Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Neoliberal imagination and a few points on religion and inquiry.

I'll begin with the latter. The understanding of debate itself as foundational marks the beginning of the secularization of culture. Once one sees one's own beliefs as existing alongside those of others, religious histories of myths and miracles become stories. Once you choose your faith, it ceases to function as a basis of language, becoming merely one of its functions. I left a comment on Russell Fox's page making this point. "Theology as such is irrelevant to intellectual debate in a democracy." Since republican forms of government are those wherein a Christian judge may hear a case argued by a Muslim lawyer concerning a dispute between a Hindu and a Jew, any forms of argument that can not be directed to every party make no sense. What to do with minorities in otherwise homogeneous communities? There's no one answer, but there is a difference between arguing from what one considers Christian principle, using one's own words or memory, and simply reading aloud from a bible.


The neoliberal imagination, the cup calls the saucer white. It's absurd for Henry Farrell to think he represents anything else. I made an only slightly annoyed observation here. Whether or not my first-hand knowledge as a construction worker in Manhattan for 25 years outweighs sociological number crunching my first point still holds, and not one person responded:

"The best way to remain on good terms with a doorman would be to actually spend some of your off hours in the basement."

Perhaps I should separate neoliberalism from post-humanist or anti-humanist post modernism, but what else can I say about those who study others as objects without reference to themselves as observers? What's the origin of this false remove?

We begin with sense; physical awareness of space, light, and motion. We are raised into and by others and by experience. We communicate by means of the collective library of imprecise notation we call language, and live our lives first and foremost as manifestations of predilection and sensibility. Whatever logical structures we build upon that foundation, however internally consistent and formally abstract, our tastes and logics, as we manifest them are inseparable. As policemen are mistaken when the assume they ARE the law, mathematicians are merely indulging in the imaginary synecdoches of autism when they identify themselves with their subject.
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Corruption is inevitable in every system. A group of people become friends because they share interests and from that interest, respect. They support and protect one another. This, strictly speaking results in a form of corruption, though one that's inevitable, and which doesn't bother me. But what happens when all such people have in common is their interest in one another, when the friendship is no longer based in a third party, a subject or language? And how can we tell the difference one and the other, between the useful, functional corruption and the stifling fearful emptiness that results in the scenario of for the emperor's new clothes?

A repost from 03:
People create and maintain relationships with each other based on the things they have in common; what those interests are doesn't matter. If they share an interest in money, in politics, or in art, the same rules apply. In New York at this point of time, in the cultural milieu of which I am, in one way or another, a part, the one thing most people have in common, though they don't talk about it openly, is fear.

If the overarching logic of the past 30 years of American politics and culture has been to "give the people what they want," the art world has always prided itself on doing the opposite. "Give the people what they should have," is probably a better definition of the logic that defined the scene, or at least defined what the intellectual pitchmen declared the scene was about. Whatever the limitations the logic behind this however old fashioned, was not without a certain nobility. What purpose could there be for the idle rich, who were otherwise removed from the daily life of the people, but to help support those who like themselves felt a distance from the crowd, but who did not have the money to stay that way for long on their own? And did not these people have something to offer in the way of commentary on the run and the rush of capitalism at full throttle? And this after all was the basis of a friendship.

The culture of popular capitalism was always capable of more profundity than the art world allowed. If Roy Lichtenstein said his paintings were among other things an attempt to rescue his influences from banality - he correctly described the romance and military comics he cribbed from as 'fascist'- there were we all admit now more interesting things to look at on the newsstand and at the matinee. The New York Times "Fall Preview" is bigger than ever this year: nearly 70 pages in 3 sections, with only 10 devoted to art, including photography, and most of those dedicated to a list of the season's upcoming exhibits. The other 60 pages are made up of articles on theater, movies and music. Most of the space is taken up with puff pieces of one sort or another, but one still gets a sense of things being at stake, even in popular entertainment: of it being both a craft and a business, and a risky one. You sense effort. It's amazing what you can do under the nose of the aristocracy if no one takes you seriously.

If anti-capitalist criticality and reactionary snobbery, always the strange bedfellows of the art world, are now so obviously in conflict as to be beyond mention in polite society, if they are the couple no one wants to talk to at the party, what it there left for art? The international market is a conservative place. While all cultural activity is conservative by nature -it seeks to conserve, to remember, to memorialize- one of a kind or small batch commodities are at the far end of the spectrum. There is no need to oversimplify, there will always be something called 'Fine' art and it will continue to be a worthy subject of conversation; there will always be a market for the self consciously refined, in art as in literature. But in New York at the moment people are simply lying to themselves while waiting for the ax to fall. From the sense of superiority that once reigned, what we're offered now is a set of lazy references to popular culture, a pale imitation of Hollywood and MTV, without the effort or the intelligence. There's a pretense that by referring to 'popularity' without actually trying to be popular, one can maintain one's social standing.

"After all, I'm only slumming"
"Why?"
"Because I have nowhere else to go"

In this context any rearguard movement by a now reactionary modernism is irrelevant.

Of course there are good shows coming up in the next 9 months. And the largest sums of money will be, mostly, well spent. There will be a few works by younger artists that will shock, because they're bright and good and strange. Those who make them will mostly be foreign born, if not still there. But for the rest, who call this place their home, there are friendships based on lies and cowardice. It doesn't matter if one is looking at artists, dealers or critics; it's painful to be around people with so little self respect, scrounging as they are for bread crumbs.

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