Monday, May 23, 2011

Not An Alternative Interview

What do you think of the idea that art is a parralel to the economy at large? I mean, some things are a given, that Modernism arose as a response to Modernization and the Industrial Revolution. I also think it's pretty well accepted that conceptual and immaterial art mirrors the dematerialized, information/knowledge/service based economy. But what about relational aesthetics as a mirror of 1990's, third-way consesus politics, and the issue that this interview brings up, that the idea of 'participation' and 'social 'practice' is in someway commensurate with the emergence of 'social networking'. That when these things become visible enough to be noticeable, which basically means they've finally got institutional recognition, it means they've become co-opted and are implicated or at least complicit in the workings of the economy, which in this case is the commodification of social and human relationships by corporations via facebook etc. I guess the point that Not An Alternative want to make is that the only viable form left is to use these co-opted strategies like participation and social engagement, because at least they reflect a current state of affairs and are relevant but then to adopt a situationist tactic of detournement, by subverting and intervening in these vocabularies to make critical statements.

As soon as I read the name of the group, Not an Alternative, I knew they would reference Zizek because he's always talking about how the Neo-Liberal capitalist system is so totalizing and been so succefully 'naturalized' as ideology that it seems impossible for us to imagine any alternative or that any alternative is immediately labeled Utopian. He makes the point that the albeit justifiable obsession with the environment at the moment is a bit disarming because it suggests that it's easier for us to imagine the complete destruction of the planet that to imagine an alternative to the capitalist model of society which is producing the ecological disasters. I guess it would be interesting to think about how OOO fit's into this.

I also want to think more about how 'creativity' has superseded manual labor and bureaucracy as the engine of economic value in present Western economies, in the form of the corporate work structures which companies like Google, Facebook and Apple are based on and what implication that has for artistic practice. This article by an academic at University of Queensland contained a lot of ideas which were completely new to me and also commented on how Asia is now going through this process of positioning cultural production at the center for their models of economic growth in the future.


  1. I find it useful to look at the world thorugh the lens of interiority/exteriority.

    But I am unsure why the totalisating in capatalism is a bad thing in principle ie. would not an ideal political system be totalising as well , in that it is universal, inclusive and non-discriminatory?

    There is something disingenuous in saying that capital co-opts all things for its own purposes, in principle one could equally say it is a system that is prepared to assimilate opposing views and be inclusive towards the fringes. Capital co-opts all because it is indiscriminate and is prepared to satisfy any type of wants or people.

    We know however that exterior views are co-opted, and critics would say that these views are neutralised by the system. However, if they are being assimilated why is this not being seen as a successful end, as dissent achieving its goal? One could say that its because dissenters only stand for exteriority as such, and stand for little in substance.

    Now, we both this is not the case, and so the question that must be explored is this one: if practice X is assimilated/co-opted/culturally digested to be included in the system, and in every other respect remains identical, why then does practice X not achieve its goal?

    Or to put it another way, what is lost from a practice by way of the process of assimilation? What happens when something moves from exteriority to interiority?

    Is it that capital disembowels it of content? Or rather, is it that when a practice is done for money, it inherently loses its value and meaning? Is is precisely that an action takes on a different meaning when it is done/not done for money?

    If this is so, is this not to to say that those exterior seek an ethics of principle and that what is resented is their actions being reduced bare utilitarian calculation? Is this position so defendable anyway - isn't acting with utilitarian ethics really saying I do an ethical act without the direct emotional access to it, that I know that utilitarianism is mediated but I support it as a rational principle.

    On another point I am very interested in exploring exactly what is still exterior to the capitalist system. This is what I like about Guy ben-nir, for eg "pay me $5 son and i'll read you a bed time story".

  2. Ok, so I feel like this blog is going to take over my life but I'll give a short response.

    I think the thing is that, to not see the problem of the totalizing and invasive aspects of capital, you have to do a side step and avoid the political issue and turn it into a philosophical issue. I don't feel it's about something being co-opted by capitalism, and if it's exactly the same, and it becomes value generating at the same time then there's no problem. I'd probably actually agree with that.
    I think it's a problem of democracy and agonism. I take it we're all opposed to totalitarianism in all it's forms, and we're all opposed to not having the freedom to make our own choices, and when I mean freedom to choose I am deliberately excluding the imaginary 'consumer' and 'lifestyle' choices which capitalism provides us with. When we don't have the freedom to choose a radical alternative, which in political terms is codified into agonistic left and right politics then that's the problem as I see it.
    To put it simply, I am taking a humanist position which I know you abhor, and saying that capitalism as a totalizing ideology, a la Neo-Liberal capitalism (rather than as an economic system) is essentially anti-democratic and leads to a form of totalitarianism.

    On the point of what is still exterior, what did you think of Gibson/Graham's argument-that to say that capitalism is totalizing is to give it too much credit and that our day-to-day social interactions are actually filled with non-moneytized exchanges.

  3. Basically, the point I wanted to make which I forgot to mention was the idea that in the last 40 years in the West, politics has been replaced by economics as the ideology of self-definition. This is a point I've seen made recently by Julian Assange, David Graeber and Adam Curtis and I think is worth investigating.

  4. I agree that economy has become enmeshed in every sphere of dialogue and cultural life.
    I am not sure that a time existed that it was so much less prevalent - rather its froms may have changed. The point i think is very well epitomised by the phenomenon that people are arguing against global warming in economic terms - as if the facts of the matter are not enough in themselves! So its not that i disagree (anything but) I just want to be really specific in identifying where the problems are: capitalism often delivers on all its promises - its just that somehow "they aren't how we meant".

    I think the point that really interests me also is somehow that when things become economic thier symbolic value changes and they do not achieve their goal. Perhaps this is what manners is really about - we know that it all is economic/sexual exchange but nevertheless ...

    With regards to totalisation I was at one stage planning on doing some work on this concept, which suggests at the level of extreme capatalism an alternative also emerges: [ ]- i think the work was going to involve Peter Thiel, the singularity and maybe the terminator bionic arm.

    I havent got around to G-G yet but it seems right - in line with that book i told you i was reading about micro-practices of resistance - [ ]

    Anyway, why do you think I am so anti-humanist ? I'm not even entirly sure what humanism is about!

  5. Didn't you say that in an email you wrote me, anti-humanist in line with Zizek and Bordieu or something? Don't know anything about de Certeau I'll look into it, but I thought you were referring to Lefebvre and his 'Critique of Everyday Life' which I am looking into at the moment. I also want to look more into Situationism in relationship to all this, which I am also shamefully ignorant about.