Thursday, January 21, 2021

A repeat from 2014, with additions, relating to Mark Fisher, art as life, fascism, and the rest.

A friend of mine had it on vinyl, or maybe on a tape. I remember him translating it for me, laughing. 
"Everything is going according to plan." The line gave me a flashback from 20 years ago.
I didn't know about the Adam Curtis Massive Attack collaboration.

Curtis is a political romantic who uses irony only to put himself beyond irony. He refers to desperation and nihilism to indulge without admitting the indulgence, and the denial magnifies it. If art is reification, it describes the maker's desires as the desires of a person, not absolutely as the state of the world. Art is response; it's not the world. The little space between the two is irony.  Curtis collapses that space. What's left is simple determinism.

Curtis is the Chris Marker of the BBC, a romantic reporter of fact. Marker by comparison is just a man observing and responding to what he sees, while admitting that what exists may be something else entirely.
Better to say Curtis is cross between Marker and Errol Morris. Curtis annoys me. Morris disgusts me.

Mirowski, "Hell is Truth Seen Too Late"

Recall that neoliberalism predicates itself on the observation that most humans are one or two bottles shy of a six-pack when it comes to rational thought. Hence, anyone who had read Hayek, such as Cass Sunstein, long ago projected that the internet would promote the isolation of people within their own filter bubbles and that this might have implications for the way politics would play out in the future (Sunstein 2007). Sunstein’s reading of the situation was characteristically superficial, leading to his own prescription that people might be “nudged” toward certain political activities without realizing that they were being manipulated by their political over-lords. Others, starting from the same premise, took the position that the internet just naturally tended to degenerate into dreck, especially because so much of it came to depend on “user generated content [UCG]” (Feldman 2016). Neoliberals do not mind blaming any debilitating epistemic fallout on the agents themselves because it reinforces the message that the market just gives the masses whatever they want. Here, however, is where some on the left attempt to push back. Evgeny Morozov, for one, insists that the onus rests solidly on the economic organization of the platforms that structure internet activity (2013). While this points us in a promising direction to understand the neoliberal character of fake news, the indictment may still be misleading: Is the dumbing down of the populace a mere unintended natural consequence of the pursuit of profit, an unfortunate by-product of progress, or is it something else? 

The documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis has long been warning us that something much larger and more pervasive has been going on well before the contemporary moment of frenzy over posttruth. As he puts it, “We live with a constant vaudeville of contradictory stories that makes it impossible for any real opposition to emerge, because they can’t counter it with a coherent narrative of their own.”27 Curtis finds one incisive theoretical discussion of the new regime in the work of the Russian Vladimir Surkov:
[The pervasive] defeatist response has become a central part of a new system of political control—and to understand how this is hap- pening you have to look to Russia and to a man called Vladislav Surkov who is a hero of our time. Surkov is one of President Putin’s advisors and has helped him maintain his power for fifteen years, but he has done it in a very new way. He came originally from the avant-garde art world, and those who have studied his career say that what Surkov has done is import ideas from conceptual art into the very heart of politics.
His aim is to undermine people’s perception of the world so they never know what is really happening. Surkov turned Russian politics into a bewildering, constantly-changing piece of theatre: he sponsored all kinds of groups, from Neo-Nazi skin-heads to liberal human rights groups, he even backed parties that were opposed to President Putin. But the key thing was that Surkov then let it be known that this was what he was doing, which meant that no one was sure what was real or fake.
As one journalist put it, “It’s a strategy of power that keeps any opposition constantly confused, a ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it’s indefinable,” which is exactly what Surkov is alleged to have done in the Ukraine this year. In typical fashion as the war began Surkov published a short story about something he called Non-Linear War, a war where you never know what the enemy are really up to or even who they are. The underlying aim Surkov says is not to win the war but to use the conflict to create a constant state of destabilized perception in order to manage and control.
Here Curtis suggests the approach derives from the traditions of 1980s conceptual art, but in his earlier films, he sought the inspirations in political developments of neoliberalism. While one sector of recent punditry (at least in the United States in 2017) seeks to pin the practice of “fake news” on the Russians, in a manner similar to Curtis, it may be more pre- cise and more comprehensive to regard its advent as a distinctly global phenomenon, with earlier roots. Of course, falsehoods, propaganda, and misinformation have been with us since time immemorial, but what Curtis and others point toward is something far more insidious than George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. Once the neoliberal image of the market as both means of conveyance and validation of ideas took hold, then it consequently shaped and informed changes in the very means and conduct of argumentation in general. Befuddlement became an active political strategy very different from the top-down broadcast model of early twentieth-century “propaganda.” The recent fondness for Orwell’s 1984 as master narrative turns out to be another red herring. Now, disinformation rests on the creation of a fog of confusion and disillusion, and less directly on straightforward media manipulation (the bugaboo of the nostalgic Left) than the harvesting through social media of the inchoate folderol of the general populace, subsequently feeding it back to the masses through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and new model “journalism.” Dissimulation rechanneled becomes its own special “spontaneous disorder.”

Surkov saw the chaos and fragmentation in the politics in western consumer societies and sped up the process. He studied theater just like David Bowie and Richard Spencer, but he's the manager. He "discovers" people. Curtis on Russian despair, punks, Letov and Limonov.  I hate fans, and especially fans of the avant-garde in 2021. 

In the acknowledgements of her intellectual biography of Clement Greenberg, aptly titled Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses, Caroline A. Jones thanks Benjamin Buchloh, historian, critic, and theoretician of left-wing high seriousness in contemporary art, for his “stimulating aperçu regarding the ‘administrative sensibility’ of post-Greenbergian conceptual art.” It’s left at that. 

Mannerism is the continuing defense of old beliefs revealed as empty. They're all you have, and if they're empty you are too, so you embrace the morbid symptoms. The love of knowledge devolves to the love of bureaucracy and filing systems. The love of art becomes the love of style.

Curtis' films are documentaries about heroin with a cast of pixellated fashion models and a humming soundtrack. They work in a narcotic flow. They're made for fans of Gerhard Richter who can't admit to sharing his nihilist passivity. After all the films are merely "documentaries".

Moralizing poets are read in the long run because they describe their failure honestly. Dishonest journalists evade responsibility by living vicariously through their subjects, and as fans they're voyeurs. But a suicidal fascist is no less a fascist because he's suicidal, and the adoration of a fascist is still the adoration of a fascist. See also Jon Ronson.

"Fake news." Before there was Murdoch there was Hearst. 
"Post-truth."  Orwell again, and Henry Farrell and Truth
Mirowski isn't defending democracy; he's defending one institutional elite against another, both equally sure of their own status.  
Friedman, as usual, dumbed down the Hayekian message for those with limited attention spans: “Businessmen, who may be bankrupted if they refuse to face facts, are one of the few groups that develop the habit of doing so. That is why, I have discovered repeatedly, the successful businessman is more open to new ideas . . . than the academic intellectual who prides himself on his alleged independence of thought” 
Merchants vs priests, academics, and "scientists". Disinterested reason defends either unbridled self-interest or itself. Either way "truth" is key. And the choices for the majority are few.

STS and Democracy. When political theorists are called scientists, and are horrified that awards granted for theology are given to "charlatans", it's no wonder people are suspicious. But no one demands a democratic vote on how to install their kitchen sink.

Hippie drug dealers didn't start out reading Hayek; they discovered him after the fact. Neoliberalism wasn't invented in a lab. The Lippmann Colloquium wasn't a cause; it was an effect.  "By the time anything becomes known as an idea, it’s been around for awhile."

Quinn Slobodian and Mirowski were two of the editors of Nine Lives of Neoliberalism.
Slobidian blocked me on twitter for reminding him that intellectual history is not synonymous with history. The French, most of them, have a sense of irony that American academics will never get.
It's good that Americans are reading Piketty now and not Bourdieu.
But if “using rare words and tropes in place of common words and phrases” is a strategy of “deliberate transgression” of the norms of clear prose characteristic of the dominant classes and is opposed to “the hyper-correction strategies of pretentious outsiders,” then Bourdieu is a master strategist. Words such as lexis, allodoxia, chiastic, askesis, espace hodologique, hysteresis, and of course habitus (and, indeed, hysteresis of habitus) are scattered throughout the text. That a work of social science should—”unlike the sometimes illuminating intuitions of the essay”—require an effort on the part of the reader is fair enough. Here, however, reality disappears into the hypertrophied rhetoric of the Ecole Normale.

The best defense of democracy is pessimistic. Neoliberalism, vanguardism, radicalism, are all modern forms of inflexible elitism. A program of broad-based public education is a guard against the rise of a ruling class in all its forms: of wealth or expertise.

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