Refused consideration for his habilitation degree, Walter Benjamin resorts to fairytales with venom (from the Eiland&Jennings ‘Life”):
A piece written before this week’s release of Bad Girls, coming out soon in Social Identities.
Abstract: The recent work of the Sri-Lankan-British musician and sonic ‘curator’ known as M.I.A. (real name: Mathangi Arulpragasam) is considered as a commentary on atrocity and read alongside the well known essay ‘The Storyteller’ by Walter Benjamin and comments on Auschwitz by Theodor Adorno. The storytelling here is updated for a contemporary context where global war impacts us all, more or less visibly, more, or less, acknowledged. It is argued that the controversy over M.I.A.’s Romain Gavras video Born Free is exemplary of the predicament of art in the face of violence, crisis and terror – with this track, and video, M.I.A.’s work faced a storm of criticism which I want to critique in turn, in an attempt, at least, to learn to make or discern more analytic distinctions amongst concurrent determinations of art A careful reading of Adorno can in the end teach us to see Born Free anew.
Keywords: Benjamin, Adorno, Gavras, M.I.A, music, terror, racism, orientalism.
So, the trite thing to ask is ‘What would Benjamin have to say about the Boxing Day sales?’ If you think that the Arcades equation goes: Capitalism > Paris > Arcades > Flaneur > Snowdome then you have probably missed the entire premise. Condensation is not all that goes on here – the world is not desiccated trinkets. It’s the constellation that can be discerned in the appreciation of trinkets that matters. The book remains unfinished (and I hate to say it but that also seems to be my excuse, though the mountain and the morphine are not yet in reach).
(…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
LENIN’S TOMB has posted a Danish documentary about Marcuse, his support for the radical movements of the 1960s, and his clash with Governor Ronald Reagan. It includes commentary by people like his student Angela Davison (on his involvement helping kick down doors in occupations of the university senate at UCSD etc) , and he himself talks about branding, planned obsolescence and ‘vulgar psychological misinterpretations of the student movement’. Fred Jameson is also in it, and there is an amusing section of attempts by conservatives to buy out Marcuse’s job contract. Its an hour long – but worth a Look. Ahh, he paid anonymously for the door he smashed. Strange. But the bit with the Marine Recruiter is funny – and very topical still – and the guff about ‘poisoning young minds’. Very dangerous. Ha Ha Ha. See also here.
short sunday long – by CR
“jane dark’s sugarhigh not only has some swift Adorno for us (especially good for LS) –
“The consciousness of the unfreedom of all existence, which the pressure of the demands of commerce, and thus unfreedom itself, does not allow to appear, emerges first in the intermezzo of freedom. The nostalgie du dimanche is not a longing for the working week, but for the state of being emancipated from it; Sunday fails to satisfy, not because it is a day off work, but because its own promise is felt directly as unfulfilled; like the English one, every Sunday is too little Sunday. The man for whom time stretches out painfully is one waiting in vain, disappointed at not finding tomorrow already continuing yesterday”.
– but there’s also a new term for us to learn today:
“The anxiety of having to pay the rent, having to show up for work on Monday, is now only a start. There is a new anxiety into which that anxiety now hemorrhages. It’s no longer enough to find happiness is being always at work; that fades over the long Sunday. One must place that work within the space of flows, within the interlocking, competing and colluding organizations of interstatal politics and transnational capital, and this knowledge comes with a price: weltsystemangst, ‘world system anxiety.'”
The pleasure of the world-wide accessibility of your texts. The sense that you type into Burma, Moscow, Brazil’s backwater-ranches, Central Park West. The unbearably light weight of the whole that you move with your insomniac fingers. The job well down, everywhere all at once. And what drives it, what need it fulfills, what hole it fills.
The international-access – and international-labor – of the blog (especially as voluntary work) remains under-theorized…
Whatever. I must admit, I fantasize at times about international business travel. That I will be called to present in Sao Paolo, Cape Town, Copenhagen, and yes, above all, Shanghai. That it will be all Lost in Translation, all the way down. Laptoping myself towards the sublime.”