AR March 2018 Feature Irredeemable Form / Features / ArtReview

Among critics of the original event, Boris Rhein – minister of higher education, research and the arts for Hesse, the state in which Documenta is based – argued that ‘any comparison to the Holocaust cannot be allowed, as the crimes of the Nazis were unique’. While it is impossible to disagree with such a sentiment – which points fundamentally to the difficulty in doing justice via art to the specificity and magnitude of the Holocaust as an event – the difficulty in responding to the renewed threat of racialist supremacy without recourse to artistic statements should be recognised. It would appear that in the artworld we are prevented from entering into the fullness of a debate on the resurgence of a white-supremacist politics by our own rectitude. On this note it is worth recalling that twentieth-century German philosopher Theodor Adorno’s famous injunction on the writing of poetry after Auschwitz was followed with the proviso that we should continue to try to make art anyhow, as a challenge to the cynicism of the rightwing. While Adorno favoured an abstract art, which was as such able to circumvent the difficulties of directly representing human suffering, he was writing as a survivor of the Holocaust, who fled his homeland to the UK and then the United States to avoid persecution. As such, Adorno wrote of the best course of action once all opposition to rightwing racialist tyranny had failed and the worst had already happened. Today we face the problem of looking back to a past that we must do justice to while at the same time having at our disposal the full range of available rhetorical and artistic devices in order to counter the far right. As it stands, the sensitivity of the topic often leaves art professionals and academics hamstrung when facing rightwing imagery. 



How the Cold War led the CIA to promote human capital theory | Aeon Essays

The underlying message of human capital theory turns out to be simple, and Friedman cheerfully summed it up in a pithy catchphrase during the 1970s: there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Friedman had discovered in human capital theory more than just a means for boosting economic growth. The very way it conceptualised human beings was an ideological weapon too, especially when it came to counteracting the labour-centric discourse of communism, both outside and inside the US. For doesn’t human capital theory provide the ultimate conservative retort to the Marxist slogan that workers should seize the means of production? If each person is already his own means of production, then the presumed conflict at the heart of the capitalist labour process logically dissolves. Schultz too was starting to see the light, and agreed that workers might actually be de facto capitalists: ‘labourers have become capitalists not from the diffusion of the ownership of corporation stocks, as folk law would have it, but from the acquisition of knowledge and skill that have economic value.’

One can only guess what the Soviet Union made of all this. Human capital theory was literally ‘disappearing’ workers from the dominant narrative concerning what made capitalism tick. It was an ingenious ploy for spreading pro-capitalist sympathies throughout the US, particularly among the working classes who were starting to suspect that their current employer might be the real enemy. Now capitalists were speaking a different language: ‘How can you be against us? In fact, you’re one of us!’



Getting rid of Work >

The communizing motor of action will not be the search for the best or the most equal way of distributing goods, but rather the human relations and activities found therein: within communization, activity is more important than its productive result because this result depends on an activity and of ties that could and would strengthen bonds among the insurgents. That which stirs the proletarian to act is not the need to eat, it is the need to create among other proletarians a social relation, which among other things will also feed them.

The need to create food, to cultivate carrots for example, will be satisfied by way of social relations which, among other activities, will cultivate beans, which will not mean that each minute or hour of horticulture will be lived as a kind of a joy without cloudy skies.



Podcast: Sergei Eisenstein’s October and the Bolshevik Revolution

Before concluding, I think it fitting to spare a final word on Eisenstein’s essential project: the application of Marxism to art. In the first episode of this series, I stated that my purpose in all of this work is to develop a practicable Marxist politics of art. Eisenstein attempted such a project, expanding on it through his later work. Before his death he was working on bringing this project to a form of fruition, putting together the outline for a film on Marx’s Capital. What we see specifically in Eisenstein is an example of an attempt to apply Marxism to artistic form.

I don’t want to pretend that Eisenstein is unique in this regard. There have been various attempts to apply Marxism to artistic form. Brecht, for example, developed a technique known as “the alienation effect”. Whilst I intend to discuss these other attempts in later episodes, my fundamental criticism of Eisenstein is applicable to most — if not all — that have attempted to develop such a “Marxist aesthetic”.

As I said earlier in this episode, art is a social relation. It is a specific form of relationship that exists between the artist and their audience. Furthermore, its form is conditioned by social forces prior to production, by the concerns of artistic production themselves and in consumption. If we consider what Eisenstein is attempting to get at — how art forms communicate and shape meaning — then we discover that aethestics too are conditioned by social forces. To put this bluntly: apples did not evolve to be symbols of sin. Rather, we developed as a species to understand them as such, in particular parts of the world over given periods. How we interpret symbolism, film structure or editing is a product of artistic history.

This presents any artist attempting to produce Marxist forms of art — particularly one as aesthetically radical as Eisenstein — with a problem. Once their work has been produced it must also be understood. As the work will often use some form of new artistic language, this is a difficult task for any potential audience to come to grips with. As we have seen, in order to even make October truly intelligible it is necessary to approach how films create meaning in a radically different way. Whatever new formal language has been developed must also be learned. Without the proliferation of many works using the same processes, this is unlikely to occur on a significant scale. As I have said, this is one reason why October was unpopular on its release and today remains both obscure and difficult.



Capital and Time. For a New Critique of Neoliberal Reason >

6 Time, Investment, and Decision

This chapter pursues the analysis of capitalist temporality. The rise of modern capitalism as accompanied by the emergence of a distinctive experience of time, one in which humanity sees itself as making its own temporality, understanding present practices as having emerged out of a past and as shaping a contingent future. Time becomes a practical question, and the present becomes a moment of decision.




Communism has a rather orthodox definition including the abolition of private property, the cessation of class relations of domination, and the withering away of the state. Left-accelerationism is a total non-starter on this issue for me because it remains a technocratic state socialist project rather than communist one. As informed by their principled opposition to the state, the contribution of Deleuze and Guattari to this idea seems clear to me. In contrast to the process outlined by Lenin in The State and Revolution (1917), namely establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat through the seizing of the organs of the state, Deleuze’s metaphysics suggests that there are non-legislative processes that could passively produce the conditions of communism. The suggestion by the post-Autonomia Marxists was a new post-scarcity version of the commons. I like the idea, but there is a clearer picture suggested by Tiqqun, The Plan B Bureau, and the Invisible Committee: a communism of all of those forces that struggle against Empire. The text I like on this point is Twenty Theses for the Subversion of the Metropolis (The Plan B Bureau, 2009), which proposes blocking, sabotage, and ungovernability as a shared exodus from an Empire that operates according to communication (the precise cybernetic system that left-accelerationists advocate). The speed of such revolt may actually be experienced as a slowing down, as the complicity between cybernetics and capitalism is that both speed things up because they perceive most problems to be an issue of efficiency. Ultimately, a phrase that Deleuze and Guattari take from R.D. Laing is all that matters: the task of the revolutionary should be to provoke a breakthrough and not a breakdown.