Lachlan Brown on Wed, 31 Jul 2002 06:26:39 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Bring me my Chariots of Fire - Nettime, Sarai, Undercurrents, Afrofuturism


I was interested to read the following thread in Undercurrents
where a lively debate concerning tactical media, online 
community and organisation/formation of identity(ies) is taking 
place in parallel with the ongoing debate about a 'tactical' 
media in Nettime and also, now and then, in the Sarai reader 
list - (and perhaps also in the Sarai common-law list which 
shows considerable promise). Doubtlessly Afrofuturism has worked
this question over the years too.

I would just like to make the point that I have always felt that 
the term 'tactical' media is a defensive one. It assumes that the general terrain is one chosen by 'the enemy' ('the Beast' for 
Blake) late capital for we (post)moderns.
We act 'tactically' upon ground chosen for contest by the forces
gathered against us. This is a misunderstanding of the nature of 
the contest in redistributed media. It is a misrecognition of
the terms of new relations of mediation in redistributed media. Sometimes the debate about a 'tactical' media illustrates 
this misreading of the signs of the times. These signs are all
written through hybridity, migration, cross-fertilisation of 

Perhaps many of the initiatives of the past several years have 
not been 'tactical' in their nature? Perhaps these initiatives 
have illustrated an understanding of the contemporary shift 
in distribution of media and its meanings in a strategic sense?
The sense that wins the war by bloodless strategy, or brings
the enemy to account upon ground of our own chosing?

Perhaps we have more 'strategic media' than we give ourselves 
credit for?

Just a thought while I am taking a wee break from creative and 
critical striving and having a bit of fun this summer.


Lachlan Brown

from Coco Fusco

Dear Everybody,
This message was posted today on Nettime. It is from on ongoing discussion
about the "true radicality" of tactical media, something many 
beat themselves up about regularly. I have no problem with the skepticism expressed toward the supposed radicality of tactical media. What I want
to underscore here however is the (mis)classification of identity politics
as "commodified dissent", as purely psychological concerns cut off 
"real" political and economic struggle. I have many problems with this
statement. It completely distorts history, lumping together the long term
struggles for Civil Rights that were fortified and internationalized by
the alliance with anti-colonial struggles from mid-century onward, and
the "life style" fads of the 1970s that were associated with the expansion
of the consumer power of middle class baby boomers. I´m more than a little
sick of armchair Marxists (men) who dismiss every political agenda that
isn´t a traditional proletarian labor oriented campaign. 
One of these days, when I am under a little less pressure, I will get
back to the analysis of the tactical media; in the meantime, I am forwarding
these sorts of texts to give an idea of what I base my assessments on.

> 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.

Lisa Nakamura sayeth:

Dear all: I too was very interested when I saw this piece on Nettime. It
made me think about the situation at San Diego State (I think it was)
where Herbert Marcuse was teaching and Angela Davis among others was beginning
to lead a huge student revolt, and Black power, Black studies, women´s
studies, and chicano studies were being introduced into the university
David Garcia traced the romantic movement of the liberation of the 
imagination and the body back to German romanticism beginning in the 18th
century. I think of William Blake, an english working class man who 
apprenticed himself to become an engraver and printmaker (he invented the
first color lithography processes) so that he could print books for the
people--especially for children--to teach them about the work of the 
imagination (this was his version of tactical media). This pre-Freudian
visionary understood the connection between violence, domination and 
repression of the body and of the imagination. He sharply critiqued slavery,
the king, the empire (indeed he called himself a "prophet against empire."
He called for women´s sexual liberation ( he illustrated some of Mary

Wollstonecraft´s writings). He constantly wrote about the horrible conditions
of the people working in the "dark Satanic mills" of the new industrial
revolution and understood that this violent economic and bodily enslavement
would lead to bloody revolt and rebellion--which of course it did.
Blake wrote two illuminated books: Europe, A Prophecy, and America, A 
Prophecy about the French and American Revolutions which his friend Tom
Paine (The Rights of Man) and fellow poet William Wordsworth were both
very involved in. His analysis of these revolutions is too complex to
enter into here but suffice it to say that Blake believed that the "mental
fight" of the mind and imagination were the only liberating possibility
and that "corporeal warfare" only replaced one system of tyranny with
another. Blake understood clearly that economics, bodily labor conditions,
relationships to nature, repressive religious and sexual rules, are all
intertwined in creating human subjectivity and identity. Therefore he
called the arts and imaginative labor (mental strife) "the only true work
of man [sic]."

Lachlan Brown
T(416) 826 6937
VM (416) 822 1123


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