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glasshand
09-04-2014, 06:28 PM
this is about critical theory and may be tl;dr

i watched these lectures by cultural theorist Jeffrey T Nealon about (post)-postmodernism. the lectures are a chapter from his book Post-Postmodernism, which is like a re-situating of Fredric Jameson's ideas on postmodernism and contemporary capitalism following the fall of the Berlin wall and (as eg Mark Fisher would also say) the apparent end of Communism as a "viable alternative".

the interesting bit for me was the way he talked about leftist artists switching from "resistance" to contemporary capitalism to "production" through it, following the ideas of deleuze and guattari.

i'm sure this sort of theory will be old news to people on here who've read deleuze and guattari or more recently nick land. but it cropped up in adam harper's writing on vaporwave and other bits he's done, which led me to Dismagazine. Dismagazine seem to be trying to aesthetically embody the accelerationist concept. right now they're holding a talk addressing the following thoughts and questions... (written by an artist in an essay on their site)


can art, as the ultimate benchmark of connoisseurial consumerism, really be mobilized to redirect networked flows of power, capital and desire?

how now might neoliberal hegemony be confronted through repurposing the institutions of commerce?

it seems to me that this is the crucial political challenge for todayís artists working through commercial processes, with the possible horizon of accelerating consumption beyond the internal contradictions of capitalismís most exploitative formations.



the event that is organised around these ideas is called an "ongoing retail platform" and is linked with Red Bull.

since then i've noticed UK "underground" artists and the world they make music in/for is increasingly tied up with big business sponsors and media partnerships.

you've got RBMA lectures and events, Boiler Room producing branded content for Ballantine's Whisky and doing events with loads of other companies, Converse getting DJs and producers onboard, Adidas (http://www.factmag.com/2013/03/12/adidas-inspires-artists-to-crash-collide-unite-all-originals/) appealing for artists on factmag etc etc. I also recently saw Dazed are doing docs on "underground" UK music. from the Brandy and Coke trailer it looks like they're going to be mostly opportunities for product placement and creating lookbooks.

on the one hand i'm intrigued by the ideas highlighted by Dismag, and i want to read the stuff that they're sourcing their ideas from (like Deleuze and Guattari). but on the other i can't help feeling that it could be a bit of a cop out; a really clever, well-developed justification allowing left-leaning artists and musicians to forget about boring resistance and material realities, and jump onboard with lucrative media partnerships. but maybe that thought comes to me from my own inability to believe in a really radically different political future.

when it comes to the arty underground of UK music there are DJs and producers that seem to attach themselves to oppositional politics and anti-capitalist messages. is it a problem if they then appear on a stream for the transnational franchise that is boiler room? or get paid to wear adidas jackets at gigs?

i realise that politically minded musicians might be in the political gesture business rather than in the social change business. but at the same time, if the cultural success of the brand they become allied with is heightened through tactics of exclusivity that, for example, happen to reinforce class or gender discriminations, does the utopian political meaning you can read in their work get undermined to some extent?

mistersloane
14-04-2014, 10:55 AM
Dis looks like a bunch of advertising executives to me, but I could be wrong.

john eden
14-04-2014, 12:32 PM
I don't understand a lot of the OP but I think it's an interesting area so will wade in.

It reminds me of the arguments about whether oppositional punk groups should sign to major record labels in the 1980s.

Crass et al went for an isolationist / DIY approach. Building a counter-culture.

Others like the Redskins argued that the main need was to get their message out to as many people as possible, using mass media, major distribution with as little compromise as possible.

There are problems and benefits with both approaches.

I am resistant to claims that Art should be put in a special category which distinguishes it from other commodities. We all make compromises with our work, and artists are no different.

The problem is to what extent to the global brands you mentioned influence the art being produced. I would argue in the case of RBMA not very much, although it would be interesting to see what happened if someone criticised Red Bull drinks and the conditions under which they are made during one of their lectures/interviews.

The Dazed and Confused documentaries obviously will have their own slant but documentaries always do - a lot of the BBC docs about acid house focussed on the entrepreneurial spirit of people like Pete Tong rather than the collective DIY currents.

In the past most of the major gig venues in the UK were inextricably linked with breweries or other corporate concerns. The ties were loose but they were there. What is happening now is that the links with corporations are being made more explicit (even to the extent that venues are now named after brands).

I am sure some people will resist the advances of corporations but the reality is that people are finding it very hard to earn a crust from music these days.

john eden
14-04-2014, 12:37 PM
the interesting bit for me was the way he talked about leftist artists switching from "resistance" to contemporary capitalism to "production" through it, following the ideas of deleuze and guattari.

Also to reinforce what I said above - it doesn't matter what artists do in the grand scheme of things.

Workers involved with producing or distributing more mundane commodities are what matters.

padraig (u.s.)
14-04-2014, 03:40 PM
First, this is only the continuation of a longer-running trend. I remember going to a free show w/underground bands at a hip gallery in Austin, sponsored by Scion (a huge forerunner in this area), back in 2004 so.

Certainly hip marketing is much savvier, more pervasive and integrated than it was even 5 or 10 years ago. However, is it actually a new phenomenon in any way? Leftist or anarchist or whatever art has always just been waiting to get recuperated as soon as it’s feasible for someone to make $ off it; sometimes the artists, usually someone else. The process has just become more efficient, as at the same time it’s become even more difficult to make any kind of living as an independent artist. Also, I don’t know that this situation is unique to capitalism, lete alone modern capitalism, except in so far as this particular iteration is unique to itself. I’m no art historian but I’m fairly sure that outside the last 100+ years professional artists have virtually always had patrons, state or private, who influenced their work. Not to comment on whether that’s good or bad, just a fact.

The inevitability of the commodification of art is hardly a new discovery for critical theory btw. Here’s Marcuse with a cogent point (albeit in the midst of a mostly terrible, fatuous – that is to say, Marcusian – essay)


the market, which absorbs equally well (although with often quite sudden fluctuations) art, anti-art, and non-art, all possible conflicting styles, schools, forms, provides a 'complacent receptacle, a friendly abyss' in which the radical impact of art, the protest of art against the established reality is swallowed up.

“accelerationism”, btw, strikes me as a grimly hilarious inversion of Shining Path style dogma, i.e. instead of “bring on the revolution by making life under capitalism as bad as possible” it’s “consume it to death”. Less tragic, granted, b/c instead of murdering teachers and aid workers it just involves selling out to car companies or whatever, but equally stupid. It also strikes as mostly a fuckload of glib, jargonistic nonsense, but then so does most (if not all) critical theory I’ve read.

padraig (u.s.)
14-04-2014, 03:54 PM
also while I agree w/John that the production of artists doesn't matter in a material sense, I think you're wrong about art being the same as any other commodity. art promulgates culture. culture has enormous influence on economic attitudes, often in ways that are unintended and/or difficult to predict (this is also true for religion). that's not to say art is necessarily more important, just that you can't view it as directly analogous to shoes or consumer electronics or whatever.


It reminds me of the arguments about whether oppositional punk groups should sign to major record labels in the 1980s.

Yes I've read that essay by, I believe, one of the guys from the Apostles?

if you ever have a half hour and want to depress yourself, go look up the deeply acrimonious financial/ethical disputes members of Crass got into a few years ago w/each other and newer management at Southern Records. there is no escape, even in the purest isolationist counterculture.

john eden
14-04-2014, 04:28 PM
Interesting as ever, Padraig. The accelerationist stuff reminds me of Decadent Action, but without a sense of humour.

Yeah you are probably thinking of one of the pieces about anarchopunk here:
http://www.uncarved.org/music/apunk/index.html

(Stewart Home has also written about this stuff in respect of Blaggers ITA, iirc).

Now, Stewart would also agree about art being in a special category I think.

But I would say that your example of shoes is a good thing to interrogate. Doctor Martin boots and more recently Clarke's shoes have also had an impact on culture. Ditto various trainers.

And we'd agree that the invention of consumer electronics in the form of cheap casio synths have also had an impact on culture?

I can see what you are getting at, and you might even convnice me. But my kneejerk reaction is that artists are not more important than other workers in the grand scheme of things. And in terms of making revolution they are arguably a lot less important than other workers.

padraig (u.s.)
14-04-2014, 06:07 PM
But I would say that your example of shoes is a good thing to interrogate...

that is an interesting tack, the influence of commodities on cultural production. there's probably something in it about medium/message (i.e. the printing press on the Reformation) and so on. but, I could also turn it round and ask, why were factories producing Doc Martins and synthesizers in the first place? what culture built factories, in the first place? they're not an inevitable development. it becomes a chicken and egg thing.

it also depends whether you view culture as merely the sum of the physical things used to create it which. I don't think you can. and when I say culture, I largely mean ideas. undoubtedly ideas are influenced by physical surroundings and objects, but I think they can exist beyond it. this may be getting rather abstract...one example - I've recently been reading, in the interests of keeping my Spanish sharp, some primary accounts of the conquest of the Aztec empire. afterward, the conquistadors and the priests in their wake destroyed the idols, built churches on top of their temples, etc, and yet some indigenous religious practices persisted and to some extent yet exist, nearly 500 years later, in syncretic Catholicism in ways that practitioners may not even be aware of.

I wouldn't, and didn't, say artists themselves are "more important" and, indeed, in material sense they probably are less important. what I might say is that the importance of art greatly outstrips the importance of its producers in a way that nearly all other commodities don't, if that makes sense. I mean, the Soviets thought art important enough to spend decades repressing and seeking to control it. every oppressive regime tries to control cultural production and education.

glasshand
14-04-2014, 10:43 PM
in my first post i made it sound a bit like i thought the commodification of music was a new thing. i realise music and art have been commodities for a very long time and that the stuff i'm talking about is part of an age-old debate, not a new thing.

i think the new thing for me was reading seemingly leftist artists arguing that corporate sponsorship and getting onboard with the program was going to somehow be the way forward for left cultural politics. it seems counterintuitive that something (like the Dis talk) claiming to criticise global capitalism would be sponsored by Red Bull. but then again maybe it makes sense if we already accept art and music are completely integrated commodities whatever seemingly oppositional form they come in.

my original questions are a bit reductive. now i think about it they probably have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis by the critic or listener. it obviously is detrimental to your message if you're a DJ pushing some sort of political ideas while engaging in what seems to be the opposite political practice. but it's probably a good start to really openly acknowledge that. there may be a balance you can still achieve.

john eden
15-04-2014, 09:42 AM
Glasshand - yeah I think that sounds good. The point surely is that life under capitalism is full of contradictions.

Some people are trying to explore those contradictions whilst some people are trying to keep them hidden. So this is a good discussion to have. I think people's individual morality will also play a part.

john eden
15-04-2014, 09:55 AM
that is an interesting tack, the influence of commodities on cultural production. there's probably something in it about medium/message (i.e. the printing press on the Reformation) and so on. but, I could also turn it round and ask, why were factories producing Doc Martins and synthesizers in the first place? what culture built factories, in the first place? they're not an inevitable development. it becomes a chicken and egg thing.

Certainly - and I think those are more interesting questions for me than the role of art, but that might be because I've thought about the role of art quite a lot anyway. This still brings us back to seeing art as part of a wider process of the production and circulation of commodities though.


it also depends whether you view culture as merely the sum of the physical things used to create it which. I don't think you can. and when I say culture, I largely mean ideas. undoubtedly ideas are influenced by physical surroundings and objects, but I think they can exist beyond it.

Completely. Culture is not just the physical object of the Doc Martin, it's the ideas behind it and what it represents. (Which will come from various different sources - artists, shoe manufacturers, media, the people who actually buy and wear the boots).



this may be getting rather abstract...one example - I've recently been reading, in the interests of keeping my Spanish sharp, some primary accounts of the conquest of the Aztec empire. afterward, the conquistadors and the priests in their wake destroyed the idols, built churches on top of their temples, etc, and yet some indigenous religious practices persisted and to some extent yet exist, nearly 500 years later, in syncretic Catholicism in ways that practitioners may not even be aware of.

I wouldn't, and didn't, say artists themselves are "more important" and, indeed, in material sense they probably are less important. what I might say is that the importance of art greatly outstrips the importance of its producers in a way that nearly all other commodities don't, if that makes sense. I mean, the Soviets thought art important enough to spend decades repressing and seeking to control it. every oppressive regime tries to control cultural production and education.

I thnk there is something in that. :D

I have a niggling feeling that most art does not outstrip the importance of its producer, because it isn't very good?

padraig (u.s.)
15-04-2014, 04:16 PM
^that's surely true.

so a better formulation might be that art has the potential to greatly outstrip the importance of its producers in a way nearly all other commodities don't, even if most art fails to meet that potential.

there's a long, weird section of The Republic (Books II-III, iirc), where Plato has Socrates discuss the cultural education - literature & poetry, mythology, music - of the guardians. it's expansive and gets quite specific, like what myths they will and won't be taught, what parts of Homer will have to be censored, even what scales of music they can learn (some scales being supposedly too relaxed or indolent). I mean, there's a lot of crazy/disagreeable things in The Republic but that one always sticks out to me - Plato mentions it before anything else, before the structure of the State or the guardians' physical education or family relations, anything. the first thing is culture, b/c of it's power to shape.

not that it's removed from "the wider process...commodities", especially now, as opposed to when Plato was writing, but neither is that wider process the end-all. this is something where I think totally rational, anti-mystical, materialist Marx kind of missed out.


The point surely is that life under capitalism is full of contradictions

this kind of statement while, sure, it's true, but when has life ever not been full of contradictions? tbs, the contradictions and problems of life under modern capitalism are unique to modern capitalism, but what system of economic or social relations, or governance, doesn't produce contradictions?

I guess, just, from reading a lot of history, I sometimes get the sense that a lot of writing critiquing capitalism - especially of the po-mo, crit theory, Marxist and/or anarchist varieties - is ahistorical, as if it's some unique all-encompassing beast, rather than simply a particular, non-inevitable development that you can trace and compare to other things. not that I want to accuse you in particular of a widespread thing, I'm just saying.

glasshand
15-04-2014, 04:53 PM
I guess, just, from reading a lot of history, I sometimes get the sense that a lot of writing critiquing capitalism - especially of the po-mo, crit theory, Marxist and/or anarchist varieties - is ahistorical, as if it's some unique all-encompassing beast, rather than simply a particular, non-inevitable development that you can trace and compare to other things. not that I want to accuse you in particular of a widespread thing, I'm just saying.


i get what you're saying about seeing capitalism as an all-encompassing beast. this is definitely the feeling pushed by a lot of postmodern theorists - lots of inescapability, the idea that there's no critical space left outside capitalism, no culture that hasn't been enveloped etc.

but actually the idea that capitalism is a particular, traceable, non-inevitable development of human endeavour is exactly what Marx and Marxist critics are pushing, isn't it?
it's about uncovering the contradictions as they exist, working out what they are and why things are going in the direction they are. not to say that there weren't contradictions in the past, but maybe to say there could be fewer in the future.

i think the inevitability comes in when people talk about our current period of capitalism. for example if someone was to suggest the current system could be redirected towards more social and responsible forms of capitalism, the postmodern Marxist critic would say no, more transnational monopoly capitalism is the only way we can go from where we are, because of the fundamental principles of the system itself. under capitalism as it has evolved since the transition from feudalism, we can only end up with more monopoly, dehumanisation, inequality, more of that bad shit.

john eden
16-04-2014, 12:21 PM
^that's surely true.

so a better formulation might be that art has the potential to greatly outstrip the importance of its producers in a way nearly all other commodities don't, even if most art fails to meet that potential.

Yeah that's good. :cool:

I agree that contradictions are part of every system and not unique to capitalism. I'd like to see less painful contradictions I guess... or better: more pleasurable contradictions!

I think my point was that people can sometimes get moralistic about how others earn a living, suggesting that it is possible to live outside of capitalism or remain untainted by it.

padraig (u.s.)
18-04-2014, 09:52 PM
a particular, traceable, non-inevitable development of human endeavour is exactly what Marx and Marxist critics are pushing, isn't it?

no. for Marx, bourgeois capitalism is, to my understanding, a definite phase in an evolution of systems economic relations that will inevitably arrive at communism. it can be traced - or more like, can be analyzed and dissected - but it's absolutely inevitable, or really, preordained (as I said in the Weber thread there is a great deal of the Calvinist or Puritan about Marx and many of his followers). what's uncertain is the time frame or specificity of conditions leading to revolution (i.e. why people have been able to adapt it to various situations). the whole idea is that he's proving this scientifically, literally in a way comparable to biological evolution. which is simply not true, or certainly not provable in the way he means; in fact demonstrably false, as historical reality has borne out. this isn't to say Marx didn't have many extremely penetrating insights into capitalism, but he was vastly better at describing it than at predicting or prescribing what will or should replace it which, granted, is a much harder task. call him a very great economic sociologist rather than a mediocre economist; incidentally, something that basically de facto holds true for all strictly Marxist thought.


suggesting that it is possible to live outside of capitalism or remain untainted by it

of course on a pragmatic level I agree, the question being what compromises one is and isn't willing to live with, which will vary widely by individual.

but my point was really, again, when has it ever been possible to live outside the dominant system of economic relations in the society in which one lived? be it capitalism, socialism, mercantilism, feudal, a gift economy, whatever? this is some of what I mean by ahistorical. what is good about capitalism, what is bad about it? why are those qualities good or bad? how does this system and its qualities compare to other systems of economic relations humans have utilized? what specific features, if any, make it unique? how, and why did rational bourgeois capitalism and it's modern descendant come to so thoroughly dominate over any other possible system of economic relations? I certainly don't know the answers to those questions. I would very much like to know the answers. I can guess around the edges of some of them. I suspect having a much greater breadth and depth of learning than I currently have would help to clarify some, but I also suspect they not all be answerable in a definitive or conclusive way.

what I really mean is: why is capitalism bad? no, really. obviously anyone could point to 1000s of things wrong with it, from the most concrete to the most abstract, but assuming that no thing or system can be perfect, why and how, specifically, is it worse or better than something else? what would be better in its place (even ignoring how an alternative would be instituted)? those are not rhetorical questions. I'm not saying it's bad, or good. I just don't want to make any assumptions any more. about anything, ever, really.

continuum
18-04-2014, 10:33 PM
All the above reads nicely if you are at university or whatever but who is actually making any points apart from the original poster? I've been around enough critical writing and thinking now to know when people are just chatting for the sake of chatting.

I would have considered myself 'left' for a while and against anything commercial for a while but have recently taken to trying to understand both 'sides'. Ultimately we all want to know what is going to be the next path and nobody knows at the moment. We reached the pinnacle of current government some time ago.

padraig (u.s.)
18-04-2014, 11:04 PM
I've been around enough critical writing and thinking now to know when people are just chatting for the sake of chatting

1) no, I'm pretty sure you haven't. for fuck's sake, the OP is all about critical theory, which is chatting for chatting's sake if ever there were such a thing.

2) even if it is, god forbid john and I should do a little chatting. by all means, let's ghettoize introspection and critical reflection to "it reads nice at university" and stick only to what's really important, like how much hand-wringing self-professed anti-capitalist DJs should do over playing events sponsored by shoe companies

3) thanks, truly, for your own deep and meaningful contribution, especially where you mangled what I said so that it sounds like the Deepak Chopra seminar you just attended

continuum
18-04-2014, 11:15 PM
I don't know what Deepak Chopra is so you got me there but seems like you are feeling what I am saying from the rest of your post. Anyway, forget this little interlude of someone making a point and carry on..

continuum
20-04-2014, 07:07 AM
Always go with your passions. Never ask if it's realistic or not.
- Deepak Chopra

john eden
20-04-2014, 03:36 PM
of course on a pragmatic level I agree, the question being what compromises one is and isn't willing to live with, which will vary widely by individual.

but my point was really, again, when has it ever been possible to live outside the dominant system of economic relations in the society in which one lived? be it capitalism, socialism, mercantilism, feudal, a gift economy, whatever? this is some of what I mean by ahistorical. what is good about capitalism, what is bad about it? why are those qualities good or bad? how does this system and its qualities compare to other systems of economic relations humans have utilized? what specific features, if any, make it unique? how, and why did rational bourgeois capitalism and it's modern descendant come to so thoroughly dominate over any other possible system of economic relations? I certainly don't know the answers to those questions. I would very much like to know the answers. I can guess around the edges of some of them. I suspect having a much greater breadth and depth of learning than I currently have would help to clarify some, but I also suspect they not all be answerable in a definitive or conclusive way.

what I really mean is: why is capitalism bad? no, really. obviously anyone could point to 1000s of things wrong with it, from the most concrete to the most abstract, but assuming that no thing or system can be perfect, why and how, specifically, is it worse or better than something else? what would be better in its place (even ignoring how an alternative would be instituted)? those are not rhetorical questions. I'm not saying it's bad, or good. I just don't want to make any assumptions any more. about anything, ever, really.

Well, these are big questions. ;)

You are probably right that people have never been able to live outside of the dominant system, in the main.

In terms of what is good and what is bad, Marx obviously makes the point that capitalism is progressive, compared to what went before it. For example in the bit of Capital that I am reading, he makes it clear that the system of exchange in capitalism requires that slavery is abolished (mainly, it is still here in some instances of course).

Like you, I disagree with Marx that capitalism was inevitable. I would look to, for example, the less loony proponents of primitivism for some ideas about how people's standard of life could in some ways be better in pre-capitalist societies. And my recollection is that autonomist thought included a critique of "stages theory" and the inevitability of revolution, but it's been a while since I half-read it.

To which the obvious counter argument is that medicine and science developed under capitalism has extended people's lives and given us a whole bunch of cool things, not least the technology which enables us to be having this conversation right now.

I think that sort of thing is a useful discussion to have and I am interested in areas like radical anthropology (despite them being plagued by loons) that try to reasses the pros and cons of various societies/eras/whatever.

But in some ways this is a side issue for me. Capitalism is only a particular point in human history and the world can and will be organised in a different way at some point. I think we need to work towards that and try to make sure that the next system of organisation is (even) better than the current one for the vast majority of people on the planet. (Because there are also very obvious examples of ways in which the world could be organised in a much worse way for the majority).

I think the central issue for me is that we now have the resources for pretty much everyone on this planet to live a fulfilling healthy life. That in itself is an amazing achievement. But it does raise the question of why most people do not have access to those resources.

Coming from the other end, the human race under capitalism has developed a multitude of ways to erase itself: nuclear weapons, biological weapons and ecological disaster. I think that is a downside, not least because the time and energy spent doing those things could have been harnessed towards my objectives in the paragraph above.