Saturday, April 25, 2015

What Exactly is Neoliberalism?
The most common criticisms of neoliberalism, regarded solely as economic policy rather than as the broader phenomenon of a governing rationality, are that it generates and legitimates extreme inequalities of wealth and life conditions; that it leads to increasingly precarious and disposable populations; that it produces an unprecedented intimacy between capital (especially finance capital) and states, and thus permits domination of political life by capital; that it generates crass and even unethical commercialization of things rightly protected from markets, for example, babies, human organs, or endangered species or wilderness; that it privatizes public goods and thus eliminates shared and egalitarian access to them; and that it subjects states, societies, and individuals to the volatility and havoc of unregulated financial markets.

Each of these is an important and objectionable effect of neoliberal economic policy. But neoliberalism also does profound damage to democratic practices, cultures, institutions, and imaginaries. Here’s where thinking about neoliberalism as a governing rationality is important: this rationality switches the meaning of democratic values from a political to an economic register. Liberty is disconnected from either political participation or existential freedom, and is reduced to market freedom unimpeded by regulation or any other form of government restriction. Equality as a matter of legal standing and of participation in shared rule is replaced with the idea of an equal right to compete in a world where there are always winners and losers.

The promise of democracy depends upon concrete institutions and practices, but also on an understanding of democracy as the specifically political reach by the people to hold and direct powers that otherwise dominate us. Once the economization of democracy’s terms and elements is enacted in law, culture, and society, popular sovereignty becomes flatly incoherent. In markets, the good is generated by individual activity, not by shared political deliberation and rule. And, where there are only individual capitals and marketplaces, the demos, the people, do not exist.
Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos, Zone Books
Neoliberal rationality — ubiquitous today in statecraft and the workplace, in jurisprudence, education, and culture — remakes everything and everyone in the image of homo oeconomicus. What happens when this rationality transposes the constituent elements of democracy into an economic register? In vivid detail, Wendy Brown explains how democracy itself is imperiled. The demos disintegrates into bits of human capital; concerns with justice cede to the mandates of growth rates, credit ratings, and investment climates; liberty submits to the imperative of human capital appreciation; equality dissolves into market competition; and popular sovereignty grows incoherent. Liberal democratic practices may not survive these transformations. Radical democratic dreams may not either.
Zone is known as a boutique publisher of academic high theory, and following the logic of boutique publishers of art and design, they put their designers' names up front.
It's standard issue elite vanguardism, and a model of the neoliberal imagination. The aestheticization of everything, including politics.
World-leading visionary, innovator, designer and author, Bruce Mau is committed to creative, healthy, ecological and economic abundance. His 25-year record of success through design thinking includes collaborations with such groups as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, MTV, MOMA, Herman Miller, Shaw Industries, The New Meadowlands Stadium, American Airlines Arena, Arizona State University, and countries such as Guatemala, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia.

Mau is the author and designer for several award-winning books, including Life Style; S, M, L, XL (in collaboration with Rem Koolhaas) and the iconic and celebrated ZONE BOOKS series. Translated into 17 languages, Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth has been an inspiration with his aphoristic articulation of his personal philosophy and design strategies.
Political theory is political design. Political participation requires a political art, a subjective self-aware engagement in real time. Design can be no more than as aestheticized functionalism, the definition of culture under the technocratic logic of which neoliberalism is the capitalist apotheosis. As in the prescriptions of and the performativity of theory, the practice is bounded by strict necessity.
So, too, our Collegiate Gothic, which may be seen in its most resolutely picturesque (and expensive) phase at Yale, is more relentlessly Gothic than Chartres, whose builders didn't even know they were Gothic and missed so many chances for quaint effect.
Theory, design, illustration, as opposed to art (and architecture): democracy requires more than the first order curiosity of functionalism. Virtue ethics can exist only as practice and require curiosity in layers, a second-order curiosity that feeds on and demands both experience and art: hypotheticals that bleed, that draw us in and surprise us or terrify us. Democracies like aristocracies are maintained by people with a flexible, permeable, consciousness and self-definition of which academics more and more are incapable, even as their arguments more and more point in the right direction.

Brown describes the practice of democracy and the idea of participation, while placing herself above as an observer of the participation, or lack thereof, of others. She's incapable within the logic of her own self-definition of practicing what she preaches, even as what she preaches is on point.

I'm seeing a lot more history titles, including some that sound lovely.  They publish one book by an author I quote too often, and I have no problem with well made books; I'm bourgeois and good design is good design. But history is an art, and the hierarchy is clear to historians if not -I repeat again and again and again- to philosophers. Foster is still an editor at October and I'm not going to go read him again, but maybe things are moving faster. It's a corollary to the fading of theory even as described by theorists, as both are corollaries of the return of respectable intellectualism outside the groves and shadows of academe. And maybe at some level they've realized to their chagrin that much of the academy has taken Bruce Mau as an ideal, and that Caroline Bynum is a better one.

I've used the Macdonald quote enough, but it belongs with posts on Clement Greenberg and Eliot
And Broch
And the ethical demand made of the artist is, as always, to produce “good” works, and only the dilettante and the producer of kitsch (whom we meet here for the first time) focus their work on beauty. 
I just realized after all this time, that I've never made a tag for Kitsch. Now I have.

updated, appropriately enough, in October. Hal Foster, the title essay from Design and Crime (And Other Diatribes), from 2002
Some of these speculations can be tested against Life Style by Bruce Mau, a compendium of projects by the Canadian designer who came to prominence with Zone Magazine and Books in the late 1980s. With a distinguished series of publications in classical and vanguard philosophy and history, this imprint is also known for "Bruce Mau Design," whose luscious covers with sumptuous images in saturated colors and layered pages with inventive fonts in cinematic sequencing have greatly influenced North American publish- ing. Sometimes Mau seems to design the publications to be scanned, and despite his frequent denials in Life Style he tends to treat the book as a design contract more than an intellectual medium.

...Yet for all the Situationist lingo of contemporary designers like Mau, they don't "detourn" much; more than critics of spectacle, they are its surfers (which is indeed a favorite figure in their discourse), with "the status of the artist [and] the pay- check of the businessman." "So where does my work fit in?" Mau asks. "What is my relationship to this happy, smiling monster? Where is the freedom in this regime? Do I follow Timothy Leary and 'tune in, turn on, drop out?' What actions can I commit that not be absorbed? Can I outperform the system? Can I win?" Is he kidding?
The last 5 pages of the 13 page essay are about Bruce Mau. The poverty and perversity of theory. Jumping forward, and back: "architectural favela porn"

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