David Garcia on Mon, 29 Jul 2002 18:26:17 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> how to defeat activism

> I think the term "commodified dissent" is a bit too mild for what I'm
> claiming.  Under Negri and Jameson (et alia), the ideology of progressive
> activism has degenerated far beyond what was formerly simple, harmless
> "commodified dissent."  In fact, it has now become the developed world's
> first version of a primitive Polynesian cargo cult.
> The first stages of this development took place in the 1960s, when Marcuse
> divorced radical theory from the economic concerns of working people and
> cast it instead around psychological "issues" of identity formation and
> sexual awakening.  And so the tool developed by Karl Marx for the use of
> working people and statesmen degenerated into something that could seriously
> interest only confused adolescents.  This well-heeled adolescent confusion
> did, however, create vast fortunes for record companies, rock stars, drug
> dealers, and even a few university professors.  "Commodified dissent" was
> born.

"Man does not live by bread alone". Economic relations may be the
foundation but they are not the whole building. "The tool (as Kermit
describes it) developed by Karl Marx for use of working people and
statesman" (deployed also, by the latter, in creating the terror and the
Gulags, definitely an "adult" outcome, and no doubt to be as much
regretted as Ben and Jerry's, the Body Shop and eco-tourism) was also
employed by those involved in *cultural* transformation, in practice, by
the likes Rodchenko, van Doesburg, El Lissitzky, and Tatlin, and in theory
by Lukacs and Adorno, including Marx himself who also wrote about art.

If we are looking for the origins of, what Kermit suggests is, the
adolescent illusion that the psychological "issues" of identity formation"
(imagination, to the Romantics) might have an important role to play in
revolutionary change we have to go further back than the utopian fever of
the 1960's. Further back than Marcuse and Mcluhan with their promise of
the "global villages and multi-dimensional societies". Further back than
the collective delirium induced by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin et al.
Further back than Joseph Beuys's founding of the German Student party in
1967 and making human creativity and the principal of "everyone an artist"
the basis of all he did. Further back than the Whole Earth Catalogue's
first encyclopedic listings enabling access to all forms of creativity
(including an embryonic hacker culture). Back in fact to Romantic
movement, beginning in Germany in the second third of the eighteenth
century, to Herder, Fichte, Schiller, Beethoven, Holderlin, Goethe,
Schlegel, and Novalis's conception of "the imagination as the Mother of
all reality". This was a revolution which began in the imagination of
artists and poets beginning in Germany, spreading like wildfire across
Europe and whose most tangible outcome (including both the republic and
the terror) was an actual revolution in France.  "Tain describes the
romantic movement as a bourgeois revolt against aristocracy after 1789;
"romanticism is the expression of the energy and force of the new
arrivistes". In the narrative myth of the Romantics, the artist plays the
central role. But with the important proviso that the spiritual freedoms
and the possibilities of self creation enjoyed by artists were the
rightful legacy of all human subjects. It was not Joseph Beuys in the
1960's but Novalis in the eighteenth century who first declared that
"everyone was an artist".  "Since then the drive of every avant garde or
modern utopia has been founded on the basis that the practice of artists
was to liberate a potential for art making in everyone and shared by
humankind as a whole. A potential whose field was aesthetic but whose
horizon was political" And yes for better or for worse the latest eruption
of this impulse is the "cargo cult" called tactical media. However one of
the consequences of tactical media's roots in a tech culture, is that
among the many differences between this and earlier "CCs" is that the
artist's iconic status as imaginative outlaw and exemplar of freedom and
the imagination has been replaced by that of the hacker.

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