Eric Kluitenberg on Sun, 27 Jul 2008 15:50:32 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover

Thank you Brian for a challenging and stimulating set of ideas and

Also for your report from Korea.

A minor contribution here on two points you are making, some comments more
than a criticism.

On Jul 22, 2008, at 23:57, Brian Holmes wrote:

> For most of the twentieth century, art was judged with respect to the
> previously existing state of the medium. What mattered was the kind of
> rupture it made, the unexpected formal or semiotic elements that it
> brought into play, the way it displaced the conventions of the genre or
> the tradition. The prize at the end of the evaluative process was a
> different sense of what art could be, a new realm of possibility for the
> aesthetic. Let's take it as axiomatic that all that has changed,
> definitively.

As I have come to understand this is that rupture is part of process of
negation, a negative dialectics as some have called it (Adorno / Lyotard),
in the case of the visual arts a 'negative dialectics of the image'. Now
the point of negation is not the replacement of one mode of the visual by
another, alternative one. Much rather the object of negation is to 'break'
the image, to show its disfunctionality, to expose that every image hides
more than it reveals.

This negation then opens up an experiential void, a non-space and a
non-time (Lyotard has discussed at length how Kant had already described
this as a "UnForm" (non-form) in his analytic of the sublime). In critical
aesthetics this idea has been expanded and transformed further: In the
experiential void opened up by the negation of the visual no imagination
or life is possible. It is the very threat of the end of life as such. To
put the threat to life at bay new modes of the visual are (immediately)
put in place. Perhaps our brains are hard-wired to do this. But in this
moment of negation, the breaking of the image, of the visual, an infinity
is opened up, an infinity of possible modes of the visual, an infinite
range of alternatives, one of which has to be (temporarily) adopted.

The real point of the negation and this negative dialectics as it was
emblematically embodied by the bold quest of the avant-gardes, was not to
find a somehow "better" alternative for that which was negated
(perspective, unity of space, unity of time, surface, support, material,
medium, etc etc...) but much rather to reveal the infinity of
possibilities, the infinite space of alternatives.

Now what has changed and where I would follow you in most of your analysis
is that the context in which art, criticism, and critical cultural
production operate, has diversified to the point where multiplicity has
replaced revolt.

The second important change is that I think that the kind of practices
that were previously labelled as avant-garde have long been supplanted and
taken over by actors in non-art contexts, stimulated and accelerated by
the expansion of the digitised media infrastructures. The negation of
symbolic structures now plays out and articulates itself in a much wider
social and political domain, which makes your next remarks al the more

> The backdrop against which art stands out now is a particular state of
> society. What an installation, a performance, a concept or a mediated
> representation can do with its formal, affective and semiotic means is to
> mark out a possible or effective shift with respect to the laws, the
> customs, the measures, the mores, the technical and organizational
> devices that define how we must behave and how we can relate to each
> other at a given time and in a given place. What you look for in art is
> a different way to live, a fresh chance at coexistence. Anything less is
> just the seduction of novelty - the hedonism of insignificance.
> If that's the case (if the axiom really holds), then a number of
> fascinating questions arise - for the artist, of course, but also for the
> critic. Where the critic is concerned, one good question is this: How do
> you address yourself to artists or publics or potential peers across the
> dividing lines that separate entire societies? How do you evaluate what
> counts as a positive or at least a promising change in the existing
> balance of a foreign culture?

Adopting the formula outlined above I would say that the negation of
dominant modes of symbolisation serves not just to point out and develop
alternatives, but first of all to show that an infinite range of
alternatives exists in which every possible mode of symbolisation (image,
sound, text) hides more than it reveals (about actual social realities on
the ground).

This is where I see the real significance of such 'symbol-hacking'
practices, which can of course never stand on their own. They becomes a
force for change when there is a local application and the material means
to bring them further - but then we get into the discussion of strategies
and tactics. Here I wanted first to comment on the theoretical proposition
you made. How this then works for activists, artists, critics in oractice
is the next step.


The second comment relates to the use of the concept of Empire. I wonder
if the concept of Empire is really productive here to address your
question of finding "a different way to live, a fresh chance at
coexistence", which I read as a call for pluralism and multiplicity.
Empire, however, suggest the rise of a hegemonic and more or less unitary
form of social and economic/political organisation (along with its
military extensions). Of course in Negri and Hardt's vision there are many
internal struggles and conflicting actors within the body of Empire, but
still they seem guided by a similar organisational logic and set of
(hegemonic) objectives.

If, however, I look somewhat naively at geopolitical developments around
me, I see much more of a fractallisation of Empire at the moment, i.e. the
emergence of a multitude of self-similar, but self-contained empires.
Importantly, these factal-empires also contest and counter-act each other
to the point where their objectives and strategies become so
heterogeneous that I wonder how productive the rather monolithic concept
of Empire still is to analyse, let alone do something useful with this

Much rather I would opt for an approach focused on a simultaneous
localisation and multiplication of alternatives to such hegemonic forces
and leave the concept of Empire behind.


Finally, on the reduction of American bases and how this plays out locally,
in the case of your report in S-Korea, highly fascinating!

In such a localised address to a shift in 'hegemonic domination', I see
the most productive approach to a new form of social and cultural
critique. It will be very difficult to build that critique convincingly,
given the lingual, cultural, material, economic and social rifts that
separate the various actors that would need to be included in this, and
also given the reliance on a global pigeon-English that many of us are
struggling with..., but still this could be truly productive.

A problem that worries me on a more day to day basis and that follows
directly from your account of the reduction and shifts of foreign US
military basis is the question of the demilitarisation of society, and the
technology and research sector in particular. It seems to me that there is
a continuing legacy of the cold war era in which the military / industrial
complex attempts to hold its ground, not just in the US, but also in the
Russian Federation and many of the post-Soviet and other 'Western' powers,
in terms of contracts, jobs, positions, production-infrastructures,
international market-shares, entrenched financial positions. I.e. this is
now a completely post-ideological space of political action.

Especially the domain of technological research and development has become
so deeply militarised (fuelled even further by the 'war on terror'
discourse) that it becomes difficult to imagine how to get rid of this
condition. A reliable inside source told me years ago that even a
relatively 'civil'-looking institution such as the MIT Media-Lab was at
the time supported for more than 65 percent by military funding, carrying
out projects that are conducted in utter secrecy, about which we can
safely assume that they exist, but about which we cannot get any reliable
information as to what they are and what they aim for. Stuff that you will
never see on their public web pages. No doubt this percentage has only
grown since, and it is presumably even worse in many other technological
R&D centres.

How do "we" as cultural producers, critics, artists, deal with such
realities if we are so prominently working in and with the products of
this technological domain? How to bring this back to the civil domain?

Some 'help' might be expected from the apparent economic demise of the US,
making it increasingly difficult to provide for the upkeep for the world's
largest army (hence the reduction and re-alignment of foreign US military
bases). In effect, the upkeep is currently mostly financed by China. This
is, however, certainly not a problem of the US alone, and it plays out
very differently in different contexts. The shared problem faced is how to
turn this trend around (without a complete collapse), how to civilise the
technological domain?

This is one area where the search for alternatives seems highly urgent,
and it will require more than a process of mere 'negation' - A process of
negation of dominant symbolic modes of hegemonic domination only serves to
show that an infinity of other worlds is possible, I would say.

Well anyway, just some thought on a damp Sunday afternoon (it's hot and
wet in Amsterdam).


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