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<eyebeam><blast> back to life!

On Feb. 7, Brad Brace wrote:

'The term "net-art" seems mostly an attempt to validate another centrist
art-historical period despite our contemporaneity -- that is
"beyond-the-end" of modernist categories. Why might we still harbor such
a disingenuous distinction? After-all, real artists and art can only

He also forwarded the address of a website, "An Appraisal of
Technologies of Political Control":  http://jya.com/stoa-atpc.htm.

Let me say just to start out that the website Brace indicates is very
interesting. I'm in lively agreement  with his implied point, that the
communication potential of the Internet should be used to work against
some potentially deadly developments on the political horizon. And I
personally think anyone with a sense of responsibility should learn
about the staggering concentration of capital in the transnational
corporations and particularly in the financial sector (the best books
I've read are La Mondialisation du Capital, by Francois Chesnais, and
The Condition of Postmodernity, by David Harvey). The control
technologies are the ugly side of the juridical structure that supports
big capital. The concerted efforts to smooth the way for its operations
suggest that the democratic governments are again turning into exactly
what Marx accused them of being: the executive arm of the bourgeoisie,
or of what I call the global managerial class (just one example of is
the OECD's proposed MAI investment treaty, see
http://www.citizen.org/pctrade/mai.html). That tendency can still be
opposed democratically, and it should be opposed. There are real death
machines loose in the world right now, it's worth opening your eyes,
before democracy disappears.

I'm a lot less convinced by the swelling chorus on ART's disappearance
or death, and I share Olu Oguibe's bewilderment at all this theoretical
gloom and doom, most of which seems to have very little to do with real
human death - the only one that matters - and a lot more to do with a
failure of spirit, a loss of nerve, resignation. Wake up a little out
there in cyberspace! I think this death-of-art business is mainly a
displacement/denial of the real problems, something the Franco-American
postmodernist discourse has been very good at. The single serious idea
in the bunch is that modern art has been institutionalized to function
as a decoy, a lure, causing people to turn away from effective politics
and to concentrate their energies on an endless mimetic reproduction of
the institutional definition of the artistic. OK, there's a lot of truth
to that idea. But personally I think that in an age of the neoliberal
destruction of all public entities, it's a lot wiser to learn to use our
institutions well than to just get rid of them. Art, even in its deeply
flawed institutional frames, is still a place where one can reach out to
the public and get in touch with others. That's what I try to do as a
critic and cultural producer, and it doesn't leave me much time for
mooning introspection.

I'm going to do a minimum of critique on this subject. The most common
post-1968 version of the anti-art argument accuses art of being
derivative, second-order, a "simulacrum." The simulacrum is the raw
material of the spectacle society: signs reproducing themselves
autonomously, the pure movement of capital through instrumentalized
human beings, or what Guy Debord, quoting Hegel, described as "the life,
moving in itself, of that which is dead." So the solution seems to be
the time-honored (and imitative, manifestly derivative) avant-garde
solution, namely to go beyond art, to claim its dissolution into
reality, into real freedom, or into "savage critique" as dear old
Baudrillard says. But how does one really step outside the simulacra and
into reality?

Amongst the great aspirations of 20th-century culture has been the
attempt to get out of the prison of conventional representations. And
this attempt came to focus on art, because it was identified as being
purely a matter of representation. On the one hand, as Brett Stalbaum
points out in his much-quoted "conjuring" article, this attempt to get
outside of art as mere representation has often been driven by an
individualizing compulsion, the desire to find an authentic core of the
self which can be all one's own, which can fulfill a narcissistic will
to self-possession. Exactly such a will to self-possession was at the
bottom of Greenberg's definition of modernist art as being essentially
concerned with isolating the specific characteristics of each medium -
and, as Stalbaum also points out, that version of the "real thing" has
served as a powerful social mirror to symbolize and help reproduce the
capitalist culture of possessive individualism. On the other hand, the
desire to get beyond (artistic) representation also springs from a
desire to "shed the self," as Foucault put it. It's an attempt to throw
off the monstrosity of bourgeois civilization and its sacrosanct ego, in
order to find something better. From the Dadaists to John Cage and
beyond, that effort to shed the self has unfolded in a
never-quite-completed overcoming of artistic representation...

Art is socially vital and dynamic in this movement of incomplete
overcoming. It's a focus of value, it's a way to concentrate issues and
contradictions, to bring them to a higher intensity, even to a crisis.
There's always a need to situate that intensity somewhere, let everyone
call it what they like and let the honest people avoid selling it for
more than it's worth. At the same time, I think it can be very
interesting to admit that artistic practice is at least partially
imitative, it's the mystery of mimesis, it's that thing some people just
have a knack for, an inexplicable savoir-faire. No doubt everyone has
some aspect of this knack, this funny thing, this gift, this servitude -
I think everyone does. To focus value on the mimetic, and on the way it
surfaces in specific people, is then to confront the social, to confront
someone else - and even to confront someone else inside yourself, since
the conscious practice of art as imitation can be nothing else but
confronting otherness. To imitate is to encounter someone or something
else. When you become aware of that, as one often does within the
intensifying frame of art, then the whole mortuary problem of the
simulacrum disappears. No longer is there this anxiety of looking in the
mirror of representation and just seeing versions of your own frozen
face. Instead you are called to attend to the other who affects you, who
is working on you, splitting you all the way to the very core of
yourself. It's an affection, an emotion (to reply to Ricardo Basbaum's
question about artistic affect a few days ago, and to echo some thoughts
from Bracha Lichtenberg-Ettinger). It's also a spark, a spur to real
intellectual exchange, the kind that changes you in the process.

That kind of spark could become very strong in the language-based world
communication links, if we the public placed enough value on it. I think
a lot of people in this forum have felt something like what I'm
describing just recently, to judge from the reactions to the posts by
Tglatz from Alaska or to the enigmatic and disturbing afrika post that
just said: "e-race." I hear a lot of strong things over this supposedly
deadening machine - they shake me up, give me energy, just like when I
go out in the street these days. And the mimetic or affective dimension
of the art-exchange doesn't offer the easy way out of abstract theory,
because rather than giving you the impression of being "savage," wild,
completely exterior to "the system," it can make you face up to the
ambiguity of the institutions in which you really do participate. To
borrow the words of Frantz Fanon quoted by Tim Jordan a few days ago,
the mimetic experience of art requires you "to support the weight of a
civilization" - to confront the weight of a civilization that you might
like to shed. Step one on the way to political engagement.

Within the special focus of value that the living can still choose to
call art, there is a chance to come to grips with the ancient question
of the same and the other - that look in someone else's eyes, real eyes,
crossing gazes.

Brian Holmes

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