22 February 2007

Three Cheers for Zizek!

Both Jodi Dean and HighLow were right to start by looking to the horse's mouth:

The true victory (the true 'negation of the negation') occurs when the enemy talks your language. In this sense, a true victory is a victory in defeat. It occurs when one's specific message is accepted as a universal ground, even by the enemy.

--Slavoj Zizek presents Mao: On Practice and Contradition

And Dean wastes no time asserting that the political left in America has simply not figured out that the terms of the dream must change, that their message is not just accepted by the enemy... it's really being put to work by the enemy. (I particularly like her example of imperialist asshole presidents "spreading democracy...")

Dean's diagnosis, a'la Zizek? Because the enemy has taken over our language, we lack even the ability to say what we want, to state exactly what's wrong. We have lost the language for dreaming.

Highlow superbly takes this one step further, past politics and into art. He's right about irony and all those other "tried and true methods of revolt - ugly painting, pornography, appropriation, "low" art..." These strategies are no longer saying No to anything. They are referring to a tension that is such old news that the art doesn't just look stagnant or mannered. It looks as conservative as "spreading democracy."

Highlow sees the empty rhetoric of protest art being rebranded as a "niche style(s) that in fact resemble the establishment more than they confront the establishment and the practitioners are allowed to continue on with their illusions of dissent."

And honestly, I think he's being too nice. Allowed to continue on with their llusions of dissent, my eye! I could just be crabbin' on Armory Season... but I think the picture is much more round. I think art buyers are out there actively rationalizing imperialism by buying art that has a specific countercultural manner.

All this leaves me shilling for an old argument: The most important political action an artist can take is to make apolitical art. Political strategies in art wind up telling viewers what to think, and this works too well, and takes us all away from Zizek's goal:

...in a radical revolution, people not only have to 'realize thgeir old (emancipatory, etc.) dreams'; rather, they have to reinvent their very modes of dreaming.

I know that this is frustratingly indirect, and that we live in perilous times, but I will say it again. Art that moves past all those old counterculture tropes and into the unknown is about the only thing that can get us back on the dreaming path.

5 Comments:

Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Brilliant --

In this sense the approach we take to art making is part -- could even be entirely -- the political statement, right?

The art making approach springs directly from the life-living, expresses that life purely -- then all that's needed is for the artist to be insightful and to have courage to be this different beast.

In the process then format gets reinvented or shot straight to hell. We decide what it is.

excellent ---

23 February, 2007 16:23  
Anonymous herbert said...

bill, i would still say that this concerns all cultural production, with is ties to cultutral policy and economy. I mean, we will probibly see a romantic turn, and probibly one that is highly theoreticly informed, but that wont effect what, in turn, was really taking shape/changeing all along: the instutional and economic framwork.

I would then say, and mayby zizeks point is aplicable here, that a romantic (angst, pessemism) turn would exactly acknoledge the victory of this new iron cage that cultural production is becomeing.

25 February, 2007 20:43  
Blogger de Selby said...

This is a great post. I've been ruminating on it for the past week. I read the linked pages you included (and more) and yesterday I looked for the Mao title so I could read the Zizek essay. His position seems to resemble something I've been thinking for the past several years.

04 March, 2007 09:47  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Thanks for the comments, folks.

Honestly, the zizek made me feel a little sad and flat, and I didn't feel like writing anything that isn't completely romantic about it for awhile.

But I am pulling my head out of the oven as we speak... back on the horse soon.

05 March, 2007 16:09  
Blogger de Selby said...

I have not yet found my copy of those books so I can read the Zizek essay(s) for myself. (And I've also quite deliberately ignored Zizek for the past several years -- because I'm tired of trendy theorists (but I digress).) So, all that said, I am, to an extent, talking out my arse -- but I will talk nonetheless! (Imagine if you will that great bit at the end of SARAH SILVERMAN: JESUS IS MAGIC.) But, it seems to me there is the empirical fact Zizek is referring to and the negative spin he puts on it. My formulation for this same empirical fact is a bit different (certainly not as negative). I don't see why this fact (if it is indeed a fact and I think it is) needs to be seen as necessarily bad or negative. Thinking it is bad or negative might suggest one is parsing these events with an outmoded critical apparatus.

05 March, 2007 17:27  

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