HTDTWT 2017-2018: On the Limits of the Writerly: Dramaturgical stakes in Capitalo(s)cene(s) from Month to Month
Picking up from last month’s discussion of Foucauldian archival negotiations and the aesthetic governance of ‘statements’, this month we return to a thinker who informed Spviak’s own work within Aesthetic Education, Antonio Gramsci, to consider dramatisation through the frames of hegemony, languaging, and the (un)commonness of sense, within the context of new proliferations and conformisms of grammar in the contemporary.
The aim is to ‘arrive’ at a solid discussion of Chapter 10 ‘Philosophy, Common Sense, Language and Folklore’ and Chapter 14, ‘Art and the Struggle for a New Civilization’. To get there, you may prefer to read the Intro plus Chapters 10-14, and/or highlighted sections of Chapter 2,6, 7, and 8, basically selecting whichever sections stand out as more relevant to your work and developing analytics than others. The compulsory chapters are 10 and 14. We will end the session with a discussion of the relevance of this work to our thesis questions.
The question of dramatisation suggests struggles of agency/labour with and against what can be visible and articulable in our relationships with materials, events, theoretical discourses and so on. We have arrived at the second key generative texts of the course, Deleuze’s Foucault, which addresses the topological aspects of Foucault’s approach to archaeologies of knowledges. Working through knowledge, power, and the subject we get to a point where indeterminate subject positions that are not without historical materiality come to figure and form as behavior and thought conditioned by and relating to structures and systems of power. The chapter ‘A New Archivist’ is easily addressed to challenge a contemporary artistic practice and can be generative for experimental narrative, language and time-based work.
After reading the text (print and bring underlined as usual), please bring along one example (each) of a work, essay, film sequence, poem or second critical theoretical essay that you think either a) illuminates or b) sets out demands for you, within your work, of a critical approach to contemporary practice in the terms by which 'A New Archivist' sets out. My own example is Dipesh Chakrabarty's 'Climate and Capital: On Conjoined Histories', which also comments on the early prescience of Spivak's conception of the alterity in/of planetarity. I have attached it. Feel free to choose/read this as your brought 2nd text along these lines of 'new archival' dramatizations if you don't come up with your own. Borden's Born in Flames can also be an option since we did not get time last month to discuss the film.
Spivak’s project in Aesthetic Education is to intentionally misinterpret Kant in order to push Enlightenment dictates on into active crisis, such that the “freedom, justice, reason, and liberty” so valued for some subjects and not others, at the heart of the privileges of a distanciating education, might be redistributed ideally (this is her wager on romanticism). She says her aim here is that we might re-write the aesthetic “to suit us, from the toughest definition of politics to the most mysterious confines of literary [or art] theory.” The difficulty of the text gets easier once we get a handle on this dominating concept of the double bind as a non-neutralizable tension ‘in the work’ for practice, that must be *dramatized*, rather than put to rest, to acknowledge real political contradictions and schizoid conditions of the capitalist contemporary that we have no option but to navigate. In other words, the double-bind can only be played to be navigated and thus, involves frequent errors in attempts at re-habituating ethics. (Lauren Berlant calls this the slapstick register of politically committed orientations towards others, esp. as that commitment confronts non-revolutionary conditions.)
By centralizing practice as the other side of theory’s own double bind, and ethics only in materialization, in habit re-scripting (a productive limit of the writerly), we approach more closely the relationship between the double-bind, the projective nature of production and perception and questions surrounding what Deleuze called “method(s) of *dramatization*”. The seminar will move with Danny Butt’s review essay/case study of Born in Flames (which many of us viewed last month), a feminist sci-fi film classic set in NYC of the the 1970s, which delivers much to our close reading of Spivak’s aesthetic education. We will read with Butt’s text Dominique Paini and Rosalind Krauss' ‘Should we Put an End to Projection’ that gives a deep time and post-media specific reading of perception and the cinematic apparatus. This month will prepare us for next month’s focus on dramatising newer mediated planetary crises and archives.
Butt, D. ‘Double-bound: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization.’ RUPC Working Papers series, 2015.
Born in Flames (film), 1983, Writer/Director Lizzie Bordon.
Paini, D and Krauss, R. ‘Should we put an end to Projection?’ October v. 110, MIT Press, 2004 p 23-48
This month we will continue to work with Spivak as we did in the previous seminar, here pairing two more chapters from Aesthetic Education, ‘Supplementing Marxism’ and ‘The Stakes of a World Literature’, with a text by Jason E Moore, “World Accumulation and Planetary Life: Or Why Capitalism will not Survive until ‘the last tree is cut’”. Moore’s ongoing work gives a strong historical and materialist analytic of particular waves of processes and so-called 'innovations' of production, abstraction and (de/)valuation that have in-formed the present’s intersecting crises of economy and environment, society and nature, and so on. Refusing such binaries to argue that capitalism is itself a ‘world-ecology,’ with particular intensive ways of appropriating “cheap inputs” - the unpaid life and ‘work’ of nature and humans subjugated by geography, gender, race - the essay gives an authoritative critique of the anthropocene paradigm (which Moore prefers to call the ‘capitalocene’), and of too-orthodox mode of production’ paradigms that find themselves narrowly fixated in their aesthetic politics on the biopolitical human. We read this material with Spivak to raise the question of Moore's supplementation as well.
Moore, J E. World accumulation and planetary life, or, why capitalism will not survive until the ‘last tree is cut’, IPPR Progressive Review 24(3), 175-202.
Spivak, G. Chapters 8 and 22, An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2012.
Gayatri Spivak’s Aesthetic Education in an Era of Globalization - a key bibliographic text within the At the Limits of the Writerly program - helps us to move from a narrow critique of new provincialisms in Contemporary Art, and from still-European attempts at supplementing/transfiguring orthodoxed Marx (in Althusser for example) towards an expanded appreciation of the relationship between globalization, which for Spivak, “only takes place in capital and data” and the planetarity of lived Culture/culture on the move.
We will attend specifically to the ‘Introduction’ and chapters ‘Supplementing Marx’ and ‘Imperative to Re-imagine the Planet’ so as to begin to grasp the staging in Spivak’s work of the political through the ethical. This staging aims to maintain the intuition of a transcendental collectivity that does not suppress intractable set-ups of race, gender and class that in-form our ability to join collective action. It is within these set-ups and through the aesthetic that we understand the telepoetic and performative aspects of theoretical and artistic world-making. Meanwhile, the key concern of Spivak’s late career Aesthetic Education argument is that ambitious art’s re-training of habit makes it possible to not forget that much of what we take for culture and common sense come from highly situated habit formations, including as governance, and which we often find foreclosed from the industrialized “cultural” scene. Against the cultural industrial tendency to either pursue 'indeterminacy' (Malik) or collapse and contain possible aesthetic politics into new rules and programs of calculated (and often reactionary) movement, the intellectual ambition and modesty of Spivak’s notion of “habit-change” contrarily works as a refusal to forget histories and literacies that in-form whatever performances we bring to the scene of translation and dissemination. We will consider the institutional location of what Spivak calls the “specific intellectual” against/with our currently held notions of artisthood, in terms of this figure’s political efficacy, and her framing of the imperative to re-imagine the planet.
Spivak, G. An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2012. Readings: Introduction, 8. Supplementing Marxism, and 16. Imperative the Re-Imagine the Planet.
Following our reading of Cesaire, our second class draws insights of uneven possibilities of cultural (re)production back into dialogue with a so-called ‘global’ art historical present. We will read Terry Smith’s influential essay in Art Forum ‘The Provincialism Problem’ ‘vol. XIII, no. 1, September 1974, which set out a definition of provincialism in art as “primarily as an attitude of subservience to an externally imposed hierarchy of cultural values. It is not simply the product of a colonialist history; nor is it merely a function of geographic location.” Smith’s understanding of the problem, which was as informed by indigenous cultural production and transregionality as it was by the richness of the New York scene at the peak of civil rights and anti-war actions, was that it was only a matter of progressive time before “world art” would overtake the “artworld” concept (Danto, 1964). The art critic Charles Green described Smith’s 1974 polemic as putting “the art world on notice in the name of world art,” but yet, his notion of a cultural industrial milieu “tolerant of local artworlds, such as indigenous ones, and predicated on the assumption that it is a zone of translation that can move between artworlds and be in more than one simultaneously,” has been optimistic at best, and at worst a chimera of begrudging coexistence and neocolonial (re)discovery and speculation.
Forty years later publishing around the recent documenta 14, David Hodge and Hamed Youseﬁ have written on the Supercommunity blog, “contrary to being solved, the provincialism problem has been neoliberalized.” They highlight three factors that continue to exclude artists working in colonized and postcolonial settings from realizing their full potential: continuing disparities in institutional and education access in global cities compared to the rest; a peculiarly Western type of “formal complexity” (which Smith calls “reﬂexive remodernism”) that prevails in art schools and critical discourse; and a value system that prefers individualism to collectivity in a context where the rewards are few and loaded at that top. They conclude, “The conduits connecting the provinces to the global hubs still largely transmit value in only one direction.”
The question our readings of these texts point to is of dramaturgical aesthetics within this conjuncture of new colonialisms and new provincialisms in the scene of presentation, spectatorship and communicative relay, shot through by present conditions of capital. To this end, we will re-visit Althusser’s, ‘“The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter,” as one of a number of important materialist dramaturgical thinkers.
Louis Althusser, ‘The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter’ in The Philosophy of the Encounter, Later Writings, 1978-1987, Edited by Oliver Corpet and François Matheron, Translated by G. M. Goshgarian, Verso.
David Hodge and Hamed Youseﬁ,Provincialism Perfected: Global Contemporary Art and Uneven Development. in Eflux Journal, http://supercommunity.e-flux.com/texts/provincialism-perfected-global-contemporary-art-and-uneven-development/
Terry Smith, the Provincialism Problem, From Artforum, vol. XIII, no. 1 (September 1974): 54-9; reprinted Malasartes, no.1, (October-November 1975). https://arthistoriography.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/smith-provincialism-problem-1974.pdf
Seminar 1: Friday October 20th, 2017
Seminar led by Rachel O'Reilly, this week with Thijs Witty
Prehistories to the formal decolonization of the 1950s and 1960s are vast and complex. One pivotal figure was the Martinican poet and activist Aime Césaire (1913-2008), who galvanized thousands in his decade-spanning, genre-blending project of négritude: the creation of a new black consciousness that would liberate souls and minds from the European colonizers' crushing inhumanity. His work influenced many activist intellectuals in the anti-colonial struggles of the Caribbean and North-West Africa, and more recently the Levant and Latin America. These routes have roots, including Césaire’s inflammatory political manifesto Discourse on Colonialism (1950). In this seminar we will discuss this seminal text in order to understand Césaire¹s singular importance to anti-colonial struggle and discourse. We will also read selections from his prose poem Notebook of the Return to the Native Land (first published 1939), arguably Césaire¹s most trenchant poetic rendition of négritude.