December 2022

avant what? :: revisiting the avant-garde

In its embrace of modern art we see the positivity of a society, its embrace of progress, towards radical transformation, towards freeing all that is good, vital and creative. This is the soil in which it grows and the opposite of any notion of financial growth, of economic vitality, of entrepreneurial creativity; the opposite of technological progress, the popular embrace of art at its most progressive, of art that is most out-there, shows a society wanting to liberate itself from the grip of mercantilism, and from its enslavement under the capitalist exploitation of labour: the popularity of the avant-garde is a sign that it is the avant-garde. In its embrace is a sign of change and a sign of the embrace of social change.

— this occurred to me on re-reading an earlier post with excerpts from Antoni Tàpies’s Fragments for an Autobiography.

…of course it’s as difficult to find art that is opposed to entrepreneurialism, that opposes financial gain and commercial success, as it is to discover its popularity in broader society.

Enrique Vila-Matas wrote a book about the search for art so opposed, The Illogic of Kassel. I stole some bits of it and posted them here.

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theatre | …: first half in epistolary form

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3 essays 3 endings: art research | theatre writing

the following portable document format text was written when I realised that the book I had been working on, about theatre pt. 1, about writing, pt. 2, begged the question. The question it assumed answered, that it took for granted, was, What’s the point of art research? Sometimes called practice-as-research and artistic research, I mean, What is it? And, why should I care to look at theatre or at writing from the perspective of these being two different research practices, as two different avenues for art or artistic research?

I attempt to answer these questions, I assay to and these attempts are recorded as the 3 essays; and whether successful or not, they have 3 endings.

I completed pretty much the whole of the part about theatre (as art research) before I realised it was begging the question (I hope I’m using that phrase correctly. My understanding is that it doesn’t mean asking or raising the question but proceeding without thought for there still being a question at all). 3 essays 3 endings looks forward to this part and the part about writing (as art research). They are preparatory essays, an extended pretext, setting out the reasons for art research before doing it with theatre and writing.

I went backwards, kind of unwriting the book I thought I was writing. I also went sideways, like one of those battery-operated toys, that, when it hits an obstacle, changes direction at random.

I decided to run through the entirety of my findings from the part about theatre in a series of 68 letters. These were addressed to ‘you’ the reader here on squarewhiteworld (against the darkroundearth). I should collect them all (I did), but you can find them through the search function (like this).

What I wanted to say about writing as art research has so far only come out in the two lectures presented at Auckland University of Technology in 2021. These have audio. The Lecture on Reflective Writing is here. The Lecture on Academic Writing is here.

Since writing 3 essays 3 endings, I also presented ten lectures on moving image theory and context. This series of lectures takes up on many of the ideas from the book; that an art practice, making work in moving image, is a way of thinking, or can be; that to engage creatively with a medium is to think with it; that this constitutes a form of art research. The series, without audio, is here.

If you would like to support the completion of the book… or you might prefer to support its noncompletion… please contact me. Comment and critique is welcome, either through contact or comments. Thanks!

Best,

Simon

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hOW TO sAy IT? sOmeBOdy hAd to

For too long we have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity

Neil Roberts

November 18, 1982, at 12.35 am, Neal Ian Roberts detonated six sticks of gelignite in his backpack and in sight of the two security guards blew himself up in the foyer of the Wanganui Computer Centre. He was nearly 22. (from here)

I knew a barefoot bloke once. He was a punk who drank and pogoed at a band venue bar I worked at in the eighties. Underneath the safety pins and mascara he was really a hippy who eschewed the modern world. He died as a suicide bomber trying to blow up the Wanganui Computer Centre, NZ’s first attempt to put every citizen onto an e-database, and widely feared as the first step to Big Brother. He waved away the security guard that approached him, showing him the bomb, but alas was unsuccessful in his attempt to damage the infrastructure.

I remember him for his epitaph, spray-painted on the wall of the adjacent public toilet: “For too long we have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity”. The wiki quote below* is incorrect, he had a nicer turn of phrase than that.

RIP (though he probably won’t)

— isawqpratwcity https://loftforwords.fansnetwork.co.uk/

*It leaves out the, “For too long…”

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patronage, suicide & GENEO (URL pending)

Patreon tells me there’s a simpler way to bill patrons.

(that’s bill)

To bill patrons?!

(bill)

there’s obviously another philosophical persona: the one who has grown up not knowing anything different than what we understand by neoliberalism and

everything is financialised.

(conceptual personae: the Cartesian idiot, Nietzschean dancer, Kierkegaardian knight of faith, and for Deleuze and Guattari in What Is Philosophy?, “the schizophrenic is a conceptual persona who lives intensely within the thinker and forces him to think”; “the schizophrenic is a psychosocial type who represses the living being and robs him of his thought” [from here])

Home | Mental Health Foundation New Zealand tells me,

538 people died by suspected suicide in the 2021/22 financial year (from July 2021 to June 2022), less than the 607 reported for 2020/21 and 628 reported in 2019/20. Males are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than females.

(the full URL is https://mentalhealth.org.nz/suicide-prevention/statistics-on-suicide-in-new-zealand, which can’t help but recall Zapffe saying, The modern barbarity of ‘saving’ the suicidal is based on a hair-raising misapprehension of the nature of existence.

((the first part of his statement is, When a human being takes his life in depression, this is a natural death of spiritual causes.))

what I really wanted to call your attention to in the foregoing was this,

the financial year.

But if you have grown up under neoliberalism, knowing everything is financialised, who cares?

Gen Neo, or Geneo: those born close enough to 1984 to know no prior form of human social organisation than that under neoliberalism

What qualifies the philosophical persona of the neoliberal-who-knows-no-different is a certain take on morality.

What qualifies the philosophical persona of Geneo is to take up the moral to add to a personal sense of value, or status.

It is neither by disposition that Geneo is moral, nor is it for the sake of taking up or upon oneself a moral position. The moral, for the neoliberal-who-knows-no-different, is social capital. It is to increase personal social capital that Geneo has or makes recourse to the discourse of morality.

This requires a further note of qualification: it is to a discourse of morality; and, it is to a discourse which is current and currently recognised to be moral that recourse is made or taken; it is as good and as good as its currency.

Recourse to a discourse of morality in a specific context would have no value were its message not recognisable. It has to compute. It has to be equal to the case in question and equal to the social context where it will have currency.

Geneo, the native neoliberal, does not take up a moral cause through identification with that cause, but rather takes up its message. Neither is it in its spirit that the message is employed. The fit between case and moral message has to be, that between it and personal moral belief need not.

This is why the born neoliberal is a psychosocial type.

Geneo in the most positive sense, in a thoroughly positive sense, uses moral discourse for currency, to gain social capital. Here however is the root of a thoroughgoing schism, a schiz, between social self, the one seeking benefit from the employment of moral messaging, and the morality of that use for private gain.

In seeking to profit from it, the born neoliberal has only a positive sense of morality. Inversely, social capital, capital itself, can be the only value of morality.

The self is split from that value as a social attribute. It can be nothing other than a social value, as exchange. There are no intrinsic values attached to either the self or the moral, but that these are entirely positive. They are exchange values.

What qualifies the neoliberal-who-knows-no-different is not the entrepreneurial self, then, but something with which the entrepreneurial self is at odds.

Geneo is qualified by moral rectitude, by goodness, with which not only the entrepreneurial self but any notion of self is at odds.

Geneo’s goodness is innate. It is given with the world.

The world is not good, however, and, for its absence of goodness, Geneo fails to see itself reflected in it. And then…

Geneo comes to see itself as bad

and would be, but for being good.

(the split again)

What this amounts to in practice is a kind of convalescent sentimentality, a thin-skinned-ness and a vulnerability to the bad that is in the world.

In other words, it amounts to mental health or mental illness.

Mental health is good. Mental illness is bad.

Unfortunately for Geneo, mental health is not a standard by which mental illness can be judged. Conversely, mental illness is generally the standard for the judgement of mental health: mental health is considered generally to equal the absence of mental illness.

This computation is beyond the neoliberal generation; it can neither assimilate itself to a world with which it is at odds, nor to a self the health of which is judged from the point of view of illness.

Geneo lacks this point of view.

It is like saying the goods on sale are ills, and that the good self that is there for the entrepreneurial self to promote, for its goodness, is ill.

Goodness equals only the absence of an illness, like the absence of the self from the world, that prompts the self to absent itself from the world.

Any approach to mental health predicated on the idea of it being the absence of mental illness fails, is failing and will fail, that generation who know no different than life under neoliberalism.

Key to the shift in thinking that takes Geneo, the neoliberal generation, to be characterised by its morality is the shift to financialisation that undertakes morality as a good, to add value.

Key to this shift from considering characteristic of Geneo a certain view of the self, its own entrepreneur, is

a shift away from thinking of neoliberalism as ideological.

Further it is a shift from thinking ‘ideology’ as a kind of undeclared, unconscious manner of being, that is then uncovered, as causative, as acting in the world, by adequate critique.

The question is, putting aside for the moment the question of suicide, one question is,

What kind of critique is adequate to capitalism?

What kind of critique is adequate to a capitalism where everything is financialised?

and… is it an ideological critique? Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus say it is not.

An ideological critique of late, post-industrial capitalism, existing under neoliberalism, fails to grasp the plane of consistency, where everything is financialised.

It reaches under it, for what is not being played out on it, for the reasons of what is being played out, or over it, missing what it is and missing the reasons. These have always to do with what it is because they convene on value.

Value is always positive, adding value always a good thing. It is not judged from the point of view of any bad.

The impasse comes … when what is bad cannot be computed. There is literally no place to go.

There is no place to go, without delay.

OK, so the problem with ideology: it doesn’t do what we are calling Geneo does.

What Geneo does presupposes the possibility to add value always being there. Whereas ideology subtracts, negates or undermines.

It is an under-ideology, or an unconscious, or ex-planation.

Value-adding discourse, the convention of neoliberalism’s ratchetting up of value, particularly off conventions of morality, its innate notions of progress and growth, immediately whiplashes to, How do I optimise my speech acts?

By convention optimisation of speech acts, aka positive thinking, aka buzz-wording resilience, agility, empowerment, that in NZ includes Māori terms, matauranga, te ao, mahi, kaupapa, and so on, does not involve an ideology, say, of woke-ism. It goes further than liberal humanism in what may be called the personological direction. May be its apotheosis.

(personology is perhaps a good replacement for ideology when considering Geneo)

The optimum is simply the best. The Good.

When those who know no other form of human social organisation invoke what might sound to other generations to be hackneyed reformulations of received wisdom, when they do so by reflex but uncritically, it is not to add the moral dimension to their speech acts but its cachet, the cachet of moral authority.

Moral authority cannot be ideological.

It can be personological.

The claim to moral authority, however, is strangely impersonal. It may be called, after the axiom of capitalism Deleuze and Guattari describe in Anti-Oedipus, axiomatic.

It has nothing to do with individual belief, but the belief in belief. Or, the will to belief.

(not ‘the will to believe‘: that would introduce a voluntarism which is absent, a mindfulness in its absence–hence the search for the moral good of mindfulness that is so absentminded)

There is not the willing suspension that would make for the ideologue.

On the other side, the morally reinforced statement is extracted from any doctrine…

That is to say the positive speech act of Geneo is extracted from any ideology. The axiom of capitalism has removed any underneath but refuses to accept itself as being a surface. Conventions of value are like hashtags,

a hashtag morality

(#morality)

of recognisable significances, meaning-making memes.

Plumage, ornamentation, that extra expenditure of energy that is an energy sink and soaks up the surplus, organs of display, the face of facebook, the tweet of twitter, the toot of mastodon, and so on, the (now) so-called ‘social’ that is online, and reflected by human social organisation offline, in, I would say, the power invested in screentime: to these organs of display belong those statements meant to gain consensus, that invoke social and moral values and conventions, attaining to common sense by way of their good sense (as Deleuze might say).

They mean to be liked and repeated. What is on display is the polish given the individual by the personological, where the latter invokes a borrowed social and moral conventionalism that is often majoritarian (for the purpose of meaning to be liked and repeated), where it adds value by so doing.

so, death to ideologies

Ideologies in the case of Geneo are only what is extracted from them to add value to what I say.

Statistical discourse can serve this function, the function not of being evidenciary. The numbers are not rallied to support an argument, the facts rather speak for themselves. Statistics are a medium of infography and therefore one of display.

As we have seen with ‘inflation’ recently… or there is isomorphism between the social human condition and the economic condition, conditional as it is on financial systems.

The end of neoliberalism is supposed to have been ushered in by the wresting back of financial control by nation states. It goes along, this supposition, with the rolling back of globalisation and concerns over national economy trumping those raised over the freedom of markets to set values.

This makes no account of either the socials and persons: being avowedly neoliberal, it is profoundly anti agency.

Humans are preferred to be dumb actors.

dumbness is preferred when it comes to the messaging too.

Conditions which have their etiology in factors of global economy, even as that gobality involves the interaction of state and nonstate drivers, are beyond our understanding.

They are above our payscale,

for the most part. …bring in the consultants.

Now, consultants are performers. Invested in the moral social human conditions, they manifest, they put on display, the greatest will to belief.

Is their obfuscation of the economic conditionality, the underlying conditions, and their overarching ends, ideological?

No. No bad faith here. No false conscience. No unconscious drivers, except the ones we can all accept are in us, sex-death, energetic libido, thanatic preservation of one’s own organism, management of the status quo to the advantage of one’s own organism’s preservation, what is called a feedback loop, for homeostasis. And the personological.

Consultants want to make good sense common, to grow, and display more good sense, as a property of intellectual activity, for it to be its only property (hence IP), so as to get bigger audiences, socials, for that display.

What happens when this goes wrong? We don’t see it going wrong by using the critical tool of ideology. This is the failure of that otherwise excellent book, The End of the End of History.

It is the reason I brought in inflation just before: a system without negatives, the financial system of personological book-keeping.

what I am trying to deal with is this, it is not moral failure but how explain system failure at the psychical level? at the level of personal psychology?

In the cases of young people suiciding I have heard about recently, those closest to them make it seem inevitable, after the fact of their deaths, that they have committed suicide.

Those speaking for them, their families and friends, and perhaps this is only in the cases I have recently heard about (three in the last fortnight), speak to the goodness of the … can we say victims?

Adding to their grief is that there are no warning signs, or that the warning signs come some time before.

The person in question seemed to be doing better. He had been in a bad place, been depressed. She had been in a scene where she was subjected to online bullying, where she was being trolled, and knew who they were. But she had got herself clear of that scene.

They had the self-awareness to be helping themselves, these young people. They had been self-aware enough to accept help.

They were not too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for or to accept help where it was offered. But,

adding to the grief of those left behind is some idea that it must have been the wrong sort of help,

that those who most wanted to help could not, could not have:

so, it was inevitable,

it is now.

It is a terrifying conclusion:

in Zapffe’s words, the spiritual causes, these must be spoken of, before we can accept that suicide is a natural death for a young person.

I have been teaching with young people these past years. At first my impulse was to disabuse them of their belief in the veracity of accepted judgements, to disenchant them, and release them from the grip of ideologies, to free them through showing the historicity of those views they took up in good faith. Views about sexuality, for example, can be dated, analyzed discursively, and historicised, as Foucault has done.

Views about identity and assumptions about its solidity can be criticised, shaken. Views about the solidity of the world, worldview, can be destabilised, deconstructed.

That is, both the world and the I can be shown not only to be constructs embedded in historical time, their own deconstruction, their auto-destruction, can be shown to be always already in process.

Resistance can be worked with, being seen as a cover for deeper processes of destabilisation, always already engaged. The greater the resistance, the greater is the effort of psychical cover-up.

Education must have been about showing us the cracks.

This thing, though, suicide in young people, is a different sort of crack.

I struck it during the lockdowns, teaching online. Although, before that, I had changed approach.

More shocking, I found, for the young people I was teaching with, than prising them open, emptying them out or opening them up, was asking them to choose for and affirm their views, to select for and elect what they loved. And to leave criticism for another lifetime. Life is too short to criticise.

If all you are doing is arguing with an established viewpoint, or taking up a position relative to others’ viewpoints, you are … wasting valuable time.

And there is the expectation that this is what you ought to be doing, that this is what intellectual activity is, what knowledge is about and what education is for: critical engagement means criticising, criticism, deconstructing, as if deconstruction were a transitive verb, an instrument or weapon in the critical arsenal, and not the intransitive verb it is. As if all education is for and as if all knowing stuff is for were to wage war on those who don’t know. As if all education were for is to know better, and to let the other ones know you do, by throwing your stuff at them.

More shocking for young people was to attribute to them intelligent agency, and to say to fight is a waste of time and there is no competition.

You have nothing to prove, and anyway fighting against others, putting the big guns down, cutting them down to size, is not the way to prove it. Affirm your practice in your practice, whether it’s reading, writing or doing and creating. Put that on the surface. Don’t be swallowed by the surface.

What I struck through the lockdowns was a generalised depression, a diffuse, widespread and intense feeling of being unequal to what the times were asking, that the institutions were oblivious to.

Even the ‘institutions’ of online interactivity, of participating and of communication, were oblivious to it.

It was beyond them all.

I got the feeling young people felt like they were disappearing, disappearing in their bodies.

Their bodies were disappeared anyway.

They were absent onscreen.

They were disappearing anyway.

The other thing, the thing that struck me, from young people, was nothing being new to them. I talked with a friend about this. She said, I asked them to do an exercise where they chose an artistic approach diametrically opposed to their usual one.

And they firmly refused. They were all fully grown up abstract expressionists, or analytic abstractionists, or… new narrativists… and that was it.

It was unquestioning, unquestionable. This is what they are. Absolute.

And then the war. The moral cause of Ukraine and Russia. The Information War.

From what I heard, Ukraine was winning. Absent of any historical analysis or perspective, even Maidan having been pointed out, the cause of Russia is immoral, that of Ukraine is where the moral value lies.

Absolute.

the self undivided…

When I listened to the young people I have over the past several years been teaching with, I got the impression this was a new moralistic generation. I got the impression of a new moral conservatism.

Populism, rightism, seemed to go with the territory. So did ideas around settled relationships, marriage and child-rearing, also expectations about material acquisition matching state of life, in other words, a relationship between career and economic status and adulting.

Now I think not so much. Or, now I think, not so much.

Why? because of the contradictions in this moralising. It is not consistent, not consistently of any political hue, in fact, is apolitical. (As The End of the End of History argues, it is antipolitical.)

What drives this moralising is a kind of economics, the personological book-keeping I’ve referred to,

but that makes it sound cynical, calculating and disingenuous, when the opposite is true.

CANDIDE or JESUS?

To compensate for the absence of their being any intrinsic value in recognised notions of morality, and for its emptying out in the social and for the self’s loss of intrinsic value, a friend said many of Geneo, those who’ve known no different than neoliberalism, are and have been, turning to Jesus.

For Candide, recall, This is the best of all possible worlds.

Why is it? because it is reasonable. Human reason has banished all that is unreasonable.

This is what Candide learns, All problems have been solved.

Except that they haven’t.

Discouragement, obstructions, trials and calamities are all true.

Candide faces them, as he does the joys, loves, successes of his life.

Belief in the good means nothing to the world, neither does belief in that belief.

Candide’s optimism is not an ideology.

In the end, we suffer from ourselves but not because we are either good or bad or for the reason that the world is … the way it is.

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