The far-right conspiracy theory of Cultural Marxism is still in the ascendency, not just in the US or in Europe. Today, Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin) published a rather chilling exposé on the impact this discourse now has in Brazil under the neofascist strongman Bolsonaro. Due to a certain Olavo de Carvalho, the common tropes of Cultural Marxism (a term I use to refer to the discourse, not to the thing it supposedly denotes) are parroted by government ministers.
The first draft of my essay “Cultural Marxists Like Us,” which analyses the discourse and its performative agency, contained a reference to an episode that now seems like a portent of things to come: in 2017, some 40,000 Brazilians signed a petition against a visit by Judith Butler to the country, and the petition text teemed with Cultural Marxism tropes. Oh, and Butler was burned in effigy. Now Cultural Marxism has the power to shape policy.
Since the text had to be condensed for publication in Afterall, the reference to Brazilian Butler witch-hunt fell by the wayside. I have now uploaded “Cultural Marxists Like Us” under articles.
Arnisa Zeqo sent me some photos Stephanie Syjuco’s piece FREE TEXTS in the exhibition After Babel at Megaron in Athens: a central feature of this project is a collection of tear-off flyers with links to various freely (legally or not-so-legally) available online texts about authorship, copyright and open-cource culture. There is something delightfully perverse about sharing at times rather lengthy URLs in the form of paper tabs. The Athens version of Syjuco’s piece includes my essay “Cultural Revolution,” which later became the first text in the eponymous book. The link leads to the “Articles” page of this site. I sometimes get requests for PDFs of this or that essay; many can in fact be found here under “Articles,” where I tend to upload them with a few months’ delay after publication.
The second and final part of my text “Shattered Matter, Transformed Forms: Notes on Nuclear Aesthetics” is now online in e-flux journal no. 96 (January 2019). This is the penultimate chapter in the book I’m currently finishing, Objections.
In June 2016, I gave a talk at the conference Anton Pannekoek (1873-1960): Ways of viewing Science and Society at the KNAW (Rotal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) in Amsterdam. The organizing committee included artist Jeronimo Voss, whose installation Inverted Night Sky was on view in Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam at the time. The aim of the conference was for speakers from various disciplines, ranging from astronomy to political philosophy and the humanities, to discuss both the political and scientific aspects of Pannekoek’s work. After all, Pannekoek was astrophysicist by day, and council communist at night (or possibly the inverse). Jeronomi Voss’ work looked into precicely this constellation. Unfortunately, much to Jeronomi’s chagrin, the attempt to bring together reserachers from vastly different backgrounds proved fragile and fraught, as any whiff of “continental philosophy” made some of the conveners apoplectic. When Stefano Marino asked me to contribute to a section on “Marx 1818-2018: Aesthetic Traces of his Legacy” in the Italian journal Studi di estetica, this seemed like a good context for the article version of my talk, “Council Aestheticism? Pannekoek, the Avant-Garde and Contemporary Art.” The issue is out now and the essay is available online.
Image: a newspaper sketch of the disruption of a performance of Tankred Dorst’s play Ernst Toller (Amsterdam, 1969), discussed in my text. And as for the title of this post: yes, that would be the English equivalent of the glorious name “Anton Pannekoek.”
The new issue of Texte zur Kunst (no. 112, December 2018) contains my review of Dora García’s retrospective at the Reina Sofia in Madrid, “Enjoy Your Sinthome.” Because my text turned out too long (what else is new?), we removed an opening paragraph that was not essential to the discussion of the exhibition and the artist’s work, but that gives a sense of the artistic context I would place her in:
The work and reception of certain Europe-based artists since the 1990s is marked by a curious condition. Neither marginalized nor canonized by the art market and its retained art historians and media, they navigate the messy and ongoing transition from the old public funding structures to a project-based economy, and use the proliferation of “art worlds” and various kinds of funding and infrastructure (public grants, residencies, prizes, teaching positions) to develop practices that survive, and even thrive, while still not attaining the discursive presence of (for instance) either first- or second-generation institutional critique. As they share a networked habitus without forming a group or tendency, I can only say that my personal list at the basis of this diagnosis includes artists such as Eran Schaerf, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Alice Creischer and Andreas Siekmann, Agency (Kobe Matthys), Sean Snyder, the Otolith Group, and Dora García. Most of them have never been given a retrospective; some of them may have problems with the format itself, and avoid it actively. This also means that there are few monographic texts on such artists, even while a veritable industry has sprung up around far lesser figures.
I sometimes feel that I don’t make enough of an effort to write monographic essays on such artists even irrespective of catalogue commissions, but reviews such as this small piece on Dora García can be one way of (partially) remedying this. Of course, there needs to be a good occassion: a somewhat substantial exhibition, which this one (its shortcomings notwithstanding) certainly was.
In other news: I assumed the second part of my e-flux journal essay on nuclear aesthetics would follow immediately on October’s first installment in the November issue, but due to the journal’s anniverary activities normal service will only be resumed in January.
Issue no. 94 of e-flux journal contains the first part of my text “Shattered Matter, Transformed Forms: Notes on Nuclear Aesthetics.” This is essentially a chapter from the book I’m working on at the moment: Objections, which in turn is the first volume of the two-parter Forms of Abstraction. The second volume will be titled Personafications. These may not be the most commercial titles in the history of publishing, but I think I’ll stick with them. Basically, it all amounts to the culmination of years of work on abstraction, both in the artistic sense and as capitalist “real abstraction” that (in)forms objecthood and subjectivity, property and person, commodity and entrepreneurial self. Throughout, aesthetic practice provides tools for thinking through the contradictions and antinomies of our actually existing abstraction.
Some seminars I thought in recent years at the VU and at the DAI were part of the work on the Forms of Abstraction project; this text, for instance, benefited greatly from a seminar I thought on Nuclear Aesthetics at the VU, which will also result in an issue of the journal Kunstlicht later this year, to which some of the students will be contributing.
Due to underfunding and understaffing at Afterall, it does not look as though the Art and Autonomy reader I’ve edited will ever see the light of day. The manuscript (which I worked on with a number of editorial collaborators and research assistants: John Byrne, Noortje de Leij, Jeroen Boomgaard, Kim Kannler, Lara Garcia Diaz and Glorian Göttke) was originally submitted four years ago, in August of 2014, and it has spent most of its time since then in development hell. This is not the only contribution to the planned restart of Afterall’s “Critical Reader” series to which this has happened.
The Afterall journal is going strong, however. The Autumn/Winter 2018 issue contains my essay “Cultural Marxists Like Us,” which examines a key feature of alt-right and neofascist discourse: the notion that a sinister conspiracy of “Cultural Marxists” has been brainwashing impressionable youngsters since the 1960s at least. Its origins are usually identified with Critical Theory the Frankfurt School, whose protagonists were conventiently Jewish. After all, it’s always a plus if you can incorporate The Jews in your conspiracy theory—and it’s even better when you have plausible deniability.
In his recent open letter explaining his withdrawal from the 2018 Athens Biennale, the artist Luke Turner describes having “had multiple white supremacists turn up on my doorstep—in some cases equipped with firearms—in both the USA and Europe, carrying ‘Smash Cultural Marxism’, ‘Kekistan’, and Confederate flags, and making threats to my safety and those around me.” This is a reminder that, for all its proudly displayed stupidity and its grotesque features, the Cultural Marxism trope has a potential to unleash real violence. These incidents occurred because of an anti-Trump piece Turner collaborated on with two others— including Shia LaBeouf. I don’t know (about) Turner’s work, and associating oneself with LaBeouf is asking for raised eyebrows and eyerolls, but this is immaterial: Turner deserves full support in the face of both physical intimidation and online bullying and trolling by some post-internet alt-right chancers. The archived tweets from the would-be Marinettis of faux-ironic neofascism, the professional trolls Daniel Keller and Deanna Havas, are their own indictment.
Given the curator’s terminally dumb “ANTI” theme (“ANTI is indulgent, ascetic, libertarian. ANTI invests in Bitcoins and detests political correctness. ANTI is a contra-establishment politician, a humanist, a creature of our time”), their reaction—with its nauseating characterizaton of the Kek-worshiping “meme magic” hype man Keller as “an another anti-fascist Jewish voice”—comes as no surprise. Their stance has been aptly summarized by the title of the Shut Down LD50 collective’s piece on Mute: The Biennial of Very Fine People, on Both Sides.
Texte zur Kunst no. 111 (September 2018) has a thematic section on “Amerika.” In the review section, I discuss the ehxibition Trade Markings at the Van Abbemuseum, curated by Vivian Ziherl.
A correction: in one passage in the review, the name Gordon Hookey got mangled to read Gordon Murray – no doubt a short-circuit in my brain due to his Murriland! series. Also, in the interest of giving credit where credit is due: Rachel O’Reilly’s project was made in collaboration with PALACE, Valle Medina & Benjamin Reynolds.
Image: works by Wendelien van Oldenborgh and historical diorama.
The catalogue of the HKW’s magnificent Neolithic Childhood project has seen the light of day (in an English and a German edition). I contributed two texts to the “glossary,” on autonomy and mythology.
My Texte zur Kunst essay on Günther Förg, which was originally written for, but not published in, the catalogue of the Stedelijk Museum’s current Günther Förg retrospective, has been translated into Dutch for the latest issue of De Witte Raaf. The essay was de facto rejected the museum: imposing unaccaptable edits, or an unacceptable editing style, is a sure way of making an author withdraw an uncomfortable piece. Why fire someone when you have ways of making them quit? Entire paragraphs came marked with the truly brilliant editorial comment “Difficult passage: please rewrite,” without further specification; other parts were deemed “too cryptic” and/or “too abrasive” for “an international public, but even for an average Dutch audience.”
The real bone of contention was of course my critique of the Stedelijk’s policies in the 1990s (when Förg was a mainstay there), as well as in recent times. Criticism and critical art history are site-specific, and for me the only way to contribute to this Stedelijk publication was to provide a form of immanent institutional critique, taking Förg’s presence at the museum over the years as my point of departure. Perhaps not suprisingly, this was a bridge too far; in fact, what happened eerily mirrored what befell a catalogue essay by Mark Kremer from the 1990s, which I discuss in my piece. However, my awareness of context-specificity also meant that the comments on the current Stedelijk were in fact far more condensed and less explicit in the catalogue draft than in the more abrasive version that was ultimately published (in English and German) in Texte zur Kunst, and now in Dutch in De Witte Raaf.