Sunday, August 17, 2008

Democracy and affect

Democratisation would appear to imply standardisation: for everyone to enjoy luxuries, they have to be mass produced. The secrets of the great masters remain safe (Rembrandt's blacks, memling's azure), as they always were, the proprietary knowledge of an arcane guild system. Such too remains the case, as I learned in conversation with Elaine Shemilt, in the field of silk-screen printers' inks, and such may well be the case with with certain digital photographic printing techniques.

A different case holds for something like Rhythm 'n' Hues' fur algorithm: available for the use of only the top-end productions (Narnia, Kong), but as end-product democratically available to anyone who cares to watch the movies featuring it.

Democratisation means we all get a taste of luxury, but a luxury which travels in two directions and is devalued in each. In one, we plebs get access to the RnH fur algorithm in KK and Lion Witch; in the other, high culture loots the supermarkets of the popular, and discovers in varieties of pop and neo-pop (Paolozzi, Koons, yBa) only an inauthenticity.

What happens now – 2008 – is something like this.
A: migrants and the reserve army of the un- or/ marginally employed suffer the precariousness of life at the edge, and develop cultural forms to see them through the experience
B: a parallel experience occurs - but with far less risk of loss of life or liberty - as old professionals and skilled working class are managerialised, and as older patronage systems are replaced by markets
C: in this new displacement, not only does the old bourgeois culture no longer offer the same securities; but subjectivity, which has always been its its key product since the invention of the novel, evaporates as a centring repository of experience
D: At this juncture the newly managerialised "precariat" upload the cultural forms of the truly disprivileged]

The lost authenticity of experience among the cosmopolitan elite, as the social fraction which most feeds the cultural system of the newly managerialised, is replaced by the loot from the underclass: suburban boys listening to hip hop. This falsely assumed authenticity, which in its assumption becomes ironic and inauthentic, becomes the new high culture. That high neo-pop aesthetic is then democratised back to those from whom it was expropriated in the first place.

The evacuation of subjectivity is a result of its invention, in Romanticism and the 18th-19th century novel, and its industrialisation in Hollywood and Tin pan Alley. This triumphal subjject, theorised in depth from hegel to Husserl, is the terminus ad quem, the end to which experience tends, the locus therefore of truth. But it is the under-remarked fact that this subject had to be invented, and more specifically the social consequence sof its invention, that eventually betrays those who have bought into it most deeply: the middle class and the labour aristocracy. These were the ones who had the deepest buy-in to colonisation, as Wallerstein argues, but also into a worldview which their masters did not need to believe, merely to promulgate. This was the class or social fraction that bought in to subjectivity without irony, and as a result are the most betrayed by its collapse when it becomes clewar that they are not valued for their subjectivity but for their functions. This is the class that receives and delivers Gauri Viswanathan's Eng Lit, Angel Rama's myth of the enlightened mestizaje.

The myth of subjectivity is premised on its initial construction. Whatever raw materials pre-exist this modern subject, their construction as that subject turned out to be the very ones required to turn it into a commodity, or rather to be the terminal point for the consumption of subjectivities, which could now be manufactured on demand, and in increasing numbers, but according to only a most primitive roster of affective states. It is these states that are the nub of the standardisation of democracy as surrogacy and as inauthenticity. Perhaps the most alluring of all such states is the most intrinsically contradictory: the popularisation of the aristocratic attitude that Wyndham Lewis ascribed to Nietzsche. Today that emerges as the democratisation of elitism, where elitism is the state of mind that looks down from a height on the little people, a vantage which is promulgated through the worst and best of our fictions, from Troy to The Wire.


lao lao said...

Even although you are a new migrant to Australia you would not classify yourself as part of the "precariat". The difference between you and other migrants being?
You wouldn't know how to operate the GPS in your taxi.

There is a clear line leading from your obsession with Wagnerian ring cycle media to not having enough to say about "rock against racism".
Maybe after a couple of summers in the sun your tan will set in and you can relax with skippy the bush kangaroo.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't sure where to put this comment but here seems as good as any.

Heard you on RN's Artworks programme. Interesting ideas, I'd tend to agree with what you have to say about professionalism. As a designer currently living in London I find the working culture here is to keep everything a secret. I don't mean campaign ideas and strategies which I can understand, but everything down to everyday studio skills.

This has never been my approach, I love to share technical and creative ways of working. I see no benefit in holding onto the knowledge like some sort of corporate trade secret.

There seems to me to be a fear created, in part, by modern copyright laws that if I reveal my techniques or insights that I become redundant and someone will make a killing with them. In my case and for the work I do this is extremely unlikely.

I also find that sharing creative skills is often a two way street.

For me there is also a point where I think that just because I share my skills doesn't mean that the person sitting next to me is suddenly going start producing great design or digital art. The methods of working that I have developed over the last 18 years or so cannot be distilled to brief conversations in a design studio.

I think where many artists deride the encouragement of amateur arts is in the idea that anyone who paints or draws is raised to the level of a professional working artist.

Devaluing art be making everyone an artist no matter the end result is a bad idea. Giving everyone access to the basic artistic skills, as is done with language, math and science is a worthwhile project. Just because I can sketch a nice sketch of my family doesn't make me an artist but it does enrich my life and perhaps make me a more well rounded person. The same way that being able to do the family accounts doesn't make me a mathematician.

In that sense I think there is a place for professional artists but perhaps there is a way where the kind of secretive cultish professionalism can be democratised and opened up. The open source software community is perhaps an interesting example of how this sort of approach could be successful.

However just as a parting contradiction, perhaps this just isn't going to happen. If you look at the history of art and I'm thinking here of David Hockney's Secret Knowledge. Many of the great masters kept to themselves the production methods they used, routinely burning sketches and studies leaving only the larger finished works. Can we really expect any better of contemporary artists? Isn't it part of some more basic motivating factor in human nature that has little to do with art?

Thanks for making me think about this!