Tag Archives: Adorno

Panto Terror reviewed (sandwich)

Screen shot 2013-11-25 at 16.10.41A brief review from Mark Perryman (Philosophy Football) on Socialist Unity where I am sandwiched between words on Arun Kundnani’s book (which I read and think is really good) and Andrew Hussey’s book (which I’ve not yet read):

“Arun Kundnani’s ‘The Muslims are Coming!’ links together the experience of Islamophobia, the framing of extremism/fundamentalism and the ongoing global impact of the west’s so-called ‘War on Terror’. Here the left is grappling with subjects it is more at ease with understanding, though the depth to which it is transformed via that process remains in question. An insight into what that transformation might look like is provided by John Hutnyk’s ‘Pantomime Terror‘ which imaginatively records how popular culture has been affected by a post 9/11 world and on occasion has offered signs of resisting the reactionary, racist, consequences of that process. The urgent necessity for this kind of engagement is established brilliantly by Andrew Hussey’s new book ‘The French Intifada’.”

I regret the reviewers have not noted the critiques of Zizek, Badiou and Buck-Morss in mine, or the importance of Spivak and Adorno to my argument, or the coda on Wagner, but still very good to have. See here. Thanks Mark.

Participation in Museums: Trinketizing the Audience.

Notes for Museum ‘debate’ in Liverpool on November 11.

There is much talk of participation and much effort to remodel foyers, and to an extent interiors, plus toilets, cafes, bookshops and websites, to enable easy access. Asked to be curmudgeon-esque, it seems clear to me that this participation-talk is pseudo-participation. Every participation seems the same, everything alike, repeated patterns, even colour schemes – so many pastels, and fluorescent red plastic chairs. Some of the chairs are little, for kids, or for breaking dad’s back.

How did it get to be that pseudo-participation rules? The dominant culture has no anxiety about having people walk past the exhibits, but do not let them touch you. File on by, stop perhaps for a second, for an hour, but only in a standardized way. Check the visit off on a list. Culture 101.

Nothing without regulation – aims and outcomes carefully calibrated on a planning form that no-one reads, inside a system dominated by the same malignant and parasitic bureaucracy that has overtaken health and education in the hyper-administration. The bureaucracy does not even administer anything today, just keeps the forms in circulation, and the school groups filing through the doors.

And it is this pseudo-routine that must be thoroughly tested. We must know our audience, using the very latest in dumbed-down questionnaires that even newspaper-selling leftist street-vendors would disavow except as props. This is not even market research – so long as the school groups keep on marching past in tight formation. Participation in the most bland formal sameness – Adorno pointed to a sexual lozenge at the heart of the culture industry, and for sure he also meant the museum as pseudo-education. Where everything should be clean. ‘Nothing should be moist’.

We are so far from education here except education as reinforced class privilege. Education is not a two-hour visit – give them 20 hours, even 20 weeks – and they must read in advance. Here cultural exposure is not instruction but packaged ‘culture’ – and education is not a social good, but ‘education’ as national programming. An articulated system for inculcating national ideology and the flat flat flat dissemination of British identity and imaginary pasts. Books in the bookshop on popular themes – tea, crockery, swords. The empty materials that can be rearranged for some groups to dominate others.

Because commodification is the new rule, just like the old one. Different levels according to price, knick-knacks or bespoke jewelry, a café and a bistro, a members room. The collection is sacrificed to the expansion of the foyer, the t-shirts and tote bags carry the branded museum like a picture on a mug. There is no room for the collection, but room aplenty for postcard reproductions. The collection is not a collection, not a research effort, not a scholarly project, but a beauty contest.

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Three props – a toy wooden horse, my gilt-edged copy of Arabian Nights, and a carved wooden Ganesh idol.

Participation cannot be a Trojan Horse, smuggling the old kings of the elite cloister into the pockets of a population plundered and left to rue the day. Participation is not a flash mob.

Neither should we rest with the admirable storytelling device of Scheherazade from the epic One Thousand and One Nights. She tells stories every night – Sinbad, Ali Baba, Aladdin – to ward off the threat of the despotic ruler Shahryar, and through her stories eventually she turns him to good. But insofar as this leaves the storyteller as the one with power, and the king in place, the population remains a distant audience, titillated, but fundamentally untouched. Great stories they are, but the structure of interrogation remains, she could be telling her stories to the despotic king, or in Guantanamo today to the CIA interrogators, or the national press. What she needs to do is teach others to tell stories, and this also takes time – perhaps 1001 nights, sometimes more, different in each case and not a blanket solution. Democracy is not an occasionally vote.

What if it were Ganesh that ran the museum. Tasked with writing down the epic Mahabharata – 100 thousand verses – as it was told by the sage Vyasa, Ganesh’s pencil wears down and in order to keep transcribing he snaps off his tusk and dips it in ink to continue. He is the patron of all studious soles, dedicated to a popular scholarship, unending. He is not an occasional visitor on a joy ride.

What we need perhaps is the best of all three of these figures. Enticement into the museum, by horse if need be, then good stories that undo the games of dominant power, and a celebration of scholarship that is not just a two-hour visit, but a lifelong commitment. Museums might be this. With these patrons.

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Talk notes for Taipei conference on Time and Possibility, circa December 2009

More notes not written up, not fit for filing ‘cept in the rapt that is WordPress.

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Adorno Marcuse correspondence on the student left, dialectics, left fascism, Institute, distortions, travel, recuperation and more

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Continue reading by clicking on the screenshot or here: adornomarcuse_germannewleft

 

The essay Resignation should also be read alongside this: adorno_resignation1969

Trinketization with respect to Benjamin’s obsessions with kitsch – mediation between magic and positivism

… with respect to Benjamin’s obsessions with kitsch: Adorno writes to Benjamin 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 (I think) he invents the theory of trinketization. Keen to affirm his institutional 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, Benjamin/Adorno 1994/1999: 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, ‘bad’] 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 with his connections – all at the same time. 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, Benjamin/Adorno 1994/1999:282).

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 1994/1999:283).

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 1994/1999:283).

It might be too easy to score credits here on some biographical outcomes chart (a research assessment exercise) as Adorno goes on to write The Dialectic of Enlightenment with Horkheimer, while Benjamin ends up sitting bleary-eyed far too long in the cafés of Marseilles, and finally does not make it over the mountain. But the suitcase he carries is lost and we do not know if these prods in the direction of theory had recast the manuscript. A terrible gap.

When Adorno met Beckett

P575 Müller-Doohm

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When Chaplin played Adorno

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

Bees again

Nothing can be understood, as Adorno said of Hegel, in isolation from the whole:

‘in the context of the whole, but with the awkward qualification that the whole in turn lives only in the individual moments. In actuality, however, this kind of doubleness of the dialectic eludes literary presentation’ (Adorno 1963 Hegel: Three Studies – in the third one)

But the thing is that we can also cite Adorno’s aphorism from Minima Moralia that ‘the whole is the untrue’, and be sure here that although Marx now reveals the secret of value, this is, also, untrue. It is neither correct except insofar as a great numb of conditioning factors are held aside, nor is it incorrect, but it certainly is in need of supplementing. Without Hegel, and I would say without Adorno to guide a reading of Hegel, there is no chance of getting Marx. Lenin says as much as well.

Adorno’s Hegel is important for example when he says that Hegel does not fall for the uncritical facade:

‘there are good reasons why the dialectic of essence and appearance is moved to the centre of the Logic. This needs to be remembered at a time when those who administer the dialectic in it’s materialist version, the official thought of the East Bloc, have debased it to an unreflective copy theory’ Adorno Three Studies p8

We should be wary of appearances for sure, but also of essences. The essentializing character of seeking out value, or the tool, or the primitive instinct, over against the essence of human creative labour as architect, even the worst architect. Mediation has to be kept alive here, as perhaps a labour of thought. It is not a middle term, but it brings thinking to life between essence and appearance, and it is a permanent confrontation, this dialectic. It is not a world view (Adorno Three Studies p9)

Marx had said of the Phenomenology, as Adorno notes, that in it Hegel had grasped the nature of labour and man as the result of his labour. This labour is social, labour as something for something, or someone, else (Adorno Three Studies p18). This is quite a thing, to suggest Hegel’s spirit is social labour

 ‘the crucial connection between the concepts of desire and Labour removes the latter from the position of a mere analogy to the abstract active of the abstract spirit. Labour in the full sense is in fact tied to desire, which it in turn negates; it satisfies the needs of human beings on all levels, helps them without their difficulties, reproduces human life, and demands sacrifices if them in turn’ (Adorno Three Studies p22)

But idealism is mistaken to turn the totality of labour into something existing in itself as metaphysical principle, as if social labour could be conceives as separate fro nature on which it depends. No nature as such either, of course, and no abstract desire. We do not talk of human nature, nor think there are universal needs.

Adorno quotes Marx on nature and labour from the Critique of the Gotha Programme, ‘labour is not the sours of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use-values’ (in Adorno Three Studies p23) even as Marx notes this is both ‘correct’ and a bourgeois children’s book phrasing that cannot be left without a comment or two about the way in which humanity works with nature and that any suggestion that nature is a basis for subordinating those who only have their labour power to sell to be compelled to sell it ‘as a slave of other men who have made themselves the owners of the material conditions of labour’ (in Adorno Three Studies p 24)

This is followed by a critique of Hegel,s idealism in which labour is detached and becomes ideology as an inherent value. Adorno mentions the section on lord and bondsman but passes quickly rather to Hegel’s comments on religion and ‘spirit as artificer’, as labour, as an instinctive operation ‘like the building of a honeycomb by the bees’ (Hegel in Adorno Three Studies p24). To this inclusion of labour in spirit Adorno suggests ‘only a little more would be needed – remembrance of the simultaneously mediated and irrevocably natural moment of labour – and the Hegelian dialectic would reveal its identity and speak it’s own name’ (Adorno Three Studies p25)

Still, at least we can see where Marx got his interest in bees.

Hegel, in Phenomenology of Spirit, in the section on The Artificer, writes:

‘SPIRIT, therefore, here appears, as an artificer, and its action whereby it produces itself as object but without having as yet grasped the thought of itself is an instinctive operation, like the building of a honeycomb by bees

The first form, because it is immediate, is the abstract form of the Understanding, and the work is not yet in its own self filled with spirit. The crystals of pyramids and obelisks, simple combinations of straight lines with plane surfaces and equal proportions of parts, in which the incommensurability of the round is destroyed, these are the works of this artificer of rigid form. On account of the merely abstract intelligibleness of the form, the significance of the work is not in the work itself, is not the spiritual self. Thus either the works receive Spirit into them only as an alien, departed spirit that has forsaken its living saturation with reality and, being itself dead, takes up its abode in this lifeless crystal; or they have an external relation to Spirit’ p421

Market project Talk transcribed

The folk at Market Project incredibly transcribed what I had to say at their gig in November at Colchester. Much obliged to them. This was after Alex Pearl‘s project Pussycat film (which recommends a final solution for artists), and debate contributions from others that you can also here and here. Mine in full follows. The discussion still to come perhaps.

Market Project’s public debate TOO MANY ARTISTS took place on November 9th 2011 at Firstsite in Colchester.

On the panel were: From Market Project, artist Alistair Gentry and TED Fellow Julie Freeman (with the latter chairing the debate); Dave Beech, artist, writer and member of Freee collective; Professor John Hutnyk from the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths University; Susan Jones, director of a-n The Artists Information Company.

 

Julie Freeman: Our final speaker tonight is John Hutnyk. He’s a professor and academic director of the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths University of London. He is author of a number of books on politics and cultural studies. He’s been the editor of several volumes of essays, including ‘Disorienting Rhythms, the Politics of the New Asian Dance Music’ and has contributed to the journals ‘Theory, Culture and Society’ and ‘Postcolonial Studies’. He’s woprking on a new book at the moment called ‘Pantomime Terror’ and writes occasionally for ‘Stimulus Respond’ and is a contributing editor of ‘The Paper’, which I believe he’s got a few copies of with him…

John Hutnyk: We gave them out today at the rally in London, so we’re running a bit low.

Julie Freeman: He’s fresh from being kettled. You can find him at hutnyk.wordpress.com.

John Hutnyk: Right, thank you very much. Thanks for inviting me. I’ve got the lucky position of having to speak after all these comrades. So I want to- it’s going to be a typical cultural studies thing, I apologise for this, the thing that we usually do is kind of dismiss the categories in which everybody else has spoken and try to redefine the grounds in order to win the debate. So I’m going to say that the categories are wrong! I do appreciate that there are too many artists in Putney or wherever, or active engagement in producing art, but I think that depends on a bourgeois notion of what art is and issue of what is an artist is just too big a question. And it’s not about making bread, although I do appreciate the question of labour.

I want to ask who makes art. Not 1%, but 99%. Before you think I’m going to talk about Occupy Wall Street all night and the occupation of St Paul’s, I think the 99% has to be decolonised and there are many differences and so on, but for the purposes of this I’m going to say even one word can be part of the 99%. Did you read the paper today, The Guardian, no, sorry, The Evening Standard had a spread on The Rolling Stones. They’re still wayward, they’re still drinking. Ron Woods although sometimes reformed and in rehab has a second career after the Rolling Stones of being an artist. I figure if Ron can be an artist, we all can. Well, he did go to art school, it’s true, he did go to art school in the 1950s. He met Keith Richards and the Small Faces and fifty years later he’s become an artist.

I should talk about artists, but to make my point about the 99%, talk about Anthony Gormley. I like Anthony, he comes to Goldsmiths occasionally- and in fact if you think about his work, he does employ artists to make his work… but that’s a question about the labour thing. He could be doing bread. But this is remarkable, I was reminded of this just reading the paper yesterday, he was one of the people- because [government minister Theresa] May’s in trouble over immigration, a few years ago Anthony came out as a sort of spokesperson for a campaign to make the UK Border Authority, the governing body of fortress Europe if you like, or fortress Britain, ease up on restrictions over bringing artists into the country. Freedom of movement for artists was the call, and I think that’s welcome and important but deeply problematic because why should artists get freedom of movement, why should they have privilege of movement, in fact? Why shouldn’t it be freedom of movement for all? Which is the No Borders campaign slogan. So let’s see what Theresa May thinks of that one, if she’s still in office tomorrow. What would the passport check be on the artists, to check whether they come in or not?

So I’m asking just what is it we mean when we say “artist”? Or baker, or breadmaker, or candlestick maker? Is it about getting in a gallery and selling your work, or is it about getting into Goldsmiths and getting a grant? There are two sides to that, I think.

Gentrification’s another issue I want to talk about. Gentrification, or it was called regeneration at one point, sorry, I want to change the terms of the debate again. Gentrification- I think there are too many artists because it’s changing the way we live and certainly colonised Goldsmiths and New Cross and Deptford, I’m uneasy about this because it’s welcome and so on but- great employment for artists or art students at Goldsmiths, we do have a few of them there, in fact everybody in every department thinks they’re going to be artists, the 99% are there alive and well, still pretty privileged and pretty white mostly… but they’ve found a pretty pleasant line in being recruited by real estate agents who want to develop the old schools in the East End.

There was one thing called The Assembly a few years ago, which the developer knew they were going to develop the school into luxury flats, Yuppie flats, Gentrification, but it was going to take two years to get the money and the contracts together and they didn’t want squatters coming in to the school in the mean time so they gave the premises to Goldsmiths and the RSA for a couple of years to run a show, have as studios, basically as holding operation to keep anarchists and undesirables out. Problematic. We had too many artists in that sense.

The other thing is commodification. We talked about the cost and sales of work… Ron Wood is selling work, great good on you. There hasn’t been a Rolling Stones album for a couple of years, but they were pretty lucrative as well, those Rolling Stones albums. Actually what was really lucrative for the Stones was not the ‘Street Fighting Man’ years, the old Decca label stuff and the good songs when they were rebels, and we do recognise that were rebels once, don’t we? Before they started to do tours sponsored by Volkswagen? Advertisements on the telly, I could go through a whole list of musicians who started to do it. There’s one, who’s started to sell insurance now.

Julie and Alistair: Iggy Pop.

John Hutnyk: He must be really bored. “I’M BORED. I’m the chairman of the bored.” He really is, now. The Rolling Stones were “street fighting men” but they became complicit in another kind of sonic gentrification, if you like. Pacification. I have problems with that… complicity has always been part of the game for artists, even the rebels. You’ve got artists in the employ of the state, you’ve got artists providing their work- however critical and troubling- it might be on the walls of bourgeois homes on the West coast of America, and even banks, most banks. Soon we’ll have Banksy on the wall of banks, let’s just drop the “S Y”, well he has: ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’. Complicity is one big thing, royal patronage and T-shirts and cappuccinos and lovely coffee shops with galleries attached. It’s all part of the commodification where Artists with a capital “A”, that’s what I’m saying we’ve got too many of. Turning us all into, and I’m worried about something that was said, viewers. Are we going to get to view, rather than make? I think we can all make.

Yes, the artists are rebels but they get co-opted and consumed, recuperated by the culture industry. It makes me want to talk about an old, grumpy German theorist called Theodor Adorno, I’m sure you all know about him, because we actually started with a sort of homage to Adorno, which was the whole thing about art after Auschwitz. [Note: JH is referring to Alex Pearl's Project Pusscat film which was shown at the start of the presentation]. OK it was sort of displaced into comedy and I appreciated that, and Sarin gas, I like the pantomime terrorist thing but I like to think about the Adorno art after Auschwitz thing as something you have to keep on the boil. Instead of art after Auschwitz, talk about art after Guantanomo… is it still possible, Adorno asks, to still make art after that crisis? After that atrocity, after that moment of barbarism?

I want to talk about that, but Adorno is one who talks about the culture industry and the way this recuperation, this commodification and this complicity keeps on working to draw artists into the mode of production we know as capital, or capitalism. And of course that’s what the people, the 1% versus the 99% thing is about at St Paul’s. Art is an instrument of capital.

This of course has its history in the post war reconstruction programmes, I’ll skip some of it, the 1980s programmes of art to mollify and placate communities that were rising up in London, let’s just take South London where I live, in Brixton and Lewisham and so on, when the black political uprising movement, rebellion, whatever you like, something very similar to what happened over the summer here, was in full flight. Scarman’s report, then, throws money at the “ethnic arts” in order to divide up the allegiances of the black movement. And I think art in the employ of politics and artists in the employ of the state is something we need to discuss.

Of course capital “A” Artists, not all of them get grants. In fact it’s 1% of artists that get grants, and certainly does imply that we all make are, we could make art. In fact the question is: what is art? I mean is art only the bourgeois category of stuff that gets into galleries, or is handwriting an art, or is knitting an art? Singing at the football, is that an art? It depends on what we mean by art and what we mean by artists.

But to go back to the percentage, I’m not so worried about the percentages, that’s another part of the debate I want to displace, but if you think about who gets grants- and I’m surprised that you applied, Alex, to something like the Arts Council for your project. You should have applied to the makers of Zyklon B, or someone like that. Who gets an Arts Council grant is not the relevant policy domain. The thing that’s effecting artists in this country right now is the cuts, and social policy. Unemployment benefit, housing benefit [Kirsten Fockhart’s excellent PhD at Goldsmiths – completed 2011 – discusses this in detail], and all those artists, you know the landscape painters who do a little bit in their shed, they’re artists as well. They don’t get into the same establishments, but they’re more effected by social policy and the winding the back of social policy in this country which has been grave, serious, desperate in the last couple of years, well, in the last ten years. They’re much more effected by that than anything the Arts Council could do with its, what was it? .0093% of the budget. Sorry… see, I wasn’t very good at statistics… .093 of a billion [£] compared to £49.1 billion spent on defence. So arts policy, talking about Arts capital “A”, is not an issue- we have too much of that. What we have is a blind spot to social policy, that’s more important.

So, Adorno. He’s famous for this dictum, “Art after Auschwitz”, but it’s not something that he said in his own voice, it’s really important to see that he was putting this forward as a two part dialectic in the voice of those who at the level of satisfied contemplation, at the level of critics, did not break with the bourgeois categories, it was the idle chatter of that class that both said “you cannot make art after Auschwitz” and were incapable of understanding why it was barbaric to make art after Auschwitz. Now, everyone says Adorno was elitist, he was anti-art, but no. In that dialectic he actually has a more important place for the real rebellious possibility of art as something that we all could do. It would be co-opted and recuperated… well, actually he’s still anxious about that. He thinks under capitalism it’s hopeless. Well… not even.

He talks about it being a still undecided question, whether in the culture industry, in the contemporary bourgeois capitalist regime, it might still be possible that there is a secret omnipresence of resistance, a kernel of rebellion in the project of making art, but only insofar as it resists recuperation by the culture industry. And I’m sorry, our mates, our capital “A” Artists are recuperated, they are in the employ of the Borgias. There are too many artists.

September 11 – Happy birthday Teddy. W. Great Pachyderm.

For a proposed preface to a new edition of Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno writes a letter to Horkheimer, and says:

‘One experience has not been anticipated in the book, although it is hinted at in other texts of ours: at least our young people have set out to resist the transition to the totally administered world that is not being brought into being seamlessly, but by means of dictatorships and wars. The protest movement in all the countries of the world, in both blocs as well as the third world, testifies to the fact that wholesale integration does not necessarily proceed smoothly. If this book assists the cause of resistance to achieve a consciousness that illuminates and that prevents people from submitting to blind practice out of despair and from succumbing to collective narcism, that would give it a genuine function’

Quoted in Detlev Claussen

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.
best,

Dr. Frederik van Gelder
Institut fuer Sozialforschung
Frankfurt University
Senckenberganlage 26 60325
Frankfurt am Main
gelder@em.uni-frankfurt.de



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

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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

mrBangou

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,
Patrick

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
John

(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

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