Arne De Boever and Douglas Kearney 13
CalArts 1970: Art, Radicality, and Critique in the ‘New Economy’
Manuel Shvartzberg 49
Geoffrey Derven 69
Decolonizing within Occupy
Linette Park 87
Weekly, one page response paper
Timothy Fenoglio 103
The Account of St. Francis High School’s Phantom of the Opera La Cañada, CA Sunday April 1, 2012, 7pm
Seth Stewart 131
Editors’ Introduction Arne De Boever and Douglas Kearney
ARCHE 2011–2012 is the first volume of IN/FORM, a yearly collection of writing by students in the School of Critical Studies’ MA in Aesthetics and Politics Program at California Institute of the Arts. Cutting across literature, architecture, performance, and activism, ARCHE mobilizes the archive of the past, occupies the uncertain terrain of the present, and lays the foundation for new futures. The writing collected in ARCHE was produced for the program’s core courses in aesthetic and political thought, the thesis seminar, and the Spring 2012 aesthetics and politics lecture series. For more in/formation about the program, please visit our website at: aestheticsandpolitics.CalArts.edu.
Cal Arts 19 70: Art, Radicality, and Critique in the ‘New Economy’
W h at you n g a r tists need is a school where they ca n lea r n a va riety of skills, a place where there is cross-polli n ation. The rem a rk a ble thi n g th at’s ta ki n g place i n al most ever y field of endeavor is a n accelerati n g rate of dy n a m ic g row th a nd ch a n ge. The a r ts, which h ave historically sy m bolized the adva nce of hu m a n prog ress, m ust m atch this g row th if they a re goi n g to m ai ntai n their value i n a nd i n fluence on society. The talents of m usicia n s, the self ex pression of the actor, a nd the tech niq ues a nd application s of fi ne a nd com mercial a r tists a re bei n g used more a nd more i n tod ay’s business—not by them selves but rather, i n close association with each other. W h at we m ust h ave, then, is a completely new approach to trai ni n g i n the a r ts—a n entirely new education al concept which will properly prepa re a r tists a nd g ive them the vital tools so necessa r y for worki n g i n, a nd d rawi n g f rom, ever y field of creativity a nd per for m a nce.
1 h ttp://
en.wikipedia. org/wiki/ California_ Institute_ of_the_Arts (accessed April 28, 2012) 2 Paul Brach, “CalArts: The Early Years” in Art Journal, Vol. No. 1, The Education of Artists (Spring, 1982). Pg. 28
—WALT DISNEY, O N THE FOUNDING PRINCIPLES OF CALARTS1 The situation of a fa mily whose position in the entertain ment industry was based on a mom-a nd-apple-pie conservatism funding a n institution that would be training va ng uard artists was a minefield of possible explosions.
—PAUL BRACH, FIRST DEAN OF CALARTS’ SCHOOL OF ART (1969–75), ON THE DISNEYS’ FUNDING OF CALARTS 2
Manuel Shvartzberg 1
h ttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Institute_of_the_Arts (accessed April 28, 2012)
lthough incorporated in 1961, CalArts opened its doors in 1970. Earl C. A Gottschalk Jr., “Animating Disney’s Dream” in The Saturday Review, January 29, 1972. pg. 33 4 Ibid. 3
Artistic “radicality” and “big business” are made for each other. Few sites illustrate this historical relationship as neatly as Disney’s founding of California Institute 3 of the Arts in the 1960s. Walt Disney (1901–1966), a Midwestern entrepreneur who revolutionized the entertainment industry with his animation studios and theme 4 parks, wanted to create an institute that would feed his voracious creative industries with artists trained and ready for “use” directly in the business:
I wa nt people to g raduate from there really a ble to do things. I don’t wa nt a lot of theorists. I wa nt to have a school that turns out people that k now all the facts of film-ma king, I wa nt them to be capa ble of doing a ny thing needed to ma ke a film—photog raph it, direct it, desig n it, a nimate it, record it, whatever. That’s what I wa nt. Heck, I’ve hired theorists, a nd they don’t have a ny k nowledge I ca n use. I wa nt to have everyone in that school come out capa ble of going in a nd doing a job. These diletta ntes who come out with pseudo-k nowledge, they give me a pain. I wa nt it so if a n actor is needed, they ca n get a n actor right out of school. If a musicia n is needed, they ca n go to the music department a nd find a musicia n who ca n compose music.5
As this quote suggests, he required artists or creative workers who were highly professional, multi-skilled, inter-disciplinary, and self-driven, but exclusively educated for instrumental use within the entertainment industry—a view which explicitly marginalizes and almost criminalizes “theory”— and also a surprising opinion given CalArts’ eventual reputation as a radical art school.6 In this essay, I want to analyze the relationships between art, critique, radicality, and capitalism present at the historical juncture of CalArts’ founding, seeking to clarify these terms by looking at their significance in that context and ultimately asking what their interrelations and relevance are for us today.7 Disney’s quote presents us with the perennial 5 h ttp://www.justdisney.com/walt_disney/quotes/quotes02.html#anchor444003
(accessed April 28, 2012) T his is an extended historical perception throughout the media, as this piece intends to demonstrate. But it is also a perception the school has of itself. For an example of how CalArts tends to understand (and market) itself as a “radical” school, see: Why Theory: CalArts MFA in Art and Photo/media. Valencia, Calif: California Institute of the Arts, School of Art, 2009. Print. 7 To specif y: By “critique” I mean the intellectual use of reason in a public, non-in-
17 attack on theory, critique, and “thought” in general—fundamentally, its censure as a legitimate and useful social phenomenon. This is certainly not a past, archaic attitude we can consider extinguished, or confined to old-fashioned conservative commentators—this attitude is still present today, from the very places where critique is allegedly welcomed and produced: within art institutions and academia
“Post-Critical”: “How did we arrive at the point where critique is so broadly dismissed?”8 This question is even more important (and surprising) when we consider the absolutely crucial role that “thought,” and more specifically, subjectivity, has in today’s so-called “New Economy,” in which our cognitive capabilities have become the most valuable commodity and medium of exchange.9 Disney’s attack on “theory” reveals a very material conception of creativity—as we have said, although he contemplated, perhaps even in a visionary fashion, the potential of inter-disciplinarity as a mode of production, he remained attached to a notion of creativity/productivity rooted in “actual” or physical labor: playing an instrument, shooting a film, and so on. That is, he was ultimately more interested in strumental sense, in the tradition spanning from the 18th century Enlightenment philosophy, to contemporary critical theory and critical art. By “radicality” I mean political and artistic radicality, that is, practices which purport to enact a total transformation of reality. And by “capitalism” I mean the stage of capitalism emerging out of advanced or late capitalism circa the 1960s: so-called post-industrial capitalism. (More on this later). 8 Foster, Hal. “Post-critical.” October. 139 (2012): 3–8. Print. 9 T he “New Economy” refers to the shif t towards the virtualization of labor and consumption in advanced capitalist societies: the rise of the financial and services sectors as motors of the economy, and their displacement of traditional production/fabrication industries over the last 40 years. Cf. Marazzi, Christian, Michael Hardt, and Gregory Conti. Capital and Language: From the New Economy to the War Economy. Los Ángeles: Semiotext(e), 2008. Print.
themselves. As art historian and critic Hal Foster remarks with a certain astonishment in his recent October article,
18 the product (the creation), than the process itself (creativity). What I want to argue here, however, is that the founding of CalArts not only illustrates the paradigm shift from an industrial capitalist society to a post-industrial one, where “process” becomes much more profitable and productive than “product”; but that CalArts itself played a decisive role in aiding this shift in the nature of our political economy CALARTS 1970
through the governmental models put in place by its “radical” founders, rather than its conservative ones. Thus, I will argue that the utopian rhetorics of political, cultural, and technological radicality around the 1960s (present both at the global scale and in CalArts’ beginnings), unwittingly became vital components of capitalism’s transformation into the ever-more resilient model of control and productivity it is today. Finally, I will conclude with a discussion on the role of radicality and critique in the context of art institutions in today’s environment of permanent economic crisis.
From the following walt disney’s “New Left” death in 1966, the Disney family to the and CalArts’ board of trustees organiz“New Economy”: ing the school’s foundation appointed two prominent academics to spearhead A biopolitical the hiring of the Institute’s first faculty: perspective Bob Corrigan (the first President), and
Herbert Blau (the first Provost).10 However, the original trustees, a notoriously conservative group, were probably 10
D avid Wharton, “A Tradition of Tradition-Be-Damned: CalArts at 20: It sprang from a Disney family gift and has grown from its euphoric beginnings to respectability.” Newspaper article in Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1990. Available online at http://articles.latimes.com/1990-04-15/entertainment/ca-1889_1_walt-disney (accessed April 28, 2012)
unaware that both Corrigan and Blau were ideologically aligned with what was broadly termed as the 1960s “counter-culture”: the cultural milieu, particularly around universities, in which a variety of radical movements (from the Free Speech Movement to the anti-war movement; from the Civil Rights Movement to Feminist Movements) coalesced in that decade. Among the leading intellectuals spurring this decade of revolts was the German Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse, who was dubbed by the media as “the guru of the New Left.” The New Left was an intellectual trend emerging in the early 60s that articulated a deep dissatisfaction with both Soviet communism and capitalist societies, which Marcuse critiqued in his deeply influential books Eros and Civilization (1955) and
20 One-Dimensional Man (1964), calling for a liberation from all kinds of oppression, repression, and forms of domination. 11 As Marcuse scholar Douglas Kellner explains,
Marcuse argued that “advanced industrial society” created false needs which integrated individuals into the existing system of production and consumption. For Marcuse, mass media and culture, advertising, industrial management, and contemporary modes of thought all reproduced the existing system and attempt to eliminate negativity, critique, and opposition. The result was a “one-dimensional” universe of thought and behavior in which the very aptitude and ability for critical thinking and oppositional behavior was withering away.12
In response, Marcuse theorized and advocated “the Great Refusal,” arguing for “individual rebellion and opposition to the existing system of domination and oppression; avant-garde artistic revolt that creates visions of another world, a better life and alternative cultural forms and style; and oppositional thought that rejects the dominant modes of thinking and behavior.” 13 Marcuse’s positions thus found enormous resonance with the movements of the 60s, which served to inspire and incite political radicalism around the world—including CalArts. As Paul Brach, the first Dean of CalArts’ School of Art, noted: “These were the years of intense political and social divisions, controversy over the Vietnam war and the emergence arcuse, Herbert. One-dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced M Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964. Print. Marcuse, Herbert. Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. New York: Vintage Books, 1962. Print. 12 K ellner, Douglas. “Introduction. Marcuse’s Challenges to Education.” Policy Futures in Education. 4.1 (2006). Print. Pg. 2. 13 M arcuse, Herbert, and Douglas Kellner. The New Left and the 1960s. London: Routledge, 2005. Print. Pg. 10 11
21 of the counter-culture.… The knowledge that the Disneys were to the right of Genghis Khan and might retaliate by withdrawing their support was but an extra titillation.”14 Furthermore, the connection to Marcuse in CalArts’ beginnings went beyond mere intellectual inspiration: the first Dean of Critical Studies, Maurice Stein, actually tried to hire Marcuse (and he accepted the job), but the trustees quickly
working at CalArts can be understood by what seemed like their abysmally divergent world views. Marcuse advocated for a total and absolute transformation of reality, a “methodical disengagement from and refusal of the Establishment, aiming at a radical transvaluation of values,”16 while the trustees (headed by the Disney family) were famed by their “momand-apple-pie conservatism,” according to Brach. In one of his most incendiary works, An Essay on Liberation (1969)— inspired by the May 68 protests in France—Marcuse elaborated on his program for a new man and a new society. In the first chapter, titled “A Biological Foundation for Socialism?” he develops his theses on the “radical transvaluation of values”: Once a specific morality is firmly established as a norm of social behavior, it is not only introjected—it also operates as a norm of “organic” behavior: the organism receives and reacts to certain stimuli and “ignores” and repels others in accord with the introjected morality, which is thus promoting or impeding the function of the organism as a living cell in the respective society. In this way, a society constantly re-creates,
Brach, Op. Cit. Pg. 28 Wharton, Op. Cit. 16 M arcuse, Herbert. An Essay on Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969. Print. Pg. 6 14
halted the effort, threatening to withdraw their financial support.15 The trustees’ indignation at the possibility of Marcuse
this side of consciousness and ideolog y, patterns of behavior and aspiration as part of the “nature” of its people, and unless the revolt reaches into this “second” nature, into these ing row n patterns, social change will remain “incomplete,” even self-defeating. The so-called consu mer economy and the politics of corporate capitalism have created a second nature of man which ties him libidinally and agg ressively to the com modity form. The need for possessing, consu ming, handling, and constantly renewing the gadgets, devices, instru ments, engines, offered to and imposed upon the people, for using these wares even at the danger of one’s ow n destruction, has become a “biological” need in the sense just defined.… I use the terms “biological” and “biolog y” not in the sense of the scientific discipline, but in order to desig nate the process and the dimension in which inclinations, behavior patterns, and aspirations become vital needs which, if not satisfied, would cause dysfunction of the organism. Conversely, socially induced needs and aspirations may result in a more pleasurable organic behavior. If biological needs are defined as those which must be satisfied and for which no adeq uate substitute can be provided, certain cultural needs can “sink down” into the biology of man. We could then speak, for example, of the biological need of freedom, or of some aesthetic needs as having taken root in the organic structure of man, in his “nature,” or rather “second nature.”17
In this passage, we clearly see Marcuse’s scientific determinism: his confidence in technology—particularly what appears to be his interest in what were, at the time, very influential developments in cybernetics (to which we will later return)—as well as his Marxist confidence in the teleological 17
Ibid. Pg. 10
23 “movement of history” towards socialism. However, what is important for us here is his identification of the “malleability” of “human nature,” particularly as regards to “subjectivity”— which he refers to in many ways as morality, norms, needs, aspirations, desires—and his sharp recognition that this was the terrain in which advanced capitalism should be confronted. Although written from a very different perspective, and strongly with the French philosopher Michel Foucault’s discourse on “biopolitics”—a concept he first introduced in his lectures at the Collège de France during the 1970s, and which has since become an important term in critical theory, picked up by a number of influential contemporary thinkers, from Giorgio Agamben and Roberto Esposito to Judith Butler and Antonio Negri, to name a few.18 In the broadest sense, biopolitics is Foucault’s term for describing the relation between politics and life (actualized through “biopower”) emerging with the rise of modernity (eighteenth century onwards). The advent of this new power over life is defined by the turn from a sovereign right to kill in the feudal order, where power is chiefly concerned with retaining the principality or territory and is founded and legitimized by a transcendental set of juridical laws; to an immanent, social and scientific power bent on administrating, regulating, and fostering life and populations. Thus, Foucault argues, the regime of absolute power, the right of death, “has tended to be no longer the major form of power but merely one element among others, working to incite, reinforce, control, monitor, optimize, and organize the forces under it: a power bent on generating forces, making P algrave Macmillan has published Foucault’s lectures in various volumes titled “Michel Foucault – Lectures at the Collège de France.” See http://www.palgrave.com/ philosophy/foucault.asp. See also Foucault’s volumes on The History of Sexuality.
a few years in advance, Marcuse’s rhetoric here resonates
24 them grow, ordering them, making them submit, or destroying them.”19 Furthermore, as sovereign power rooted in law recedes, Foucault argues that power becomes coded and actualized through what he terms “governmentality,” meaning
[t]he ensemble formed by institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, calculations, and tactics that allow the exercise of this very specific, albeit very complex, power that has the population as its target, political economy as its major form of knowledge, and apparatuses of security as its essential technical instrument.20
As a result, Foucault claims, understanding, regulating, and shaping “customs, habits, ways of acting and thinking” 21 become the focus of power. In other words, like Marcuse, Foucault points to the preeminence of cognitive and sensorial (that is, aesthetic) “subjectification” (the molding of “customs, habits, ways of acting and thinking”) as the vital site of political struggle—an area in which education, and in particular, forms of aesthetic education (defined as widely as possible, from literature to advertising), obviously has enormous purchase. In this regard, Marcuse’s second chapter of An Essay on Liberation is tellingly called “The New Sensibility,” and in it, he focuses exclusively on the political dimensions of an aesthetic revolution, which he argues is already taking place through the counterculture’s new ways of acting, being, seeing, speaking, and feeling, and that together with the major advances in technology will render
F oucault, Michel. “Right of Death and Power Over Life.” The History of Sexuality: Volume 1. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print. Pg. 136
F oucault, Michel. “Lecture 4.” Security, Territory, Population. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Pg. 108 21 Ibid. Pg. 98 20
25 all physical labor superfluous, dissolving all work into pure aesthetic play and experimentation with absolute freedom. However, as we know today, this “total liberation” struggled for by Marcuse and others didn’t materialize—certainly not in its most utopian representations. In fact, I think we need to see this particular historical event of CalArts’ founding utopianism and its immanent discourses, not as in dialectical materialist terms, but as a biopolitical “apparatus” in Giorgio Agamben’s definition. In his essay, What Is an Apparatus? (2009), Agamben synthesizes Foucault’s definition of apparatuses as “discourses, institutions, buildings, laws, police measures, philosophical propositions, and so on. The apparatus itself is the network that is established among these elements.… As such it appears at the intersection of power relations and relations of knowledge.”23 In this sense, we could see CalArts’ founding as productive of certain forces and subjectivities generating varied (and some unintended) power relations—thus, Marcuse and the New Left discourse can indeed be seen as having produced, or as helping to produce, another kind of radical “new man” and “new society,” but different from the one of which they had dreamt: the neoliberal subject and the New Economy. This can become apparent if we look at the pedagogical practices and curriculum CalArts developed in its origins. Despite the ideological divide between the trustees and the faculty, and perhaps in ways Disney himself may not have approved, Brach thoroughly implemented Disney’s arcuse, Herbert. “The End of Utopia.” Five Lectures: Psychoanalysis, Politics, M and Utopia. Boston: Beacon Press, 1970. Print. Pg. 69 23 A gamben, Giorgio. What Is an Apparatus?: And Other Essays. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2009. Print. Pg. 3 22
“the determinate socio-historical negation of what exists” 22
26 vision of a cross-disciplinary pedagogical framework geared toward the production of ready-made professionals.24 From what would at first seem a completely different political perspective (the countercultural New Left), and informed by a “radical” approach, he developed an art program based on the individual needs and progress of each student, with a totally flexible curriculum in which there were no specific departCALARTS 1970
ments, no mandatory classes, and no grades. Brach recounts: I wanted a climate of learning that was free of fear and repression… We had students on ad missions com mittees for graduate students. We did not assig n grades but there were “experience reports.” Students wrote evaluations of their experiences in each subject. The teachers of each subject added their com ments. Each student had a “mentor,” an adviser who also wrote an evaluation of his or her “mentee’s” progress. I often regretted this system. It was cu m bersome and, at times, all the papers seemed like a message in a bottle, but it seemed better than the lettered grades and their power to insure conformity… The students ca me to us as artists. They were treated as artists and were expected to take responsibility for their ow n work. They were not req uired to investigate a set nu m ber of mediu ms or art-making strategies. Rather than learning tech niq ues and attitudes based on “you never k now when you’ll need this,” they started with the idea of “no information in advance of need.” There were no sub-departments of painting, sculpture, graphics, etc., although the faculty was chosen to exemplify areas of specialization. …I was also aware of the depersonalizing effect of multiple-use classrooms… At CalArts each student
B rach, Op. Cit. Pg. 29. Brach writes: “Many of our early graduates have already started their professional careers. I am sure that most would agree that their transition to the real world was eased by conditions at CalArts.”
27 had his or her own territory, at first an area in a large studio, then cubicles or separate rooms. Most work was done in private, and the teaching was done through private or group critiques. The gifted and highly motivated students thrived. Others experienced the terrors of free fall and did not return.25
However, although Brach’s radicalism was explicitly engaged complementing it, his approach strangely aligned with Walt Disney’s vision for ready-to-use commercial artists. As we will see, in a paradoxical turn of fate, Brach’s and Disney’s seemingly antithetical political perspectives turned out to converge into what would later be termed the post-Fordist labor model: an autonomous and flexible productive “cell” within the network of the “New Economy.” CalArts’ radicality was thus double: not only did it produce radical “countercultural” subjects, but it also planted the seeds for what today is referred to as the radical neoliberal subject—a producer/consumer within the self-sustaining cycle of immaterial labor in the New Economy.26 25 Ibid. 26
Pg. 28/29 C f. Boltanski, Luc, and Eve Chiapello. The New Spirit of Capitalism. London: Verso, 2005. Print. This understanding of the “neoliberal subject” is examined sociologically by Boltanski and Chiapelo, where they draw out the connections between capitalism’s post-Fordist phase and its subsumption of what they term as May 68’s “artistic critique.” In Sebastian Budgen’s concise account: “How has a new and virulent form of capitalism—they label it a ‘connexionist’ or ‘network’ variant—with an even more disastrous impact on the fabric of a common life than its predecessors, managed to install itself so smoothly and inconspicuously in France, without attracting either due critical attention or any organized resistance from forces of opposition, vigorous a generation ago, now reduced to irrelevancy or cheerleading? The answer to this question, Boltanski and Chiapello suggest, lies in the fate that overtook the different strands of the mass revolt against the Gaullist regime in May–June 1968. There have always been, they argue, four possible sources of indignation at the reality of capitalism: (i) a demand for liberation; (ii) a rejection of inauthenticity; (iii) a refusal of egoism; (iv) a response to suffering. Of these, the first pair found classic expression in bohemian milieux of the late nineteenth century: they call it the ‘artistic critique.’
with challenging or at least provoking power rather than
“Immaterial” bob corrigan, herbert labor and blau, paul brach, and other post-Fordist members of the “countercultural governmentality: revolution” may have thought of the artist as themselves as conducting a “coup” entrepreneur from within, using the Disneys to
advance their own critical agenda. 27
At the same time, though, they were also progressing one of the greatest entertainment-industrial complex’s (in fact, Disney’s own) achievements: to “discover” the artist as the model and motor of capitalism’s most productive phase in history, inaugurating post-Fordist paradigms of horizontal management, inter-disciplinary “pollination,” and hyperflexibility as the foundations of the New Economy.28 Although Marcuse had perceptively recognized the virtualization of labor and the intensification of capitalism’s capture of modes of subjectification, far from inaugurating a utopian sphere of “total play,” 29 Brach’s organizational The second pair were centrally articulated by the traditional labour movement, and represent the ‘social critique.’ … Capitalism, however, has always relied on critiques of the status quo to alert it to dangers in any untrammelled development of its current forms, and to discover the antidotes required to neutralize opposition to the system and increase the level of profitability within it. Ready to take advantage of even the most inhospitable conditions, firms began to reorganize the production process and wage contracts. Flexible labour systems, sub-contracting, team-working, multi-tasking and multi-skilling, ‘flat’ management—all the features of a so-called ‘lean capitalism’ or ‘post-Fordism’—were the result.” Budgen, S. “A New ‘Spirit of Capitalism.’” New Left Review. (2000): 149-156. Print. 27 D avid Wharton, Op. Cit. “It was the Disneys giving their conservative money to an institute with an avant-garde agenda,” said Blau. 28 C f. Marazzi, Christian, Michael Hardt, and Gregory Conti. Capital and Language: From the New Economy to the War Economy. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2008. Print. 29 F or instance: “The liberated consciousness would promote the development of a science and technology free to discover and realize the possibilities of things and men in the protection and gratification of life, playing with the potentialities of form and matter for the attainment of this goal. Technique would then tend to become art, and art would tend to form reality: the opposition between imagination
30 and productive system for the development of professional artists in fact pre-figured what was later called “immaterial labor”—the modeling of creative producers and consumers who generate and satisfy their own demands within the New Economy; a services-based economic cycle primarily based on “immaterial” productivity, from the marketing of particular “tastes” to the mass consumption of creative-intellectual CALARTS 1970
products like art, advertising, fashion, or music. This new phase of capitalism, which is sometimes also referred to as post-Fordism or “cognitive capitalism,” was nurtured and developed in laboratories such as CalArts, precisely at the time CalArts was founded (the 1960–70s). In an even more ironic reversal of Marcuse’s utopianism, it was clear he was aware of the revolutionary advances in communication technologies, computing, cybernetics, and systems theory, but instead of these new technologies terminating the need for alienated labor as he had predicted, they became the source of industry’s own revolution into the hyper-profitable capitalism which we associate today with another part of California (Silicon Valley); and which subsequently provided the template for an even more hegemonic, transnational, and global capitalism. In his lecture and later article, “The End of Utopia,” Marcuse affirms: We already k now what cybernetics a nd computers ca n contribute to the total control of hu ma n existence.… Today we must try to discuss a nd define—without a ny in hibitions, even when it may seem ridiculous—the q ualitative difference between socialist society as a free society a nd and reason, higher and lower faculties, poetic and scientific thought, would be invalidated. Emergence of a new Reality Principle: under which a new sensibility and a desublimated scientific intelligence would combine in the creation of an aesthetic ethos.” Marcuse, Op Cit. An Essay on Liberation. Pg. 24
In today’s world of techno-creative capitalism, these words appear even more prescient than ever before, albeit purged from their utopian dimensions. Marcuse underestimated capitalism’s own capacity for re-invention: by way of commodifying creativity and experience themselves, the informational and cultural content of commodities (their “immaterial” dimensions) could in fact be both created and consumed by the same agents without sublimating them in the act of consumption—a new principle of mass-consumerism that would allow companies to become slimmer, “smarter,” and more profitable by “virtualizing” both production and consumption. Although technology didn’t totally abolish the boundaries between freedom and necessity in the way Marcuse had hoped for, his analyses regarding the potential fusion of “work” and “play” were quite perceptive. In the New Economy, the roles of consumers and producers do become blurred, as their autonomy is encouraged in order to capitalize on their very production of subjectivity. In this sense, as philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato has persuasively argued, “a collective learning 30
Marcuse, Op. Cit. “The End of Utopia.” Pg. 67
the existing society. And it is precisely here that, if we are looking for a concept that ca n perhaps indicate the q ualitative difference in socialist society, the aesthetic-erotic dimension comes to mind almost sponta neously, at least to me. Here the notion “aesthetic” is ta ken in its original sense, na mely as the form of sensitivity of the senses a nd as the form of the concrete world of hu ma n life. Ta ken in this way, the notion projects the convergence of tech nolog y a nd art a nd the convergence of work a nd play.30
32 process becomes the heart of productivity.” 31 Like Marcuse understood so well,32 and like Brach’s own model for CalArts, cognitive capitalism’s chief innovation is the production of subjectivity, a subjectivity that produces and consumes at the very same time, and thus becomes a hyper-efficient productive model. Crucially, then, this model depends on educating subjects as highly expressive, creative, autonomous, CALARTS 1970
and flexible—all characteristics which are synonymous with Brach’s project for producing entrepreneurial artists and which later became the model for the post-Fordist worker. 33 Furthermore, this educational model provides an ex-
M aurizio Lazzarato, “Immaterial Labour” in Virno, Paolo, and Michael Hardt, Ed. Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics. Minneapolis, Minn: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. Print. Available online at http://www.generation-online. org/c/fcimmateriallabour3.htm (Accessed 04/18/2012). Regarding the nexus between creativity, autonomy, and productivity, Lazzarato claims: “Participative management is a technology of power, a technology for creating and controlling the ‘subjective processes.…’ First and foremost, we have here a discourse that is authoritarian: one has to express oneself, one has to speak, communicate, cooperate, and so forth.” 32 M arcuse, Op. Cit. “The End of Utopia.” Pg. 74: I consider the reevaluation and determination of the subjective factor to be one of the most decisive necessities of the present situation. The more we emphasize that the material, technical, and scientific productive forces for a free society are in existence, the more we are charged with liberating the consciousness of these realizable possibilities. For the indoctrination of consciousness against these possibilities is the characteristic situation and the subjective factor in existing society. I consider the development of consciousness, work on the development of consciousness, if you like, this idealistic deviation, to be in fact one of the chief tasks of materialism today, of revolutionary materialism. And if I give such emphasis to needs and wants, it is meant in the sense of what you call the subjective factor. 33 I bid. Lazzarato writes: “Immaterial labor finds itself at the crossroads (or rather, it is the interface) of a new relationship between production and consumption. The activation of both productive cooperation and the social relationship with the consumer is materialized within and by the process of communication. The role of immaterial labor is to promote continual innovation in the forms and conditions of communication (and thus in work and consumption). It gives form to and materializes needs, the imaginary, consumer tastes, and so forth, and these products in turn become powerful producers of needs, images, and tastes. The particularity of the commodity produced through immaterial labor (its essential use value being given by its value as informational and cultural content) consists in the fact that it is not destroyed in the act of consumption, but rather it enlarges, transforms, and creates the ‘ideological’ and cultural environment of the consumer.” 31
33 traordinarily efficient economic “governmentality”—a new business management model—as workers (producers/consumers) are empowered as autonomous agents and are thus led to synthesize their own life with work, leading to much higher levels of productivity.34 This transfer of responsibility, which is also apparent in Brach’s emphasis to treat students as “professional artists” and his rejection of any kind ly with the neoliberal disposition for “cutting red tape”— deregulating and providing a “non-bureaucratic” environment: a “frugal” mode of government that is supposed to encourage the creation of wealth through self-interested, private entrepreneurship. For Foucault, this rhetoric of the virtuous self-limitation of power, transforming the “vertical” axis of absolute, transcendental sovereignty rooted in law, into a “horizontal” axis of immanent governmentality rooted in the market—from “Fordist” to “post-Fordist” management paradigms, we could say—is the historical result of classical liberal and contemporary neoliberal practices of political economy. Management (power) calculatedly recedes to allow subjects to govern themselves—finding the right or “true” measure of its self-limitation in accordance with the “natural laws” of the market.35 Thus, “left to itself
I bid. “It is worth noting that in this kind of working existence it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish leisure time from work time. In a sense, life becomes inseparable from work.” 35 O n the market as site of (political) “veridiction” and the concomitant ideology of “frugal government” see: Foucault, Michel, and Michel Senellart. “Lecture 2: 17th January 1979.” The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1978– 79. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print. “The question of the frugality of government is indeed the question of liberalism.… In the middle of the eighteenth century … the market appeared as something that obeyed and had to obey ‘natural,’ that is to say, spontaneous mechanisms. Even if it is not possible to grasp these mechanisms in their complexity, their spontaneity is such that attempts to modif y them will only impair and distort them.… When you allow 34
the market to function by itself according to its nature, according to its natural
of regulating or grading mechanisms, corresponds precise-
34 and governed by laissez-faire, the market will be a source of the state’s enrichment, growth, and therefore power. The answer of the eighteenth century was, in sum, that you will move towards more state by less government.”36 Clearly, Brach was not thinking about liberalism when he implemented a laissez-faire regime of governance at CalArts, but his measures for institutionalizing individual artists’ CALARTS 1970
freedom, and the attempts to de-regulate the processes by which they were evaluated, had an uncanny resemblance to certain neoliberal axioms. However, according to Foucault, this apparently strange alignment of Leftist utopianism and neoliberal values, had in fact been identified as a program with great political potential by neoliberal thinkers. Among them, the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek (1899–1992), one the most influential figures of the neoliberal tradition: Hayek said: We need a liberalism that is a living thought. Liberalism has always left it to the socialists to produce utopias, a nd socialism owes much of its vigor a nd historical dy na mism to this utopia n or utopia-creating activity. Well, liberalism also needs utopia. It is up to us to create liberal utopias, to thin k in a liberal mode, rather tha n presenting liberalism as a tech nical alternative for govern ment. Liberalism must be a general style of thought, a nalysis, a nd imagination.37
There may have been, then, a historically determined, polittruth, if you like, it permits the formation of a certain price which will be called, metaphorically, the true price, and which will still sometimes be called the just price, but which no longer has any connotations of justice.… Consequently, the market determines that good government is no longer simply government that functions according to justice. The market determines that a good government is no longer quite simply one that is just. The market now means that to be good government, government has to function according to truth.” Pg. 29, 31–32 36 Ibid. “Lecture 5: 7 February 1979.” Pg. 102 37 Ibid. “Lecture 9: 14 March 1979.” Pg. 219
35 ically programmed dimension to Brach’s apparently coincidental use of some of the tropes of neoliberal thought in his governmental approach to CalArts, despite his avowed countercultural ‘radicality.’ According to Foucault, neoliberal proponents understood that they could “market” and expand their ideology by grasping and re-branding specific conceptions, styles of thought, and modes of imagination In particular, Foucault claims, neoliberal thinkers attempted to re-cast the question of labor in terms of “acquired human capital”—away from Marxist analyses of the capital-labor relationship as one of exploitation, objectification, and alienating “abstraction,” towards a view of the worker as an “active economic subject,” and furthermore, as an “entrepreneur of himself” 38: [P]recisely because classical economics was not a ble to ta ke on this a nalysis of la bor in its concrete specification a nd q ualitative modulations, it is because it left this bla n k page, gap or vacuu m in its theory, that a whole philosophy, a nthropolog y, a nd politics, of which Marx is precisely the representative, rushed in. Conseq uently, we should not continue with this, in a way, realist criticism made by Marx, accusing real capitalism of having made real la bor a bstract; we should underta ke a theoretical criticism of the way in which la bor itself beca me a bstract in economic discourse. And, the neoliberals say, if economists see labor in such an abstract way, if they fail to grasp its specification, its qualitative modulations, and the economic effects of these modulations, it is basically because classical economists only ever envisaged the object of economics as processes 38
Ibid. Pg. 226
which the Left had, until then, successfully monopolized.
36 of capital, of investment, of the machine, of the product, and so on.39
Thus, Foucault argues, neoliberals redrew the profile of the labor-capital relation by redefining the worker’s subjectivity as an essential and positive component of capitalist productivity; emphasizing workers’ skills, abilities, and their capacity for autonomously generating an income, in what CALARTS 1970
Foucault terms the worker as “a machine/stream complex… of capital-ability,”40 exclusively for “his own satisfaction.”41 In this way, for capitalist labor to be rendered safe and profitable, de-coupled from the Marxist critique of alienation, neoliberals theorized modes of subjectification containing narratives of self-realization: [T]he neoliberals pose their problems and set out their new ty pe of analysis much more from the angle of acq uired hu man capital, that is to say, of the more or less voluntary formation of hu man capital in the course of individuals’ lives. What does it mean to form hu man capital, and so to form these kinds of abilities-machines which will produce income, which will be remunerated by income? It means, of course, ma king what are called educational investments.… [T]he neoliberals lay stress on the fact that what should be called educational investment is much broader than simple schooling or professional training and that many more elements than these enter into the formation of hu man capital. What constitutes this investment that forms an abilities-machine?…
[I]n short, the set of cultural stimuli reIbid. Pg. 221–222 Ibid. Pg. 225 41 Ibid. Pg. 226 39
Cultural—we might say “cognitive”—dimensions for the production of subjectivity therefore enter the neoliberal discourse: they are a fundamental part of its re-branding of capitalism, making it not only palatable and compatible with radical Leftist discourses, but even consubstantial
through models of education, but it also generates profitability by mobilizing the concept of “innovation”—i.e., creativity—in terms of “human capital.” 43 The diverse effects generated by neoliberalism’s deployment of laissez-faire economic principles, individual creativity, innovation, and self-interested entrepreneurship thus explains how Brach’s model of the professional artist was in fact streamlined with that of the worker of the New Economy—a convergence mirroring the larger historical shifts involved in post-industrialization: de-skilling “physical” labor in favor of skilled immaterial labor, virtualization, outsourcing, the rise of the knowledge/experience economies, et cetera. Through managerial self-limitation, “natural” market dynamics would select and enhance the most productive individuals—again, Brach’s dictum: “The gifted and highly motivated students thrived. Others experienced the terrors of free fall and did not return”—at the same time as creating “useful” products/subjectivities (supply) for the market’s cultural necessities (demand), and 42
Ibid. Pg. 229
I bid. Pg. 232: “If there is innovation, that is to say, if we find new things, discover new forms of productivity, and make technological innovations, this is nothing other than the income of a certain capital, of human capital, that is to say, of the set of investments we have made at the level of man himself.”
to them. Furthermore, Foucault argues, not only does neoliberalism generate utopian narratives of self-autonomy
38 thus precipitating the self-sustaining cycle of immaterial labor and the New Economy of which the self-exploited, hyper-flexibilized artist-worker is the arch-model. As artist Andrea Fraser has reckoned, with an almost cringing lucidity:
A r tists, like other a r ts profession als, a re of ten hig hly entrepreneu rial. I would go even fu r ther a nd say th at we a re the ver y model for la bou r in the new economy, a fact th at’s not a n odd irony or q uirk of fate, but deeply rooted in ou r “h a bitus”—as Pier re Bou rdieu calls the h a bits, dispositions a nd preferences generated within a given field. We’re hig hly educated, hig hly motivated “self-sta r ters” who believe th at lea r nin g is a continuous process. We’re always ready for ch a n ge a nd adapt to it q uickly. We prefer freedom a nd flexibility to secu rity. We don’t wa nt to pu nch a clock a nd tend to resist q ua ntifyin g the value of ou r la bou r ti me. We don’t k now the mea nin g of “over ti me”. We’re convinced th at we work for ou rselves a nd ou r ow n satisfaction eve n w h e n we w ork for ot h e r s. We te n d to v a lue n on-m ate ri a l ove r m ate ri a l r ew a r d s, w h ic h we a r e willin g to defer, even to posterity. W hile we m ay identify with social causes, we tend to come from back g rou nds which discou ra ge us from seein g ou rselves as “la bou r”. Fin ally, we’re fiercely individualistic, which m a kes us difficult to orga nize a nd easy to exploit.… If artists have long served as ideological fig ures for “independent professionals” as well as entrepreneurs, the a nswer should be obvious: the promise and privilege of recognising ourselves and being recognised in the products of what is supposed to be uniquely unalienated a nd autonomous la bour.44
A ndrea Fraser, “A museum is not a business. It is run in a businesslike fashion” in Art and Its Institutions: Current Conflicts, Critique, and Collaborations, edited by
To conclude, I would like to reflect on what these diverse and unexpected connections between Marcuse’s radicalism—the New Left’s utopianism—and the neoliberal discourses
Conclusion: Art, critique, and radicality— then and now
and practices enacted by CalArts founding, mean. More broadly, I would analytical discourses we have been examining and using— biopolitics, radical/critical theory, the history/narratives of political economy, and “critique” in general—is or could be within the field of art today. To begin with the first point, that of the entanglement— even confusion—of discourses underpinning the foundation of CalArts, as both radical New Left-utopian experiment, and radical neoliberal model, I think the question can be most succinctly posed in the following way: If radical subjectivity and creativity themselves were in fact instrumental to both these perspectives (the “progressive” and the “conservative”), then how can we conceive of an emancipatory art institution (a subject and set of practices) that does not self-cannibalize to death within the exploitative model of the New Economy? 45 In other words, to paraphrase Disney: How can “theorists” and other “dilettantes” get their revenge, if at all? Nina Möntmann. Black Dog Publishing, 2006
T his is also Hito Steyerl’s question in her text, “The Institution of Critique,” where she writes: “[W]hile critical institutions are being dismantled by neoliberal institutional criticism, this produces an ambivalent subject which develops multiple strategies for dealing with its dislocation [i.e., its hyper-flexibilized, precarious life]. It is on the one side being adapted to the needs of ever more precarious living conditions. On the other, there seems to have hardly ever been more need for institutions which could cater to the new needs and desires that this constituency will create.” Hito Steyerl, “The Institution of Critique.” First published in the online journal of the European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies (EIPCP), Transversal in January 2006. Available online at: http://transform.eipcp.net/ transversal/0106/steyerl/en#redir (accessed 04/28/2012).
also like to address what the relationship between the
41 Marcuse’s radical critique presented us with, at least in theory, a clearly autonomous project, in stark confrontation with forms of capitalist instrumentality. However, as we have seen, the Great Refusal’s radical “visions of another world, a better life and alternative cultural forms and style; and oppositional thought that rejects the dominant modes of thinking and behavior”—almost seem ridiculous when, neoliberalism’s systemization of an aesthetic (and yet highly instrumental) form of labor. In this sense, the neoliberal discourse can be said to be at least as, if not more, “radical” than the one extolled by CalArts’ progressive founders. Perhaps this apparent impasse of autonomist critical theory and radical politics, together with the age-old conservatism against theory itself, might explain why critique is so broadly dismissed today, as Foster claims. The critical attitude, faced with the hyper-plasticity of capitalism, its capacity for self-transformation through myriad forms of cannibalization—the mesh-like modulation Deleuze discusses in his “Postscript on the Societies of Control” 46—all this means radical critique finds itself exhausted by the mirage effect of utopian theories; the unattainable promised ground of “true” freedom. Not only does Marcuse’s thought overflow with this kind of transcendental belief in absolute freedom, but in its radical anti-authoritarianism it is paradoxically totalitarian—his “biological foundation for socialism” being an almost eugenic project.47 This treacherous techno-utopianism, apparent also in his belief that all labor could dissolve into total aesthetic 46 47
Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” October. 59 (1992): 3–7. Print. O n how totalitarianism can turn a politics of life, or biopolitics, into a politics of death, or a thanatopolitics, see: Esposito, Roberto. Bíos: Biopolitics and Philosophy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Print.
at CalArts at least, they retroactively appear as part of
42 play thanks to the advances of cybernetics and computers, once the “right” level of socialist consciousness and sensibility was achieved, conveys the depth of his radicalism. In An Essay on Liberation, the word “radical” (and its derivatives “radicalism,” “radicality,” etcetera) appear no less than 76 times in the book’s 100 pages; almost once per page. However, despite Marcuse’s undeniably radical CALARTS 1970
commitment to denouncing the injustices of imperialism, colonialism, inequality, racism, and sexual oppression, and his struggle for non-repressive, non-aggressive, non-hierarchical radical change, we have to ask whether this type of critique—this form of diagnosis and proposed tactics— actually worked the way he intended. The question of trying to discern the discursive continuities and discontinuities between different discourses of radicality in the artistic context we have been discussing, and, furthermore, the difficult problem of how to evaluate their “performance,” cannot be separated from a more fundamental consideration of their nature as critical methods. In other words, what does the counterculture’s demand for “total freedom” really mean? Where does such an abstract, transcendental, universal—in other words, radical—critique come from? And might this question elucidate a measure for evaluating its “performance” as a critical method? We might say that Marcuse’s type of rationality, his method of transcendental critique, has its roots in the Enlightenment—a foundational period of modernity located in the eighteenth century, wherein the “liberation of man” was posited in terms of the virtuous use of reason. Foucault himself addresses this legacy in his reprise of Immanuel Kant’s text, “What is Enlightenment?” (Kant’s text is from 1784, Foucault’s from 1984). In his text, Kant argues that “Enlight-
43 enment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. …Dare to know! ‘Have the courage to use your own understanding.’”48 Furthermore, Kant suggests that enlightenment ought to be pursued in conditions of relative freedom: one should be allowed to publically criticize authority in order to progress the enlightenment of society; but, in contrast, one should privately obey the rules laid down by authority to sum up this moral and political scheme as: “Argue as much as you like, and about what you like, but obey!”49 With this system of relative freedom towards the ideal of absolute liberation, Kant was discouraging revolutionary practices in favor of more modest (but to his eyes, more enduring) reforms. Marcuse, in contrast, was a revolutionary, and as we have also seen, a firm believer in the possibility of a total liberation through revolutionary practices. His radicality thus consisted in advocating for a total freedom—argue and don’t obey—rather than a relative one. In Foucault’s text of “What is Enlightenment?,” he discusses the difference between these two modes of critique— immanent versus transcendental critique—proposing that modernity, and enlightenment, could be understood as a “philosophical ethos consisting in a critique of what we are saying, thinking, and doing, through a historical ontology of ourselves.” 50 In contrast with Kant, however, Foucault’s “attitude of critique” is an exploration of transgression potentials rather than a reification of authority, and he thus
I mmanuel Kant, “What is Enlightenment?”, published 1784. Available online at http://philosophy.eserver.org/kant/what-is-enlightenment.txt (accessed 04/28/2012).
Ibid. M ichel Foucault, “What is Enlightenment?” in The Foucault Reader, Paul Rabinow, Ed. Vintage Books, 2010.
ensure public order is maintained. In other words, we may
44 argues we should conceive of critique as an exploration of “limits,” rather than dwell on metaphysical “outsides.”51 In a clear disavowal of Marcusean (or any type of) utopianism, Foucault thus declares all radical projects as totalitarian, calling instead for a much more specific, nuanced, and historico-practical type of critique, “to grasp the points where change is possible and desirable, and to determine the precise form this change CALARTS 1970
should take.”52 Thus, Foucault compels us to think of freedom not as a condition of total emancipation, a concrete abstraction to be finally attained and guaranteed, but as a practice exercised within our particular historical moment.
I bid. “This philosophical ethos may be characterized as a limit-attitude. We are not talking about a gesture of rejection [i.e. Marcuse’s ‘Great Refusal’]. We have to move beyond the outside-inside alternative, we have to be at the frontiers. Criticism indeed consists of analyzing and reflecting upon limits. But if the Kantian question was that of knowing what limits knowledge has to renounce transgressing, it seems to me that the critical question … is to transform the critique conducted in the form of necessary limitation into a practical critique that takes the form of a possible transgression.… [C]riticism is no longer going to be practiced in the search for formal structures with universal value, bur rather as a historical investigation into the events that led us to constitute ourselves and to recognize ourselves as subjects of what we are doing, thinking, saying. In that sense, this criticism is not transcendental, and its goal is not that of making a metaphysics possible.… [Rather,] it will separate out, from the contingency that has made us what we are, the possibility of no longer being, doing or thinking what we are, do, or think. It is not seeking to make possible a metaphysics that has finally become a science; it is seeking to give new impetus, as far and wide as possible, to the undefined work of freedom.” Pg. 45 52 I bid. “[T]his work done at the limits of ourselves must, on the one hand, open up a realm of historical inquiry and, on the other, put itself to the test of reality, of contemporary reality, both to grasp the points where change is possible and desirable, and to determine the precise form this change should take. This means that the historical ontology of ourselves must turn away from all projects that claim to be global or radical. In fact we know from experience that the claim to escape from the system of contemporary reality so as to produce the overall programs of another society, of another way of thinking, another culture, another vision of the world, has led only to the return of the most dangerous traditions. [Totalitarianism] I prefer the very specific transformations that have proved to be possible in the last twenty years in a number of areas that concern our ways of being and thinking, relations to authority, relations between the sexes, the way in which we perceive insanity or illness; I prefer even the partial transformations that have been made in the correlation of historical analysis and the practical attitude, to the programs for a new man that the worst political systems have repeated throughout the 20th century.” Pg. 46 51
45 Although not usually considered within the scope of Foucault’s corpus on “biopolitics,” we can see how his theorization in “What is Enlightenment?” of an immanent form of critique as well as his understanding of how such a critique may reveal concrete potentials for change, is in fact the critical methodology he follows in his development of the biopolitical discourse. If we are to take Foucault seriously though, we need to ask particularly, how it might have in itself been an effect of certain configurations of power. What I want to suggest is that, while Foucault’s rationale for rejecting Marcuse’s “radicality” is very well understood, this kind of rejection may itself be a kind of inverted “radicality” in so much as it can be seen to mirror neoliberalism’s reduction of social and political life to economistic analyses. To explain: Doesn’t Foucault’s relinquishing of transcendental models of radical politics where freedom, ethics, or justice hold certain intrinsic—if contingent—values, in favor of a more complex, heterogeneous, and relational approach to critique, risk reproducing a kind of neoliberal belief in the accuracy of economic, technocratic analysis? Foucault himself may have been aware of this criticism, as apparent in this passage from his 1978 lecture, “What is Critique?”: There is no foundational recourse, no escape within a pure form. This is, without a doubt, one of the most important and debatable aspects of this historical-philosophical approach. If it neither wants to swing toward the philosophy of history, nor toward historical analysis, then it has to keep itself within the field of immanence of pure singularities. Then what? Rupture, discontinuity, singularity, pure description, still tableau, no explanation, dead-end, you know all that.53 53
F oucault, Michel, Sylvère Lotringer, and Lysa Hochroth. The Politics of Truth.
how this form of critical discourse operated in its context, and
While we earlier criticized Marcuse for a naïve techno-utopianism with regards to his confidence in cybernetics and computing, isn’t Foucault’s methodology of establishing a “field of interactions” 54 also reproducing a mode of analysis which tends towards fetishizing the cybernetic in some way, recalling the “network” model upon which the “New EconoCALARTS 1970
my” is based? Certainly Foucault is not attempting to restore any kind of foundational order, or natural equilibrium, but nevertheless his hermeneutic model represents a form of thought, of critique, that eludes taking a stance on questions of ethics and justice in favor of pure information and optimization. Like the very neoliberals he discusses, isn’t Foucault also validating this mode of critique with his way of thinking, and generating a discursive vacuum through which issues like social justice may be dismissed? 55 There is a clinical surgeon’s precision in the way he analyzes articulations of power, as something both dangerous and extraordinary, something almost sublime. Like the doctor who, enthralled in the minutiae of his investigations, becomes fascinated by the remarkable resilience of a virus or disease, does Foucault not also risk falling in love with the very effects of power he ostensibly sets out to treat? Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2007. Print. This essay was originally a lecture given at the French Society of Philosophy on 27 May 1978. Pg. 63 54 Ibid. Pg. 66 55 F or instance: “The neoliberals take up this problem of innovation … and they do not take it up as a sort of ethical-psychological characteristic of capitalism, or as an ethical-economic-psychological characteristic of capitalism.… but they say: We cannot halt at this problem of innovation and, as it were, trust in the boldness of capitalism or the permanent stimulation of competition to explain this phenomenon of innovation. If there is innovation, that is to say, if we find new things, discover new forms of productivity, and make technological innovations, this is nothing other than the income of a certain capital, of human capital, that is to say, of the set of investments we have made at the level of man himself.” Foucault, Op. Cit. “Lecture 9: 14 March 1979.” Pg. 232
47 Neoliberalism is described by Foucault as comprising a level of pragmatic utopianism, a ruthless flexibility, which makes it as illusive as it is effective. There almost appears to be a level of seduction, of admiration, in Foucault’s description of the neoliberals’ discursive cunning. His hygienic equidistance begins to resemble the slippery, positivist discourses of the global technocratic elite that govern us today. In an
ibilization and precarity—is technocracy the right strategy for challenging power? Under these conditions, Marcuse’s utopianism and his partial yet significant victories—in terms of how his rhetoric inspired the political struggles of the 1960s, and, of course, the founding of CalArts—is perhaps more effective than Foucault’s historical and “critical ontology of ourselves.” Marcuse’s call for a “new sensibility,” however utopian and potentially totalitarian, at least provided a project, a proposal, and horizon for action, and one that activists and artists in particular were able to seize. In this sense, it seems like today’s critical art institutions and critical artists should stop either lamenting, reminiscing, or fetishizing the past and once again work towards a new sensibility—not only a critique at the limits of what and how we are today, but an effort of the imagination and concrete experimentation of what and how we want to be tomorrow.
era of technocratic domination where capitalist innovation almost always means destabilizing populations, hyper-flex-
Con text Sub text Text “What I tell you should be read quickly, as when one takes a glance.” —CLARICE LISPECTOR, THE STREAM OF LIFE (1973)1 1
C larice Lispector, The Stream of Life (Chicago: University of Minnesota Press, 1989) 10.
If a man… should arrive in our city, bringing with himself the poems which he wished to exhibit… we should send him away… after pouring myrrh down over his head and crowning him with fillets of wood.2
As we read this pronouncement today, it most likely comes across as nothing short of totalitarianism. Agamben acknowledges Plato’s position as being one of censorship— not only in its banning of poetry but as a condemnation of 2
G iorgio Agamben, The Man Without Content (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999) 4.
In The Man Without Content, philosopher Giorgio Agamben reflects on the precarious state of art today. Locating a rather provocative passage in Plato’s Republic, Agamben senses a radical difference between the role of the contemporary artist and that of the artist in Ancient Greece:
52 art-making in general. But an art-less world would be one without theaters, museums, or libraries; a world without spaces for either enjoyment or expression. Why, then, did Plato wish to ban it? Because art, in his time, was truly dangerous: “The power of art over the soul seemed to him so great that he thought it could by itself destroy the very foundations of his city.” 3 It is with this state of emergency in mind that Agamben CONTEXT-SUBTEXT-TEXT
asks us to reconsider the role of art today. Does art continue to pose such a threat, or has it been relegated to the confines of entertainment and intellectualism? Do artists still live on the outskirts of society, as the magical and clandestine, or are they routinely institutionalized, made into students or celebrities? The assumed conclusion is staggering—perhaps even unbearable. Put simply, it is “only because art has left the sphere of interest to become merely interesting [that] we welcome it so warmly.”4 There is clearly some truth to Agamben’s claim. Unlike ancient times, most art today seemingly does nothing. It no longer possesses the “divine terror” that it did for the Greeks.5 Instead, art has become the aristocratic ornament of culture; as that which can be comfortably appreciated or enjoyed, not feared or confronted. But how could such a profound debilitation have taken place? It is hard to believe that we have all simply become bad artists. Just the same, much of art-making today has been deeply diluted by its surrounding industry: art is now commodity, produced as a source of either income or pleasure. The era of post-modern nihilism has also left many artists uninspired, as all things artistic appear to have been already said and done. But we cannot simply blame the 3
53 artists. Rather, we must also turn to ourselves—the “we” that consume art today. Perhaps the most powerful contemporary art remains wholly vital and impressive, but is altogether defused of its affectual forces as we receive it. That is to say, it is not the artworks themselves that have diminished, but rather our very means for encountering them. Art no longer invokes the sublime because we refuse to let Why else would the philosophers have spent millennia trying to make sense of it? Over the past century, we have been particularly inundated with such schools of analysis, from the Freudian to the Marxist. We are trained from a young age— and throughout our education—to engage art in an entirely critical way. And yet, despite their discursive differences, all of these practices are rooted in a central assumption—namely, that the role of the viewer is one of interpretation. It is precisely this assumption that must be thrown into doubt. Rather, it is the interpretive impulse that has left us art-less. As interpretation has advanced from the useful to the necessary, it has become almost unavoidable. Today, art and interpretation go hand-in-hand. Interpretation could be invoked for any number of reasons. It might be used to add depth to an artwork, or, just the same, to prove its lack thereof. Interpretation can be used to clarify something, or to confound it. But this is precisely the banality of its evil. Interpretation always searches somewhere besides the artwork at hand, pulling in from the outside, looking through, over, or beneath it. It is an assertion of power by way of mastery, supplanting the very object that it claims to understand. This is not unlike the position taken up by Susan Sontag in her 1966 essay, “Against Interpretation.” For Sontag, interpretation can no longer be treated as a neutral,
it overwhelm us; we would prefer for art to be manageable.
54 heuristic task. Rather, interpretation itself must be evaluated.6 Interestingly enough, Sontag locates the origins of interpretation in Ancient Greece, also beginning with Plato—that is, his notion of “mimesis,” or imitation. For Plato, life itself was already entirely mimetic, a flawed copy of its nobler ideal. For example, if we are to stand in the rain, we can imagine that every raindrop is only a repetition of its concept—of CONTEXT-SUBTEXT-TEXT
raindrops in general. Whether we see one or one thousand raindrops, we have no need to learn each new drop as it falls. The concept of “raindrop,” then, acts as its placeholder. In this sense, the whole of the material world is made up of representations. Through mimesis, the true, universalizable spirit of a thing—of anything, including ourselves—necessarily lies elsewhere. The mimetic apparatus applies to art as well. However, as art is already an imitation of life, Plato understood it to be the imitation of an imitation. Art was to be treated as an even more deranged sort of mimesis, an even further degree removed from the truth of ideals. “In modern times,” Sontag writes, “the main feature of the mimetic theory persists.”7 In fact, this original dichotomy between object and ideal was only the beginnings of an even more fundamental interpretive split: that between form and content. Just as with mimesis, this divide is already imbued with an inherent judgment against the former—that is, form—making “content essential and form accessory.”8 Form, by its very nature, is arbitrary; it is only the way in which art happens to be articulated (perhaps with regards to its medium, its choice of aesthetics, and so on). But content is 6
Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation (New York: Picador, 1966) 4.
55 precisely what the artist intends to express, the true “meaning” of the art that stands before us: Whether we conceive of the work of art on the model of a picture (art as a picture of reality) or on the model of a statement (art as the statement of the artist), content still comes first.9
yet, as it would seem, content fails to notice the embodiment of the thing at hand. This, of course, is just the nature of its mimetic logic. It is not art itself that interests us, but rather what it means. Herein lies the true impoverishment of our aesthetic experience today. Sontag identifies the two “contents” that interpretation accounts for as modeled after either pictures or statements. We might take this interpretive pairing as a starting point upon which to advance our own claim. That is, that the interpreter also adopts two modes for reading these contents, addressing either the context or subtext of the work. Both of these “-texts,” however, are not the text. By their mimetic logic, they are concerned with something entirely exterior or interior, but never the artwork itself. Perhaps, then, with a more careful articulation of these terms, we can better identify the way in which interpretation operates.
Through the eyes of the interpreter, “art is its content.”10 And
Jorge Luis Borges’ “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” is the story of a man who attempts to write the whole of Miguel de Cervant-
es’ Don Quixote for a second time. As the narrator explains, Menard was neither interested in simply copying the text, nor re-imagining a Quixote for his contemporaries. Rather, CONTEXT-SUBTEXT-TEXT
he wanted the work to become his own and, at the same time, to remain identical to the original—“word for word and line for line.”11 Menard’s Quixote would not merely be another Quixote; it was to be “the Quixote itself.”12 To achieve this seemingly impossible task, Menard sets out to imitate the life of Cervantes, expecting to come upon the text with almost scientific precision, first recreating Cervantes’ exact circumstances. Assuming all other conditions were the same, Menard believed he would necessarily produce the same result—Quixote: The first method he conceived was relatively simple. Know Spa nish well, recover the Catholic faith, fight against the Moor or the Turk, forget the history of Europe between the years 1602 a nd 1918, be Mig uel de Cerva ntes.13
But Menard would soon dispose of this approach, as he found it to be entirely uninteresting. He preferred to “go on being Pierre Menard,” 14 and yet, all the same, to find Quixote within his own experience. Despite years of agonizing attempts, Menard only 11
Jorge Borges, Labyrinths (New York: New Directions, 2007) 39.
58 managed to produce two full chapters and a few fragments of Cervantes’ writing. Even the fictional Menard fails to achieve this impossible end. What is more incredible, however, is the narrator’s reflection on this work. Although the pieces written by Menard may first appear to be identical to those of Cervantes’, the narrator insists that the pair had produced two entirely different texts. He goes on to cite the CONTEXT-SUBTEXT-TEXT
same line from both: Truth, whose mother is history, rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, exemplar a nd adviser to the present, a nd the future’s counselor.15
As it appears in Cervantes’ Quixote, this passage is “a mere rhetorical praise of history.”16 The narrator then presents us with the identical sentence, written by Menard: Truth, whose mother is history, rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, exemplar a nd adviser to the present, a nd the future’s counselor.17
Despite its seemingly undeniable sameness, the narrator is sure that Menard’s passage is entirely different from the first: History, the mother of truth. The idea is astounding. Menard, a contemporary of Willia m Ja mes, does not define history as a n inq uiry into reality but as its origin. Historical truth, for him, is not what has happened; it is what we 15
59 judge to have happened. The final phrases—exemplar a nd adviser to the present, a nd the future’s counselor—are brazenly prag matic.18
Through this exaggerated interpretive display, the narrator contextualizes the second Quixote as though it were truly conceived by Menard, embedded in the thinking of his era. From the critic’s perspective, it can only be read as such—as phy, and in relation to his contemporaries. While Cervantes’ prose proves to have absolute fluency in the “Spanish of his time,” Menard’s appears to be “archaic” and “foreign.”19 At this moment, the narrator’s own position in the project becomes quite clear: the real difference between the texts lies not in their writing, but in the act of reading—through our interpretive practice. How else, then, could the same text become a different one? What is most significant about the narrator’s interpretation is that it makes no real reference to the text. In fact, the narrator has no interest in the text whatsoever. Their reading is entirely extraneous, concerning questions of authorship, biographical details, historical circumstance, and so on—purely the context of the artwork. However, as context is dependent upon an exterior politics, does this not fail to do the artwork itself justice? If art is to be reduced to recounting the life of its artist, particularized in its every detail, then how could it ever speak to a more universal condition? Or, just the same, how could it speak to our own, singular experience? Sontag writes on this same question with shared disappointment: “It doesn’t matter whether
one work among many, placed within Menard’s own biogra-
60 artists intend, or don’t intend, for their works to be interpreted… the merit of these works certainly lies elsewhere.” 20
“The modern style of interpretation excavates, and as it excavates, destroys; it digs ‘behind’ the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one.”
-Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation (1966)21
if context is exterior to an artwork— dealing with its perimeter or setting a scene of sorts—then the subtext is its interior. However, let us not be deceived: this is not to say that we have now come to face the artwork itself. Rather, subtext is only another way in which we bypass art altogether. The ineffable encounter with its surface remains entirely absent. Instead, here the artwork becomes a corpse, an object to be dissected. Interpretation takes place by way of autopsy. The interior is forcefully exposed, becoming a site for examination: “Interpretation, based on the highly dubious theory that a work of art is composed of items of content, violates [it].”22 This violence always begins with an intervention of sorts: “Interpretation is often prompted not by piety toward the troublesome text… but by an open aggressiveness, an overt contempt for appearances.”23 Indeed, this practice is based on an essential disliking of the work. The subtextualist is the observer who always wants more out of an art piece, unsatisfied with its “mere appearances” as they already stand: 20
Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation (New York: Picador, 1966) 6.
62 “Interpretation… indicates a dissatisfaction (conscious or unconscious) with the work, a wish to replace it by something else.” 24 This “something else” is the interpreters themselves. To deal in subtexts, then, the interpreter must first anatomize the art at hand. In the case of literature, a text is dismembered into its parts, reduced to questions of character and plot. Content is made separate from form, with story CONTEXT-SUBTEXT-TEXT
becoming allegory and people as personas. The subtextual strategy operates under the assumption that these elements can exist independently of one another. They are to be embalmed, paralyzed in the grips of representation. Consequently, we return to the Platonic project: here, all things particular are translated into the general. Every object is placed in relation to its ideal. Whatever is “in there” to be interpreted must always be comparable with that which is already our own, grouped together under categories of sameness. Subtext also submits the artwork to its devices. The metaphor, being a subtexual law of sorts, is presented as a kind of opening, the way in which a work could mean more than it first appears. In this sense, the metaphor is understood as merely adding to the work, bestowing greater meaning on its otherwise mundane material. However, the metaphor only seals this meaning back onto itself, in fact closing it off entirely. The subtextualist demands resolution and, once again, the thing is reduced to its meaning, asking, “What does the color green represent in this text?” Instead of experiencing the very expression of green-ness—in both its rush of sensuous qualities and syllabic tone—green is to be resolved altogether; a device, standing in for something all
63 the more interesting. Thus, the subtextualist also operates under a logic of economy—meaning becomes necessary for the artwork to have any value. Or else, what is its purpose? In this way, subtext does not reveal an artwork, but, instead, eclipses it. The artwork itself is made subordinate, supplanted by the word of its interpreter. It is here that interpretation reveals its necessary vanity. The interpreter writes to express
interpreters’ identities can converge.
as we locate the structures of power and violence in the interpretive apparatus, we begin to realize its
disastrous consequences. Context serves as a way to fossilize the artwork, limiting it to a particular era or individual. Subtext, on the other hand, assumes the work to be entirely ahistorical, fixed under the assumption of universal ideals. Both of these approaches serve as a kind of paralysis, containing the artwork from both within and without. Interpretation totalizes the artwork in its meaning, preventing the emergence of the new or the unfamiliar. Interpretation is also necessarily paranoiac. It has become a question of shooting first. We must always speak before the art speaks—no longer allowing it to render ourselves speechless. In this way, the logic of interpretation aligns itself with the present maxim of Homeland Security: “If you see something, say something.” To remain silent as we leave the theater raises the suspicion of our peers—“Did you not like it?” one friend asks. “Were you even watching?” asks another. Every artwork placed in front of us
him or herself, to stake their own claim over that of the artwork’s. The subtext is the very landscape upon which the
64 now serves as a kind of interrogation: “Well, what do you think about it?” To have truly engaged an artwork you must assumedly be able to speak about it—and speak well. If we feel overwhelmed by a performance, interpretation appears to redeem us from this otherwise breathless immediacy. Interpretation has become a kind of fortification practice; it is the preemptive strike. Through interpretation, we can CONTEXT-SUBTEXT-TEXT
remain unaffected, strong. At this point, it is important that we realize our own position in the present discourse. Have we not continued to operate within the very model that we intended to resist? And yet, our problem is not a lack; we are not concerned with having more or better commentary at our disposal. While Sontag has provided us with a theoretical approach to the question at hand, she, too, is unable to enact her claims, instead only giving us suggestions for what is to come. To undermine the interpretive logic, then, we must be careful not to repeat it. We must cultivate an entirely alternative reading practice. Just the same, it is essential that we realize the unavoidable predicament of our project: how else might we approach art today, if not by way of interpretation? We have already begun to prepare the grounds for such a practice by appropriating Sontag’s piece for something quite different. That is to say, we are not simply “against interpretation,” as is Sontag. We do not intend to propose something that runs counter to it whatsoever, but rather to abandon its aims entirely. But this is surely an impossibility; one does not escape an old habit by merely changing its name. Instead let us attempt to collapse interpretation onto itself, collapsing form onto content, until one cannot be distinguished from the next. In the same sense, our maxim is not one of “more art, less critique,” but rather to blur the lines between
65 them. Perhaps, then, the ultimate interpretation would be one of outright imitation. Here we might borrow from the aspirations of Borges’ “Pierre Menard,” to re-write the very works that we would otherwise be interpreting. To find ways to enter the text entirely, merging with it as opposed to replacing it, and thereby even collapsing the work with ourselves. GEOFFREY DERVEN
Agamben, Giorgio. The Man Without Content. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999). Borges, Jorge. Labyrinths. (New York: New Directions, 2007). Lispector, Clarice. The Stream of Life. (Chicago: University of Minnesota Press, 1989. Sontag, Susan. Against Interpretation. (New York: Picador, 1966).
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of identity, which has been invisible to the wider public and the social corpus of protest, has often been overlooked in the movement’s progression despite its significant relevance and affective means of developing relationships between the movement’s participants. In examining the multiplicity of rhetoric, identity, and political organizing, I hope to highlight the potentiality in pursuing their
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Previously, I have discussed the theoretical strategic trajectory of Occupy as a making of fiction. I want to continue with Occupy as an extended case study, here, and specifically examine the contestation between “Occupy” and “Decolonize.” By looking at this specific conflict within the movement, I want to address the significant tensions between rhetoric, political action, political organizing, and identity. The discourse
72 complications tied to historical and socio-political formations. Additionally, I want to discuss the singularity that is also within the set of rhetoric and action, and how that establishes a form of status quo in the appearance of politics. The debate of “Occupy” versus “Decolonize” is not ultimately a matter of semantics, but a question of value and the potentiality of doing politics. Before examining DECOLONIZING WITHIN OCCUPY
this further, I will begin by looking at another prominent slogan within the Occupy movement. From the beginning of the movement’s protest, its dominant rallying cry has been “We are the 99%”—expressing a shared sense of inequalities as a product of the global financial system. The slogan has been instrumental in mobilizing the national and global movement in occupying spaces in financial districts and downtowns as the collective 99%. Yet in creating a universal protest and public sphere, only separating between the 99% and the 1%, encountering and intersecting with gender, sexual, racial, and cultural differences seem to be near invisible in the mobilization of the movement’s protest against the unjust distribution of capitalism. This indifference, or even considerable erasure, towards these divisions have enforced on one hand a national identity for the mass movement, allowing for an incredible and sizeable population to participate. On the other, it has harbored the neutralizing of public spaces and rhetoric, making it difficult to contest with the borderless movement. This unequivocally aligns with Occupy Wall Streets’ “no agenda” agenda and with its claims of having neither demands nor politics. However, this essentialism has led to an internal conflict within OWS by Native American activists and others who dispute the colonial use of language within Occupy.
73 The word, occupy, with its signification in colonial conquest, in conjunction with the movement’s aim to claim spaces to set up encampment for the global protest has engendered strong resistance by Native American activists against using the terms, occupy and occupation. For many Native American activists, the terms trigger “colonial conquests… designed to ensure forced displacement of In-
ernance, and the assimilation of Indigenous people’s cultures and traditions.” 1 Activists whom have felt distress in association with these terms have expressed their sentiment to the larger activist circle of OWS via General Assembly meetings and continuous dialogues on-line. Native American activist, Morning Star Gali 2 from Oakland, California, has led efforts to address the use of colonial language, the psychological attachments with which these terms are loaded, along with the pursuit of changing the name to “Decolonize Oakland.” For Gali and the Chochenyo Ohlone 3 , she says, The terms “occupy” a nd “occupation” echo our experiences under colonial domination a nd normalize the military occupations that the U.S. is supporting in places such as Iraq, Palestine, a nd Afgha nista n. Colonization, occupation,
alia, Harsha. “Decolonize Together: Moving Beyond a Politics of Solidarity W Towards a Practice of Decolonization.” Unsettling America: Decolonization in Theory & Practice. 3 Jan 2012. Web. <http://unsettlingamerica.wordpress. com/2012/01/03/decolonize-together/> 2 Interview coming. 3 T he Chochenyo Ohlone is the indigenous community that has resided in the area that is now Oakland and parts of the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. They are still currently under occupation and are petitioning for federal U.S. recognition. For more general information on the Chochenyo Ohlone, see Queena Kim and Morning Star Gali’s articles.
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digenous peoples from their territories, the destruction of autonomy and self-determination in Indigenous self-gov-
74 seg regation are still active forms of violence in our com munities… The na me cha nge is not a bout words but a bout deeds.4
Yet there was only marginal support as many protesters contested the name change to Decolonize. In argument against the use of colonial language within OWS, protesters have responded unconvincingly, accusing the Native American DECOLONIZING WITHIN OCCUPY
activists of “guilt-tripping”5 . Another more prominent argument against it is that Occupy groups fear that this would elicit a disidentification with the wider movement and they should instead “maintain a ‘united’ front.” 6 Though these arguments hardly offer any form of critical reflection or understanding of differences, they are, nonetheless, telling. The former suggests what one group construes as substantial defense—to disregard the sentiments and political motivations of the Other— while the latter displays a desired uniformity in order to instrumentalize and to align with the national Occupy movement. Both statements are ironic in their respective manners as they utilize the possibility of disenfranchisement, be it emotionally or politically, to coerce one politic over the other. Guilt-tripping implies an existing dominant identity and scripted way of recognizing with the Occupy movement. As it establishes regulating codes, in which Occupy activists
G ali, Morning Star. “Decolonize Oakland: Creating a More Radical Movement.” 3 Dec 2011. Web. < http://occupyoakland.org/2011/12/decolonize-oakland/> 5 K im, Queena. “The Campaign to “Decolonize” Oakland: Native Americans Say “Occupy” Terminology Is Offensive.” Truthout. 28 Dec 2011. Web. <http://truth-out. org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=5786: the-campaign-to-decolonize-oakland-native-americans-say-occupy-terminology-is-offensive> 6 S ztainbok, Vannina. “Decolonize Together: Indigenous Activists Send Strong Message at Occupy Torronto Talk.” Unsettling America: Decolonization in Theory & Practice. 15 Feb 2012. Web. <http://unsettlingamerica.wordpress. com/2012/02/15/decolonize-together-indigenous-activists-send-strong-message-at-occupy-toronto-talk/>
75 perform, guilt-tripping is understood as a farce by Native American activists whose histories and sentiments can be disregarded. Laying such implicit ground rules for an Occupy identity and language leverages these dominant codes as the political apparatus, despite the argument that this creates a linear trajectory and singular identity. As such, a dominant the protest’s trajectory simultaneously subordinates other identity groups and processes of socio-political formations while it also maintains pressure to abide with an existing dominant culture within the movement. Among the ironies that this situation produces, guilt tripping exhibits the reduction of a complex social-psychological sphere. This is what Frantz Fanon describes as the colonial situation.7 The colonial situation is not the colonial occupation itself; rather, it is the psychological, social, and cultural complex that has been inherited by colonialism. In its dichotomy between the “civilized” and “primitive,” there is an “emergence of a mass of illusions and misunderstandings” that perpetuate the production of trauma while paradoxically associating the psychological and emotional plights exclusive to the colonized subjects.8 In its speech, guilt-tripping points to a collectively felt psychological trauma that stems from a colonial occupation as it simultaneously rejects these experiences. It reduces an immense history of colonial occupation and oppression to emotional collateral. The use of disenfranchisement as cultural capital for the Occupy movement is not revelatory as the movement protests the inequities suffered by global corporatization. Yet in 7 8
F anon, Frantz. Black Skins, White Masks. New York, Grove Press, 2008. Ibid. pg. 66
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mode of identifying with the movement and mobilizing
76 the perpetual implementation of branding, the movement distances itself farther away from organizing political strategies and forming dialogues, and leaves the movement susceptible to homogeneity and hegemonic ways of organizing, communicating, and understanding differences within itself. These arguments, in opposition in considering perspectives on the margins and in utilizing the political DECOLONIZING WITHIN OCCUPY
appearance of “Occupy,” align with criticisms of the movement at large for “‘linguistic’ culture shopping…. [Using] politically charged words to adorn [the] movement.”9 The appearance of political action, then, has its contingencies on a specified politic and rhetoric of Occupy that it works toward, instead of working with differences to reconfigure an alternative political partition.10 Language as adornment and commodity fetish instructs Occupiers how to dress the part and speak the politic of Occupy at moments when a critical understanding and redistribution of the perceptible and sensible of politics are at work. But in credit to the strategic decision not to abandon Occupy’s national identity, branding, indeed, makes for an immediate and accessible mean to join the movement and stage Occupy encampments anywhere and everywhere. This is within the design of branding and mass-producing a singular identity. As Paul Gilroy explains, “any commodity is open to being “branded” in ways that solicit identification and try to orchestrate identity.” 11 In the case of Occupy, Kim, Queena. R ancière, Jacques. “Contemporary Art and the Politics of Aesthetics.” in Beth Hinderliter, William Kaizen, Vered Maimon, Jaleh Mansoor, and Seth McCormick eds. Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. 11 G ilroy, Paul. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Cambridge, Massachusettes: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000. pg. 98 9
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78 orchestrating a national identity has become an integral political tool in organizing autonomous encampments locally, nationally, and globally for the movement at the unprecedented pace of its formation, four months. Yet as mentioned earlier, this national identity of no identity, as a successful device to create “open” spaces with no borders nor political agenda, simplifies the complexity of differences and the DECOLONIZING WITHIN OCCUPY
subjugation that have been a result of global corporatization, which lies at the very core of Occupy’s protest. When identity is used as a branding and mass-political tool, versus a dynamic and complex formation as means of understanding difference and forging communities, it becomes a matter of strengthening and building itself, for itself—and thus about power and authority. Gilroy, at length, has discussed, deconstructed, and demystified identity as a desired and expected specificity. He writes: Identity helps us to comprehend the formation of that perilous “we” and to reckon with the patterns of inclusion and exclusion that it cannot help creating. This situation is made more difficult once identity is recognized as something of a problem in itself, and thereby acquires an additional weighting. Calculating the relationship between identity and difference, sameness and otherness is an intrinsically political operation. It happens when political collectivities reflect on what makes their binding connections possible. It is a fundamental part of how they comprehend their kinship—which may be an imaginary connection, though nonetheless powerful for that.12
Ibid. pg. 98–99
79 Gilroy’s understanding of the multiple constructions of identity and their prevailing uses exposes how identity as a concept and formation can be problematic as well as influential in re-imagining a set of relations and communities. In his analysis of identity’s intrinsic connection to a ubiquitous but ambiguous “we,” he reveals the symptomatic response that links identity to desire and a political and social grouping. investigating identity and the appearance of its relations by complicating them. By deconstructing the binaries that Gilroy suggests, there opens space for critical reflection, alternative engagement, and potential political and social operations. This is useful and relevant in considering Occupy’s identity/ non-identity dilemma and its paradoxical nature: a desire to be a unified and singular political body against its trepidation to accept multiple bodies of politics. This universalism, intended as an open playing field for Occupiers, disavows the opportunity to work with complex relations, antagonisms, and contradictions—a direction that could possibly lead in regenerating itself as a sophisticated and critically-engaged socio-political body while also gathering further momentum for the movement. Instead, this fear to engage with difference leaves the understanding of Occupy’s political body and a body of politics as one-dimensional. Jennifer González has also spoken about identity discourse, specifically regarding race, as sets of embodied and corporeal practices. Noting the disclosure as a dynamic praxis that includes both critical reflection and an active engagement via an embodied practice, she says: Race as a discourse is not a n uncha nging historical fra mework that limits identities to fixed ta xonomies; it is rather a dy na mic
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Yet in his thoroughness, he also highlights the potential in
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81 system of social a nd cultural tech niq ues carefully calibrated to constrain, define, a nd develop a nex us of hu ma n activity where the ontolog y of the hu ma n, the representation of the body, a nd the social position of the subject intersect.13
This practice of an embodied body politic invites continuous critical reflection and changing frameworks in response felt urgency to stay with a national identity and to Occupy with a national movement does not appear as a last resort in continuing with its organizing, momentum, and aim. Moreover, it opens room for effective yet multi-lateral politics. To Decolonize, as not just a name, employs an embodied praxis of an aesthetico-political educational model and practice that engages with continuous shifts in politics, discourse, social relations, and the environment. Decolonization would then include undoing the effects of internal-colonization`14 that reinforce hegemonic and its self-pardoned regimes. This form of praxis performs a simultaneous resistance and reconfiguring of political order, body of politics, and political body. Thus, to decolonize would function as an aesthetico-political pedagogical site as it includes critical reflection and learning processes in the dispersal, organizing, and re-organizing of
G onzález, Jennifer. “The Face and the Public: Race, Secrecy, and Digital Art Practice.” Camera Obscura. 70, Volume 24, Number 1. Duke University Press, 2009. pg. 42 14 T hough other thinkers have used this phrase, internal colonization, it is in direct reference here to Michel Foucault’s lecture on “4 February 1976—The Binary Schema and Political Historicism.” He explains a “boomerang effect” from colonization that takes effect in the West “on the apparatuses, institutions, and techniques of power. A whole series of colonial models was brought back to the West, and the result was that West could practice something resembling colonization, or an internal colonialism, on itself ” (103). Foucault, Michel. “4 February 1976.” “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-1976. New York: Picador, 1997. 13
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to multiple subjects and their positioning. In this way, the
82 its socio-politlcal body. It does not merely rest and restrict itself to the appearance of occupying autonomous and decentralized spaces. To maintain a sustainable trajectory would seemingly include a rigor that welcomes and works with antagonisms, that recognizes failures in assuming frameworks of a neo-democracy and alternative political partitions, and engages with post-colonial thought. DECOLONIZING WITHIN OCCUPY
Yet in proposing this, I do not hope to illuminate an idyllic way of doing politics nor to envision a utopic determinate resolution to colonialism and for the colonized subjects. As the case of the “Decolonize” versus “Occupy” suggests, language can become hegemonic and imperialistic by erasing its ties to complex histories, geographies, cultures, and sociopolitical formations. It is in this vein that in whichvever direction(s) such a framework is pursued, and under whatever signifier it takes, there must be a continuous critical rigor examining the conditions in which it exists. This is part of its political activity. Homi Bhaba has discussed the multiplicity of language, in regards to the understanding of nation. Language and ideology have its promising effectiveness for progressive development due to their multiple appearances, accentuations, and their discursiveness; “but in the heat of political argument the ‘doubling’ of the sign can often be stilled.”15 This is what we see in the contestation between “Occupy” and “Decolonize.” There is the “doubling,” or multiple appearances of the words, their canons, and contingent histories and implications, and the disagreement that ruptures and fuses into a stillness. This elision, in the moment words are stilled, opens a space to do politics.16 However, in this case, the moment of intense disagreement proceeded 15 16
Bhaba, Homi. Nation and Narration. London and New York: Routledge, 1990. pg. 3. R ancière, Jacques. Disagreement. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
83 based on a standardized political agenda without evaluating the other values that words within this agenda hold in their doubling. Though the focus here has been on language and its multiplicity in signification, it is necessary to recognize the stakes of the debate’s event and that have intersections in the makings of possible social-political formations. González, in quoting Judith Butler, explains the potentiality
Reflecting on the ways in which la ng uage socially positions individual subjects Judith Butler w rites, “It is not a q uestion of a n opposition between a reactionary a nd prog ressive usage; it is rather a function of the prog ressive usage req uiring a nd repeating the reactionary in order to effect a subversive reterritorialization.” In other words, it is necessary to ack nowledge a nd articulate the position in which one is already fixed by systems of power before one ca n resist a nd oppose its terms.17
Here, González and Butler suggest the interplay between oppositional forces, acknowledging their antagonisms, and working with them in order to reterroritorialize the space(s) in which they exist. By recognizing existing power structures and their relations and reconfiguring relations within the established hegemony, politics enacts and recreates the previous stage in which it takes place—just as participants act out a sense of agency. By continuing with an assumed determination of politics, in this case to attach to the national identity of 17
G onzález, Jennifer and Judith Butler. González. Subject to Display: Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008. pg.10 ; Butler, “Subjection, Resistance, Resignifcation,” pg. 242 (from González’ notes).
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in understanding the histories of these social positions, and the critical turn in re-staging them.
84 the Occupy movement, Occupiers establish an appearance of setting up a space for the commons and for a collectivity with a larger movement without working the divisions within its own socio-political body. The value is thus placed on (creating) the appearance of a democracy, as opposed to committing to an actual doing of politics and exploring the emergence of a community’s disagreement. The former DECOLONIZING WITHIN OCCUPY
cites a value in the materilaity of politics and the sufficient labor that is necessary for its production. The logic behind the making of this politics is not one driven by doing politics, but a logic of capital, concerned with an increase of cultural and social accumulation. The debate between “decolonize” and “occupy” is neither a superficial conflict between the decision of words, nor a dispute between two opposing political parties within the operations of Occupy. The event of the debate illuminates an oppressive regime that polices specific languages, social positions, and practices in understanding how to participate in politics and community—even in its appearance of being at the grass-root level. It becomes a familiar narrative in how a dominating culture imposes its value, in the interest of capital and the generating of its self-mobility, and how this production does not consider value beyond the extension of its own costs and profit. When value is placed on the production of an appearance of politics for the sake of one political body and is based on the assumption that there is a universal value, we limit our political and social conditions and imaginations to a static form. If the Occupy Wall Street Movement enacts the aestheticopolitical activity of making fictions, I propose that a decolonizing has its momentum, resistance, and political agency in an active performative poetics that requires an aberrant
85 yet astutely attuned listening. In its poetics, it fuels itself via an active dialogue, speech, and continuous re-enactment. Disagreement in engagement and interpretation is not only inevitable, but essential. Value is not in its making and its objectâ€”but the multiplicity in which it emerges and works with the uncertainty of its unfolding.
LINET TE PARK
W e e k l y,
one page response paper CS721: CONTEMPORARY AESTHETIC THEORY REQUIREMENT: Weekly, one-page response papers (FORMAT: TIMES NEW ROMAN, 12, DOUBLE SPACED). Response papers will allow you to keep a log for the class. You may draw from your response papers in class discussions. A portfolio with all your response papers needs to be ha nded in with your final paper at the end of the semester. READING: WEEK 8: 11/03 Roberto Esposito, Bíos, “Tha natopolitics (The Cycle of Genos),” 110-145 Frédéric Neyrat, “The Birth of Immunopolitics” (online)
WEEKLY, ONE PAGE RESPONSE PAPER
WEEKLY, ONE PAGE RESPONSE PAPER
WEEKLY, ONE PAGE RESPONSE PAPER
WEEKLY, ONE PAGE RESPONSE PAPER
WEEKLY, ONE PAGE RESPONSE PAPER
WEEKLY, ONE PAGE RESPONSE PAPER
WEEKLY, ONE PAGE RESPONSE PAPER
“Utopia n performatives describe small but profound moments in which performa nce calls the attention of the audience in a way that lifts everyone slightly a bove the present, into a hopeful feeling of what the world might be like if every moment of our lives were as emotionally volu minous, generous, aesthetically striking, a nd intersubjectively intense.” —JILL DOLAN, UTOPIA IN PERFORMANCE “The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible. Thus it is that the theater brings onto the rectangle of the stage, one after the other, a whole series of places that are foreign to one another.” —MICHEL FOUCAULT, “OF OTHER SPACES”
The Account of St. Francis High School’s Phantom of the Opera La Cañada, CA Sunday April 1, 2012, 7pm
THE ACCOUNT OF ST. FRANCIS HIGH SCHOOLâ€™S PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
It’s raining by the time Patrick and I arrive at St. Francis. We park in a small garage and walk towards the auditorium—a smallish affair that seats about 200 people. Relatives and friends are already swarming the exterior. The mood is convivial, all wet smiles and shared umbrellas. Two grandmothers, both in enormous overcoats (one navy, one blood red) converse at the will call line. “Oh, well, our grandson’s girlfriend is in the show so….” I fall back and let Patrick negotiate voluminous fabrics, frizzy hair, and hands grabbing at reservation lists. He gets our tickets and we file in.
106 The interior is adorned with photographs from past productions, which form a ring around the audience. Patrick happens to notice that not far from where we are sitting is a photograph from a production a few years ago that his cousin (who graduated from St. Francis) is in. He adds that his aunt, the boy’s mother, was then and is still the main parent volunteer in charge of makeup for the show. Patrick’s THE ACCOUNT OF ST. FRANCIS HIGH SCHOOL’S PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
younger cousin is not a freshman at the school and tonight is his performance debut. We sit at seats J10 and J12, house right, halfway between the front and back of house. I am less concerned with the quality of the seats and more conscious of the fact that we’re sitting in front of a priest and his retinue of older ladies (I don’t think he came with them, but they’ve buddied up to one another). Patrick and I look over the program. I keep reminding myself that I am going to write about this performance, but try not to formulate any ideas until the experience unfolds. And suddenly a pre-performance occurs that I hadn’t anticipated. Over the PA system, there are the usual announcements (turn your cell phones off, this show uses mist, etc.), and then an invitation for the audience to rise for the national anthem. It has been so long since I have sung it that I forget myself. I rise after a moment and follow the collective gaze to a flag located at the foot of the stage to my left. An instrumental recording of The Star-Spangled Banner begins. I take my hat off. I hold my hand over my heart. And I stumble through the words. For some reason this whole experience has unsettled me. We all sit back down. The show begins. (A brief aside for those who are unfamiliar with Andrew Lloyd Weber’s 1986 musical: based on a serial written by Gaston Leroux at the turn of the twentieth century, Phantom
107 of the Opera chronicles the strange love triangle between Christine Daeé, an aspiring actress; Raol, the Vimconte de Chagny; and a reclusive, deformed, and brilliant musician/ inventor/magician who lurks in the bowels of the Paris Opera, known at first as Christine’s “Angel of Music”—as he has been mentoring her in the ways of the opera—then as the “Phantom.” As Christine and Raol grow closer, the lovers, as well as the cast, crew, and proprietors of the opera house. The situation escalates when the Phantom begins to pick off various supporting cast members, and the show culminates in the Phantom holding Raol’s life in his hands, and telling Christine that the only way to save her love is to stay with him… forever. She kisses him passionately, tells him he is not alone, and somehow this kindness is enough for the Phantom to let her and Raol go, and subsequently disappear.) Immediately I am delighted by the amateurish nature of the production. Voices off-key, ill-fitting costumes, abysmal choreography, all make (for me) an evening of enchantment. I let myself slip into the warm, glittering, tangy pool of camp that has become my preferred destination when watching performances such as these. In addition, I had never seen Phantom of the Opera before, so I was treated with the added bonus of a trite, blustery, melodramatic plotline, insipid characterizations, the retreat of all novelty. Begrudgingly, I had to admit that this production of Phantom was better than I had expected. I even found myself enjoying some of the numbers. And the performances were halfway decent, though I was pleasantly incensed by the horrid work of one young junior cast in the role of Raol, the young male love interest of Christina. Every entrance and
Phantom grows more tempestuous, terrorizing the two
108 exit was characterized by a stiff engagement with the director’s blocking. Every line was expelled with great effort, and issued forth from a corpse-like rictus. Every lyric manifested as an endless scream that inevitably found a place front and center during each number, clawing its auditory way above a full cast and orchestra. Raol was my target for the entire show. I found fault in THE ACCOUNT OF ST. FRANCIS HIGH SCHOOL’S PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
other things, like the Phantom’s costume (picture Rosie O’Donnell at a Renaissance Fair), the heavily synthesized orchestration, and a persistently ugly chandelier (a central set piece in the production). But it was Raol’s performance that I kept returning to, that kept filling me with contempt. The very anticipation of his next entrance stirred a certain measure of dread. By the end of the show, I had a visible physical reaction to Raol’s intrusions, slapping my thighs with my hands, shifting uncomfortably in my seat. An odd mix of critical judgment, empathetic queasiness, embarrassment, and disconnection were swirling about me. Why was so much of my disdain focused on Raol? Raol’s lackluster performance fell outside of the predetermined bandwidth I considered “acceptably bad,” and forced me to think about and deal with the very real event of my tearing a child’s performance apart, and make me wonder not just about whether or not this was “good” or “bad,” but about the conditions that made it possible for this critique to happen, and what manner of other judgments might be possible given such conditions. In addition, I found myself scanning the audience for a sympathetic face, another person in the crowd who might be sharing in this failure. Yet I couldn’t pierce the bright eyes and placid smiles of parents, teachers, classmates, possible family members, etc. I was torn between feeling that I couldn’t possibly be the only one
109 riled up by Raol, and the sensation that no one was actually seeing what I was seeing. After the curtain call, one final awkward moment occurred: since it was raining, the usual post-show meeting place for cast and admirers at the backstage entrance/exit was moved to one of the side entrances of the theatre itself. As such, swarms of bodies and flowers rushed towards the the theatre divested of their costumes and makeup. I found myself swept up in a tide moving closer to, not further from the stage as I tried to leave.
as the aforementioned account makes evident,
my time in the audience of St. Francis High School’s Phantom of the Opera was fraught with questions of colliding publics, obfuscated judgments, the reproduction of normativity, and a confounding mixture of critical scorn, subsequent guilt, and the sensation of sharing something hidden in spite of myself, a present absence that created an equivalence in its discord. In order to establish a narrative of my experience, the previous descriptive account of my evening with Phantom is a separate, relatively uninterrupted segment. I sought to include a selection, but by no means all of the various moments of confusion, awkwardness, and disorientation during the course of the show. In addition, I have tried to communicate my own shifting membership in a number of (possible) viewing publics—the cynical outsider, the family friend, the student, the queer, the theatre lover, the ignoramus, etc. The likelihood of finding political meaning in the theatre is (depending on one’s definition of politics) somewhat inde-
front of the house to greet the participants as they re-entered
110 pendent of the political “message” or “engagement” of the theatre work itself. According to Jacques Rancière, the politics of aesthetics and aesthetics of politics are not connected via a symmetrical correspondence. Rather, the politics surrounding a work of art has less to do with communicating political meaning and more to with its ability to “redistribute the sensible” aspects of what he refers to as a particular THE ACCOUNT OF ST. FRANCIS HIGH SCHOOL’S PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
“police order,” that system of governing apparatuses that constitute a sedimented governmental mode dictating what can be seen, heard, spoken, or thought. Therefore, it is the how of the performance that warrants political examination as opposed to the what or why of its content. Politics as a distribution of sensibility is the departure point for the following description and excavation of my visit to the Degheri Performing Arts Theatre in La Canãda, California to see St. Francis High School’s production of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Phantom of the Opera. My aim is to impart a sense of the emotional, intellectual, and aesthetic tumult of my theatre-going experience, both to the reader and myself in an effort to identify a certain “distribution of sensible intensities” in the very real and very imaginary space of the high school theatre. I also want to explore the political dimensions and potentials of a live performance that exist by virtue of its particular form (a community centered around Catholic high school students) as opposed to its intended effect(s) or theatrical efficacy. My engagement with Rancière’s mapping of the aesthetic/ political intersection is in service of asking several questions about what political potential is inherent to a theatrical experience and that exists not because of but perhaps alongside or adjacent to its content. As the opening quotations suggest, the mapping of my theatrical space during a rainy
111 April evening in southern California relies on a discussion of political possibility and the performative/affective evocation of such possibility. Both Jill Dolan’s concept of “utopian performatives” and Michel Foucault’s “heterotopias” and “heterotopology” are my cartographic anchors for such a mapping. In addition, the projects of both of these authors involve giving one certain methodological permission.
My eclectic tastes lead me to unforeseea ble experiences, like feeling unexpectedly moved by a large-cast production of Guys and Dolls at a high school, or by seeing memoir-inspired solo performa nces by the g raduating MFA acting class at the University of Texas (16).
Here she describes her own sense of engagement with the theatre, and the kind of spectatorship she exercises. Her theatre is one of unexpected but socially and politically important affective work. She revels in being an “indiscriminant” and “voracious” spectator, and practices a certain willingness to cast herself into a performance situation ready to receive the experience. It is her attitude towards spectatorship that actively makes part of that experience occur. In this way she affords the potential audience member permission to see the potential and the possibility in the theatre, whether it be a big budget Broadway musical, an “underground” fringe performance, or a small town, community theatre piece. My attending Phantom of the Opera was partly a means to take Jill Dolan up on her offer (in addition to fulfilling an obligation to see my boyfriend’s 14- year-old cousin in his theatrical debut) of performing spectatorship.
Dolan, for instance, is explicit about her wide-ranging and “itinerant” spectatorship:
However, in encountering certain “unforeseeable experiences” during the show, namely the poor performance of one of the lead actors and my disconnection with the curious behavior of the audience, I found it necessary to re-think the existence of Dolan’s “utopian performatives” in this context, and wonder if there were other possibilities that arose. Certainly, THE ACCOUNT OF ST. FRANCIS HIGH SCHOOL’S PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
what happened for me seemed strangely akin to and yet not at all what Dolan describes in her book Utopia in Performance: But utopia n performatives force me to stop tra nscribing my experience of the present to some sort of imagined future; in those moments, I sit bolt upright, caught in the density of a com munal epipha ny that I need to experience now, that gathers its power through the impossibility of doing it justice in a ny subseq uent moment. These moments of com munitas complement the processual nature of utopia in performa nce (14).
These ephemeral and deeply affective moments in the theatre arrest Dolan’s ability to critically or intellectually assess their meaning. That immediacy holds possibility for her, and makes utopia more than a “future no-place,” but a “world in becoming,” a concept of Victor Turner’s that Dolan uses in her elaboration of utopia in performance. Jill Dolan writes about moments in the theatre that effect a certain “heterogeneous unity” (a term of Turner’s), and constantly evokes the rhetoric of “epiphany,” “communitas,” and a sense of shared (intersubjective) experience. In these moments, Dolan sees political potential, not in terms of an instructive or proscriptive event, but the collective affective moments that point to a future social world being made now, in the theatre amongst and between the spectators present.
113 Dolan’s identification of utopian performatives and her delineation of a multi-layered intellectual-affective relationship between the utopian moments in live performance and their political impact serve as the alternative to a more literal notion of the utopian demonstration (showing the audience how the world could or should be) that relies on a specific political message/content. Dolan’s utopian perforbecoming-together) to make affective moments of communitas available to a group of spectators; affective moments that may be carried outside of the theatre into social and political realms in unexpected ways. She sees the gathering of bodies in public as crucial to the political work of the utopian performative: “Audiences form temporary communities, sites of public discourse that, along with the intense experiences of utopian performatives, can model new investments in and interactions with variously constituted public spheres.” (10) The utopian performative seems to share a certain theoretical affinity with Rancière’s distinction between the politics of aesthetics and the aesthetics of politics. The politics of aesthetics is a matter of reconfigurations of sensibility and of highlighting the contingency of a given aesthetic order. Thus Rancière sees the political work of art as a “reconfiguration of worlds of experience based on which police consensus or political dissensus are defined” (Rancière, 65). For him, as for Dolan, the political dimension of the theatre must be assessed on its own terms, and not by employing the same standards as one might for properly political events—“we can’t measure the effectiveness of art as we can a piece of legislation, or a demonstration, or a political
mative relies more closely on the form of theatre (being/
114 campaign for candidates or for issues” (Dolan, 20). So for both of these thinkers, judging or examining the political consequences of art has little to do with traditional scripts of success and failure. It is instead about exhibiting the possible, and either offering forms to be “appropriated” for political action (Rancière), or creating utopian performative moments that do meaningful affective, unanticipated, but THE ACCOUNT OF ST. FRANCIS HIGH SCHOOL’S PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
perhaps far-reaching social and political work (Dolan). What is important to note here is that the potentiality of contemporary theatre arises from its playfulness of sensibility, its ushering a group of people in a room and presenting them with something other than the world that is our everyday. Here I would argue that even when Dolan’s “utopian performative” moments do not occur for the spectator, meaningful political work is still taking place. In fact, utopian performatives could be concurrent with something else, something lurking in the fissures, cracks, and critically negative spaces of the theatre. This turn to the shortcomings of the performance for political meaning is somewhat related to what Nicholas Ridout discusses in the introduction to his book Stage Fright, Animals, and Other Theatrical Problems when he calls the failure of the theatre “constitutive.” However, while Ridout asserts that the “ontological queasiness” of the theatre during “moments of undoing” reveals something about “an apprehension about our own position in relation to the economic and political conditions of our theatre-going,” I want to focus on the failures of the performance as the space of what I will outline as the heterotopian performative, typified by moments that hold several concurrent realities, and that via this simultaneity make a certain incommensurability sensible. That is to say that the failures of the theatrical performance and the “bad” feelings that
116 arise as a result are not only about the material conditions or relations between labor and leisure, worker or consumer, spectator and performer, but also about the social and intimate negotiation of a kind of publicly private enjoyment, the dissenting pleasures of an audience, and the strange “equality in distinction” of the intersubjective experience. What is a heterotopia, and to what extent does the perTHE ACCOUNT OF ST. FRANCIS HIGH SCHOOL’S PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
formance I attended embody its characteristics? Within Foucault’s framework of the “heterotopian” space, the high school theatre acts as a real and imagined space that holds and enacts several “incompatible” realities. As my map of the event develops via the resonances and disjunctions between Dolan’s and Foucault’s concepts, I hope to propose that even in the dissonant, affectively negative, failed moments of the theatre, a certain heterotopian performative takes place. In this real and imaginary space of disconnection, miscommunication, guilt, and humiliation, the resultant “bad feelings” are as full of potential and socio-political possibility as those that arise from Dolan’s “moments of utopian performative.” In “Other Spaces,” a text written by Michel Foucault in 1967 as preparation for a lecture but not published until the end of his life, the author cites a problem of spaces as a definitive characteristic of “our epoch.” He first sketches a brief history of Western spaces, and contrasts the clearer hierarchy of spaces that existed throughout the Middle Ages (sacred and profane, public and private) but was “opened up” (on a cosmological level) by the likes of Galileo. In his own contemporary moment, Foucault is particularly interested in heterotopias. As opposed to utopias, “sites that… present society itself in a perfected form, or else society turned upside down, but in any case… fundamentally unreal spaces,” heterotopias
117 are real cultural spaces that can be observed and mapped. Foucault posits a “systematic description” of certain kinds of spaces in Western culture, and through this methodology (he designates it as a “heterotopology”), he outlines six principles of the heterotopia. The following is a list of these principles along with a brief explanation of how they might intersect with the realm/space of the play:
these spaces serve can vary. For instance, Foucault describes “heterotopias of crisis” in certain cultures, spaces meant for bodies in transition and sites for rituals of transformation from boy to man, girl to woman, etc. He sees these spaces less in Western societies, and instead the prevalence of “heterotopias of deviation” (psychiatric hospitals, retirement homes). The high school theatre in this respect embodies remnants of a heterotopia of transition and also deviation (the school play as something between work, play, and education). Already there seems to be an overlapping even of types of heterotopias. 2) T he function of a heterotopia can shift over time. The example Foucault gives is that of the cemetery, once located in the center of the city and now relegated t the outskirts. For Foucault this reflects changing attitudes regarding death, but does not change the site of the cemetery as a heterotopia. In this regard theatre and its uses have shifted over time, with the school play being relegated to a specific site and function, as well as a specific set of aesthetic criteria. 3) T he heterotopia can juxtapose several real spaces in a single place. Heterotopias are a meeting place for various worlds to co-exist and collide. Foucault mentions the the-
1) A ll cultures constitute heterotopias. The function that
THE ACCOUNT OF ST. FRANCIS HIGH SCHOOLâ€™S PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
119 atre, the cinema, and the European garden as three such examples of the intermingling of various real spaces into one heterotopia. The high school auditorium is a meeting place for various worlds and watching publics. 4) Heterotopias are linked to slices of time or “heterochronies.” That is to say that part of a heterotopia’s construction is its clear break with traditional time. Again, this relates to the time not clearly delineated as a time for play, working, or learning. 5) The heterotopian space is both isolated and permeable (“boundaried”). Heterotopias are clearly partitioned from other real spaces, though a permeable boundary can be crossed by way of certain rites or rituals, certain contractual processes that a participant either explicitly or tacitly enters into when crossing such borders. The boundaries of the theatre space are clear, though the kind of contracts one enters into when crossing them can be difficult to discern. 6) T here are either illusory or compensatory heterotopias. Illusory heterotopias reveal how “every real space inside of which human life is partitioned” as even more illusory. Compensatory heterotopias create “another real space, as perfect, as meticulous, as well arranged as ours is messy, ill constructed, and jumbled.” The kind of heterotopia I encountered at St. Francis was twofold in this respect. While all six of these principles are important and merit further elaboration, I have highlighted the third and sixth principles of the heterotopia, as I think that they are most closely related to what yields the affective material of the heterotopian performative, and exemplary of my experi-
first principle and the muddling of the site of the play as a
120 ence at Phantom of the Opera. This is not to say that the other principles are inapplicable—I would argue that the space of the auditorium at St. Francis exemplifies in one form or another all six of the principles laid out by Foucault. In fact, it is because the third and sixth principles of Foucault’s heterotopias are the most theoretically tricky and problematic when applied to the high school performance I am examinTHE ACCOUNT OF ST. FRANCIS HIGH SCHOOL’S PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
ing that incites me to linger on them, as they open up many lines of investigation. With regards to the third principle, the high school theatre holds together a multitude of publics and real spaces— family space, religious space, educational space, patriotic space (let’s not forget my horrendous performance while singing the national anthem), playful spaces, queer spaces, and intimate spaces. While many of these spaces overlap and constitute a Venn diagram-like image of multiple belongings in multiple publics, there are also contained in the theatre spaces that are “a whole series of places that are foreign to one another.” Indeed, as I went back and forth between observing the show, the audience, and myself, I became more and more aware of what I was not aware of, that is to say the many hidden spectatorships at work (and at play) surrounding the performance. Yet for some reason my discomfort only compelled me to search again and again, to approach and deal with the affective opacity of the public space I had chosen to enter. This was reinforced in some ways by the aesthetic language used by the audience to talk about the show. Immediate post-show reviews were peppered with words like “energetic,” “fun,” “interesting,” “funny,” and dominated by the phrases “they looked like they were having a lot of fun” and “we had a lot of fun.” A major object of aesthetic scruti-
121 ny was whether or not the cast and crew were having a good time and enjoying themselves. The perceptual orientation of the audience was manifold and not in complete harmony, but the major chord of its convergence was one that sought out success through the pleasure of the student participants. By contrast, and despite my attempts at being a “viewing tourist,” at imagining different vantage points and “better” not “working” for me: the awful, the stinky, the “that sucks” feelings that kept coming up over and over again. This was accompanied by guilt, and the need to see the conflict dramatized by someone else at the show. During the evening, I went through an oscillation of attentions, a series of brackets placed on and removed from the performance. The various layers interacted, took on a multiplicity of forms, and moved amongst the collected bodies within the space. Strangely enough, as I fell into and out of these bracketed layers of experience, more and more of the tried and true terminology of critique at my disposal seemed insufficient, paltry, restrictive. The “flabby” or “slack” terms used by the viewers at the show that are ostensibly imprecise, ambiguous, or “useless,” also have the capacity to straddle lines, traverse affective/perceptual distances while maintaining an invisibility (difference). I encountered this set of weak or ambiguous aesthetic judgments within a field of layered contexts, brackets within brackets, and highly contingent connections. In Sianne Ngai’s “Our Aesthetic Categories,” Ngai advocates the importance of analyzing aesthetic categories in order to better grasp our contemporary relationship to aesthetic judgment. Using Kant as a foundation, she converses with the work of both Gerard Genette and Frederick
ways of seeing, I was still coming back to moments that were
122 Jameson to elaborate the subtler dimensions of verbal aesthetic judgment, teasing out the “semi-judgmental” and “semi-descriptive” aspects of current aesthetic terms. In a similar fashion, I was curious about the aesthetic categories and terms that audience members used to describe Phantom. Even my most private, “perverse” pleasures in the performance could be (mis)communicated via these terms. This THE ACCOUNT OF ST. FRANCIS HIGH SCHOOL’S PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
cannot be relegated to general concepts of politeness or manners. Even so, manner is by no means nominal. There is an exchange of pleasures taking place in the description of the show and an intimate negotiation taking place at events like this, I think more so than at a “professional” theatrical performance. The aesthetic terminology that is predominant in the former versus the latter are indicative of a different kind of viewing and evaluation, and a different kind of shadowed or haunted sharing. This kind of ambiguous back and forth between judging viewers may afford the occasion of the performance the option of a kind of flimsy or oozy categorical “glue” that would permit a certain transmission and nontransmission, the communication and noncommunication of the very real and coincident spaces being contained by a small high school auditorium. Individual audience members might, can, and do employ a range of shaded, subtle, and flexible aesthetic categories in order to bridge certain experiential gaps, but by no means does this process unify the experience. After all, given the aforementioned anecdotal account of the show, I can just as easily call it “interesting” as much as the mother of a cast member, the director, or the usher. This ambiguity of meaning speaks to the approximation of experience and the contextualization of judgment. It is also about transmission across worlds of experience, worlds
123 that do not arrive at the theatre fully formed, but that are sensibly re-distributed by their coincidence, their shared experience of an event, and their communicative negotiation across the space of asymmetrical evaluative criteria. Here is where Dolan’s discussion of multiple publics coming together is resonant and helpful in examining my own experience. In addition, Foucault’s third principle of heterotopias
tion makes some sense of the stratified worlds of experience present at St. Francis High School. Foucault’s sixth principle of heterotopias, that they are either illusory or compensatory, names two differing functions “in relation to all the space that remains.” On the one hand, the heterotopian space can point to the illusory qualities of all other spaces (and here Foucault employs the nineteenth century brothel as an example), or it can construct a more ordered space than that of “reality.” His example for this is that of the colonies of the seventeenth century. In both however, the heterotopia is demonstrating something about the spaces outside of its boundaries. As a real space that relates to “all the space that remains”, heterotopias carry an inherently performative quality about them, and are sites of a certain level of ambivalence. Their political dimension resides precisely in this relationship to other spaces, to the everyday spaces one moves in and through. The potent ambivalence in my reaction to attending Phantom at St. Francis had everything to do with my spectatorship and disconnection from the various publics in the audience revealing an illusory heterotopia. While I do not contend that this was the experience of everyone at the theatre, it is the very multiplicity of the heterotopian perfor-
helps frame the different spaces that are held inside of one space, while Rancière’s description of aesthetic re-distribu-
124 mative that I seek to describe. My experience was one that called into question the motivations, feelings, and aesthetic judgments that I and those around me were generating as a result of seeing a mediocre high school production. The many worlds of experience that were (un)shared via loose aesthetic categories and the act of fixing a group’s attention on a single event elicited a strong set of reactions and lines THE ACCOUNT OF ST. FRANCIS HIGH SCHOOL’S PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
of thought about the present absences, the loose and shadowed aesthetic sharing of everyday life. My feelings of guilt and shame about a criticism and disdain for a bad performance, and the frustration of not experiencing a “place” or a “space” to put these feelings aside from the ill-defined world of “interesting” and “they looked like they were having a good time” led to a close examination of my personal role and responsibilities as an audience member, and the shared sense of responsibility amongst spectators. Calling this experience a moment of the heterotopian performative stresses the site of this moment as a real “space of spaces.” That is to say, heterotopian performatives occur within and/or alongside of other worlds of experience, including Jill Dolan’s utopian performatives. The heterotopian performative moment does not foreclose other moments, other senses of connection of disconnection, as it relies on the emphasis of contingency, and the “permeable isolation” of a space (Foucault’s fifth principle of heterotopias). One final aspect of the heterotopian performative to bear in mind that also relates to the illusory heterotopia Foucault describes in his sixth principle is the fact that, in many ways, the point of my own access to this moment of sensing the visibly invisible worlds of experience and publics around me during the show was a point of failure. It was Raol’s performance and my adverse reaction to it that led to an expansive
125 view of viewing and judging. It was contact with negative affect and a sense of being a “bad” spectator that made me think about a kind of equivalence of secrets in the room, and expand that thinking to a broader political context. My seeing Raol as a failure turned into a meditation on the scripting of success and failure in general: by whose standards is a performance “successful,” and what kind of contracts of
my perception of failure had to contend with conflicting and simultaneous perceptions of success. Whether or not more critical aesthetic judgments were being hidden by platitudes and rhetoric of support and pleasure is less relevant than the narrative of success that was being played and played out by the audience. Perhaps the compensatory heterotopia of the high school play as a site for the orderly (re)production of normativity, hard work, and success becomes the illusory heterotopia of the contextual contingency of narratives of success and failure when a “bad” viewer enters the space and doesn’t adhere to the rules. This need not even be an exclusive experience, as the “bad” viewer can readily shift to another kind of viewer, ultimately confounding notions of good and bad viewing altogether. This active de-centering is, I would argue, also constitutive of moments of the heterotopian performative, and relies heavily on the spectator’s willingness to own and disown her “bad” feelings/reactions. My methodology for thinking about this experience is probably best summed up by Judith Halberstam in her book, The Queer Art of Failure, when she says that she “believe[s] in making a difference by thinking little thoughts, and sharing them widely. I seek to provoke, annoy, bother, irri-
failure and success attend a high school show? The illusory and transitory qualities of success became apparent when
126 tate, and amuse; I am chasing small projects, micropolitics, hunches, whims, fancies”(21). My prolonged participation in one high school production of Phantom of the Opera both at the show and afterwards in this essay is an attempt to advance the idea that what some might consider to be “bad” spectatorship is in fact an exercise in making alternate realities visible. Sometimes it can be the harsh critics, the THE ACCOUNT OF ST. FRANCIS HIGH SCHOOL’S PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
grouches, or ones who sit in the back of the theatre and scowl in earnestness who do the hardest work, who give the most to a performance, and who help support and make sensible the politics of the theatrical space. Sometimes it can be the idiots, the fumblers and bumblers, the fakers, who can perform something unanticipated on, off, behind, or in front of the proscenium. Sometimes the phantom does not want to be shown an act of compassion, but simply to haunt the stage, to persist as a present absence, and a reminder of the dissent that demands to be called forth, that demands an audience.
Dolan, Jill. Utopia in Performance. Ann Arbor, MI: U of Michigan P, 2005. Halberstam, Judith. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011 Foucault, Michel. “Other Spaces” (trans. Jay Miskowiec). Architecture/Mouvement, (October, 1984). Ngai, Sianne. “Our Aesthetic Categories” PMLA 125.4 (October 2010). Ngai, Sianne. Ugly Feelings. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. Rancière, Jacques. The Aesthetics of Politics (trans. Gabriel Rockhill). NewYork, NY: Continuum, 2004. Rancière, Jacques. Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy (trans. Julie Rose). Ann Arbor, MI: U of Michigan P, 1998. Ridout, Nicholas. Stage Fright, Animals, and Other Theatrical Problems. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2007.
studied at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, and is a registered architect in the UK. He has worked, among others, for OMA/Rem Koolhaas, and was project architect for David Chipperfield in London, leading the design team for the critically-acclaimed Turner Contemporary gallery (2006â€“2011). In 2008, he founded the RIBA award-winning experimental practice Hunter & Gatherer, and has lectured in diverse international institutions on questions of art, architecture, and critical theory. In 2012, he completed the MA in Aesthetics and Politics at CalArts. He is a practicing architect, writer, and teacher currently serving as adjunct faculty at CalArts and Woodbury University.
BA, Sarah Lawrence College. MA, California Institute of the Arts. Studies continental philosophy, particularly phenomenology. Co-founder of academic journal, Vanguard (2008). Research interests include religion, political thought, comparative literature, and the life and work of Martin Heidegger.
In 2010, she was selected to facilitate a workshop on “Story-Telling for Women of Color in Activism” at F-Conference, Sydney’s first feminist conference in ten years. She moved back to the Bay Area later that year and held the position of Programs Intern with the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. She has worked with farmers, artists, and political organizers centered on issues of equity, resource availability, sustainability, and ecology. She has research interests in understanding intersections of power, identity, public/private spaces, education, and the aesthetics and politics of participation. She has further pursued these concerns through pedagogical frameworks in non-profit organizations, activism, and various community arts spaces.
is an artist and all around media creative living in Los Angeles where he works as a cinematographer. Specializing in documentaries, he has been an integral part of a wide array of projects for clients such as National Geographic, Discovery Channel and HBO. When not working as a part of the culture machine, he focuses his critical inquiry upon the intersection of media and consciousness.
is a writer and filmmaker whose childhood performances and impromptu backyard excavations led him to a BA in Interdisciplinary Performance and Anthropology from Oberlin College. Upon graduation he joined Laboratory Theatre, an experimental collective dedicated to peering into the abysses storytelling. He moved to California in 2004, received his MFA in Film Directing from CalArts in 2007, and returned in 2011 for his MA in Aesthetics & Politics. His current preoccupations include dandyism, horror, “bad” acting, anachronism, and the creation of spaces for what Hannah Arendt describes as the impossible act of “willing backwards.” His work has been produced/shown (in NYC) at Culture Fix, MoMA, The Tank, The American Living Room Festival, Dixon Place, (in Cambridge, MA) The Brattle Theatre, and (in Los Angeles) at REDCAT, Bedlam at Al’s Bar, and the LA Zinefest.
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