October 19th, 2011 / 12:10 pm
Power Quote

Unresolved Latency

One important aspect of resolving the background in the cultural field is the attempt to destroy the art-industry consensus between producers and receivers in order to free events of “showing” in their radical specificity. It explicates the absoluteness of the act of production as well as the proper value of the act of reception. Such interventions have a combat value as acts of enlightenment against provincialism and cultural narcissism. It was not for nothing that the surrealists, in the early waves of their offensive, defined the art of baffling the bourgeois as a sui generis form of action: on the one hand, because it helped its innovators to distinguish between the ingroup and the outgroup; and, on the other, because it permitted protests from the public to be interpreted as a sign of success in dismantling the established system. Whoever scandalizes the bourgeois professes his progressive iconoclasm; he wields terror against symbols to explode positions of mystified latency and uses ever explicit techniques to force breakthroughs. The premise of symbolic aggression lies in the legitimate assumption that the cultural closets are overly filled with corpses and that it is high time that the latency-protected links between armament and edification be ruptured. If the early avant-garde fell into fallacy, however, this is because the bourgeoisie they set out to horrify always learned its lesson much faster than any of the aesthetic bogeymen had predicted. After only a few rounds of the match between the provokers and the provoked, it was almost inevitable that the bourgeoisie, loosened up by mass culture, would take the lead role in matters of explicating art, culture and signification through the activities of marketing, design and autohypnosis; meanwhile some artists continued on playing the public bogeymen, failing to notice that their methods were past their use-by date, while other artists negotiated a shift to neo-romanticism, renewing their pact with depth. Before long many moderns appeared to have forgotten Hegel’s fundamental principle of modern philosophy, whose analogue in aesthetic production would be: that the depth of a thought can be measured only by its power of elaboration–otherwise depth is no more than an empty symbol of unresolved latency.

–Peter Sloterdijk, Terror from the Air p 74-75

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  1. Hyruledungeon

      I think that those who are going to terrify must accept the level of discomfort, both physical and alienating , that comes with occupying a position from which attacks are effectively launched. There’s a scene in David Simon’s Generation Kill where after finding the holes that the occupation resisters are using for shelter two American soldiers agree that they are “hard Men.” Is there any such resolve to be found among today’s artists and intellectuals,  who are largely striving to obtain a level of economic security that allows them to blend into the value culture which one would assume is the same culture that merits resistance. Today’s false iconoclast is a real money-maker.

  2. M. Kitchell

      the primary reason i ever developed a ‘hatred’ of reality (& capitalism) is due to how far the divide is between “good art” and “financial success” 

  3. deadgod

      have forgotten

      Yes, and even ‘before’ being “avant-garde”:  if the “bourgeois” can “learn its lesson”, then that revolution has already happened and waits only for its (merely self-congratulatory?) provocation into political-economic awareness.

  4. deadgod

      Is “striving to obtain a level of economic security” ever revolutionary?  I mean, when “economic security” is considered from a systemic – systemically transformed – perspective.

  5. Hyruledungeon

      If  economic security has been sytematically denied and if its acquisition happens in a way that transforms the system then I would say yes; revolution is possible. The point that I’m making is that economic security to a contemporary westerner-and increasingly not just the westerner-means excess. An excess of comforts that can only be attained through commercialization. Succesful artists are celebrities, and not in a sense that escapes the instrumentality of the economically viable celeb. The actress and the rock star. So the question is: can it ever be again? 

  6. Hyruledungeon

      “After only a few rounds of the match between the provokers and the provoked, it was almost inevitable that the bourgeoisie, loosened up by mass culture, would take the lead role in matters of explicating art, culture and signification through the activities of marketing, design and autohypnosis”

      What they learn is to absorb the revolution. Not to let it happen

  7. Benjamin Grislic

      It seems this is both right and not. The bourgeouisie after absorption can claim ownership, whereas after “let[ing] it happen” don’t necessarily need to make the claim that it was theirs. But as we can (safely) assume, they will claim it as their own, and probably that it always was. I think deadgod was along the lines of the latter (w/r/t “self-congratulatory”).

  8. Hyruledungeon

      My thinking here coincides with the assumption that a revolution would not let them claim it because it would destroy them. That is, a revolution is the complete turning over of a system, and not a mere sea-change within a stable system.  That a challenge to the bourgeoisie should come from the bourgeoisie only to be claimed in the end by the bourgeoisie only speaks to  erasure of class antagonism, not because incomes are actually anything like equal, but because the economy keeps even the poor fat, if still malnourished.

  9. Benjamin Grislic

      The challenge to the bourgeoisie comes from outside the bourgeoisie (or below?) and would only be claimed in retrospect by the bourgeoisie. History rewritten. I’m operating on the understanding that revolutions do not necessarily destroy those overthrown. And actually, if we’re keeping revolution qua revolution, then it is perfectly accurate that nothing essentially changes within the system (revolution = 360, not 180). And class antagonism wouldn’t have happened as it did without the push from certain members of 19th century bourgeoisie.

  10. Hyruledungeon

      A revolution goes through the full 360 degress not because it changes nothing but because after turning the old order upside down it them moves to establish a new order. If it cannot break and establish a system then it is by no means a revolution in the political sense. Of course, time may prove that the new order is also untenable but thats another story. If the bourgeoisie can claim it later then the uprsising has failed as a revolt and perhaps become a reformation. In any case what Sloterdijk is talking about here isn’t a cultural revolution but cultural terrorism.

  11. Lilzed

      I find it hard to contribute to this discussion due some ambiguity or sloppiness I can’t put my finger on. maybe it’s the omission of the distinction between mass culture and “media.” maybe it’s the word “bourgeoisie.” Partly what’s going on now with the occupy protests is in my opinion a striving to move out of the 20th century discourse on class. The whole “99 percent” moniker is nothing if not a spotlight on how it’s the super super super rich versus “everyone else.” This is a very different! way of understanding class conflict than categories like “bourgeoisie” allow. 

      Regardless of whether you or I AGREE with this formulation, it is a very powerful mobilizing message as we see (the protests are global).

  12. Hyruledungeon

      Well, ‘bourgeoisie’ comes directly from the sloterdijk exceprt above, where he is discussing artistic revolt in the 2oth century. I would say that what the occupy protesters are doing is fairly unrelated because what they basically want is jobs. Not a new culture, one less material or less suffused in confortable, dated and divisive assumptions about what it would mean to live a good life. Just jobs, and maybe a slightly regulated financial culture (which they wont get). So yes, there is a sloppiness in assuming that one revolutionary tendancy is inherently aligned with another revolutionary tendancy, and this is why marxism never really took off in France or anywhere else in western europe.

  13. Anonymous
  14. Lilzed

      Hi Hyruledungeon

      I would disagree that the occupy movement is just about jobs and financial regulation. Many involved have a discontent with the system as a whole and have no specific political demands. I can’t speculate on its future at all.

      This seems very out of touch to me : “economic security to a contemporary
      westerner-and increasingly not just the westerner-means excess. An
      excess of comforts that can only be attained through commercialization.”

      It’s like you’re saying, because many poor people are fat so they have what they need to survive in a basic way, and their demands for security beyond that are frivolous, discredited or not persuasive enough for a revolution. (unsure of which of these you mean, but I probably disagree w all of them)

      In terms of artistic revolt, I don’t know what that even means anymore. More relevant than producers, consumers, bourgeoisie blah blah to me is what Boris Groys says about how everyone is a producer of art now and how individuals’ pictures and media on networks like Facebook has leveled the cultural field of the avant garde because of the prevalence of “weak images.” [http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/130] I’m not going to pretend that I understand all what’s going on here but it speaks to me more than the Sloterdijk quote above, which I find convoluted and dated in its thinking.

      Thanks for engaging w me. :)

  15. Hyruledungeon

      Hey lilzed

      We probably disagree on some basic perceptions on the state of the world. I would say that the fact that the protesters have no specific political demands is evidence that they are either not discontent with the system as a whole, i.e. some of them are just asking for a vague reform which would give them a vague sense of accomplishment, or–more to the point–that the system has rendered them incapable of asking for specific changes. If you look at the difference between the “Arab spring” protests and these occupy movements you can see that the situational difference renders one protest deadly and effective while the other is self-consciously wishy-washy in its means and motives. Protests happen all the time all over the world but are only effective in situations where they can be effective;they work when enough people want a particular change and are willing to die for it. That these protests are happening at all and are in some way legitimized, though not without skepticism, by the political left and centre, has alot to do with the state of job-loss in the united states and I would argue that if the economy had seen a stronger recovery these protests would not have happened.

      Furthermore, I am not saying that only poor people’s aspirations beyond simple existence are superflous, but that the system and culture in which we live makes all our aspirations align with the consumption of goods, defenitely more goods than we need, and goods whose value I personally judge as superflous. Revolution is impossible in this atmosphere because the re-distribution of wealth would only result in more consumer goods being consumed. That is, it would probably be a boost to capitalism.

      Finally I would say the the seeming anachronism of terms like ‘bourgeoisie’ or the question of weather artistic revolt is even possible speaks to the inurement of people who have grown up with plenty and therefore dont recognize that such terms and antagonisms are even necessary. The question of weak and strong images is interesting, but realize that it takes a full-time philosopher like Groys to identify the “weak-trancendentalist-universal” within the facebook as an image producing phenomenon while most people simply see in it a utilitarian value. The so-called leveling or democratization of social media only makes it possible for people to becomes artists in the sense that youtube and myspace made it possible for some bands to make money. 

      “Today, in fact, everyday life begins to exhibit itself—to communicate itself as such—through design or through contemporary participatory networks of communication, and it becomes impossible to distinguish the presentation of the everyday from the everyday itself. The everyday becomes a work of art”

      What is the critical potential of this point of view? Do we accept the exhibitionism of the “everyday” as art and swallow it like warm milk? 

  16. Benjamin Grislic

      Actually Lilzed, this Occupy Wallstreet movement is a step back towards a discourse on class. I would argue that for the past several decades we’ve seen (in the US) more class complacency than ever. This is an outward cry for wealth redistribution (i.e. the 99% thing). Just because we’re targeting the top 1% doesn’t mean we’re trying to transcend class-based discussion. It’s not very different from utilizing categories such as “bourgeoisie.” We see a reduced version of class conflict (which means we’re temporarily forgiving the upper-middle class).

  17. Lilzed

      My idea was that the way this protest uses language is a step outside of the continuum of “class conflict” most are familiar with. I agree that a discourse on class is returning. Many in the movement likely decry the escalating gap between the highest incomes and the middle / lower incomes & I am familiar with that information via the last decades. But I don’t think the language of “99 %” is a call for a wealth redistribution measure. I see it more immediately as a move for visibility. A visibility not intended to transcend class-based discussions, but to avoid the trappings that engaging with the plight of the “middle incomes” versus the “lower incomes” can create.

      I absolutely agree with you that we see a reduced-version of class conflict by doing this, and a temporary “forgiving” of the upper-middle class. Who knows whether this is a positive or negative development in the long run.

      But this is exactly why I see using terms like “bourgeoisie,” as contributing to a lack of clarity about what’s happening now. The movement seems to see a class war between the “1%” and “everyone else” as a more authentic or useful entry point for revolt than a class war between the “working class” and the “bourgeoisie” / super-rich. At this point, there are multimillionaires who agree we should raise taxes on the rich, who accept the injustice of corporate personhood, etc.

  18. Lilzed

      “the system and culture in
      which we live makes all our aspirations align with the consumption of
      goods, definitely more goods than we need, and goods whose value I
      personally judge as superfluous.”

      Everyone’s culture? Everyone’s aspirations? Really?

      I don’t know who you are, so if you live on a farm and engage in subsistence living then maybe what you’re saying here is really interesting.

      “Revolution is impossible in this
      atmosphere because the re-distribution of wealth would only result in
      more consumer goods being consumed. That is, it would probably be a
      boost to capitalism.”

      I don’t know how to engage with this … people are suffering because they don’t have health insurance, can’t pay heating bills, etc. It’s as though you see “destroying the capitalist system” as the only legitimate change. Maybe the occupy movement simply isn’t as radical as you want it to be? All I was saying was that the movement seems to be consciously avoiding terms and antagonisms like “bourgeoisie,” that this is NEW, and perhaps why they have been so successful so far, mobilizing liberals, right-wingers, and people outside or in between.

      Yeah I can’t talk about Groys at all right now, but you make a good point there.

  19. Sgcpgh

      There are so many good thoughts being shared here. The point that the “demands” are not specific is one many people have been wondering about…I’m not so sure demonstrators or even those among the “99%” (the 99% includes me) are to have wealth with which to feed the gears of materialism. People want healthcare desperately. People want decent working conditions. People want to not be exploited when they do have a job- paid a living wage and not living in fear of the whims of the corporate elite. Many young people want jobs because they have financed their educations and cannot find jobs that will support their living expenses and loan repayment. saving for the future? Out of the question- people merely need to assure that they can afford their basic needs (food, shelter, medical care)
      An aside: regarding the poor who overweight- most mass produced foods are loaded with chemicals, are highly addictive and are also CHEAP. Many make the mistake of not thinking there are other options. When buying bread, for example, they might opt for $1 loaf made with god knows what as opposed to the $3 or $4 one that is flour, water, yeast, egg no preservatives…”big food” is not healthy at all. thanks for reading. namaste

  20. deadgod

      Well, we agree (I think):  if the “striving” is systematically transformative of political economy, then it’s – I’d clarify:  by definition – ‘revolutionary’.

      As a gradualist (a ‘democratic socialist’ – and therefore a naughty Marxist, ha ha), I’d say that systematic address of political economy is actually not that uncommon; many artists fold attitudes and occasionally even plans critical of capitalism into their texts.

      –but I also agree (with you, I think) that “comfort” is a critique-neutralizing infection, both for the artist (as a motive or motive-mutating effect) and for the audience (as a vicarious substitute for action).

      Damned if I know how an artist – or anybody – can translate revolutionary consciousness into revolutionary object with mass success but without the communicator becoming thereby de-revolutionized.  –that’s a lot of responsibility for a mere rock star . . .

  21. deadgod

      Well, what I mean is not “absor[ption]”, but rather metabolism.  –in the sense of the actual being prior to the potential.  The bourgeois who actually spreads revolutionary thought is practicing revolution.

      Whoever “explicat[es]” and so reproduces genuine critique of political economy, of the exploitation of exploitative relations of production (and of consumption), that agent is an agent of revolution–I’d say, charitably, however exploitatively that agent is ‘compensated’ for her or his “explicati[on]”.

      –as I say:  g r a d u a lism.

  22. Hyruledungeon

      You say that the movement is already successful. Why? because people have been mobilized? Shouldn’t success be measured after the desired change?

      The fact is that protest itself is viewed as a measure of success is, in lieu of any actual goal, is telling.

      I think the main missunderstanding between us is that you have interpreted a sort of condescension in my voice. I know that what people want is healthcare and the ability to pay their bills. But this is not divorced from jobs. Becasue it is through labor that most americans are afforded these things. What I am saying is that the system is greedy. And it is an undoubtable fact that captalism is predicated on the continued consumption of goods, services and base commodities. So while you may not be greedy, you are a part of a greedy system. There will always be people who have to suffer because the only way to establish a safety net is two live communaly, this can either happen in a small scale, in the sense of communes, or on the large scale of national socialism. Capitalism nullifies community because it based on the individuals right to consume more than he needs regardless of the state of his neighbor.

      I believe whole-heartedly that people will suffer until we as a whole move past this stage of human organization.

      Culture is an amalgam. Just like you cant explain the motivations of every single person who attends these protest as an individual, neither can you help but to make a general assesment of what they represent as a whole, and  this idea of the whole is based on reasonable assumptions based on analysis that we undertake. Someone who practices subsistence farming is opting for a different means of production based on a different philosophy, but this does not represent the majority, and given the situation of contemporary agriculture, it cannot. So while there are people who have good ideas and who put them into action the problem is that the economy simply will not change the direction of it’s flow based  on these  small pockets of individuated action. Change is only effective if can produce an effect on a mass scale, because the effects produced on the planet and on people are the effects of a mass scale economy which has a sort of genius for swallowing any innovative act which would disturb it’s growth.

      That doesn’t mean that I dont believe in the strength of individual action, but I do believe that the idea of an adjustment to the system rather than it’s transformation serves to prolong the status quo. The individual finds the strength to make this change only in the organization of himself into a group. So it’s dishartening to me when the group comes together without a real idea of what it wants.

  23. Hyruledungeon

      We are in agreement here, and I would say that artist is Barbara Kruger. A rock star in my eyes. 

  24. Lilzed

      Hi Hyruledungeon

      Thanks for clarifying your position …

      I see the protests as the first flash of something, that is what I meant by “successful.” I am not keeping up on them on a regular basis. *Hopefully* it will retain its momentum. But if all it does is get people to start having conversations like the one we’re having, then that is also very good in my opinion. I think it is becoming more clear to more people that the problems are more deep-seated than “who is president.” I would agree with you that the situation is dire, and that as you poignantly say here, “Change is only effective if can produce an effect on a mass scale,
      because the effects produced on the planet and on people are the effects
      of a mass scale economy which has a sort of genius for swallowing any
      innovative act which would disturb it’s growth..”

      You seem to have more of a viewpoint on the way that values shape society.  Myself, I am really interested in how the occupy movement is expressing and validating energy that has until now been isolated in pockets on the internet or within individual communities. When I visited an occupy protest a few weeks ago it had a transformative effect on me. Also from what I understand of history student protests are the first step of broader revolutions. It’s been that way in Portugal, Spain, China, and other places. That is why it not disheartening to me that the movement “does not know what it wants.” Perhaps a more genuinely socialist uprising will grab steam from what’s happening now, although I doubt that would happen in the near future, and suspect you do too. I think many would be happy if we could even just return to the practice of putting white collar criminals in jail.

      In terms of preserving the status quo, I think there is so little consensus of what that actually is (due to the carpet-bombed quality of contemporary literature? education? public discussion?) that knowing how to fight it is perhaps premature. You seem to have a solid confidence that the root issue is capitalist structures … yet even people who believe in capitalism are upset by what is happening right now. Good or bad? IDK. Personally I think the “99 %” moniker is a smart, effective way to counteract a fascist tendency to support middle income people at the expense of under-employed, lower income and socially vulnerable people. But these are just words after all, who knows how things will actually pan out.