Tag Archives: Adorno

When Chaplin played Adorno


You have to agree with Habermas, this tells more about Adorno than it does of Chaplin (from the Müller-Doohm biography p312)

Barbaric Poetry – notes for later…

Theodore W. Adorno Quotation:

To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric”
(to 1969 Herbert Marcuse interview about Adorno)
From the web site of Evelyn Wilcock, http://members.aol.com/eandcw/adquotes.htm,

accessed July 28, 2003
People who ask about Adorno want to know the source of his dictum about writing poetry after Auschwitz. Providing them with the date (written in 1949 for a festschrift) and source (published in “An Essay on Cultural Criticism and Society,” in Prisms, p.34) of the quotation may only increase their mystification. The sentence is part of the conclusion to an essay, and reading it on its own may be as fruitless as attempting to understand the last act of Hamlet without having first seen the rest of the play. This is the opening of the essay, ‘Cultural Criticism and Society,’ the whole of which may be read in Prisms, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1967), p.19.
To anyone in the habit of thinking with his ears, the words ‘cultural criticism’ (Kulturkritik) must have an offensive ring, not merely because, like automobile, they are pieced together from Latin and Greek. The words recall a flagrant contradiction. The cultural critic is not happy with civilization, to which alone he owes his discontent. He speaks as if he represents unadulterated nature or a higher historical stage. Yet he is necessarily of the same essence as that to which he fancies himself superior.

source: <http://lists.ccil.org/pipermail/philnet/2002-June/002663.html>, accessed July 28, 2003On June 24, 2002 Frederik van Gelder of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research (where Adorno worked), answered a query on Philnet as follows:
> I wonder if anyone can tell me the precise location of Adorno’s

> comment that it is impossible to write poetry/produce art after

> Auschwitz? Much quoted, but apparently from a little-known piece of
> writing.
> From: Andy Hamilton
> Dept. of Philosophy
> Durham University
> Durham DH1 3HP
> UK
Original quote in *Prisms*, 1955, MIT Press. Reprinted London, 1967.
It’s a misquote, in as much as it’s a phrase inside of a sentence which is usually left out:

The critique of culture is confronted with the last stage in the dialectic of culture and barbarism: to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric, and that corrodes also the knowledge which expresses why it has become impossible to write poetry today.”
Adorno came back to this topic on three different occasions: in the Negative Dialectics, in Ohne Leitbild, and in Noten zur Literatur IV.
Page references are to the Gesammelte Schriften, where more details can be found:

Original: Prismen, vol. 10a, p. 30.
Kulturkritik findet sich der letzten Stufe der Dialektik von Kultur und Barbarei gegenüber: nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch, und das frißt auch die Erkenntnis an, die ausspricht, warum es unmöglich ward, heute Gedichte zu schreiben. (1955)
Negative Dialektik, 06, p. 355/356:

Das perennierende Leiden hat soviel Recht auf Ausdruck wie der Gemarterte zu brüllen; darum mag falsch gewesen sein, nach Auschwitz ließe kein Gedicht mehr sich schreiben. Nicht falsch aber ist die minder kulturelle Frage, ob nach Auschwitz noch sich leben lasse, ob vollends es dürfe, wer zufällig entrann und rechtens hätte umgebracht werden müssen.
Ohne Leitbild, 10a, p. 452/453:

Weniger stets verträgt jener Schein sich mit dem Prinzip rationaler Materialbeherrschung, dem er die gesamte Geschichte von Kunst hindurch sich verband. Während die Situation Kunst nicht mehr zuläßt – darauf zielte der Satz über die Unmöglichkeit von Gedichten nach Auschwitz -, bedarf sie doch ihrer. Denn die bilderlose Realität das vollendete Widerspiel des bilderlosen Zustands geworden, in dem Kunst verschwände, weil die Utopie sich erfüllt hätte, die in jedem Kunstwerk sich chiffriert.
Noten zur Literatur IV, vol.11, p. 603

Der Satz, nach Auschwitz lasse kein Gedicht mehr sich schreiben, gilt nicht blank, gewiß aber, daß danach, weil es möglich war und bis ins Unabsehbare möglich bleibt, keine heitere Kunst mehr vorgestellt werden kann.

Dr. Frederik van Gelder
Institut fuer Sozialforschung
Frankfurt University
Senckenberganlage 26 60325
Frankfurt am Main

page by Harold Marcuse, July 2003, uploaded June 8, 2005, updated:

back to top, to Herbert Marcuse Adorno Page,
Marcuse Publications PageHerbert Marcuse website

Hektor Rottweiler Rethinks

adorno_cCurrent of Music is a very important addition to Adorno’s bibliography.

“Adorno mentions in a letter [to Rudolf Kolisch, 12 July 1940] that [for one of the sections of his planned book 'Current of Music'] he planned to use an English translation of his 1936 essay ‘Uber Jazz’ (‘On Jazz’). He speaks, however, in a later letter [to Friedrich Pollock, 3 October 1940], of wanting to conjoin this essay with a substantial body of new research materials. For, while he was living in the United States, Adorno had become aware that what he had known of jazz in Germany, and as he presented it in his early essay, was limited. He was thus making research visits to Harlem and had sought assistance from experts such as the American composer Milton Babbit – who would have nothing to do with him. But, in any event, Adorno never wrote anything new for this section” – Robert Hullot-Kentor, editor’s introduction to Current of Music.

This is only one of the electric points of interest in this third volume from the collected posthumous writings of Adorno. Vol 3 was published in German in 2006, in English in 2009 – but most of the work, some 480 pages, was originally written in English when Adorno was in the USA.  Adorno had help with his English grammar – a heavy Teutonic style no doubt - from people like George Simpson who was a young American communist. In a 1969 essay, Adorno acknowledges him for ‘making the first attempts to transform my [Adorno's] distinctive efforts into American sociological language’ (Adorno 1969:146).

Current of Music offers a whole lot more than these snippets however, and its a shame it was left as a draft in his lifetime (but then he had Minima Moralia to write), Current includes a course on good listening, and an entire unpublished theory of the listener(s) that suggests rethinking the usual dismal dismissal of Adorno as some sort of elite purist who thought mere circulation was epiphenomenal.

More Hektoring herehere and here.

11 theses on art and politics (#5,6,7)

IMG_2777[Thesis five, six and seven (of eleven)]:

5. Trinketization would be a diagnosis of limited responses to global reconfigurations of commodity fetishism, where affect and shopping disguise an unbroken deal with hierarchical social relations locked in, unchallenged. Where class/race/gender politics was, we now have lip-service mockery of these same themes, articulated by the celebrity/televisual machine. The contradictions of news entertainment stand starkly exposed and still without purchase. Participation in conceptual politics is voluntary and belongs to an economy of contribution (Boutang 2009) or the ‘attention theory of value’ (Beller 2006). Here circulation, valourization and expression are governed as the activity of bees – who are dying out, but architectural reflection on this process is in even shorter supply.

The contribution economy is appropriate to a Google mode of production – algorithms are enhanced by voluntary activity of ‘political’ subjects – even ones professing artistic opposition to the system. Accumulated hits (like bees visiting plants for pollen) are aggregated in the hive mind of the virtual. My attention to images accrues value for some rather than other scenes. A calculus of image and attention operates to place some scenes before us and to erase others – the significance of Mao or of the collapse of the Berlin wall would be examples.

Surplus attention, surplus value and conceptual elaboration are the machineries of representation as productivity. It is no longer a case of ‘they cannot represent themselves’ but that they are represented by way of their own activity – the algorithm is Napoleon. In the 18th Brumaire Marx offered this formula as a critique of the little nephew, not an indictment of the lumpen and the peasantry who were unorganised, but a condemnation of the opportunist organiser – that Louis Bonaparte who stood above them as their advocate, while all the time advocating only himself as Queen Bee.

6. Art engaged with politics must engage with institutions – galleries, art books, colleges, conferences – and commerce infiltrates and orchestrates every corner of this quadrant so as to show over and over again that the connection politics-to-market is reinforced with steel. Evaluations of art are then always invested, and self-awareness a false economy, still for sale, worked by the hive-mind. In London, even the most ‘political’ of (art) institutions – the Stephen Lawrence Gallery – which at present hosts a show called ‘Re-Framed’ contrasting and dialoguing between street artists and conceptual artists – stages its own branding niche marketing commercialization for attention’s sake on the basis of the old high and low art façade. Adorno had stressed that these two halves are neither halves of any particular whole, nor either immune to the saturation of industrial processes that diminish them and threaten that secret omnipresence.

7. But what is bad art? What judgement will be made of art when if fails in the service of politics because politics fails and falls short in terms of:

- aesthetic excellence, technical competence, significance, relevance, impact

The most political points made inside a certain frame – gallery, exhibition, border, cartoon – invalidates politics to the degree that it is art, even at its most critical. Billie Holiday only sings ‘Strange Fruit’. Bob Dylan’s times did not a change – and it is no real concern that this jingle now sells automobiles at a time when the automobile industry is in disarray.

Art as decoration is a demystifying containment. Desecration of art contains politics for the domestic. Wallpapers design is now as much a historical condemnation as was Duchamp’s urinal, as Jarry’s Pere Ubu. Merde. No-one even laughs uncomfortably anymore.

Art as insult. The occasions where inwardness or introspection makes for art that exceeds its own containment are the points at which we might be interested.


continued: http://wp.me/pcKI3-yS

11 theses on art and politics…

IMG_2748 (…continued – parts 2 & 3 - Part one was Do Bee Do Bee Doo: here).

2. The ‘secret omnipresence of resistance’ is Adorno’s enigmatic turn of phrase in The Culture Industry for a subtle judgement on art and politics. ‘It is a delicate question whether the liquidation of aesthetic intrication and development represents the liquidation of every last trace of resistance or rather the medium of its secret omnipresence’ (Adorno 1991:67). To understand the liquidation of intrication we have, I think, to move some years forward to his book Aesthetic Theory – an indispensable and difficult commentary on the complicity of art with the culture industry. Here you will find condemnations aplenty, of the complaisance of those who find politics in art, or who find crisis – of the separation and reification of art that relies dialectically upon otherness to confirm the soulless totality of the society in which it is other – an other with ‘the marrow’ sucked out of it (Adorno 1970/1997:31). Also find: condemnations of the injunction against self-awareness which insists that ‘nothing should be moist: art becomes hygienic’ (Adorno 1970/1997:116) and a critique whereby the reception of art oscillates in a tension between ‘do-not-let-yourself-be-understood and a wanting-to-be-understood’ (Adorno 1970/1997:302) that is held more significant than the work’s appearance. Introspection, where it is exists as a protest against order, is mere inwardness and indifference to that order, fully compatible with wage slavery (Adorno 1970/1997:116). It is monopoly, especially the monopoly form that is bourgeois film, that abolishes art along with conflict. Here, in the face of an omnipotent productive power, ‘all preservation of individual conflict in the work of art, and generally even the introduction of social conflict as well, only serves as a romantic deception’ (Adorno 1991:67).

3. Cinema is the art form of our times (even if now transformed through multi platform formats and televised via laptop and mobile phone). In his book Film Fables, Jacques Rancière offers the intriguing suggestion that documentary fiction ‘invents new intrigues with historical documents’. It ‘joins and disjoins – in the relationship between story and character, shot and sequence – the powers of the visible, of speech, and of movement’ (Rancière 2001/2006:18). Rancière is talking of Chris Marker’s great film The Last Bolshevik and Jean-Luc Goddard’s ‘Maoist theatricalization of Marxism’ in the pop age. These fictions using historical documents and making pointed reference to political struggles and current events (the collapse of Soviet power in the USSR; the cultural revolution in France) are glossed by Rancière as an indication that laments about contemporary commercial cinema or mass television as the death of great art, or even over the impossibility of cinema after Auschwitz, are premature. Not just a ‘machine for information and advertisement’ (Rancière 2001/2006:19), Rancière has a more nuanced, even Adorno-esque critique of television (and I do not mean the Adorno as rendered too simply as an elite critic of mass culture, but the Adorno that wrote of the two torn halves of a bourgeois culture, ripped asunder by industrialization, and which cannot, perhaps should not, be repaired). Rancière writes:

“cinema arrives as if expressly designed to thwart a simple technology of artistic modernity, to counter art’s aesthetic autonomy with its old submission to the representative regime. We must not map this process of thwarting onto the opposition between the principles of art and those of popular entertainment subject to the industrialization of leisure and the pleasures of the masses. The art of the aesthetic age abolishes all these borders because it makes art of everything” (Rancière 2001/2006:10).

Although there is no reference here to Wiesengrund, nor even to the notion of real subsumption, there are reasons to consider the predicament of the political fable here as the question Adorno brought into Marxism, in however European a way [Euro-Marxism] and consider the possibility that the question of art remains a ground of struggle for representation and politics in the widest sense. Do the bees, as it turns out, share with us a co-constiitution of art and ppolitics, of institution and design, a symbiotic relationship between appearance and essence. The frame through which, or rather in which, ever tightening, something is exhibited, excludes other possibilities. Adorno’s sentence about the ‘secret omnipresence of resistance’ that I have so often quoted, seems apt yet again here as I try to bring forward the discussion of cinema to include not just the staples that reach from Eisenstein’s montage through to Marker or Goddard, but also the much more prosaic art of the pop promo and the documentary television moments of the period immediately after Rancière wrote his book. Has representation collapsed, or is there a secret resistance to be revealed in the silence of the images of which we see and hear so much?

More later: http://wp.me/pcKI3-yT

the perfect job


Dear John

I like to get random mail. Here’s one just out of the post bag:

Dear Professor Hutnyk,

I’m doing a feature for the October edition of Museums Journal about live music in museums, and the fashion for getting rock and pop bands in particular to play in museums. Recent examples include Duran Duran playing at The Louvre, British Sea Power playing at the Natural History Museum, and Simian Mobile Disco playing at American Museum of Natural History. I was wondering if you might be prepared to comment for the piece?

Specifically, it seems that there is an increasing divergence between what was once considered high and low or pop culture, and that where traditionally those people who might visit museums would not listen to popular music, now it is more acceptable that their cultural palette would include both – would you agree? If so, is the cause of the divergence due to changing tastes or the power of market forces, or both, or perhaps something else entirely?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,

My reply:

Hi Patrick

I’m not sure what you mean by an ‘increasing divergence between what was once considered high and low … culture’ since the example you offer, of pop music in museums, actually suggests a convergence doesn’t it? I think that is what you probably meant – and curiously enough, this is precisely the argument I think many people intentionally miss in the work of Theodor Adorno. As I argued in Critique of Exotica (Pluto 2000), the charge against Adorno is that he is elitist, but his point is rather different I think, in that he was saying that both Beethoven and mass cultural forms were both being turned into product for the ‘culture industry’. Henceforth all culture would be produced ‘as if’ it were industrial product. We can all see this today in the repetitive blinking of signs, and brands, and branded museums; in the ways galleries like Tate, the V&A, as well as the BFI, or any number of museums market themselves; and in the ugly boosterist (new-labourite) terminologies of ‘creative industries’ that some hope will provide London with the ability to side-step economic ruin after manufacturing moved elsewhere and we spent all the spare cash on the 2012 Olympics. In this context Adorno seems to have never been more relevant. Consider what is happening at museums – the restaurant, with laminate tables and mood lighting, the ubiquitous coffee outlet (Eat Me or Costly Coffee whatever they are called) and of course the bookshop. Mind you, I miss London‘s old great bookshops (Compendium, and other Leftwing bookshops – with only Haussman’s still flying the flags) but I do think the Tate Modern bookshop is a piece of utopia. So might Adorno – he himself has become a culture industry too of course. There are several new biographies since the 100th anniversary of his birth, many of them available for sale in the ‘critical theory’ section of Tate Bookshop, and elsewhere. The Detlef Claussen one is particularly good, but I also liked the Jager one..

By the way, your example of Duran Duran is not the first but rather one in a long line that might be traced back – see the Horniman Museum for older examples (I guess all that ‘ethnic’ music started something huh – the aural in museums is often neglected when those spaces have such great resonance). Anyway, Duran Duran had the culinary wants of wild beasts – they take their name from Barbarella don’t they – so I guess they might have had a splash of Adorno on their cultural palette also.

In any case, I’m not sure I can help you for your article, but I think Teddy could. The Rottweiler is always worth a look.

all best

(Pic is Alaska – a dog at the Terriet Music Festival in Wales, duly commodified).

Adorno to Benjamin

The “Complete Correspondence of Benjamin and Adorno” (Polity 1999 or Surkamp 199towers1.jpg4) is always a good read on a cold rainy [even snowing] day.

Adorno to Benjamin:

Teddy writes to Walter trying to wean him from his trinket mania, get him to sort out the Arcades, and get him on a boat to New York. Along the way he invents a theory of trinketization. Keen to affirm his solidarity with Benjamin, Adorno is careful not to insist on any orthodox version of Marxism, but he also warns against an abdication from Marxist theory:

‘The impression which your entire study conveys – and not only to me with my Arcades orthodoxy – is that you have here done violence upon yourself. Your solidarity with the Institute, which pleases no-one more than myself, has led you to pay the kind of tributes to Marxism which are appropriate neither to Marxism nor to yourself. Not appropriate to Marxism because the mediation through the entire social process is missing and because of a superstitious tendency to attribute to mere material enumeration a power of illumination which really belongs to theoretical construction … you have denied yourself your boldest and most fruitful ideas through a kind of pre-censorship in accordance with materialist categories (which by no means correspond to Marxist ones)’ (Adorno to Benjamin 10 November 1938, p 284).

This suggests that Benjamin was merely coquetting with the forms of Marxist theory and not thinking them through (coquetting is Marx’s diminutive word in Capital for where he used the language and style of Hegel, in an analysis that went well beyond Hegel, see the Forward to Marx 1867/1967). On Adorno’s reading (of the draft), Benjamin might be confirmed as ‘the [nice, harmless, cute] Marxist that you could take home to meet your mother’ (as someone, I forget who, once said). Adorno is teasing and pushing him to be more inventive and rigorous – at the same time – with his connections. And it is connections to which he is attuned, noting:

‘ a close connection between those places where your essay falls behind its own a priori and its relationship to dialectical materialism … Let me express myself in as simple an Hegelian manner as possible. Unless I am very much mistaken, your dialectic is lacking in one thing: mediation’ (Adorno to Benjamin 10 November 1938, p 282).

Mediation then would be the theorization of connections between the ‘mere’ material observations and fascinations of the Arcades, of the baubles that interest the flaneur, of the observations of the analyst, and of the notations of the writer – mediation is the vehicle of analysis. Adorno marks this as a phantasmagorical and mystical error:

Your ‘anthropological’ materialism ‘harbours a profoundly romantic element … The “mediation” which I miss and find obscured by materialistic-historiographical evocation, is simply the theory which your study has omitted. But the omission of theory affects the empirical material itself’ (Adorno to Benjamin 10 November 1938, Benjamin/Adorno p 283).

At pains not to offend his friend, but also careful to call for something more, Adorno rephrases the same point again and again:

‘To express this another way: the theological motif of calling things by their names tends to switch into the wide-eyed presentation of mere facts. If one wanted to put it rather drastically, one could say your study is located at the crossroads of magic and positivism. This spot is bewitched. Only theory could break this spell – your own resolute and salutarily speculative theory. It is simply the claim of this theory that I bring against you here’ (Adorno to Benjamin 10 November 1938, Benjamin/Adorno 283).

Adorno goes on to write The Dialectic of Enlightenment with Horkheimer, Benjamin ends up sitting bleary-eyed far too long in the cafés of Marseilles, and finally does not make it over the mountain. The suitcase is lost, we do not know if these prods in the direction of theory had recast the manuscript.

Panto Rancière

The twin towers have been so often represented that it is barely possible to see them now for the fug and smoke. In a certain sense, and for some critics, the question of representation collapsed for Cultural Studies on that day in September, 2001. Of course everything has already been said about it, and nothing heard. The towers are silent, the lives erased then, and the many more lost since (and the billions in war credits) are also verbosely inarticulate.

In his book Film Fables, Jacques Rancière offers the intriguing suggestion that documentary fiction ‘invents new intrigues with historical documents’. It ‘joins and disjoins – in the relationship between story and character, shot and sequence – the powers of the visible, of speech, and of movement’ (Rancière 2001/2006:18). Rancière is talking of Chris Marker’s film The Last Bolshevik and Goddard’s ‘Maoist theatricalization of Marxism’ in the pop age. These fictions using historical documents and making pointed reference to political struggles and current events (the collapse of Soviet power in the USSR; the cultural revolution in France) are glossed by Rancière as an indication that laments about contemporary commercial cinema or mass television as the death of great art, or even over the impossibility of cinema after Auschwitz, are premature. Not just a ‘machine for information and advertisement’ (Rancière 2001/2006:19), Rancière has a more nuanced, even Adorno-esque critique (and I do not mean the Adorno as rendered too simply as an elite critic of mass culture, but the Adorno that wrote of the two torn halves of a bourgeois culture, ripped asunder by industrialization, and which cannot, perhaps should not, be repaired – see Hutnyk 2000, chapter 1). Rancière writes:

“cinema arrives as if expressly designed to thwart a simple technology of artistic modernity, to counter art’s aesthetic autonomy with its old submission to the representative regime. We must not map this process of thwarting onto the opposition between the principles of art and those of popular entertainment subject to the industrialization of leisure and the pleasures of the masses. The art of the aesthetic age abolishes all these borders because it makes art of everything” (Rancière 2001/2006:10).


Although there is no reference here to Wiesengrund, nor even to the notion of real subsumption, there are reasons to consider the predicament of the political fable here as the question Adorno brought into Marxism, in however European a way [Euro-Marxism] and consider the possibility that the question of art remains a ground of struggle for representation and politics in the widest sense. Adorno’s sentence about the ‘secret omnipresence of resistance’ that I have so often quoted, seems apt yet again here as I try to bring forward the discussion of cinema to include not just the staples that reach from Eisenstein’s montage through to Marker or Godard, but also the much more prosaic art of the pop promo and the documentary television moments of the period immediately after Rancière wrote his book. Has representation collapsed, or is there a secret resistance to be revealed in the silence of the images of which we see and hear so much? The book “Pantomime Terror” will be an attempt to work with and through these scenes towards something more than the melodrama or melancholy that Rancière diagnoses as innocence become guilty sacred mission (Rancière 2001/2006:186). In a brilliant moment he recognizes that it is what he calls the burlesque body – and what I will call pantomime – that provides us with a ‘dramaturgic machine’ for cutting ‘the link between cause and effect, action and reaction’ by throwing ‘the elements of the moving image into contradiction’ (Rancière 2001/2006:12). It is this secret contradiction that we need to see at work.

The terror for me is this delinking cause and effect. That the image becomes mute, that we become blind, is a problem. These are the terms used by Buck-Morss and Žižek in books that address the events of 2001, and it was the constant refrain of former British Prime Minister Blair in defending British foreign policy in the wake of the July 7 2005 tube and bus bombings in London.

More detail will be needed on this mutation and blindness of representation, but is it enough to note that in his 2008 book Violence Žižek calls terrorist attacks and suicide bombings a ‘counter violence’ that is a ‘blind passage a l’acte’ and an ‘implicit admission of impotence’ (Žižek 2008:69) and Buck-Morss, in her book Thinking Past Terror, offers ‘the destruction of September 11 was a mute act. The attackers perished without making demands … They left no note behind … A mute act’ (Buck-Morss 2003:23). It should be said she qualifies this ‘Or did they?’ but the choice of an absent verbal – mute – message is something we should return to, listen closely to, consider again, and not just with our eyes scanning for evidence, but ears as well. In a similar tone, we might pass over the curiosity that Žižek chooses the infirmities of blindness and impotence to characterize the terrorist suicide bomber, as if the twin towers indicated a scene of masturbation (too much and you lose your sight) and castration (impotence, symbolic castration of the towers, mummy daddy, the old psychoanalytic staples are invoked). More details to be added here on the symptomatic eventuality that has to be pathologized via fables and pantomime in order to be dismissed.

More to come…


plastic stuff

“The admonitions to be happy, voiced in concert by the scientifically epicurean sanatorium-director and the highly strung propaganda chiefs of the entertainment industry, have about them the fury of the father berating his children for not rushing joyously downstairs when he comes home from his office. It is part of the mechanism of domination to forbid recognition of the suffering it produces, and there is a straight line of development between the gospel of happiness and the construction of camps of extermination so far off in Poland that each of our own countrymen can convince himself that he cannot hear the screams of pain. That is the model of an unhampered capacity for happiness. He who calls it by its name will be told gloatingly by psycho-analysis that it is just his Oedipus complex” (Adorno Minima Moralia p62-3).

This is old Adorno in elegiac grumpy mood. From a great book, redoing his schtick about the camps. I think the same points might be made today perhaps about trinkets, about plastic toy workshops in the South, brought here by container, packaged ready for Christmas, to teach kids to love capitalism.

So, lets talk about why we want to play with plastic. Materialist comprehensions of the commodity, objects, souvenirs or trinkets (these are not the same) are different to those of the psychoanalytic approach, which takes individuals and their drives, desires and motives into first account. The fetish is not just a deviant displacement, not just a sexual misrecognition (mommy-daddy) but a feint or trick that hides a deeper social malaise to do with distribution and ethics. I know, but…

Plenty of space for a long convoluted discussion of value, labour, circuits, modifications to the formula, etc etc, but we might get locked up for too long in the study. Someone will ask: ‘Why shouldn’t everyone get to shop, get a load of things, trinketize?’ In Australia during the Soviet era, I remember there used to be an advertisement that went something like: “in some countries they don’t have advertising”. A forlorn family sat bored in a spartan room. Indeed, versions of the queues for bread or the wait for a state-manufactured car are still the loaded ideological tropes of anti-communism, as seen in bitter-sweet triumphalist films like “Goodbye Lenin”. In the Grundrisse Marx devotes considerable pages to the impact of money on ‘traditional’ societies (pp145-172) but, again, who is to say that people with feathers should not want to shop? The problem is not scarcity or abundance of things, though this may be a factor, but the distribution thereof, their production for profit, the manufacture of needs (for things) and decisions about what things are made when and where. More than wanting beads and blankets are at stake.

The problem is not the lack of (plastic) things in various sectors of the world, soon to be rectified by the opening of a hyper-mega-super-market chain very close by, but that the abundance and success of capitalism amounts only to this: it presents itself as an immense collection of commodities. If we at all see this as a success, even as we critique it, (‘who wants all this stuff’ – Deleuze and Guattari) we have given ourselves over to commodity fetishism through and through.

It may bore some people to death, but I’m interested again in the coding of flows arguments D&G offer in Anti-Oedipus – the territorial machine and the technical machine need the social machine to activate them – though we have to understand these machines as interrelated, there can be no move in space or technology without the social, without memory, without labour. Flows must be coded through the machine, marked, inscribed – and so perhaps capitalism is this coding, but it is not always the same, it has fashions and trends – history – and is not a ‘haunting’ such that ‘in a sense capitalism has haunted all forms of society, but it haunts them as their terryfying nightmare, it is the dread they feel of a flow that would elude their codes’ (A-O p140). Codes? Trinkets to be calculated, to be inscribed and counted in some way (general equivalent, abstraction, numbers). But with capitalism this inscription-calculus becomes an abstract coded/coding flow of desire, which in a way makes Deleuze and Guattari improbably advocates of a return through Marxism to psychoanalysis.

Was that Teddy A I saw in the sports sction of the department store on saturday? Was he buying golf clubs? A set of tees or balls for xmas then.

When what we might be doing instead is sideways inscribing, perhaps reinscribing, twisting desire and flow elsewhere – like these two likely lads – anti-war protest coppers (go figure!) at May Day last year [they say 'US-UK Force No to America' - bad grammar, but the sentiment is clear, no? see pic].

Beyond Exoticism

Timothy Taylor has a book out with Duke, 2007, called Beyond Exoticism. I asked him if he’d seen my book Critique of Exotica from 2000 – I note that he cites an early edited version of what became the first chapter – but he says it did not get in. Damn. So I wrote him while I was reading his chapter on hybridity and what he calls ‘Bhangra Remix’.

Of course I told him I thought it a pity he’d not discussed mine, given similarity of title and some themes – so it goes. Pique pique. But then also asked him if he also knew the Graham Huggan book out the year after mine, The Postcolonial Exotic, 2001? And David Toop’s earlier Exotica? All are interesting. Of course then I looked back at Taylor’s book, and saw the Toop volume is mentioned there. That’s good.

Anyway, as I’ve just read Taylor’s chapter on hybridity, I want to start a debate… he briefly discusses work that a group of us have been doing for some 15 years now. So, given his comment that we ‘set aside’ important political aspects of the music (this is not the usual criticism we get), I’m disappointed he didn’t get a chance to see that we have often explicitly discussed Asian Dub Foundation et al., in terms of a black politics, and that we did so especially in the 1996 book (Dis-Orienting Rhythms), again in the two journal collections (that I’ll list below), and again in mine (Critique of Exotica, chapter 2). There, black politics is not at all ‘set aside’, but rather is a very important guiding framework for our work. Sanjay Sharma and Shirin Housee also wrote a very important piece in the book Storming the Millenium that contextualises this discussion. How could all this work be overlooked? I think there are reasons, and will explain below. But before I do, lets admit its true that there are perhaps ways in which someone writing today – seven years after Critique, and more than ten years after Dis-Orienting Rhythms – might need to discuss the shifts in politics occasioned by increased attacks on Asians in the wake of the War On Terror. Such writing is of course underway – and much discussed at our conference in December last year at Goldsmiths. I’m disappointed Taylor does not adequately address these shifts (that some might think of as a shift away from a ‘black’ politics, but I am not convinced – the category black as a political term is not a skin tone), but at least it is a welcome change to be tested on this score by a musicologist, rather than always hearing complaints that we ignore the music in favour of radical leftism.

I’ve some minor quibbles with Taylor’s description of ADF as hip hop, not drum and bass, or as a ‘could have been Public Enemy’. This strikes me as too easy – a kind of imperious assumption that hip hop is the prism through which all parts of culture production must only be seen – a kind of blinding by bling perhaps, and though we do not ignore it, we do address more dexterous translations of hip hop and other influences – not merely as hybrid mash-up. There is a book edited by Dipa Basu that examines just this. Now, its heart warming to see Taylor endorses some of what I say – about commercialisation of exotica and on radical hybridity for example – but I think he misses a lot of the detail because he is thinking these things through the prism of a west coast musicology frame. Nothing clearly wrong with that I guess, but I would have liked to see some involvement with the politics of these issues, not only scholarly comment. That’s black, that’s not. He endorses my question ‘What would a radical hybridity look like?’, but now I want to ask for a radical scholarship alongside radical hybridity. Yep, this is something I am very keen to promote. Can Taylor fire up? Not everyone has to join the communist party or even sign up with Adorno within the academy – but I am concerned that scholarship slides into knowing quietism. And why does he seem to not like Adorno? – saying at the end of the book that he is ‘not ready to follow the Adorno route’. This of course is not necessarily to endorse the fabricated and erroneous versions of Adorno that prevail in universities these days, but I am curious to know why he felt the need to end the book with the usual ‘Adorno-thought- consumers-were- all-just automatons’ routine? I think its good to remember that Adorno wrote his essay ‘On Jazz’ under the pseudonym Hector Rottweiler

But back to the hybridity chapter – I have issues with words. If Taylor had given us something on Bhangra Remix’s non-London roots, or even acknowledged them, this would have been good. Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester are a very big part of the story. There is a sense that the Anokha clubnight that broke the scene commercially was just the mainstream cash-in on a music that was middle and northern England well before then – as Virinder Kalra keeps on pointing out, most of the interesting early stuff – Bally Sagoo, Malkit Singh, Apache etc., – comes from a one mile square block of Birmingham. So I think ‘Bhangra Remix from London’ is not the best term – and describing early Bhangra as ‘a kind of rock/pop played by South Asians in London’ also erases some important specificities, the Melas, the various clubs, the nights at the Hacienda, Sankeys Soap, etc. Debates about terminology were, as Taylor says, all important – and the bands themselves, at least Hustlers HC, ADF and FDM, were first to insist theirs was not ‘Asian Cool’ (Aki said the only Asian Cool he’d heard of was the street protests in Manningham, circa 1995) and I never heard anything on Nation called ‘Bhangra Remix from London’. I wonder why Taylor settled on that term? I know it later became the phrase most often used in the NYC scene – by Sunaina Maira, for example, in her first article for us in Postcolonial Studies 1998, but even there in NYC, Vivek Bald complicates the terms – see his great film Mutiny. My worry here is that musicology becomes scenic (hegemonic) definition, and engagement in politics, or in the politics of knowledge, gets left aside a little if these things are not continually destabilized. And here is the clincher – it demands a radical scholarship, engaged and involved. As Taylor says in the very last lines of his text, ‘the stakes have never been higher if we are to understand the world and leave it for the better’ (p212). For mine, understanding and leaving it at that ain’t the best way to translate an earlier version of this sentiment. Let’s rephrase the terms: ‘The philosophers [musicologists?] have only interpreted the world [music], the point is to change it’ (11th Thesis on Feuerbach – old beardo, my brackets of mirth]

Ah, now I’ve written this out these seem like minor matters of disagreement on the whole. Even jealousy (clearly). And this is not a book review, not yet – I should say there is much in the earlier chapters that is great, and there is a fun chapter, after the hybridity one, on country music that is very cool. The trouble is that here a critique of hybridity that should have been attractive just did not live up to the billing – it marrs an otherwise pretty good book. So let me just clearly say that on the whole I enjoyed the book very much, especially the early chapters, and most of all the commentary on the opera Schehrezade.

Just to be thorough (this’ll no doubt look like harassment, but its not meant to be) I’ll list some of the relevant stuff we’ve done on Asian musics here:

1996 Dis-Orienting Rhythms: the Politics of the New Asian Dance Music. Zed books, London

1998 ‘Music and Politics’ special issue of Postcolonial Studies Vol 1 no 3, (co-ed Hutnyk and Virinder Kalra)

1999 Sharma, Sanjay and Housee, Shirin ‘“Too Black, Too Strong?” Anti-racism and the Making of South Asian Political Identities in Britain’, Jordon and Lent (eds) Storming the Millennium: The Politics of Change. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

2000 ‘Music and Politics’ special issue of Theory, Culture and Society Vol 17 no 3 (co-ed Hutnyk and Sanjay Sharma)

2000 Critique of Exotica: Music; Politics and the Culture Industry. Pluto Press: London.

2005 Diaspora and Hybridity – authors Virinder Kalra, Raminder Kaur John Hutnyk. Sage: London

2005 Hutnyk, John ‘The Dialectics of European Hip-Hop: Fun^da^mental and the Deathening Silence’ South Asian Popular Culture 3(1):17-32

2006 Ali, Sayyid V.Kalra (eds) A Postcolonial People: South Asians in Britain – Hurst, London

2006 Hutnyk, John ‘The Dialectic of Here and There: Anthropology ‘At Home’ and British Asian Communism’’ Social Identities 11(4):345-361

2006 Dipa Basu and Sid Lammelle (Eds) The Vinyl Ain’t Final London, Pluto

The Politics of Cats.

Cat, n. Small mammal with an attitude problem.

I imagine that cats are aphorists, composing dialectical koans and licking their whiskers at the elegance of their arabesques. Though I recognise that Adorno himself noted that aphorisms were not admissible in dialectical thought, which should always abhor isolation and separateness (1951/1974:16), I concede that cats are separate and aloof. Since they are never owned by their humans, they stand apart, domesticated only by choice, self-grooming, dreaming of mice (rather than hubcaps – go figure), ignoring us in ways that transcend normal social, political and geophysical categories. We know these routines already, and recognise their outsider status with a mix of awe and disregard.

Projection. The anthropomorphic charge is more difficult to lay upon our conception of cats, yet it does apply. To think of them as yoga-masters, or as independent outsider spirits, is still to malign them as merely human. I am sometimes paranoid in thinking that my cat is mechanical. A twisted automaton designed especially to distort my brain. Uncle Bill Burroughs said that paranoia was being in possession of all of the facts. So let us consider the evidence: cats purr – this could be very cute, or is it rather the calculated industrial production if cuteness?; cats wash themselves with their tongues – and if they were electric they would short-circuit (though consider how coffing up a hairball might just be that); cats growl and hiss when interrogated – clearly they could be detained as non-combatants if only we had the will, and a strong leader. Cats have whiskers… More examples would only trap us in a dialectical game of catch and release, and so cats will have once again won. They always do, toying with us; ask the mice.

So I think we need to learn to learn from these philosophers of composure. First of all I imagine Uncle Bill, stoned in the Bunker, communing in some feline comprehension with his cat Fletch: ‘wouldn’t you?’. But why is it that Lévi-Strauss exchanges a look of understanding with that cat at the very end of his book Tristes Tropiques? Why a look; a visual metaphor for knowledge? Well, not so much a look of knowing, but a ‘brief glance, heavy with patience, serenity and mutual forgiveness’ (1955/1973: 544). Do cats forgive? Are they theorists of hospitality? That look bothers me some. If I were to elaborate on the metaphors of vision for knowledge I would ramble on about the way our disciplines are divided up into fields; how one strives to see the point of an argument; how instead of seeing your point, I hold a different view – so many ways in which the assertions of knowledge are visual. But with cats you do not know – the enigmatic Cheshire smile prevails.

Kurt Vonnegut died recently, having once written a great book called Cats Cradle (1963) which was later accepted by the University of Chicago anthropology department as a Masters thesis. In that book, the narrator, Jonah (referencing Moby Dick) investigates the life of the now deceased Felix Hoenikker, developer of the atomic bomb. Of course we all know Felix is a quintessential cat’s name (my first cat), and this Felix is appropriately enigmatic also, concerned only with higher science, the pursuit of knowledge as calculation, and absent-minded outsider. Though I suspect a certain identification on Vonnegut’s part, only this narrator, as Jonah, could hunt him down, tempt him with the fish perhaps… It’s not just the bomb, Felix invents a substance that threatens the planet – Ice-9, and his children take it and… To tell more would ruin the story for those who have yet to read it – as far as thesis goes, its anyone’s guess how Chicago Anthropology managed to assess this as a scholarly work. Credit due.

Burroughs also pursued anthropology. This at Harvard as part of the G.I. Bill, where returned WW2 service personnel were offered places in university. Uncle Bill reports that he found the department grim: ‘I had done some graduate work in anthropology. I got a glimpse of academic life and I didn’t like it at all. It looked like there was too much faculty intrigue, faculty lies, cultivating the head of department, so on and so forth’ (Burroughs 2001: 76). It makes me wonder how any of those cats ever get their act together and sit for their degrees. Concentration seems awry; consistency suspended. And a mischievous outsider’s critical countenance continues to leave them disturbingly set apart.

Burroughs in London in 1970 was strangely prophetic when he described America as vulnerable: ‘extremely vulnerable to chaos, to breakdown in communications, particularly to a breakdown in the food supply [a typical cat concern]. Bombs concentrated on communications, random bombs on trains, boats, planes, buses could lead to paralysis. But you must consider the available counters. We spoke about the ultimate repression that would be used. Once large-scale bombings started you could expect the most violent reactions. They’d declare a national emergency and arrest anyone. They don’t have to know who did it. They’ll just arrest everyone who might have done it’ (Burroughs 2001:156).

There are suggestions that all cats be detained in Guantanamo. We are close to such a repression. Just presenting the look of being an outsider is a dangerous thing. Cats threaten the western way of life in this time of ‘war on terror’, and do so because we cannot ever tell if they are with us or against us. And they are not afraid of sacrifice – they believe they have nine lives! They adhere to ancient cult traditions (from Egypt no less, training camps in the desert we suspect). They are long past masters of undercover operations (consider CatWoman’s wily ways of entrapping the hero of Gotham). Just read the old eastern book of war tactics, I am a Cat by Soseki Natsume (1905/2002) to see how internecine and dialectical warfare offers tactical advantage to these furry miscreants. Danger, hiss, pttfft, grrrr.

The thing about cats, aberrant and inscrutable, is that they are the antithesis of the rat-race, and for this reason alone it is worth changing their kitty-litter. Meow!

John Hutnyk (for Daisy Cumberland)

Theodor Adorno 1951/1974 Minima Moralia New York: NLB.
William Burroughs 1971 Burroughs Live: Interviews New York: Semiotext(e).
Claude Lévi-Strauss 1955/1976 Tristes Tropiques, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Soseki Natsume 1905/2002 I am a Cat Berkeley: Tuttle Publishing.
Kurt Vonnegut 1963 Cats Cradle New York: Dell Publishing.

cats stretch
[& cat pic from Dr Who]

Derrida by Night.

Abstract for a paper for London Met in December:

Derrida by Night.

In receipt of the Adorno prize in 2001, Jacques Derrida meditates on what Theodore Adorno had to say about dreams and violence (Derrida “Paper Machine”, 2001/2005:168)

What might be made of the work of Derrida on the rogue state, and how could this be thought of in the light of Youth v. Police violence in France? It should not be overlooked that the cars that burn in Paris burn at night, as in some dream or nightmare in the dark unconscious that underpins the racist imperialist State. The burning cars are certainly unusual and perhaps even weird versions of what Derrida might have called writing in the expanded sense. Is there any mileage in Derrida’s notion of inscription, as a way to make sense of this uprising? – certainly the car (carriage-way) has marked Paris and since Haussman we know this is an issue of urban planning, as it is perhaps in a different way for the suburbs today.

.Who knows how this will go, its a small (closed) workshop.

Hector Rottweiller

Bashing out notes for a lecture/text on the Culture Industry. Reading Adorno’s essay ‘National Socialism and the Arts’. He wrote this in 1946, but I think he might have meant it to be read today. When he talks about the social and political situation of popular music after the second imperialist world war – as the continuation/modification of the spirit that birthed Hitler – I can only think this resonates with the way commercialization has been totally operationalized in the situation of imperialism today. Or maybe worse, in a way, well, that might have made both Adorno and the Nazi’s blush. Sure, there is still a lot of examples where you can point to ‘oppositional’ elements in music, and the injunction that ‘nothing should be moist’ (Adorno) still has not taken hold absolutely everywhere, but sometimes even the moisture just tastes like a ‘sexual lozenge’ (Leiris) we are sold to keep us quiet. Adorno pointed out how it would be an error to think there ‘ever sprung to life a specifically musical Nazi culture’ but, rather, what was ‘profoundly changed by the system was the function of music which now openly became a means to an end, a propaganda device’ (Adorno 1945/2002:283 [Essays on Music]). The exponential exacerbation of this tendency today is not just the use of quaint guitar pop to introduce political leaders – Fleetwood Mac for Clinton, Oasis and Bliar, Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ for U.S. Gulf War Generals, but the all pervasive trivializing of music in every sphere of our lives as mere flavour and colour. No longer rhythm and sonorous life, just the clitter clutter of the new aural gadgetry. Should we be bothered (?) that: music on music-television has become mere jingles for lifestyle shows and fashion shoots; ring-tone downloads reduce melody to mechanical alarms; football games punctuate scoring moves with sampled pop refrains from the worst back lists; hip hop stars advertise acne creams: “I’m moisturizing my situation…” and do it on prime time. Role models yeah, I guess they gotta get paid… What then for creativity and listening, articulated in the market, killed at the store. Ready Mr Music please…

Show Neon Fashion

From the most recent edition of the journal Left Curve (No 29)

Show Neon Fashions
Accompanying Exhibition/Catalogue Essay for: JOOYOUNG LEE (with CART The airport) Dec 2003 to Jan 2004. Art Space Hue, http://www.artspacehue.com (Seoul)

Fashion! Turn to the left
Fashion! Turn to the right
Oooh, fashion!
We are the goon squad and we’re coming to town
Beep-beep (Bowie, Fashion)

Consider what it is to show fashion. The words have a hint of glamour, and a hint of guilt. Guilt and gilt. For many, including the egotist, the exhibitionist, the extrovert, there is always a mild embarrassment at having to show, having to attract attention, showing-off. And there is also a charge, a thrill in the dress-up razzle of performance, of exposure, of risk and sensation. Because the show must go on. Advance. (On with the show, more and more sensations).

It is often difficult to examine something right in front of you in an open honest way. And this is inversely related to the fragility of that close something. Exquisite objects in a room. A plethora of ideas. The show archives such a wide range of our anxieties that it must be significant.

Anxious feeling. Hesitation. Coy and Halting. The reservations of the self-declared publicist are sometimes a part of the act. Don’t be fooled by the bright lights. One mustn’t be too forward. Show by not showing that you are showing, there’s the trick. The display is ironic, the engagement contrived. Wink. Blink. To put on a show, to make a show of it, show and tell, knowingly. There is a well known injunction against secrecy – yes, on with the show, show-all, tell us true. The metaphorics of showing are well developed in English, as in other languages. We show, demonstrate, reveal, prove, illustrate, explain, confirm, display, parade, exhibit, act, flaunt, expose, bare, exemplify, at a fair, an event, the extravagance of it all.

Appearance itself, like show has multiple meanings – to put in an appearance is a representation that doubles. To appear as one is, and to appear as something else. To put in an appearance on the stage is an act, or not. We should not overlook how to show something may also be to show by proxy, to dissemble, to appear as something else. Crazy diamonds.

I remember something called ‘show and tell’ from school. Each student had to bring an item from home to display before the class and tell a story. I always brought pets. Cute, but pointless really. They may or may not have won me friends – a lizard, a rat, a snake – or told them anything about who I was or how I wanted to be (don’t judge me from this bestiary) but this was one way we learnt to show ourselves. This was a version of hide and seek, for audience and artists, and its no more sophisticated than what we are doing now – looking at material on show, and wondering if what is shown reveals itself and tells us something which may or may not be intended, may or may not tell us a story. This structures our cultural life – the lifelong elaboration of the old fort-da game the child plays with mummy. But we often have our hands over our eyes so we cannot see what we are missing.

Representation – are these works on show re-presented fashion by context or design? We would have to ask how they display (show or fashion) their previous presents, how they carry meanings, contexts, how they show the marks, how they fashion thought and views, of here, of elsewhere. Carry them with them to the new ever new fashion shows of our desire. In this fissure the works themselves show up the fissured character of show business, in showing. Fashioning means shaping, means creating – the fashionista has a distance from the fashioning of the works, and the workers, who are practiced at this art of showing, they have done it before, tried this over and over. Showtime.

So as everyone here knows – no business, no show – the movement of art and ideas from the rarified space of the gallery into some form of commercial space is not the first time the distinction between business and art has been questioned. This topic itself is really in fashion. And just as surely art has always been a ritual showcase of power of fashions – the idea that the galleries were somehow separate space was always an illusion. The logic of the administered society required illusionists, but it was fake nonetheless.

What does all this have to do with the appearance of certain works in a certain space. Each asks a question. Why are these works on show now? Why did they show up here? What are we intended to see? What is revealed? What hidden? What looks important, what not? Where to look so we see just what is supposed to show up with this show?

The participation of some artists in ‘art’ spaces adjacent to or within commercial spaces, with corporate sponsorship, continues an established mode of showing work, but it is one that reveals much. The corporate sponsorship of art is questioned at the moment when it is extended to hitherto unimagined levels of the integration of corporate interest and product placement in ‘art’. Of course commercial concerns have long wanted to be seen as, to show that they are good citizens supporting independent artists and ideas. The explicit critique of this has become boringly routine. Can we show it another way – cutting up the product for example, foregrounding product placement in another? Drawing the viewer into new relations with objects? With ideas? With spaces? With showing?

What of the multiple senses of fashion and show? Verity, to reveal something in its originality. Or copy, to represent by substitution. Or do we need to think through this show more or less laterally, stooping to draw the curtain to this show, to see there is nothing shown here, there is no substitution, no division, only the raw show, the show on display – only what s left exposed on the end of a fork, as William Burroughs had shown us in Naked Lunch? Nothing to see. No show. Neon residue.

But we know this is show business – the emphasis on the second word in this single phrase no longer merely reveals to us that art is a business. There is no show and no fashion without the entire apparatus of grants, funding, organization, contacts, galleries, venues, studios, schools, commentaries, cameras, critics, criticisms, articles, books, bookshops, libraries, footnotes, catalogues, history – an enormous institutionalized and globalising apparatus, a web of interconnections and archival depths, variously ordered. The fashion business is huge, convoluted and controlled. So we know something is going on here. We know we must make sense of the show, to extend it beyond the apparatus to meanings, to see what the business of showing shows.

Convulsed by rituals, the show pretends to separate itself from its context, from the apparatus, from the connection – but it does this at the same time that it stresses them, shows the connections, dines out on them. Makes them visible.

But all this remains philosophical if we do not examine how the fetish character is strong in showing. And we are deceived by the show that does not show more. The displacement of ideas onto objects reflects the fetish of both sexuality and of the market. Things stand in for their others, dissemblance rules, truths are illusions. But visibility leaves too little to the imagination, one needs to think in order to see. Blink. The monotonous stare of convention and compromise can only be cut, as with the razor that cuts the eye in Un Chein Andelou’s most provocative scene, only with a violent rupture. Power is so strong in vision it takes a great crisis to show something else. There are two possible exposures, or more. Let’s cut to these, to see what this show also exposes.

Showing through all this is a hypocrisy that will feed us art in the days of generalized terror. Auschwitz has been generalized for every occasion. And we are encouraged to look away, to know only the most minimal facts about the destruction of the Palestinian people, the direct effects of the bombing of Afghanistan (rubble sifted into sand), Iraq and the rape and death that attends today to Baghdad, the abandonment of the Kurds, the deaths in Turkish prisons, the detention camps in Australia (asylum seekers seen as invaders), the HIV holocaust in Southern Africa, the floods in Bangladesh (annual death tolls beyond calculation), the resource extraction that decimates Papua New Guinea, the demonization of North Korea (news for a week in the west, displaced by the next show), the dictatorship in Burma (not solved by offering Nobel prizes), the civil rights violations in Britain and the US (under guise of the new anti-terrorism bill we have detention without trial) and almost everywhere else (the internal security act in Malaysia, detention without trial) and so much more. Too many signs show there is a new totalitarianism abroad and we do not wish to see that it is also there amongst us, we do not want to be shown the horrors amidst which we live. Hidden in the light, we go about our business as if it wasn’t there, as if our complicity with all manner of new persecutions did not show us up as the storm troopers and camp commandants of world spectacle that we really are. We’d rather just go to a show. Its just fashion. The bright lights shine on you. Blink.

The world of spectacle under Empire – be it of Nero, or the Raj or of the Reich – is no less total because it offers 120 channels and luxury condominiums next to halls of culture. The branded injunction to enjoy the fashion show is the new sound byte of jackboots on your face. There has never not been a time when the choices not made and the examples not examined were simply omissions overlooked. There is so much kept deliberately out of focus, so much behind the scenes. Is it so ugly that we dare not see, or is it a fear of having nowhere left to look once the facade has been brushed away? Perhaps we Emperors are naked once and for all, exposed and cold – no-one cares to say, no-one moves toward the gate upon which the slogan declares that our work shows that we are free … blink. Fashion.

Inspirations for the above:
Adorno, T. The Culture Industry, and Nietzsche, F. Thus Spoke Zarathustra

John Hutnyk


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