looked at them sternly for a moment. We talked, or shouted, about his older son’s food allergies, and about a decision, just made at the Times, to have him regularly assess restaurants outside New York. (The first of these reviews, from Los Angeles, appears online on September 6th.) He talked of his earlier career, as an editor at Details, a columnist at Food & Wine, and the dining editor of the Times, when he had opportunities to watch chefs work and ask them questions. In his current role, he’d probably leave the room if someone like Chang turned up at the same cocktail party. “The danger is getting friendly with people you should feel free to destroy,” he said, and then stopped. “That’s not really the word, but you get the idea. People you should feel free to savage, when you have to.” Over my shoulder, Wells could see into the kitchen. At the start of the evening, Chang wasn’t visible, but then he was. “He may have been airlifted,” Wells said. For the critic’s benefit, a chef-commander, summoned from a sister restaurant or a back office, may take over from a lieutenant. Though Chang’s brand is built on unconventionality, he respected the convention of the fourth wall. The two men, who were on friendly terms before Wells became a critic, made eye contact but did not acknowledge each other.
*Image of Pete Wells via alchetron.com
In the fall 2016 issue of The Baffler, Sam Kriss takes on contemporary defenders of a particularly dogmatic form of atheism, including Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye. Kriss doesn't counter them by upholding religious faith. Rather, he shows how their militant commitment to a "rational" universe tends to downplay forms of social and political disorder, irrationality, and domination. Here's an excerpt:
The atheists stand against unreason and untruth, and because the least you could say about the world is that it’s all true, they find themselves taking on the same job as Hegel—to “defend reality against its detractors.” He wrote that philosophy is theodicy, and while to modern ears this identification has the tenor of a critique, his project was entirely without irony. What’s more, it didn’t really work: every stupid shitty historical form is eventually upheld in its progression toward absolute knowledge; merely understanding something under this grand dispensation is equated with a justification of the object of your understanding.
The modern variant follows a broadly similar line, and with more success: it turns out you can do theodicy much more efficiently once you remove that annoying cantankerous God from the equation altogether. But as Kierkegaard showed, equating the good with the mere possibility of knowledge can only drive you mad.
If our only problem were that we were backward, we could always catch up. If the real challenge before us were a simple paucity of facts, we could always learn them. But the real horrors of the twenty-first century aren’t horrors of superstition and unreason, but the far more deadly horrors of a rationally administered world we are endlessly condemned to repeat. Our spherical earth is increasingly organized like one colossal factory, operating seamlessly and just in time, teeming with millions of tiny and unwilling workers, slurping up the expertise of ten thousand sharpened brains—and it’s not beautiful, it’s Hell. Everyone is wasting their lives. Everyone is unhappy. It’s not just you. The world is insane, insane in a way that doesn’t even require any of the announcements from its administrators to be factually untrue.
Image of Richard Dawkins via Salon.
In the recently released hundredth issue of New Left Review, Nancy Fraser asks whether the demands of financialized capitalism are terminally undermining the ability of its workers to reproduce themselves. As she writes in the opening paragraph of the piece, "No society that systematically undermines social reproduction can endure for long. Today, however, a new form of capitalist society is doing just that. The result is a major crisis, not simply of care, but of social reproduction in this broader sense." Here's an excerpt from later in the essay, where she wonders whether capitalism can emerge from this crisis of social reproduction intact:
What might emerge from this crisis? Capitalist society has reinvented itself several times in the course of its history. Especially in moments of general crisis, when multiple contradictions—political, economic, ecological and social-reproductive—intertwine and exacerbate one another, boundary struggles have erupted at the sites of capitalism’s constitutive institutional divisions: where economy meets polity, where society meets nature, and where production meets reproduction. At those boundaries, social actors have mobilized to redraw the institutional map of capitalist society. Their efforts propelled the shift, first, from the liberal competitive capitalism of the 19th century to the state-managed capitalism of the 20th, and then to the financialized capitalism of the present era. Historically, too, capitalism’s social contradiction has formed an important strand of the precipitating crisis, as the boundary dividing social reproduction from economic production has emerged as a major site and stake of struggle. In each case the gender order of capitalist society has been contested, and the outcome has depended on alliances forged among the principal poles of a triple movement: marketization, social protection, emancipation. Those dynamics propelled the shift, first, from separate spheres to the family wage, and then, to the two-earner family.
What follows for the current conjuncture? Are the present contradictions of financialized capitalism severe enough to qualify as a general crisis, and should we anticipate another mutation of capitalist society? Will the current crisis galvanize struggles of sufficient breadth and vision to transform the present regime? Might a new form of socialist feminism succeed in breaking up the mainstream movement’s love affair with marketization, while forging a new alliance between emancipation and social protection—and if so, to what end? How might the reproduction-production division be reinvented today, and what can replace the two-earner family?
Nothing I have said here serves directly to answer these questions. But in laying the groundwork that permits us to pose them, I have tried to shed some light on the current conjuncture. I have suggested, specifically, that the roots of today’s ‘crisis of care’ lie in capitalism’s inherent social contradiction—or rather in the acute form that contradiction assumes today, in financialized capitalism. If that is right, then this crisis will not be resolved by tinkering with social policy. The path to its resolution can only go through deep structural transformation of this social order. What is required, above all, is to overcome financialized capitalism’s rapacious subjugation of reproduction to production—but this time without sacrificing either emancipation or social protection. This in turn requires reinventing the production–reproduction distinction and reimagining the gender order. It remains to be seen whether the result will be compatible with capitalism at all.
Image of Nancy Fraser via rosalux.de.
For the New York Times, Randy Kennedy writes about MoMA's initiative to digitize its exhibition archive and put it online. This comes as a great boon to researching curators and artists who don't have access to the institution's physical archive--though the cost of the initiative must have been steep. (To my knowledge, the only other institution to have done this is the New Museum.) Read Kennedy in partial below, in full via New York Times.
The Museum of Modern Art, which has defined Modernism more powerfully than perhaps any other institution, can often seem monolithic in the mind’s eye, essentially unchanged since its doors opened in 1929: a procession of solemn white-box galleries, an ice palace of formalism, the Kremlin (as the artist Martha Rosler once called it) of 20th-century art.
But a more complicated story has always been told by the hundreds of thousands of documents and photographs in the museum’s archives, a vast accumulation of historical detail that has been accessible mainly to scholars. Beginning Thursday, after years of planning and digitizing, much of that archive will now be available on the museum’s website, moma.org, searchable so that visitors can time-travel to see what the museum looked like during its first big show (“Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, van Gogh,” in the fall of 1929); during seminal exhibitions (Kynaston McShine’s “Information” show in 1970, one of the earliest surveys of Conceptual art); and during its moments of high-minded glamour (Audrey Hepburn, in 1957, admiring a Picasso with Alfred H. Barr Jr., the museum’s domineering first director).
Michelle Elligott, chief of the museum’s archives, who undertook the project with Fiona Romeo, the director of digital content and strategy, said that translating documents from the physical to the virtual yielded some real-world historical discoveries. Yes, as the museum has long suspected but could never quite say definitively, Picasso is the artist who has been included in the most exhibitions (more than 320).
*A view of the exhibition “Bauhaus: 1919-1928,” which was on view from Dec. 7, 1938, through Jan. 30, 1939. SOICHI SUNAMI, THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART ARCHIVES, NEW YORK
At last, the ideal Pokémon GO thinkpiece, written by Bifo Berardi: In it, mentions of neoliberalism, the movie The Matrix, Jaron Lanier, Californian psychedelic culture, escapism and virtual reality convene in perfect harmony. Read Berardi in partial below, or in full via Diem 25.
Summer 2016 has marked a new step in the rush towards the annihilation. The string of suicidal terrorist acts in France, in Germany, and the fragmentary wars in the Middle East. The wave of migration from the Mediterranean, and the unrelenting rejection from the European governments, and from the European population which is turning more and more xenophobic and afraid. The exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and the transformation of Turkey into a nationalist dictatorship with islamist undertones. The soft golpe in Brazil, and last but not least the breathtaking ascent of Trump on the American scene. “Madamina il catalogo è questo”.
This is the reality produced by forty years of worldwide Neoliberal Reformation. Competition and privatisation have prevailed and now the result is impoverishment, inequality and global civil war.
All of a sudden, at the high point of the Summer, newspapers and television focused on the launch of Pokemon GO. People of all age went around waving their smartphone trying to capture metaphysical insects in the open air.
One may argue that the launch of Pokemon GO reveals that the process of infantilisation is taking the upper hand in the world psycho-scape.
The refusal of attending the show of barbarisation may lead a part of the population to take shelter in secluded gate communities of simulation. I want to go beyond this first sight consideration, and I want to imagine a future (many futures indeed) of the new big thing that is emerging in the sphere of technology and cultural mutation: immersion.
Pokemon GO is a game that may be categorised as Augmented Reality: in fact the simulation is not only concerning the screen of your smartphone, but also the surrounding reality where simulated objects are projected.
But this is only one step in a long-lasting stream of technological invention.
At the end of the ’80s I read a text titled Communication without symbols written by Jaron Lanier, the visionary engineer who was building the first devices for Virtual Reality.
Following the visionary intuitions of the Californian psychedelic culture (Timothy Leary and his friends), Lanier translated psychedelia into engineering, so paving the way to the possibility of techno-stimulation of nervous centres, and to the transmission and sharing of images, sounds, perceptions: simulated experience.
Lanier’s post-symbolic communication fundamentally implies the total immersion of the human body within its computational matrix.
Language is made of symbols that one has to be able to decipher, but the sharing of a cognitive experience can happen without symbols, without language, so that emotion, sensuousness, fear can be raised through a direct stimulating simulation, a technical simulation that stimulates designed neural reactions of the organism. Data Gloves, Computer aided Virtual Environments (Caves) were the first applications that came out from the Lanier’s project.
Later on, at the dawn of the ‘90s, all the energy of the searchers and tech-innovators was directed to the formation of the Internet, and the immersive way was abandoned. Up to a certain point, because the Internet can be viewed as an immense immersive space that we have learned to inhabit and to interact with. Recently the mobile Internet has enabled the interfacing of the nervous system with the automatic machine of connection. and the wiring of the social cognitive system.
Now the immersive technology is back, since the big corporations of the global Mind-scape have invested their money into new Virtual Reality gadgets. Meanwhile the technical features of the immersive machines have enormously improved, and the simulation of the surrounding environment is almost perfect.What direction is taking this trend?
A direction might be the Virtual Gate Community: a mental space that disconnects from the real world and recreates a dimension of expanded second life in second planet.
According to the 1999 movie of Larry Andy Wachowksi [sic: Lana and Lilly Wachowski]:
“Matrix is everywhere. It is what you see when you go to work, to the church and you pay your taxes. It’s the world that has been placed in front of your eyes in order to conceal the truth.”
*Image of Pokémon airplane via Techcrunch
The English-language website of Der Spiegel has provided a map that highlights several areas around the world that have been most impacted by climate change. In his short introduction explaining the map—which is excerpted below—Axel Bojanowski points out that whenever an unusual weather event happens somewhere in the world, people reflexively attribute it to climate change. But this is not always true:
A flood, a storm, an avalanche: Such events are almost always caused by global warming. That, at least, is the impression one tends to get from the media. Hardly a natural event or environmental transformation takes place any more without it being suspected of having something to do with anthropogenic climate change.
Usually, though, the situation isn't that simple. Myriad factors play a role, such that it is often impossible to identify a clear connection between natural phenomena and climate change.
Even in the supposedly clear-cut case of Sarichef Island in Alaska, a bit of research is all it takes to trigger doubts. In August, residents of Shishmaref, the only settlement on the island, voted in favor of relocating to the mainland because of a rapidly eroding shoreline. The people of the island were fleeing from climate change, it was reported, with rising sea levels destroying their island.
But a look at the geological data shows that in contrast to many other areas of the world, sea levels in the region haven't risen for at least 20 years. Prior to that, there had been no systematic collection of data. Measurements also show that the volume of the ice floes in the region has also remained stable. So it appears to be implausible that the disappearance of sea ice, which helps protect the coast, is causing floods.
Plus, the island is a so-called barrier island, essentially a large sandbank that is constantly shifting and changing in accordance with ocean currents and the weather. Towns such as Shishmaref, located directly on the coast, are constantly in danger. A half century ago, residents of the island were already considering leaving it. As such, blaming the coastal erosion on climate change may not be accurate.
Image: Drought in Spain. Via Der Spiegel.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, a recently published book by J. D. Vance, has been sparking a lot of discussion in the US lately. By telling his own story of growing up poor and white in a decaying steel town in Ohio, Vance provides a window into the declining economic fortunes of small-town whites from the US heartland—the demographic that has thrown its support behind Donald Trump. At the New Yorker website, Joshua Rothman explains how the personal details and nuanced political reflections in Vance's book demonstrate that we have a woefully inadequate grasp of what causes poverty and how it might be overcome. Here's an excerpt from Rothman's piece:
It’s through these back doors of memory and family history that “Hillbilly Elegy” arrives at its broadest subject: our hopelessly politicized approach to thinking about poverty. At least since the Moynihan Report, in 1965, Americans have tended to answer the question “Why are people poor?” by choosing one of two responses: they can either point to economic forces (globalization, immigration) or blame cultural factors (decaying families, lack of “grit”). These seem like two social-science theories about poverty—two hypotheses, which might be tested empirically—but, in practice, they are more like political fairy tales. As Kelefa Sanneh wrote earlier this year, the choice between these two explanations has long been racialized. Working-class whites are said to be poor because of outsourcing; inner-city blacks are imagined to be holding themselves back with hip-hop. The implicit theory is that culture comes from within, and so can be controlled by individuals and communities, whereas economic structures exert pressures from without, and so are beyond the control of those they affect.
This theory is useful to politicians, because political ideologies function by identifying some people as powerless and others as powerful. The truth, though, is that the “culture vs. economics” dyad is largely a fantasy. We are neither prisoners of our economic circumstances nor lords of our cultures, able to reshape them at will. It would be more accurate to say that cultural and economic forces act, with entwined and equal power, on and through all of us—and that we all have an ability, limited but real, to harness or resist them. When we pursue education, we improve ourselves both “economically” and “culturally” (and in other ways); conversely, there’s nothing distinctly and intrinsically “economic” or “cultural” about the problems that afflict poor communities, such as widespread drug addiction or divorce. (If you lose your job, get divorced, and become an addict, is your addiction “economic” or “cultural” in nature?) When we debate whether such problems have a fundamentally “economic” or “cultural” cause, we aren’t saying anything meaningful about the problems. We’re just arguing—incoherently—about whether or not people who suffer from them deserve to be blamed for them. (We know, meanwhile, that the solutions—many, partial, and overlapping—aren’t going to be exclusively “economic” or “cultural” in nature, either.)
Image: J. D. Vance’s home town of Middletown, Ohio. Via the New Yorker.