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[¿] advocacy’s antonym = complicity [?] {interrupted by Lavender}

… going through the sale theory books at Verso, striking how monotonous the refrain is that these books deal with the present.

Strikes me, because it is exactly of the present that we are forgetful.

back to Verso:

Book after book:

  • in Glitch Feminism the divide between the digital and the real world no longer exists (Legacy Russell)
  • in Immediacy, or The Style of Too Late Capitalism contemporary cultural style boosts (what else?) transparency and immediacy, values absorbed from our current (!) conditions of disintermediation, meaning services like Uber “but for art” (!?) cutting out the middle man … “Immediacy names this style …” (Anna Kornbluh)
  • On the New … need I say more (Boris Groys)
  • 24/7: the ruinous consequences of “the expanding non-stop processes of twenty-first-century capitalism” … [here a blending of uber-timeliness and a super-over-determining temporality: like China Miéville’s train in Iron Council that lays down its track in front of it.] (Johnathan Crary)
  • Hal Foster in What Comes After Farce? confronts the present: where does the “double predicament” (o, innumerable predicaments; perhaps best to characterise the present as predicamental) of post-truth and post-shame politics leave “artists and critics on the left?”
  • Hito Steyerl “wonders how we can appreciate, or even make art, [sic] in the present age.”
  • In The Social Photo the rise of the smart phone and social media have made cameras ubiquitous. They are “infiltrating,” like enemy operatives, nearly every aspect of social life, their screens glowing with malicious intent. (Nathan Jurgenson)
  • “Given our anxieties today about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on labour and art,” Abigail Susek, herself an author of books, writes on With and Against, that Dominique Routhier’s study of the Situationist International “could not be more timely.” I didn’t know that Guy Debord wrote about the impact of AI on labour and art. It makes me anxious to think that maybe he did.
  • on the Situationists again, in McKenzie Wark’s The Beach Beneath the Street, their legacy continues to inspire activists, artists and theorists around the world, up to the present we’re living in right now.
  • in Automation and the Future of Work, we’re living on the cusp of rapid technological automation heralding the end of work. (Aaron Benanav)
  • Henri Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life is just that in three volumes.
  • increased politicisation of artistic practice since the twentieth century’s “bleak” beginning (Revolutionary Time and the Avant-Garde, John Roberts), neoliberalism’s failure and austerity forcing millions into the precariat, leaving the left trapped in “stagnant political practices that offer no respite” [my emph.] in its sequel (Inventing the Future, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams).
  • Many people have to “double-down” on wage-slavery, working harder, doing overtime and learning to hustle. (Jason Read’s The Double Shift: Spinoza and Marx on the Politics of Work) A must read for students of contemporary capitalism, says Kathi Weeks.
  • Work on the contemporary scene also the topic of Frédéric Lordon’s Willing Slaves of Capital. Renewed interest in communism allegedly paired with an “abandonment of any concrete political perspective in Communism and Strategy (Isabelle Garo). The breaking of the iron law of social reproduction in Transclasses, Chantal Jacquet.
  • Systems Ultra describes a world of networked technologies, global supply chains and supranational regulations we are told is impossible to understand and far beyond our control. (Georgina Voss)
  • James Bridle’s New Dark Age: we live in times of increasing inscrutability. Sinews of War and Trade: China is now the factory of the world. A “parade” of ships full of raw commodities, iron ore, oil, coal, arrive in its ports and “fleets” of container ships leave full of manufactured goods (Laleh Kahlili). The key to understanding the future lies in the past in Lizzie O’Shea’s Future Histories. Road to Nowhere shows us what Silicon Valley, in the words of the subtitle, gets wrong about the future of transportation (by the wonderfully named Paris Marx). Everywhere we turn a “startling” new device promises to transfigure our lives (if not revolutionise them). That’s Radical Technologies, Adam Greenfield.
  • While in an “original and timely book,” well, aren’t they all? Matteo Pasquinelli unpacks the intelligence of artificial intelligence. At a moment, just this moment, “when apostles and prophets” proclaim both a “utopian world of effortless control and a catastrophe of extinction.” (The Eye of the Master)
  • our finances, politics, media, opportunities, information, shopping and knowledge production are mediated through algorithms in Revolutionary Mathematics, Justin Joque (really). And what happened to the public intellectuals “that” used to challenge and inform us? asks McKenzie Wark in General Intellects, generally answering their own question. Who can argue with Fredric Jameson? It’s an age of globalization characterized by the dizzying technologies of the First World and the social disintegration of the Third World where the question of utopia is possibly meaningless. (Archeologies of the Future)
  • our standing, walking body holds the social traumas of history and its racialised inequalities, even, in How We Walk, Matthew Beaumont.
  • walking in the other direction, by walking you escape from the very idea of identity, the temptation to be someone, to have a name and a history (A Philosophy of Walking, Frédéric Gros).
  • in the history of colonialism, racism, sexism, capitalism, there has long been a dividing line between bodies “worthy of defending” and those who have been disarmed and rendered defenseless. Illustrations will be found. (Self-Defense, Elsa Dorlin)
  • the crisis-laden capitalism of the 21st century lingers on (possibly because so does the 21st century) in Mute Compulsion, Søren Mau. Don’t despair, one of them was saved: in The New Spirit of Capitalism sociologists Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello go to the heart of changes in contemporary capitalism. Don’t presume, theories of “postmodern” fragmentation, “difference” and contingency can barely accommodate the idea of capitalism, Ellen Meiksins Wood, Democracy Against Capitalism. One of them was damned.
  • an increasingly authoritarian present. This is Late Fascism, Alberto Toscano.
  • from the outset liberalism, as a philosophical position and ideology, has been bound up with the most illiberal of policies: slavery, colonialism, genocide, racism and, worse, snobbery. Liberalism, Domenico Losurdo.
  • Jessica Whyte uncovers the place of human rights in attempts to develop a moral framework for a market society. Rather than rejecting rights, neoliberals developed a distinctive account of human rights as tools to depoliticise civil society, protect private investments and shape liberal subjects. The Morals of the Market, human rights in their fatal embrace.
  • contemporary debates on Black radicalism and decolonisation have lost sight of the concerns that animated their twentieth-century intellectual forebears. Red Africa, Kevin Ochieng Okoth.
  • another school, another legacy. The Frankfurt School, Immanent Critiques, Martin Jay; the work done by its founding members continues in the twenty-first century to unsettle conventional wisdom about culture, society and politics, Splinters in Your Eye, also Martin Jay.
  • unsparing in its contention that with almost no exceptions the post-Hegelian tradition prepared the ground for fascist thought. The main culprits, Friedrich Nietzsche and Martín Heidegger are accused, in turn, of introducing irrationalism into social and philosophical thought, pronounced antagonism to the idea of progress in history, an aristocratic view of the masses and, consequently, hostility to socialism, in its classic expression comprising movements for popular democracy, especially, not exclusively, the expropriation of most private property in terms of material production. Georg Lukács, The Destruction of Reason.
  • Why do Benjamin, Adorno, Marcuse, Horkheimer matter today? in the words of the title of another book, the ruthless critique of everything existing (Andrew Feenberg) but, this one, Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss, to end on an up note, looks much more fun.

>>>>>>>>>>><<<<<<<<<<<

The chain of association I form with the term advocacy leads directly to the New Zealand Arts Council, aka Creative New Zealand, aka the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council and, it will not be spoken but it must now be since as such it is in statute, the King Charles III Arts Council of New Zealand.

Why it should do so is not very interesting but that it might help clarify the meaning of advocacy might be.

What the Arts Council’s role is is a matter for policy, where, in the making of policy, for arts and culture, there has over successive governments in NZ been nothing.

Once upon a time the role of the Arts Council was funding and, at an even greater distance in time from us, once upon a time, the legend goes, the role of the Arts Council was advocacy, to advocate, on behalf of artists and arts organisations, to the government. It seems absurd now. That government would have, would ever have had, council officials turning up asking for this or that on behalf of artists, even $$$, seems absurd, especially $$$. Everyone now knows that the government’s job is to save not spend, to pay overseas debt. Payments were reported in September 2023 to be at @3% of USD204,500,000,000, going by the exchange rate 23 March 2024, that’s NZ$341,060,805,500, so NZ$11,368,693,516,666.67 per anum.

In 2000 I had the idea, although the figures were not as overwhelming and the prospect not as absurd of asking for $$$, that advocacy might take another form. Advocacy might take a political form and the Arts Council advocate for the political protection of artists and arts organisations.

The Arts Council could advocate on behalf of artists and arts organisations that what they do, the making they do of art works of every form, be given political protection under statute, the statute, it turns out, already in place at the foundation of the Arts Council, of being a patron. The Arts Council, a crown entity, is in statute under the patronage of his Royal Highness Charles III.

Political protection, that of patronage, would confer on artists and arts organisations a positive freedom, the legal right guaranteed by the legislature, the legal right to cultural production. Artists and arts organisations would be free to make art in whatever form they wished. The central question would cease to be, Where’s the money supposed to come from? And so would the central answer. Funding policy should then be directed to vouchsafing to those artists and arts organisations no more and no less than the freedom to create.

I wrote that this political principle was higher than the economic principle here.

Today I think of this as a positive statement and opposed to the sort of objective view that would repeat the economic question and answer’s centrality in arts’ funding, Where’s the money supposed to come from? To the question of funding it opposes that of advocacy, its answer that higher than the economic principle (of patronage) is the political principle (of patronage) protecting the creative freedom of artist and arts organisation.

I also think of advocacy in this positive sense as opposing the diagnostic view that would simply repeat the problems faced by artists and arts organisations in New Zealand Aotearoa. |…|

legitimating them |…|

|…| = break

the occasion for the above reverie was Shayne Carter’s

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>><>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>&

for another occasion, a post from CNZ on F___B___:

this was posted as

in the creative community, we are all now arts advocates, while CNZ is …?

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C[ancel] C[ulchr] C[rime] C[alculator] – the Dederometer

Claire Dederer raises this prospect, a moral calculator, online. The user would enter the name of an artist [for instance, Roman Polanski], whereupon the calculator would assess the heinousness of the crime versus the greatness of the art and spit out a verdict: you could or could not consume the work of this artist.

A calculator is laughable, unthinkable, she writes. But is it?

I’ve been doing some work on computus. As everyone knows computus is the calculation of Easter. When should it fall? Justin Smith-Ruiu, whose book I talked about here, generalises it to include the calculation of all significant dates (elsewhere than there, here). It entails the calculation of cultural significance, which as Smith-Ruiu points out is religious to start with, and deals with what appointments on a cosmic scale should be kept.

Computus evokes the history of computation. Every society that has had the means of mathematical calculation has used it to set the dates that ought ritually to be observed, days of festival and sacrifice, dates that summon people to activities as ordinary as the working day and as extraordinary as their entry into the transcendental realm, days to procreate, days not to, days to fast and the dates that are most propitious for either birth or death.

The implication is that this is the first role of mathematics, that before it came into the service of reason it was in the service of what reason calls the irrational, superstition and religion. Astronomy in this view comes from astrology as attempt to hold this or that social setup in harmony with the stars. Calculation has a moral role from the start.

Doing moral calculations of the sort that Dederer describes is behind all forms of calculation, from that by human reason to that assisted by computation from data sets, to that by the large language models of AI. What is calculated is primarily not what does come around again and again but what ought to, again and again. In the words of the song,

Harmony and understanding

Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation

— Galt MacDermot / Gerome Ragni / James Rado

— an interesting online calculation of moral relativities, courtesy of youtube

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institutional support & community support for the arts are different and recognised to be so in sport

It’s all here, from Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s Cultural Policy in New Zealand (page last updated 8 October 2021):

An early concentration on supporting the “high arts” was supplemented in the 1970s by structures and policies to support a wider range of cultural activities in New Zealand’s local and ethnic communities. Policies came to be concerned with encouraging community participation as well as supporting cultural practitioners. This shift in policy reflected the concept of cultural development promoted internationally by UNESCO.

what was ok in the 70s is not ok now. Note also the shift is to cultural development. It comes endorsed by UNESCO. However as a replacement for support of professional artists and arts institutions, cultural development may be readily conflated with the policies of development economics such as were rolled out in developing countries in the early phases of the New International Economic Order that replaced the Bretton Woods system.

1 = “high arts” [it’s outrageous that an official government website page in 2023 uses this phrase, high arts, as if to signal both the elitism of certain cultural activities and that ‘we’ know which ones they are (cf. here)] – support for professional artists and arts institutions –  “the best possible art by professional artists for the most diverse possible audience” (Nicholas Hytner, from here)

2 = supporting a wider range of cultural activities encouraging community participation

and 3 = (specific to Nz Aa? or generalisable to sectors of the population lacking privilege for reasons due to gender, class and race in any country) honouring obligations of equal access and opportunity to Māori, specifically under the Treaty, and to Pacific peoples

the three areas are different and irreducible one to the other, any such reduction being a levelling down of state-funding and support, an excuse to cut costs while claiming a social-moral good based on an unspoken consensus as to what constitutes such a good

Here are the social-moral do-gooders’ smiling faces and their social-moral do-gooding purposes and principles, and no mention of the cultural elitism implied by high arts or ulterior motives, like the sustaining of CNZ as the only fully funded arts organisation in New Zealand Aotearoa:

[CNZ’s] purpose

[CNZ’s] purpose is to encourage, promote and support the arts in New Zealand for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

[CNZ’s] Guiding principles

The principles [it] follow[s] include recognising and upholding:

  • the cultural diversity of the people of New Zealand
  • the role in the arts of Māori as tangata whenua
  • the arts of the Pacific Island peoples of New Zealand
  • participation, access, excellence, innovation, professionalism and advocacy.

note the avoidance of the word and the notion institution. For the Ministry for Culture this is covered by the term “high arts” and that 70s thing. From CNZ we can expect the word organisation, which is not the same thing.

I wrote an earlier post here about the autumn edition of Metro Magazine‘s special report on what it called the curious case of the collapsing culture. Editor Henry Oliver called it a crisis.

I answered my critical response to Metro‘s coverage here.

The reason for the current post follows, Nicholas Hytner’s response to the cultural crisis the UK is undergoing. He is much more creative than I am and points to the improbability that one funding agency can deliver on two remits, both supporting the professional arts and arts institutions and at the same time providing the means for community participation at all levels in culture and in the arts. (see below)

It’s like the old distinction between Theatre in Education and Drama in Schools. TIE was about professional practitioners coming to schools and performing for students and being paid to do so. Drama in Schools is about the students themselves performing, perhaps under the guidance of a professional but this is not guaranteed. The students of course benefit from both as we might were both supported.

Nicholas Hytner writes in the Guardian: that for the UK,

Maybe the way forward is for the arts to use sport as a model. There are two distinct funding bodies for sport. UK Sport has, in its own words, “a very clear remit at the ‘top end’ of Britain’s sporting pathway, with no direct involvement in community or school sport”. And it wins us medals. The other, Sport England (which has equivalents in the other home nations) invests in sport and physical activity to make it a normal part of life for everyone and gets us out on the track at the weekend. Both functions are vital.

[Nicholas Hytner’s] proposal, then, for a Labour government [in the UK], is to fund, in addition to the Arts Council, a new body as expert in its field as Sport England. In doing so, recognise the importance of participation in the arts with its own funding stream, to which new community-based initiatives as well as established education and outreach programmes can apply. And re-establish the arts in schools.

Meanwhile, focus the Arts Council’s existing grant on making the best possible art by professional artists for the most diverse possible audience.

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… critical is vital …

You really pour yourself into something when there’s no money to make things.

— Róisín Murphy

 You’re not free to say a lot of things. You notice it in every single crisis that pops up

— Laurie Anderson

 there’s such silence about the pandemic in art. After 9/11, we built two towers of white light to represent the people who died. We shine them again every year. With Covid, nothing. Why are people so silent?

— Laurie Anderson

 Art should have a mood, I think, before it has anything. That can unlock personal revelations for people.

— Róisín Murphy

 Creating a kind of dreamlike situation which works in sound and image, that conspires to take the listener into another less judgmental place…

— Laurie Anderson

“Oh, this is why I’m doing this. Love: that’s why.”

— Laurie Anderson on the death of Hal Willner from COVID

try to tell the truth. But the real thing I have to say is just try to really like and love yourself, because if you don’t, it will be so much harder. Realise that you already are perfect and you don’t have to worry about anything. Take that as a starting point. That kind of sounds idiotic, but advice is idiotic!

— Laurie Anderson

the way creatives are going at the moment, they don’t need my advice. They see all this straight away. “I’ll do it myself, I’ll make a movie one day, I’ll do whatever I want to do.”

— Róisín Murphy

there it is, the answer to the anodyne pap being served out as cultural commentary

here

and the answer is …

POP

no but really, really consider this critical moment. Yes, it’s always a critical moment. The present is a problem time.

Read this if you want to know about problems.

so how it works is the present critical moment throws into question all the preceding stories-we-tell-ourselves-to-put-ourselves-to-sleep-at-night and so that we can.

pomo, postmodernism celebrated the end of the master narratives. No more authoritative version. No absolute truth. Just egos puffed up and wanting to dominate, dominate the narrative.

The present critical moment throws into question, celebrates throwing into question ALL THE MINOR NARRATIVES.

the minor narratives are the ones we whisper to ourselves, like it’s going to be all right

like lullabies, the infantile babbling … of what used to be called the inner child now in this critical present moment DOMINANT,

fattened on narcissistic narratives of identity the inner child …

is now THE political representative. Is OUR political representative.

so how it works is the present critical moment puts the problem

and putting the problem opens what is called a solution space

putting the problem sets the terms to articulate the problem

what is the problem?

it’s not absence of creative opportunity

it’s absence of opportune creativity.

return to top, reader. Read how it’s done …

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Justin E.H. Smith’s book The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is is not what I thought it was & is not what it says it is, A History, A Philosophy, A Warning: it’s the reverse

…so what is it? Here’s some bits I liked:

Just as in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the global economy was dominated by natural-resource extraction, today the world’s largest companies have grown as large as they have entirely on the promise of providing to their clients the attention, however fleeting, of their billions of users.

— Justin E.H. Smith The Internet … , (Princeton University Press, 2022), 14

… which suggests a temporal economy and probably a better world were mental-resource extraction to replace that of natural resources…

And these users are, at the same time, being used. One vivid and disconcerting term that has been circulating in social media to describe anyone who spends time online is “data-cow.” The role that users of “free” online platforms occupy might sometimes feel creative, or as if it has something in common with traditional work or leisure. But this role sometimes appears closer to that of a domesticated animal that is valuable to the extent that it has its very self to give. We do not usually provide our bodily fluids, and are not usually asked to do so, though sites such as Ancestry.com do ask for saliva as part of their data-collecting efforts, and health bracelets and other such devices owned by Apple and Amazon are increasingly discovering ways to monitor a number of our vital fluid levels. But even if we are not giving our fluids, we are giving something that has proven more valuable to the new economy than milk ever was in the system of industrial agriculture: information about who we are, what we do, what we think, what we fear. Some of us continue to have old-fashioned careers in the twenty-first century–we are doctors, professors, lawyers, and truck drivers. Yet the main economy is now driven not by what we do, but by the information extracted from us, not by our labor in any established sense, but by our data. This is a revolution at least as massive as the agricultural and industrial revolutions that preceded it. Whatever else happens, it is safe to say that for the rest of our lifetimes, we will only be living out the initial turbulence of this entry into a new historical epoch.

— Ibid. 15

so begins chapter 1. Sounds like its going to chart the impact of what Shoshanna Zuboff in her 2015 book called Data Capitalism called data capitalism. I like the clear statement of what’s at stake. Revolution.

After naming four features of the revolution we will spend our whole lifetimes coming to terms with the book sets about telling us that the revolution is not anything new. It has been going on since at least the Revolution. In fact he dates the whole thing, the whole thing being the Internet, back to Leibniz.

That’s fine by me in terms of fundamental understanding, ideas and concepts, but not in terms of data extraction. And not in terms of the fundamental changes Smith’s four features of the revolution describe. Not then in the terms the book sets for itself.

These are:

  1. “a new sort of exploitation, in which human beings are not only exploited in the use of their labor for extraction of natural resources; rather, their lives are themselves the resource, and they are exploited in its extraction.” (15)
  2. a new problem: “the way in which the emerging extractive economy threatens our ability to use our mental faculty of attention in a way that is conducive to human thriving.” (17)
  3. feature 3 is so new it constitutes, says Smith, a “genuine break with the past: the condensation of so much of our lives into a single device, the passage of nearly all that we do through a single technological portal.” “Whatever your habits and duties, your public responsibilities and secret desires, they are all concentrated as never before into a single device, a filter, and a portal for the conduct of nearly every kind of human life today.” (18)
  4. … “in the rise of an economy focused on extracting information from human beings, these human beings are increasingly perceived and understood as sets of data points; and eventually it is inevitable that this perception cycles back and becomes the self-perception of human subjects, so that those individuals will thrive most, or believe themselves to thrive most, in this new system who are able to convincingly present themselves not as subjects at all, but as attention-grabbing sets of data points. (20) “For many, the only available adaptation to this new landscape is to transform our human identity into a sort of imitation of the decidedly non-human forces that sustain the internet, to trade a personality for an algorithmically plottable profile, in effect, to imitate a bot.” (21)

After this setup I’d like to find out what happens, particularly to number 4, but it wasn’t until much later I realised I was not going to. It was around when Smith was telling me that Deleuze (writing with Guattari) doesn’t have a theoretical monopoly and can’t claim copyright over the idea presented in A Thousand Plateaus of the network being a rhizome or the rhizome a network. And this was followed closely by citing Kant as an authority, so it kind of made sense. I mean, Deleuze with or without Guattari is not going to fit into a Kantian framework.

The problem I have with this book is that although it appears to want to engage philosophy, and this is in the subtitle, A History, A Philosophy, A Warning, it doesn’t do so in a philosophically informed way. The history part is halfway amusing but I would have expected, given that the book really starts with the warning, again a more philosophically informed approach, say an archeological or genealogical one. The trouble is that Smith maintains that it is, that he is doing a “reverse Foucauldianism”. (12) What this tells me is that the book is written the wrong way around.

— Tullio Pericoli

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the end of the end (of history) is not the end of the purpose (that declared itself in 1946)

Dani Rodrik’s policy trilemma holds that “democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full.” – from here.

I just misread that as politics in the (twenty-) first person

D. writes to me the foregoing, under the subject-line, Re: Anti politics at work,

He includes this example of Sovereignty Versus Trade, here.

Re: Anti politics, a twerk, my reply:

how does it devolve onto (or into) the trilemma otherwise than with a shift back or retreat into national sovereignty? National sovereignty has not been at the top of minds (the Carl Schmidt buzz notwithstanding) for decades, since, I would say, 1946. It has not been because it is dirty and guilty of ethnic cleansings, genocide and holocaust. In other words, it is human.

With the bruited, louder than it is real, turn from outrightly and forthrightly neoliberal policy, national sovereignty reemerges, but in what form? Does it reemerge in the clash, in the antagonism, between politics and economy, that is inside political economy? The Mexican example would seem to say so. But then, that is in a poor, a tabescent form: hardly fit, agile or having the resilience of entrepreneurial culture, the verve of it, and its clean hands, while the burnouts fall like Satan.

Is it then as economic self-determination that national sovereignty reemerges? It is in that case inside the state. That sounds serious, that sounds like serious division, but politics is still not thinking, is not thinking yet, because this political problem is really a matter of hypocrisy, subterfuge and covering, covering for a financial system of globalised free markets conducting their business in the abstraction layer of the technical apparatus the purpose of which is not to need politics. Its purpose is not to recognise exactly national sovereignty, as its purpose is also to avoid what is human, with its obvious pitfalls.

This is what The End of the End… is lacking, but I will wait and see, as I read further.

If you are reading this and have not read The End of the End of History, I recommend you do.

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a note on Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” from lecture 7, Theory & Context

Walter Benjamin is misunderstood in his essay of 1935 if it is thought he is referring to what is particular to an artwork, or to what is unique and singular in general: the reproduction he is referring to is not so much to do with the reproduction of an original as to do with the overcoming of any sort of origin or process or event of origination as happening in an original and unrepeatable time by the fact that time itself can be repeated, in the here and now, of the shot. That is, the moving image, or movement-image.

The word he uses to cover a sense of loss, without himself giving way to any sense of loss, is aura. And by this word we are to understand not what is intrinsic to the object or the kind of movement that is intrinsic to it but what is and that kind of movement that is incidental to it. This is the action or agency of time: it’s the wear and tear, the traces of history, which mark the passage of time.

And here, in the age of mechanical reproduction, the object and its movement, as the actor and theirs’, that Benjamin also mentions, is freed from time.

The aura is lost, without a sense of its loss: in fact this sense is the coming attraction.

Now, the title of this essay, is usually given in English as reproducibility to be closer to the German Reproduzierbarkeit, but this seems wrong to me, since it undoes in part that on which the essay is premised. Where reproducibility suggests the reproduction is yet to come, the work of art in the age of … reproduction suggests it has already arrived. Or its coming is in the future perfect, as having arrived.

Reproducibility would be of the entirety of what is to come.

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twenty-sixth part, called “the subject XXVI,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

the subject

The selfish actor: it was remiss of me to introduce him and give no other description than the abstract—she identifies the depth below the stage as her own—and the advice that everybody knows the type. The selfish actor is the most common, even the dominant of the figures we see on the stage, but not for dominating. You might call it a professional hazard. Either that or a privilege of position.

Firstly, let us say a selfish actor is not a bad actor. The problem is she has become the model of the good actor. The selfish actor is often very good precisely at acting.

What affords us this precision? Let’s move past the abstract and look at what he does. A selfish actor takes the stage without any discomfort. What does she see? What, as Donnellan might say, is her target?

Donnellan’s admirable move is to de-psychologise acting. The actor does not act from what is inside him; he acts from what is outside. And the character is like a shell. In a way that is almost Deleuzian, he also invokes the crack.

An actor projects what the character she plays, which is no more than a shell or mask, sees, without it needing to have any reality whatsoever. The character is in the world only inasmuch as the actor can evoke it for herself. That is, this world belongs to the actor. The target is its point of interest, the bit it is reduced to by perception. The target therefore moves and changes with the changing, moving interest of the character.

Donnellan therefore maintains a distance, a psychological distance we might say, between actor and character. An actor’s technique is operational. It operates the character through projecting what this character perceives. The impression aimed for is liveliness, the life of the rigidity of the mask. And here it is worth noting that mask-work does exactly what Donnellan describes: it pares down the world the mask inhabits, who is a subject of it, its life world or life language, say, to singular points of interest.

The mask is an instrument to focus in on what exactly the character, of the mask, and generally, perceives, which will always be a portion or point in that world: the target he is trained on, and by which entrained, since the actor follows it, keeps it in sight. Like a good hunter, she does not chase it, but as it were sits inside it. Ideally, it becomes a point of contemplation, a moving, changing point, subject to all the vicissitudes an actual living world would visit on it.

The danger is not the identification of the actor with his character, or mask, but that of taking the target to be representative of the world. To believe it is real; when this is exactly what an actor is called on to do: which is why a selfish actor is a good actor. The selfish actor acts as if these phantasmatic projections, which her character, the part played, the mask worn needs to be life-like, were real. Were actual living targets.

A selfish actor then has an excellent understanding of what acting is. He understands it to be what it asks of him. And acting becomes a self-less act. But he is a selfish actor!

Consider what is asked of the slave. She has been volunteered for the games. An island has been fabricated in the middle of the colosseum, and it has been populated with wild animals. Trees provide some cover, and rocks, and other low plants, but not so much she will not be seen by the onlookers when she is attacked.

She smooths down the fur on the pelts that are her costume. She plays the savage inhabitant of an island about to be eaten by lions imported from the Barbary coast. But she is about to beat her fate because when she runs, when she screams, when the lions’ claws tear her flesh, when she sees her ‘children’ eaten in front of her, her ‘husband’ running away, and when she is herself picked up in the lion’s jaws and shaken like a toy, when her arms are flailing out and her legs treading air, and some vital organ is punctured or her spinal cord is broken, she will be acting. She will be acting when she dies.

The problem is not not knowing the difference between reality and the projected reality of a role’s interests, which give life to the role, and of which its (life) world (life language) are comprised. The problem is not confusing reality with art, the actual with the artificial. The problem is not not knowing the limits of the stage or of forming too strong an identification with the role. The problem is with thinking that it is you giving everything you’ve got: the problem is identification with the self.

It is too easy to call this ‘ego’ and the selfish actor an egotist. No, no. The selfish actor is self-less in doing what he is tasked with, but this fulfillment of his tasks is seen to be the selfish actor’s and not the character’s or role’s. A selfish actor is even self-less when it comes to acknowledging others, both in their roles and in their performances, inasmuch as they help her in the construction of the world.

We see this clearly in the case of our politicians. A selfish actor can, however, be damning of those who are not helpful. She is first to call out those actors who undermine her in the performance of her role, who don’t play their parts—who are not as good as she is. And who undermine the world she is painstakingly engaged in constructing. Target by target. Interest by interest. Point by point.

To say this of our political representatives is no mere analogy, because they, if they are any good are selfish actors. And we judge them by the same being good at what they do. And we pick at the masks and attempt to pry them away from their faces. So, this is a problem too: the selfish actor has become the model of the good politician.

What a selfish actor is is still an actor. And is so not for belief in the world but for belief that this world exists entirely without consequence. A selfish actor knows he has no power actually to do anything in the world. That is, too well because this too is that with which she has been tasked, she knows the limits of the stage.

note: source references available on request–these will be part of the book, if it should come to pass.

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twenty-third part, called “the subject XXIII,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

the subject

It seems human beings create two worlds, when we know there is one. To one, humans are alien. Are alien or see themselves (ourselves) to be alien. This is the one world we know of through detailed empirical observation and description going back to the Natural Philosophers.

To the other, human beings have done something like naturalise themselves. It is the world borne of imagination, ingenuity and reason, seen to be the natural consequence of having a human brain. In it we see reflected ourselves, our, as it were, workings, the workings of distinctly human faculties, and find that it expresses most clearly our inner experience. (Ourselves, reflecting on ourselves, reflecting on ourselves.) It expresses our deepest truth as humans (seen currently to be the brain and functionings of the neurons). Built around interests that are human, this is also the world that is spitting us out: either we or it have gone bad.

So the world to which we have naturalised ourselves contrasts with the natural world, the world which from a philosophical perspective is natural. Of course, that we know it to be so is a function of science, the sciences. But this is something like a tautology. While the human sciences inform us of the human nature of the built world and remind us that it is humans who are responsible for making it as it is, the natural sciences (including both physics and biology) measure our distance from the natural world as well as take their distance from it, or keep distant from it, in order to measure that distance. That is, they rely on what is natural to the human, most true, our deepest truth: that we are different from the rest of nature.

Now, the human sciences, sociology, economics (debate may still be open as to whether it is a science, however to us, considering the actual influence and participation of economics, as an epistemological formation, in producing what we know, the question seems to have been settled, say, in the post-imperial age, before and between the first and second world war), political science (ditto) and to an extent biology, or these drawing on biological (and recently neurobiological) insights, may insist on a continuity between human being and animal being, on the human brain as being a natural fact, and on evolutionary factors—at base, because even social factors are said to have evolved—, which lie behind all of nature, all of life, in fact; while sciences focused on the human as an object of knowledge situate us in the natural world, they do so for the sake of public morality. Privately, it’s ok to go on thinking, indeed knowing, you differ from your dog and your garden. Publicly we must insist on a natural continuum, giving rise to notions of ethical use and sustainable practice. As much as Aesop, from the critical interpretation of human nature, from analyzing human development, in the species and individual, are extracted moral lessons, on pride, humility, arrogance, hypocrisy, and so on.

The hard sciences weigh in with studies on what we think and on how much of what we think, and on how much of what we think we know, is to our detriment—as a species—inasmuch as we experience the deleterious effects of what we do. Of course, at the individual level are harmful effects. But there is no current epistemic reversal going on in view of the fight between worlds: public morality remains convinced of human exceptionalism as it does of human culpability, or, as these are currently termed, anthropogenetic global threat and anthropocene.

The subject remains a moral one, and so does, in answer, our subject of the stage as centre of reception and receptive surface. The claims, we have said, for human exceptionalism rest on language. We have qualified this by saying that human exceptionalism can depend on language to support its claims only inasmuch as what is claimed for language belongs to the system and systematicity of language—of all human languages; and of all languages insofar as they are human. Human exceptionalism relies on the structure of language. In this structure is where human culpability is found. Its foundation. Or moral core.

The subject of the stage is a moral one, but is a dreaming subject: the dreaming subject is what we have in mind. So our strategy is not (only) in the unmaking or undoing that occurs in the interval, in the hesitation between stutters, in the selecting from perception of what will be acted on, that we have addressed as its freedom. Our strategy is to show that in theatre we find, we make, unmake, produce, undo, lose sight of, then strike, the hallucination of what it is not to be human. As if we had been dreaming…

note: source references available on request–these will be part of the book, if it should come to pass.

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seventeenth part, called “a way in XVII,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

A way in

A creature of language. Homo logos. Whose sapiens is only through language, because it is through language she comes to know the world. As it is in language he becomes a subject. A social creature. With all the problems attendant on social organisation. Such as her own status, that of being human, which does not automatically confer on her any status. Is not a recognised institution in society, such as being a subject is. Just as it does not automatically mean he speaks, let alone entail she is heard. So we ask, is an institution all a subject is?

We have claimed that human being becomes exception before being in general through language, a natural and exclusive right. And further proposed it is the system of language that founds this right. Exclusive to human being and natural.

Exclusive because systematised: having ascertainable rules and functions that are common to all languages if they are human. A grammar is the primary example. Then there are repertoires of sounds and the specificity of their production to the human anatomy, the laryngeal, lingual, palatal, dental and labial make-up. Which is unlike that of a cicada. And the further dependence of this exclusive proclivity natural to the human on upright bipedalism: having to feed against a vertical face, the frontal breast, and neither suffocate, though the conformation of the nostrils, now downwards, nor be held at a distance by a rigid snout or nose, and the out-turning of mucous surfaces, the lips as independently prehensile and able to latch on the nipple. A shortening of the jaw, and so on, all ideal as if retrofitted to allow for the production of sensible sounds, meaning sounds making sense through their separation from those that don’t, like gurgling-feeding.

Or chirruping? Doesn’t that make a sense separate from those of mastication, in an unnecessary expenditure of energy? Expenditure of no evolutionary use, not motivated by instinctive purpose, but pure display, as we see in birds, tropical fish, flowers. Yes, I know, finding a mate. Reproducing. Still, excessive in this regard. As it is in humans.

The chirruping of cicadas doesn’t follow the rules or functions of human language, which functions for what? Communication. Then these rules and functions of linguistic systematicity are retrofitted since they are not communicated in communication, back-engineered to account for the system itself. They are presuppositions of systematicity, otherwise what else does it organise?

The distinctions between signifiers? Repetitive patterns of sound? Do we say of music it is rule-based because of twelve-tone equal temperament? that seriality proves a latent serialism? We know these to be of human invention and to become matters of social convention, that is, musical institutions.

Codification is the necessary step in music as in language and it is provided for by symbolisation. Notation, separation, transposition of articulations of air into those manipulations of elements, minerals and chemicals, that give us paper and ink as they give us electronic means of registration. Encoding, a surface of registration and its recollection, as well as accepting the loss of the gestural and other physical signs and significations is compensated by the gains in, what? transmissability? These are necessary.

What is the transmission of? more language? differences that make a difference? Or more system and more of the same? The transmission of institutional understanding, like philosophy, and the reproduction of those institutions. In other words, pure display. And to restate or reinstate a purpose extends that which we may call libidinal economy. We are in fact left with transmissability for its own sake. So, data-communication. The autoproductivity of the code that at its most exalted is Artificial Intelligence.

We should note that it’s not AI decentring human being, neither the promise of it nor its actuality, of which we already see the effects. And we have for this reason no need to fear it. There are those that even encourage this decentring from his centrality of Man (sic) as being long overdue and want to hurry it up because they reckon on the intelligence of machines in surpassing human intelligence as heralding the coming of a Greater Wisdom. No doubt in an apocalypse. A messianic cybernetics: and Machine to pass Final Judgement on Man. Ending His destruction of ourselves and of our home on planet earth.

Anthropocentrism decentres itself in such wishes: the real danger, of which we are living both the actuality and the promise, is not the transfer and construction of the means of transference of instrumental reason to technical mechanism, like the singularity—systematicity in excelsis—but human abrogation of reason itself. The technical mechanism has and is undergoing development to be applied to human house-keeping. That is the problem it is meant to solve: economic. The decision is being and already has been passed over to transmissability itself, for itself.

This is why I want to return to the question of language, because its systematisation provides the rules of code-functions for the technical system. And I want to ask about the extra-being of language that exists without the system. Because that language is a system makes it a human system.

So, what is language before its invention as a system? And what is language both outside the human, to which its systematisation is subsequent, and during the anthropocene? Not to return, and not to make human language, after what happened, evil, so that the only answer to What can we do? is, obviously, physical theatre.

note: source references available on request–these will be part of the book, if it should come to pass.

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