Sunday, December 29, 2013

Zizek on Anthropology

Zizek on Anthropology - fairly old but a few points

1. Shame (excess jouissance, the real) comes first, culture is how to deal with the embarrassment
2. We are a society of "belief" more today than in the past but the modality of distance has changed. ie from respect for power of appearance of rituals to mistrust of symbolic institution and "really meaning it"
3. Anthropological errors started with "phenomenological evolutionary illusion", ie "when researchers found a certain gap between reality and beliefs or between form and content, they mistakenly posited an original moment when people really 'meant it.' 
4. Cultural as institution: Even if you superstitiously change an 'unlucky' number on a house you must go through the proper channels for it to be symbolically effective. Institutions act as minimum reification to take the game seriously.
5. Alienation is irreducible (cf some marxist, phenomological), can't reconstitute an early pre-alienated moment or a future when authenticity of meaning is reinstalled.
6. Anthropology of everyday life moves from implicitly racist attitude of studying the eccentricity of others, to adopt the same view of ourselves. It is much better as a double alienation.
7. (Linking to that newspaper series I cant refind the link for):
 You remember Florida, the scandal elections and the first Bush victory. A guy somewhere from Africa wrote an article imitating that sort of journalistic report, you know, an enlightened Western journalist goes to Africa, where they allegedly have some election and he mocks the election, "ha, ha, what corruption." Well, this guy wrote about Florida in the same way, saying there are votes disappearing, the brother of the candidate is the local government, you know, describing Florida as a provincial Banana Republic case of cheating. It was a wonderful result. It was anthropology at its best.
8. Concept of "habit" -  not  rules, habits tell you how to obey or disobey rules. Especially social prohibitions never mean what they appear to mean.  Zizek claims that at precisely this level, ideology has survived.
9. Lacanian ethics and desire: Lacan of the fifties and sixties, it is the ethics of desire to not compromise your desire. But later Lacan, desire is a priori something hypocritical, inconsistent. Realisation of desire is to stage a scene where that desire as such emerges. There is a pleasant obstacle preventing it all the time. This is fantasy.
10. Sometimes, respect is the most disrespectful category. Respect here is like telling a child false things so not to hurt him, not taking them and their beliefs seriously.
11. Some other stuff: Brain sciences, western universalism and Islam...
12. On Neoliberalism as a category:

But my first doubt would be about the process of describing the fact that something new is emerging. I don't think it is adequately described by the way neoliberalism describes itself. For example, saying "the rule is no longer state intervention, but free interaction, flexibility, the diminishing role of the state." But wait a minute, is this really going on? I mean, take Reagan's presidency and Bush's presidency today. While bombasting against big spending Democrats - that is to say, big state - the state has never been as strong as it is today and there is an incredible explosion of state apparatuses. State control today is stronger than ever. That would be my automatic reaction: yes, there is something new but, when covered by the label neoliberalism, it is not adequately described. The self-perception of today's era as neoliberal is a wrong self-perception.

Even leftist critics all too often accept this self-description on its own terms and then proceed to criticize it, saying, "no, we can't leave everything to the market." Wait a minute, who is leaving everything to the market? If we look at today's American economy, how much support there is for American farmers, how much intervention, military contracts, where is there any free market? I mean, sorry, but I don't see much free market here.

Just look at this paradox, which I think is the nicest icon of what goes on today. You know the problem of cotton in the state of Mali I think, which is the producer of cheap cotton far better than the United States' cotton. The country is going to ruin because, as you know, the American cotton producers get more state support than the entire Gross Domestic Product of the state of Mali. And they say there, we don't want American help, what we want is just when you preach about corrupt state intervention and the free market, you play by your own rules. You know, there's so much cheating going on here.

So that would be the kind of anthropological study that's needed: what neoliberalism really means. That's what we have to do.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Process as work - the diagram

A friend commented on the possibility of diagrams being aesthetic and final objects in and of themselves, citing this exhibition.

I know if nothing else I would find looking at a book of artists diagrams and charts fascinating, having seen some of Mark Lombardi and Thomas Hirschhorn.

I'm not sure if theres an analogue (analog?) for this type of work way back in the past, but I guess on the one hand you could think about art historically with respect to the politics of the frame (boring), but on the other hand maybe a diagram represents a different modality of knowledge that isn't quite linguistic or sensory and so opens up a a particular vector. That is to say, if we follow diagrammatic logic/form even further where does that get us?

New York New York

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Character sketch

Raf and I just saw rented island at the Whitney and after seeing mike smith were discussing how all everymen have a great silhouette : Chaplin, houlot, Hitchcock, nick cave at times, David Byrne , Simpsons characters... It's about thinking character in terms of physicality.

Anyway , working on my panza office art assistant - basically he is an overgrown m high kid on the adult scale, except takes a bit from Walter banjamin and Keynes, physically

Note the half untucked shirt, something universally understandable but in practice very specifically from my own experience, pointing to the never becoming adult and never knowing if you are at work under neoliberalism . Def Harry potter element.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

More Tim Morton

I'm not really that much over/into TIm Morton's work but somehow it seems to be topic of the week.

(1)  Really I was meaning to post on the fact that he touches on the Orientalist dynamic in responding to "contemplative" works, and then this in comparison with our earlier discussions of the East v West and the social.
(2) The second aspect relates to me seeming to want to be more contemplative and introspective and less socially-engaged at the moment, while also considering these terms within an East v West paradigm.

I think this is actually what I was getting at with the archive - methodology, as a long winded way of saying that I feel I am at a point where I can't really go further without addressing my own desires within this whole process, and the world at large. One ultimately needs desire to be the engine that drives the machine.

Within this context over-theorising becomes just a strategy in which one seeks "objectivity" to disavow the "subjectivity" of their position. I feel that in social practice this can happen a lot, but the best works don't do this. I think this is what Hirschhorn always does well, and I think you do it well too. Overall though, it's not so much a question of personal history, it is more about recognising one's own personal investment in things, and particularly for me to be a bit more alive to these things. Or to go even further in my case, to maybe in some way acknowledge that one of the things that attracts me to art is that on the whole I find that many artists display a personal investment in the world of a magnitude that I feel is much greater than my own capability. Maybe this is the domain of drive, the desire for desire. Maybe it is even in a way saying that by my actions I am actually some sort of idealist, who really only sees the world as something producing the pleasure of my own thoughts.

(3) Last night I saw an interview with Morton in the Brooklyn Rail and I feel compelled to post on it.

Firstly, I found it interesting that he compares critical practices to Romanticism, which is what we have touched on before especially in Rancierre:

"There's a lot of art that's about revealing the process of production - that is one of the lineages of the Romantic period. It goes back through Benjamin to Wordsworth really - showing the wiring underneath. I think there's a deeper thing here, which is that just noticing how constructed things are really doesn't change things. .... Things are more profound in their relations , as far as I'm concerned, and just showing how things relate is never enough. What we really need are disturbing encounters with discrete entities."

(For example meeting a replicant from blade runner which forces you to confront reality through the anxiety that you yourself may not really be a person, which is by definition 
human self-consciousness. Secondly to not refuse this anxiety but acknowledge it.)

And later:

"I think that the dominant way of thinking about art, at the moment, is basically a modulation of a 200-year old way of doing it, which is , basically, critique. I've got to be able to see through my world in order to be outside of reality and see it from the perfect point of view. And the trouble is, according to my view, you can't do that - that's strictly impossible, So these attempts to jump out of it don't end up working so great."

I think this maps pretty directly against Hal Foster's defence of critique against Bruno Latour. For my mind, my hesitation with Morton's approach is it still seems to position the problem of "global warming" on some level of conceptual understanding. I don't understand how global warming is a really a question of ontology or our understanding of it, and not really just a question of political will, which is to say that there are some powerful people invested in global warming and stand to gain from it while others do not. I don't really see how incorporating "hyperobjects" and "meshes" (aren't these just "assemblages", except particularly of human and non-human things as a set of causal relations) really gets us anywhere other than saying that these non-human things also condition us and vice-versa. Isn't that just dialectics 2.0?

Anyway he continues wrt to art making and basically advocates a deeper non-anthropocentric understanding of materiality ( it is anthropocentric to think of paint as a material when it is actually made of plants mixed with eggs etc) which doesn't interest me much and I am doubtful will lead to interesting works.
(4) Given that I have raised this question of non-critical methods, I'll just footnote that I really enjoyed this interview of Andrea Fraser and My Barbarian, as well as her classes. She basically distinguishes between negative/critical/deconstructive/reactive practices on the one hand, against constructivist/affirmative/creation-of-worlds approaches on the other. And of course they don't have to be exclusive of each other. Her hesitation is with goody too shoes social practice that is not critical enough, and I do not think anyone really disagrees with that. 

One thing she said was that social practice often very heavily reasserts the framing device; as in some social relations are within-the-frame as relations for being transformed /constructed, while all the back-wiring of the social relations that enable the project are repressed out of the frame, and that in many cases this means the project produces and transforms a whole raft of other unintended social relations, so to keep that in mind. Especially when considering that some work can be read as a poor replacement for social services in a context where, while not conclusively, there is economic evidence to suggest that by way of neo-liberal funding models, contemporary arts has actually directly and indirectly absorbed money that has been cut from social services.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Response to Tim Morton's Phd Advice as a Model for Artistic Practice

Its an interesting proposition, to use Morton's advice for writing a Phd as a model for constructing an artistic practice. At the same time, I think I am a little unclear on what the direct analogues between archives and methods within an artistic practice are.

There's a part where he talks about not second guessing the Other, which I guess is his way of saying not to anticipate every possible critique of your work and then counter it within the work itself because it seems to lead down a rabbit warren of endless parsing, much like Xeno's paradox. I think we've talked about this before, that you don't need to go through the agonizing process of over analyzing your own work as that leaves no room for, or should actually be the province of the critic, audience, curator etc. So I definitely overthink works, to the point where it interferes with the formal expression of it, and I think it's a problem. But I also think that your have to have a certain amount of over-self-reflexivity in order for the work to be valid, but it's a matter of 'holding the thought', or leaving it a little unresolved in the minds eye and then giving it up to the world to reorganizing the unique proposition you've proffered.

The way I've constructed this in my work seems now to be through process of reading and thinking, building the archive and then, using the formal frameworks of anthropological 'fieldwork' and artistic 'social practice' as a methodology to mediate, correct and contradict that archive. At that point, you engage in rebuilding the archive as an artistic work, where the conceits of the original archive of interests, theory and research are tempered and beaten into shape in the forge of Hephaistos which we might call reality and lived experience which you then use to transmute and sublimate a new archive which one might call an artwork but which is also an index of a universe you've created.   

If you go to a traditional artschool, you'll get talk after talk about methods and techniques-and though it may seem superficial, it is worth considering the analogy between how Morton uses the term 'methods' and how it is used in art history to determine the efficacy of it as a productive comparison or model. A 'method' in art practice I think is understood as a haptic and sensorial control of ones body and certain tools, the pressure of a brush against canvas, the weight of a thumb in a piece of clay, and it is the product of the manipulation of form by the body as a subject which is read as a correlative and consequential analogue between thought, sense, action and form which is what we call artistic method. The method 's' are the various and manifold codifications of these practices over history and I feel like, if we break artistic methods down into purely phenomenological phenomena then, a individual using his tools and instruments to effect 'living as form' then we can understand art in an expanded field and Beuy's 'social sculpture' and emergent discourses of social practice, relationailty etc..  Within this constellation, what is the analogue of the archive in artistic practice? Presumably 'content' and 'personal mythology' over form. I guess another question for me is, what is the relationship between the archive and the self-ie. Do you need to have a Chinese mother from Africa to take the Chinese in Africa as your archive? And, if we go back to the academic context, I don't believe anyone questions the legitimacy of Brautigan's interest in the subject despite a lack of a personal mythology attached to the subject. So the question becomes, 'how to choose ones archive?' and 'must the archive be a personal archive?'

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tim Morton: Interiority, Western vs Eastern

So I was thinking about this problem of interiority as it relates to process, and remembered this post of Tim Morton, where he touches on contemplation, modernity and orientalism. There's definitely a bit to unpack there, although as his analysis suggests, one need not to go through Object philosophy to get there.

I may as well hold myself to account then, and confess that I am going trough Tim mortons process of how to do a phd and its pretty similar to how I want to conceptualise my practice. Especially how he talks about work being a transitional object that produces expertise and knowledge.

I feel that in the last year I've been guilty of a lot of this methodological/ meta-thinking of which he is critical. (Lazy!). The result of this is that a lot of my ideas have been contingent ones in the sense that they are good methods opportunistically applied. In this sense they are conceptualist, because they present as theses not hypotheses, and hence the works feel redundant and so I am not inclined to want to actualise them. Further this scattergun approach is not the way to create an a parallel symbolic system / entire world. 

As he points out, rather you need an archive and hypotheses that are tested through research and making. This can be an existing archive, that is, the world itself, or ethnographic research. I am having trouble articulating my concerns as questions. Morton says the best way to overcome this problem is to pick a formal archive first. This is about letting the forms lead you, an analogue to recoding existing forms, which in theory i do prefer. 

He does say though that at the end of the day the archive is what sustains you, it is ultimately driven by your own joy and desire. In many ways it is through the choice of questions and archives that you put yourself in your work. This can be as simple as choosing your precursors. 

So actually right now I have to answer the most personal and simple and complicated question which is what do I really like and is important. Maybe this is why interior forms, like poetry, address this problem for me at the moment, before turning outward toward the intersubjectivity of performative, relational, decentered work. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Further notes on Western Individualism and Asian Collectivism

Continuing from post below,  I was thinking that there is nothing that makes it necessarily true that kpatalism is individualistic - in reality the individual is constantly giving things up for the collective. Just because your relationship to others is mediated through the money relation doesn't mean that you are less connected to others.

The dogma is that it is socialism and collectivist systems deny rights to individuals for the advantage of the collective. However isn't this just as much true within market relations? This is where the 80s neo-liberal dogma that "greed is good" comes from; that is, that in being greedier you are actually being more productive and creating more value and therefore actually giving more to society as a collective whole. In this sense the person who is motivated by money and does whatever is highly paying is actually, according to this view, most influenced by the collective (aggregated) will of others, and less motivated by their own immediate desires.

Also one is always effected by the collective in so many infinite ways that the idea of the individual is a huge abstraction; so the American individualism doesn't reduce their inter-reliance on each other at all, it just means that one has less empathy etc when one passes a homeless person because they are constructed as completely in control of their own respective destiny.

In this context liberalism's stress on the individual is an ideological one, it is one that emphasises individual choices at the micro level, but in fact you have less and less choice to act in ways that are "inefficient", and you have less option to disengage from the logic of market exchange relations. The individualism you are actually provided with is just the cultural allowance to ignore the plight of others in proximity to you, so it is just a shorthand that conditions everyday cultural practices.
So firstly, could one say that Western individualism might be taken to mean a cultural preference for acting through market relations as opposed to directly, informally or through the state (so a disentangling of individualism as a concept from market liberalism). For example, Asian collective values means that people preference looking after their elderly relatives directly as opposed to the West that would either do this through the welfare state or through private healthcare or paying for nursing homes etc.

Secondly, could we then say that the individualism against the state is the individualism against the market, not the individualism in favour of the market?  Thus the individual vs collective (state, market, family) dynamic exists prior to the system of mediation between the two terms. Further, that individualism against the market actually requires more than one individual to operate (eg informal economy) so the collectivism of relational projects is actually a type of expanding of individual liberties? (Freedom through others vs freedom from others).

Thirdly, in constructing this as a cultural question, it is I guess about how a society represents its   mediations between individual and collective to itself. So if in fact American individualism represents a preference for market relations, and Asian collectivism a preference for state driven mediations, on what basis do we ethically say that individualism (of Ai Wei Wei or relational practice) is more emancipatory than collectivism? Or does the emancipatory potential lie in just running counter to power, its concentration, and all the problems that creates?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Paul O'Connor

You should get in touch with this guy. I like his new paper.

Talking about food

In order to account for the obviously glib inanity of this post, let me start by stressing its especially purposive nature; that is, as you are well aware I cannot stand conversations about food, but in order to avoid completely alienating myself from many people I care about I have decided to try and find a way to make these conversations bearable.  My solution? To pretend they are talking about art.

Now bare with me here. Let's take a few co-ordinates:

  •        The spectrum that consists of Rirkrit's version of relationality on one pole and the riposte in Documenta.
  •       Bin's Korean art critic who talked about all art exclusively in descriptives of shit.

Perhaps the co-ordinates traaced by this debate didn't go far enough, and this comparison is under theorised. So why could using this vocabulary be useful?

  • 1.     It allows us to account for the fact that aesthetic experience is conditioned not only by sense but by contextual framing. Example: A date eaten on a hot day at a desert market is much tastier than one eaten at a city supermarket. (Relationality 1)
  • 2.     It allows us to account for the fact that aesthetic experience is conditioned not only by sense but by symbolic content. Example: A date eaten by a migrant who has not eaten these dates since the day they left their homeland is even better. (Relationality 2)
  • 3.     It allows us to refer to the ideological/critical/theoretical substance of a work as a type of nutritional content. Example: A date may be sweet in terms of its aesthetic, but it is richer than wiz fizz. A date tagine is even better.
  • 4.     It allows us to talk about process in a way that might be useful in a cooked-baked-fried structuralist type of way; particularly with respect to semiotic techniques. Example: A tagine is a stew in which signs are melted together, but if you are just drying dates and packaging them, well you aren't doing much.
  • 5.     It mirrors the fact that a work is not reducible to an explanation or concept of the work. That is, because there is no replacement for having to chew something for one's self, there is a process of eating and digestion that can be talked about. In this context some didactic work could be called pre digested, or over-determined.
  • 6.     It offers a metaphor in which form is reduced to a position I would argue is more appropriate. For example, I like the way you presented that meal in the form of Bernard Black towers with turrets, but nevertheless, I especially liked it because instead of using spoons I had to eat the meal using mini trebuchets.  

Ok. I really do understand how stupid this is, but, next time I am stuck in some decadent brunch conversation I will be thinking about what art work they might be talking about and reverse engineering it in my mind. 

Praxis (personal mythologies 3)

In response I would begin by distinguishing between praxis (as an abstract concept) and praxis (as a particular set of strategies and techniques that would constitute a particular artists practice, or life).

Praxis as concept - Well I guess to begin with I was talking about praxis in the abstract. So with particular opposition to theory, praxis in the sense that only in action (changing material circumstances for instance, which includes the symbolic field), can one produce certain thoughts, theoretical leaps, experiences etc etc because only in making constitutive leaps does one change the conditions of one's own thought and action. I mean this is super standard stuff, but still an explanation of why a simple process of actualizing theory is necessarily a failure. And this concept is over theorised in a million different terms for "rupture". For me the critical component is the way it includes an aspect of non-agency, you are always acting in the name of the subjectivity to come. (There is an analogue here with credit money actually, in the way that the growth generated by today's debts will compound – but I'll save my ideas on why an artist is a type of currency for another post.)

Contemporaneity - I'm not sure what you mean by "calling oneself contemporary" – does this mean relevant and not outdated? In the sense of the creation of other worlds I would describe unreadability and dense lifestyle as particular techniques rather then necessary conditions.

TechniquesPerhaps we can set up a model as follows, where the strategy of Menard's Quixote can be opposed to Bourriourds "remixing of signs", and therefore be labelled "pre-production". Alongside this we may note that the position of "production" itself corresponds quite directly to Fordist production, hence to modernism, at least within the West. My question then is can we equate this strategy as being pre-industrial, in the sense it is concerned with the production of social relations above the production of the commodity? Or rather is pre-modern something else, and this is rather a type of fourth term (see 2nd schematic).




Rearticulation of existing forms:

Think for example of religious rituals, strictly formalist and unchanging, but meaning is clarified and changed over time.

Producing of forms:

Best example is the constructivists who think that new meaning can be created with new form


Remixing of forms


Traditional (?)



Pre-industrial (?)



Reorganisation of signified

Production of signifier

Reorganisation of signifiers




Collective subject:

Social totality (?)

Individualist subject:

Rise of interiority the novel

Decentered subject:

Language, culture, big other speaks through the individual

Alternative schematic:

The above model is fairly teleological and Western, although actually its ordering is focussed on the process of meaning production. However if you want something more generalised perhaps one could try to devise something along these lines:

Production of Signifier

Reorganisation of Signifier

Production of Signified

Reorganisation of Signified

Overall, I think we have both been in agreement for some time about the technique of disembowelling and refilling existing forms a la the Quixote. Although I have to say that I am not entirely able to articulate from first principles why I would necessarily preference this technique. In a sense all these techniques form a totality and I am not entirely convinced yet, well at least from first principles, that the preferencing of one is not just a trend My feeling is that in the wash up all these techniques might be more ideologically neutral than they now seem.

Perhaps one always has to be sensitive to specific conditions, and in the end having something to say and to say it with regard to the specificity of its annunciation might be more important. But as you've eluded to, its probably to do with the fact that preproduction is a technique relatively better at resisting the dissimulation of meaning posed by capital, or at least in the current conditions.

Non-West – I am overwhelmingly in agreement with you about resisting the fetishising of collectivity / relationality as an end in itself, and also note its particular appeal to an American and Western sensibilities. Having said this I do have doubts that traditional collective structures, even outside the West, have not been challenged by the process of capitalist industrialisation and I would expect that even in China there is probably more of an individualist streak than previously – is this the case?

Because on the one hand I agree that these things are extremely cultural, but also there is an element in which I can't help but be materialist and think that the way a society produces things is fairly determinative of culture. In this context, Bishop's Russians were resisting collectivity not only on the political level but on the material one as well. So in Ai Wei Wei's revolutionary individualism, (its true that his work always stresses the individual, such as the 1001 in fairytale, or the handmade seeds) it is maybe also crucial to think about how he is also critical of both the commodification and the destroying of China's collective heritage through modernisation (eg all the pots).

On Borges – if you wanted to take it one step further, then the best romanticisation is to consider The Theologians, from which one might say that you are rewriting it as Quixote and I am rewriting it as Panza.

It is interesting that you mention the garden of forking paths, because something that is appearing to me overlooked in Borges is the deep ambivalence put forth in his continual reference to the infinite, in the sense that he is always the thinker of the totality, that "one path is as good as another", that in the long run all books and non-books will be written side by side. There is a poverty of meaning in this idea, which is to say that the coincidence of Borges and Kafka might be in lacking the particularity brought about by desire, and hence their mutual interest in the Quixote, (this too for another post).

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Response to the Old Debate on Personal Mythologies

I am interested in the mention you make of the avant-garde coming out of historical materialism. Where does this reading come from? Presumably, the idea is that the historical Modernist avant-garde is understood as a critical response to the internal contradictions of the Industrialized 19th century coming into conflict with the old artisanal, labour intensive traditional arts.  In parallel to this, Modernism as a critique or response to mechanization and societies transformed by the rhythm of the assembly line is interesting, not just from a historical lens through which to read those movements but for reading contemporary art as the only extant space for a critique of global capitalism as suggested by Gillick.

I argue for a particular approach to artistic practice and questions of 'contemporaneity' which can be seen as an analogue for being 'new' or 'original' (as an aside, I realize that I don't pay too much attention to contemporary mainstream graphic design, media or visual culture, because I find it so 'readable' and that I am looking for images which are 'unreadable' that I am unable to assimilate into any specific visual gestalt. This is rare and perhaps impossible, that, as in your comment about historicizing, after Borges, history is but a list of a couple of broken metaphors and perhaps it is the case that, substituting and shifting the meanings behind very common images is the real aim [thus taking an office job unpaid in the name of radical critique when your entire raison d'etre for entering alternative models of production was to avoid the tyranny of the office job itself or, to be a trained and certified lawyer who chooses not to work and step into something which could easily have been got without the hassle of a law degree] thus, praxis for me is to be understood as, rather than a simple process of actualizing theory should be more properly read as living for the sake and right to call oneself contemporary. In other words, I think it is only possible to insert new 'unreadable' images into the history of art by orchestrating a lifestyle which is so dense and radically opposed to that which one was trained to live, that everything you do is intrinsically the document of another world.


One ferry ride later…


Thinking about this further, I can think of no better model for my own understanding of artistic practice than Menard's Quixote. So, if images are indeed exhausted, or universal history is a collection of a few metaphors then, the problem for the visual artist becomes one of production.  How to produce new images, how to reconfigure existing images to produce new effects or how to rearrange, substitute or reconfigure the subjectivities and histories which those images are cyphers for. I figure that perhaps praxis is about, in a semiotic sense, attacking the signified rather than signifier. That one goes through the same, or a completely different experience to produce the same image, and though formally identical, the latter is, if not superior-then enriched by the praxis, hence why Menard operates as a way for understanding this process. And again, why playing the song, or showing the image at the start of the film, then at the end, with the experience in between which shifts or charges it with meaning, is such a fruitful strategy.

So in these terms, are we to understand social practice as the reification or institutionalization of this strategy? Perhaps, now that all images have been exhausted it becomes a matter of engaging in a systematic project of focusing on the experiences which produced those images and imagines the individual as collectively constituted which is another way of saying that experience is necessarily outside of the body and collective rather than, subjectively constituted as Western Romanticism and Neo-Liberalism would have it.


Another way to travel is down the Garden of Forking Path's, or to regard the Asiatic experience in the context of this configuration we have devised. One must acknowledge that, in the act of maneuvering a collectively constituted individual you are conceiving of it as an oppositional, retaliatory act against a Western consensus which privileges the individual and subjective experience. So, how does one account for Asian culture where the collective is the primary unit of social organization, where turning inward is the revolutionary act. This was properly encountered by the Russians (Kabakov et al) and artists in the Soviet Block as well as late 1980's Beijing Apartment Artists, where the only way to resist the authoritarian will to impose collectivity upon the individual left the artist to withdraw into radical, contemplative subjectivity as the only private space not occupied by the state. This has been thoroughly documented by Bishop in the European context but, I believe has yet to be acknowledged as an issue in the contemporary Asian art scene. All this is a way of saying, perhaps what the world needs most is self-mythologizing, individualist Asian artists to impose a alternative, normative cultural subjectivity upon the art world and the world in general like Ai Wei Wei (and myself, ha!)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Africa-Mars question

Africa Mars as a paradigm for innovation.

I've been a fan of Rao's blog for a while now.  Interesting how he draws together several points of reference that we share, especially given his non-arts viewpoint approaches questions through organisational theory, cognitive modelling, technological innovation, use of metaphor in decision based contexts etc.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

adding to an old debate on personal mythologies

So maybe another way to think about this problem, (whose previous terms aren't quite of the same interest to me now), is that its not a problem of identity at all but one of the meaning of praxis. 

Without having read much about praxis as a concept ( see Arendt, Friere, even the Greeks), it now seems to me that praxis is the dialectical third term between theory and action, but more specifically mind and matter. 

I'm not sure the problem comes out of historical materialism and hence the avante-garde, but it seems that the key of praxis is that it focusses on the creation of social relations (and hence self) via the creation of material life, or rather, the creation of material life is done with social relations as its ends:

The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated. Hence this doctrine is bound to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change [Selbstver√§nderung] can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice. —Karl Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach, III"

This is to say it is not a question of the creation of "mythology" but a creation of self. That is by changing one's material circumstances in the knowledge that those material circumstances will in turn change oneself. There is always a "leap of faith" because of this moment of non-agency, because one can't predict fully how in creating new material circumstances one will make changes to one's self. So this is the connection between any praxis and revolutionary act, that it operates within co-ordinates that are of the future. Or as you put it, "putting one's self in situations where something has to happen".

In this way a personal mythology might be a way of how a praxis self-relates, how it appears to itself, and can thus be a productive motor for change. 

I then wonder how to contrast this with self mythology that is constructed for the gaze of the Other, a sort of ego-ideal, which would imply that currently existing material and social circumstances hold the more determinative role over the personal character. This might present ones mythology as a type of false consciousness. It is a dress up or make believe or a reflection of the desire of the Other. It is a type of end rather than a process, it doesn't commit to a process of becoming through constitutive leaps.

I remember previously I was wary of those who self-mythologise as a type of self-aggrandisement, a type of escapism, a type of dandyish showing off. I also felt that it can alienate people who care about that person and wish to share in them in some way, and also have contributed to them in some way. And so maybe here an ethical concern additional to the one above arises, and comes out as a concern of social practice. That is, that these leaps into new material-symbolic relations (however small) not just be a solipsistic exercise that escapes, but one in which these leaps are made through collective negotiation so that these new symbolic spaces can be shared as meaningful.  This movement acknowledges the subject as collectively constituted, and doesn't seek to posit the creation of self outside of sociality. The latter of which in denying the relationality of the individual creates a disjunctive "fantasy world" of self that can only be enjoyed by themselves and denies the collective social space etc etc

So in the continual feedback loop of creation of self, one has to take two leaps (which can't be separated): the creation of new material circumstances and also the creation of new forms of social relations. This transformation must be done together so that a meaningful way of relating to one's (potentially new) material and social totality can be shared.

Finally I wonder if nowadays, the hope for transformation through material change has been deprioritised as being all but too hard.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Is historicism a problematic position?

...because the more and more that I look at works that in some way are about global capitalism, the more and more I cant stop thinking about Borges version of pascals sphere, and his conjecture that all work is but a contribution to the "universal history" consisting only of the history of a few metaphors.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital

Again with spectres and the postcolony

Probably need to read this, I wonder how he manages to take down postcolonial theory and reassert the importance of the enlightenment without being a Western apologist.

'Postcolonial theory has become enormously influential as a framework for understanding the Global South. It is also a school of thought popular because of its rejection of the supposedly universalizing categories of the Enlightenment. In this devastating critique, mounted on behalf of the radical Enlightenment tradition, Vivek Chibber offers the most comprehensive response yet to postcolonial theory. Focusing on the hugely popular Subaltern Studies project, Chibber shows that its foundational arguments are based on a series of analytical and historical misapprehensions. He demonstrates that it is possible to affirm a universalizing theory without succumbing to Eurocentrism or reductionism.'


Good interview here

So basically his argument is that post colonial studies over estimates the homogenaity and monumentality of capitalism in the West and ascribes to it a totalizing role that doesnt accord with reality, thus, in their arguments that since capital failed to become totalizing in the East and non-Western world, the entire project of the Englightenment which capitalism is seen to represent is bankrupt. Chibber argues that the penetration of capitalism within the West, like in the East and else where was piecemeal and met by various worker and minority revolts and resistances and therefore, Marxism as an Enlightenment instrument for critiquing it is as valid a tool for looking at peasants revolts in India and in England. I don't buy it totally.

So, I guess the reason the left is ineffectual is because of things like below. I particularly like the threat at the end, very macho

Dear Professor Chibber,

I have established that you were the person who interrupted me during the discussion period during the workshop on Neil Davidson's new book on the bourgeois revolution this morning at the Historical Materialism conference at NYU. I didn't quite hear what you were saying, but it sounded something like "What is your question…get to the point."

Of the three workshops I attended today, not a single chairperson said something along those uncharitable lines. By and large, people made much longer comments than me and far more in the name of some sect–the sort of thing that wastes time.

It was all the more unexpected to hear this from you since you were not a chairperson, number one, and number two you were going to be speaking at a closing plenary session on Sunday night to an audience of hundreds. Frankly, I thought it was very petty for you to interrupt me in that manner considering the power you exercise both at NYU in your capacity as associate professor and as someone who has written dozens of articles in places like the HM journal or NLR on the questions under debate. You couldn't wait for me to complete my 3 minute intervention while you have had the opportunity to defend your ideas on the Brenner thesis to a broad swath of the left community owing to your hard earned intellectual capital as a recipient of many highly coveted and prestigious awards.

I honestly don't know why you walked out immediately after making your remarks because I would have liked to take them up with you face to face. Don't worry, I have no interest in taking them up with you any further since I have said all I have to say at this point on the Marxism mailing list. My only advice is not to pull this bullshit on me ever again or you will truly regret it.

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect

Royce Ng
Lantau Island
Hong Kong

Saturday, October 5, 2013

I am slowly being converted into a Neo-Liberal

HSBC's $1.9 Billion Money Laundering Fine And the Somalian Cost Of Bank Regulation

There's an interesting little example of the way in which well meaning regulation has significant costs here. You'll recall that HSBC was hit with $1.9 billion in fines over allegations about money laundering? You'll also have noted that no one ever actually did prove that it shifted around money for Mexican drug dealers and all the rest. Rather, that it's internal documentation processes were inadequate to show that it had not been doing so. It was not a $1.9 billion fine for laundering money: it was a $1.9 billion fine for not following the regulations about how to monitor and or prevent money laundering.

Now we see some of the fall out from this:

Barclays has defended its decision to sever links with hundreds of international money transfer companies in spite of a high-profile protest led by the Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah.


In May, Barclays announced it would terminate banking services for 250 money transfer companies amid fears over money laundering and terrorist funding.

Although about 25 money transfer agencies will still be able to bank with Barclays, none facilitates payments to Somalia, a country particularly dependent on overseas remittances.

So, why is it that they are doing this?

A number of the world's largest banks have pulled back on operations in profitable emerging markets as international anti-money laundering rules tighten.

Barclays' decision follows a similar action by HSBC in the wake of its record $1.9bn settlement with US authorities over money-laundering allegations.

So there we have it.

I'm sure we all agree that we'd rather not have money laundering going on. And I'm sure we all also agree that stopping the drugs barons from cycling their money through the banking system is a good idea. Yet I think we'd all also agree that having a banking system that can get remittances from emigrants into one of the poorest countries in the world, Somalia, is also a good idea. Yet what we actually have is a conflict between these desirable goals. The rules and regulations we've imposed to stop the drug money laundering mean that it's not worth providing the service to Somalia. The costs of running the regulatory system are simply too high. As one UK commentator manages to entirely missthe point:

I'll be blunt. I don't believe them. If they were worried about money laundering Barclays would pull out of Cayman, the BVI, Jersey and other locations where tax evasion and high level avoidance is rampant – all of it only possible because of the presence of the world's major banks and the availability of corporate and trust secrecy that facilitates the movement of billions and even trillions of funds behind a veil of respectability, all in the pursuit of greed and excess.

But instead Barclays is pulling out of a sector where the average transaction is a few hundred pounds at most and people are literally dependent for their economic survival on such payments being made.

It's not so much that they are worried about money laundering: it's that they're worried about being fined $1.9 billion for not following the bureaucratic rules against money laundering. Those rules imposing a basic per unit cost upon each and every bank transfer. Which means, in turn, that it will be the small bank transfers that cannot cover the costs of performing the necessary bureaucratic regulatory processes.

Essentially, we can have a banking system with the current rules and regulations about money laundering or we can have a banking system that can handle remittances into Somalia. But what we cannot have is both: for the regulations are too expensive to allow the sending of small remittances into Somalia. Myself I would argue that we should have less bureaucracy and regulation and more money flowing into Somalia: but I agree absolutely that people can differ with me on that. My real and basic point here is that regulation imposes real world costs. The more regulation we have, the more expensive it is to obey such regulations, the more of other possibly desirable things we cannot do. Stopping Mexican drug barons laundering their money also means that we cannot send money to the starving in Somalia. Not quite the trade off I would recommend but it is the one the world has currently made.

Friday, September 27, 2013

"Searching for a method of com- municating the values of Western civilization to Indians which avoided offending their Hindu sensibilities, the administration discovered the power of English literature as a vehicle for imperial authority. 'The strategy of locating authority in these texts all but effaced the sordid history of colonialist expropriation, material exploitation, and class and race oppression behind European world dominance . . . the English literary text functioned as a surrogate Englishman in his highest and most perfect state' "