Response to Jason
To catch up folks who didn't invest in the links:
In a nutshell, Jason is involved in Institutional Critique and wants to change the total fucking horror we witness by more traditional means of protesting the power structure from the outside. And while we agree that these are totally horrific times, I think that Zizek is right, that the rhetoric of protest he is referring to has been completely co-opted by those who want to control us, and that we have to figure out a new language for dreaming and changing. I think that the strategies of institutional critique and the (now conventional) rhetoric of protest does more to distance and romanticize real problems like poverty and inequality and WAR, and that the tools Jason wants to use are generally used to let rich imperialists off the hook and keep all our oh-so-civilized hands clean.
Where we left off, Jason used Thoreau's Civil Disobedience as an example of how to bring down the mighty evil Bush administration.
I understand your take on Thoreau as being active. I guess the crux of my argument is that this kind of action used to make much more sense than it does now.
Protests are not effective when they are called "focus groups" by the president, and when the point of the protesters seems to be to disassociate themselves from the government (ie, Not In My Name) and not to take ownership of it. Don't pay taxes? That is a strategy of the rich, and while I hate the idea of paying for all this dying, I don't want to leave things we need unfunded (like superrich people get to do...)
And voluntary imprisonment? It looks so strange in the context of Guantanamo to think about voluntary imprisonment. It seems so quaint (to use a Gonzales-ism) to think that anyone gives a fuck that you have imprisoned yourself when we are holding people who have done nothing wrong in jails and torturing them for years.
We simply do not live in a society that values life in a way that makes your voluntary imprisonment meaningful.
At the risk of sounding highfallutin', I am looking for a new rhetoric of protest--new ways to dream about better days for all. And that is probably going to shake out like everything else in life. It's probably going to be impossible to just go out and find, and it is probably going to need some sideways action.
For this reason, I do think that the most political things one can do right now are not explicitly political, but more generally intellectual. And I think that this is true because we have lost our very language for action and dreaming. I want to know what the world looks like when humans engage, because there is so much disengagement (masquerading both as apathy and as protest). I want to know how to increase the negative capacity of the average citizen, because we have to be able to stare down such horror. I want to make complexity interesting, because Karl Rove is counting on your eyes to glaze over.
I want to know how to talk about truth in a way that is not about power and not about relatavism, because the powerful have co-opted relativism and are using it to perpetrate the biggest fucking lies.
Jason, in other words, I want to examine power, and truth, and figure out how much power an artist can have to find truth, because truth is a rudder. I think that work is also a rudder, and so I want to know what work looks like, and I want to strip away all the romantic layers of distance that cover everything and ask empowering questions like how does it work? What is holding all this up? What is the structure that is over me? What happens if I touch this? What happens if I break it? I can't do this from the outside. Well, I can, but I can't get the same kind of information. It is one thing to critique someone else's building, and another entirely to make your own. I want to look at all this evil we have wrought with the intimacy of a tinkerer, not the distance of a critic.
I am sure that you will find these tactics distressingly vague, especially since we have argued about political art in the past. But you know, I honestly believe that hammering away at this problem like Thoreau, no matter how much I respect Thoreau's work many years ago in bringing about a total revolution in thought, is not going to do anything today except make folks feel okay about living in an empire.
I think that this is why art and artists and intellectuals (the Thoreaus of right now!) have so much to offer. I think that this is why MLS is wrong, that this is a great time to be an artist. It is a paradoxical time when at the same time we are so urgently lost and so totally comfortable. It's like we are living in that last two minutes before you jump out of bed, realizing that you are an hour late for work. I want to be ready, I want to know where my pants and my toothbrush are. Anything can happen. It is a time of amazing potential, and I don't want to be saying no to it. I want to figure out how to say yes in a way that is meaningful and good and is not a lie or a gloss.
Frankly, if I knew what that meant, I would stop making art and start going and doing it. But I don't know yet. So I screw tires together and think about it.