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trump-tower-blogThe night of the election, I went to bed before the final results were in. By that point, Clinton was down to a 50% chance of winning, so I thought I’d spare myself the gory play-by-play. But every hour or so after falling asleep, I lurched awake with my heart in my gut, thinking “Maybe Clinton squeaked through,” or “Oh my god, Trump is President.” Finally, at 4am, I picked up my phone to check and saw the anguishing results. It’s not that I was gung-ho about Clinton winning, but of course I didn’t want Trump to win.

Still, in spite of the sickeningly surreal confirmation that this country had elected a mentally unstable, reality-TV star whose onscreen role was to fire people, and whose discourses and actions included misogyny, sexual assault, racism, ethnic hatred, and financial deregulation favoring only the super-wealthy – in spite of this, within days it seemed to me clear that the election of such a person was not surprising, and would have happened four years from now if it hadn’t happened now. And let’s be real, a Cruz win – other than, maybe, regarding the question of the nuclear button – would have been equally harrowing. Say what you will about the popular vote favoring Clinton by 2 million votes, she wasn’t running to be president of New York, California, and Massachusetts, the only states where she picked up the great majority of her popular vote margin over Trump. (Trump won many, many states by very large margins). She was running to be president of the whole country and Democrats completely underestimated the mass economic precarity and inchoate anger against dysfunctional government that drove large numbers of people to support a demagogue who did not represent their interests. And I’m not talking about the educated and moneyed Republicans who voted for him. “Liberals” can delude themselves that Trump was elected only by white racists and misogynists, but by doing so they conveniently overlook the fact that many counties and states that were won by Obama in 2012 went to Trump (i.e. the same voters), and that there were many indicators during the campaign that the white “working class”- in areas that had traditionally voted Democratic, and were suspended in the abyss created by globalization and automation -were going to shift to Trump. According to the NYT, for example, “The Wyoming River Valley of Pennsylvania voted for Mr. Trump. It had voted for Mr. Obama by double digits.” “Youngstown, Ohio, where Mr. Obama won by more than 20 points in 2012 was basically a draw.” “Counties [along Lake Erie] that supported Mr. Obama in 2012 voted for Mr. Trump by 20 points.“ “In Iowa, which Obama won easily in 2012, Trump easily prevailed. Trump won Maine’s second congressional district by 12 points; Obama had won it by 8 points.” And on and on. Salaries for those up to their mid-30s have declined – accounting for inflation, which is always underreported in the US – by 36% since just 2008. And labor statistics don’t even account for the middle-aged who are unemployable and unable to collect unemployment benefits. 42 million Americans currently don’t have enough to eat every day. If it wasn’t going to be Trump in 2016, it would have been a demagogue equal to him in 2020.

But this is just a preamble to posting something here about a discussion that I witnessed the other night at the Miguel Abreu Gallery in which Alain Badiou was asked by Abreu to respond to a presentation by the two men I think of as “the accelerationist guys” – Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams (an American and a Brit who both teach in London, and who published in 2013 a text called “#Accelerate. Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics” that addressed earlier positions by Nick Land and Benjamin Noys on the destructive drives of Capitalism, its effects on its subjects, and its potential for self-destruction. 2015 saw the expansion of the Srnicek/Williams text into an updated book entitled Inventing the Future.

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Oh the joys of being an artist who writes – I don’t have the pressures of academic precision and comprehensiveness. I can present to you what I caught of the event – from schematic notes I took and from what I remember during a dense exchange. And even that will be even more incomplete than it sounds, because I wasn’t able to stay for the discussion that followed the presentation by Srnicek and Williams, and Badiou’s critique of their positions. But I felt that Badiou’s critique and proposals were so important for the present situation that they merit the dissemination that this blog platform can provide. Because relatively modest as is my readership, I would guess that it’s pretty much made up of just the sort of people who should have heard Badiou’s points – left-oriented people who are eager, if not desperate, to figure out how to develop effective resistance to Trump specifically, and to the general relentless march to the political and economic right that we’ve witnessed in the U.S. (and other parts of the world) since the Reagan years.

When I was first led to read “#Accelerate” in 2013, I was excited at the prospect that someone was writing about the dissipation of left movements and about ways to strategize more effective resistance. But the Futurist-like arrogance, or coldness, of the tone and some of the ideas and omissions quickly put me off. I let it go without much thought or hope.

Much of the presentation made on the 22nd by Srnicek and Williams was of that ilk also, although their beginning analysis of the current effects of neoliberalism in the U.S. and some European countries was sound. Here were some of their points:

  • Neither the Right nor the Left were prepared for 2008 or 2016. Trump, and Theresa May in the UK, are symptoms. They are pragmatic opportunistic responses to the crisis and despair produced by a jobless “recovery,” the destruction of unions, job automation, etc.
  • There is a crisis of governing in Western Democracies. Technocratic forms of government have arisen in countries like Italy and Greece. In the UK, there is an unelected leader.
  • The dysfunction of government has given rise to conspiracy theories and false-news reporting.
  • Trump and Brexit represent a crisis of fear. Clinton and the anti-Brexit vote were just about supporting the status quo. This is the face of the failure of neoliberalism.
  • Trump and May reject aspects of neoliberalist support of free trade and open borders. They choose the border over trade. But finance still travels freely and observes no boundaries.
  • Trump talks about stimulus – but this is not a Keynesian stimulus. It’s giveaways to corporations.
  • The Trump rhetoric is fascistic and white nationalist.

Contradictorily, they went on to say that Trump’s victory was clearly not about white working class suffering, because the black working class had suffered more (the unspoken point being that they largely voted for Clinton in spite of having suffered more). The white working class vote for Trump, according to them (and according to many American liberals, as far as I’ve seen) was a vote to resist the loss of white privilege. This was a very odd argument by them, in my opinion, or at the least a very unsubtle argument, since statistics as shown above prove a complex situation in terms of what motivated the white working vote for Trump (as well as for 29% of the Latino vote). At the very least, it’s obvious that whatever reservations Black voters had in supporting Clinton (and they did not turn out in historically significant numbers), one cannot blithely assume that their suffering would not have pushed them to a different kind of demagogue promising economic recovery – one that might have been clever enough not to make racism a central issue. To me, this kind of conveniently packaged thinking is proven by the utter lack in the two long presentations made by Srnicek and Williams of anything at all to do with Trump’s dire misogyny. Another degree of illogic arose in their critique of current or post-2008 forms of resistance to neoliberalism. For them, resistance has taken the following ineffectual forms:

  • Defensive stances of trying to hold on to what we have within neoliberalism, even as wealth gets more and more concentrated at the top.
  • Defensive resistance does not result in a different future, not even in the possibility of envisioning a different future.

Although they were critical of the Occupy movement and its offshoots for having had no significant program and for being ineffective in combatting neoliberalism, they praised the Black Lives Matter movement, and even the Standing Rock resistance. I suppose this was because they had stated programs? Certainly they weren’t supporting them for their effectiveness in terms of results. Again, no mention of equivalent feminist or LGBTQ forms of resistance.

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Srnicek and Williams made four clear demands that they felt were the only ways to deal with this moment of neoliberal breakdown in relation to what, for lack of a better term, I would call the 99% of the world:

  • A world without work [WWW]
  • Full automation, which would facilitate a world without work
  • A Universal Basic Income, which would facilitate left political development, among other advantages.
  • The elimination of the work ethic. 

They also added that one way to start to achieve these four was to create a four-day workweek. They ended their presentations with a question about whether neoliberalism was just in crisis or had already broken down completely, and indicated that it was not completely knowable at this moment, but that it had probably broken down completely.

Then it was Badiou’s turn to critique these arguments as laid out in their newly issued book. What struck me right away was the humanity of Badiou’s response. His humane consideration of the subjects of the proposals at hand.

While he agreed with some of the Srnicek and Williams critiques of neoliberalism and ideas, he was deeply critical of the starting point of their argument and proposals.

His initial objections were to the categorical idea that defensive resistance was totally useless at this moment. For Badiou, there must be movements of different kinds across subjectivities, containing differences AND strong commonalities.

Srnicek and Williams had emphasized the essential need for envisioning a new kind of future. Badiou agreed that a new positive vision must unify people, and articulated the need for the creation of a new common sense in place of today’s kind of resistance. He invoked Gramsci, and referred to Mao’s ideological preparation of public opinion. In other words, to put it in my own words, mass demand for a new vision of the future wasn’t going to come without an effort to create commonalities amongst the marginal.

But the real critique began when he stated his objections to Srnicek and Williams’ three demands (WWW, Full automation, UBI):

  1. These ideas are not a real possibility (just like utopian communism). They’re too abstract. What is work, Badiou asked? It’s not just about money. Work is the global relationship of humanity fighting against nature to survive. This cannot be suppressed by full automation. Automation, in any case, would create other forms of work that were unimaginable before.
  2. The end of work is not good news for the billions of people who roam the world looking for work today. Even if a WWW is the future, that is in strong opposition to present suffering. A WWW is a western ideaHe invoked the condition of millions in Africa, for example.
  3. It’s better to propose the drastic diminution of the workweek to 20 hours. Badiou pointed out that this was an old, but still a good idea to generate jobs for the chronically unemployed.
  4. The idea of a WWW is not clearly in opposition to Capitalism, an opposition that is defined not by a “we” per se, but by the end of private property. This was one of his major critiques of the book. As he put it, “I am suspicious of the complete lack of an argument against private property in the book.” Maybe even more importantly, he pointed out, the book begins as though we are already beyond Capitalism. Private property, private ownership – that is the HEART of the matter. And he stated with sobering emphasis that Capitalism would prefer a world war to giving up private property. To go beyond Capitalism is not an abstract argument. It is THE challenge itself. The current distribution of wealth is more oligarchic than a monarchy. It will take dire conflict to overturn this.
  5. With regard to the demand for full automation, Badiou asked why Srnicek and Williams thought that full automation would actually benefit workers, when the ownership of automation and its profits would still be held by the powerful minority, who would not easily give up those profits.

What must be done, Badiou asked, before we resort to a future world war to abolish Capitalism? Strategy cannot be reduced to a vision of the future. Strategy must include judgment about what is possible NOW. Movements are a necessity. They say that what seems impossible is possible. This doesn’t always involve a program, but the possibility to experiment in the current situation at the border of what is impossible and what is possible. Resistance formation allows for the development of what is possible.

Badiou then stated four principles for developing resistance. These were not a program, but what he called protocols of judgment regarding decisions to be made for the development of strategic programs for resistance, for displacing the limit of what is impossible to what is possible:

  1. Demonstrate that private property is neither necessary nor a law of humanity. Emphasize collectivism.
  2. Reduce the workweek drastically. Demonstrate that the specialization of labor is not an eternal law. That is, suppress the opposition and hierarchy between intellectual and manual labor. It is a false opposition. I also seem to remember him pointing out that physical labor should not be disdained.
  3. Equality must exist inside and across differences. Affirm that difference must exist across equality. Demonstrate that boundaries between differences are not eternal law.
  4. It is not a necessity that a state exists as a separate and armed power. Following Marx, the people can determine themselves collectively. Free association against the state.

And he closed his critique by stating that when collectivities developed programs for resistance, if all of these four principles were not included, then the program should not be developed.

As someone who takes a very holistic view of resistance, whose feminist activity– for example –is never without an analysis of power of all kinds – economic, racial, ethnic, gendered, this seems to me a very fruitful way to move forward in what is shaping up to be a new moment of crisis for the great majority of the world’s inhabitants. But I would add a fifth principle to Badiou’s four. Any program that does not recognize the dynamics of the human psyche – its mechanisms of displacement and projection, for example – will never be able to generate collective engagement toward the common good, and will always be susceptible to being led by self-interested demagogues.

 

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On March 16, Eyal Weizman – Director of the Centre for Research Architecture, a graduate program at Goldsmith University, London, and of the European Council-funded Forensic Architecture project embedded within the Centre for the last 4 years – gave a talk at The Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility entitled “FORENSiS: Space and Violence at the Threshold of Detectibility.” The announcement included the following:

Forensic Architecture turns its counter forensic gaze to the frontiers of contemporary war. Forensic Architecture, an agency composed of artists, filmmakers and architectural researchers, uses architecture and its media representations to analyse and respond to political conflicts in Israel/Palestine, environmental violence in Guatemala and their research for the UN on drone warfare in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. Weizman will show how architectural methods and new sensing technologies could be used to expose the logic of violent conflict while raising a host of conceptual problems to do with the thresholds of vision and law.

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 1.15.37 PMIt’s interesting to think about the use of the word “agency” in the above blurb, following my last blog post on Alain Badiou’s talk about art of the future. The word agency connotes not just the world of business, but a realm of collective generation in which the individual status of each contributor to the collective process is not publicly trumpeted, at least to the subject of the address. And this is one of the projections that Badiou made about how an art of the future would differ from the status of art today. Badiou uses the example of the arena of science, and the infrequency with which science innovators achieve an individuated public persona. In this regard, one can also think of other contemporary connotations of the word agency. A successful ad agency figure, for example, may receive the occasional award within their arena, but their individuated talent is important, if at all, only to the client. (It raises the question of whether the Mad Men craze can be seen as a retrospective layering of a current-day obsession with individual personality and hyper-branding onto an anonymous group of players in an agency past.)

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 1.20.41 PMThe Centre for Research Architecture officially welcomes “architects, urbanists, filmmakers, curators and other cultural practitioners from around the world to work on expanded notions of architecture that engage with questions of culture, politics, conflict and human rights.” The impressive work of the program and the projects presented in detail in the talk don’t publicly foreground leadership, despite the fact that Weizman occupies a very public representative position for it. The program emphasizes collective generation, and seemingly depends on the different technical talents of the participants in order for the case studies to be produced. These are the “virtuosos” of the post-Fordist economy of which Virno writes. That said, the approach of the Centre for Research Architecture/Forensic Architecture doesn’t mean that individual contributors to such multi-disciplinary groups today don’t also pursue very individuated solo practices. (i.e. Lawrence Abu Hamdan, a young sound artist who is a contributor to a recent Forensic Architecture project.)

HoB calculation 1 amendedIn its authentically multi-disciplinary and collective approach, in its degree of engagement with urgent spatio-political-juridical issues, and in its recognition that cultural production has something important to offer to public realm discussions of such issues, which other categories of research cannot provide, The Centre for Research Architecture may be the only truly 21st century graduate arts program around. This is not a case of artists or architects trying to compensate for what corrupt government ignores, or what capitalism destroys (the trap into which much progressive art today falls); this is an approach that rewrites cultural roles altogether.

Here’s a short video of one of the program’s cases, presented by Weizman the other evening. The video represents both their working method and acts itself as a form of forensic evidence identifying the Israeli soldier who killed Nadeem Nawara, a teen on the West Bank. The case study is “a field of practice and…an analytical method for probing the political and social histories inscribed in spatial artefacts and in built environments.” The motivation for the forensic study was to refute Israel’s contention that no investigation was warranted because no live ammunition was fired; the work proves where the shot came from, and its lethality through a spatio-aural-temporal investigation of the event. There are credits at the end of the video, with their own hierarchy. But in part because it would be hard to identify such work – today – as cultural production, the main role of the credits isn’t individuation in the sense of the contemporary branding of artists or architects.

Although it was developed out of the discipline of architecture, the Centre redefines what a cultural practice might be today for artists. Its approach to the generation of cultural material is more genuinely collective than the collective label loosely attached to some art practices today. It breaks new ground in the ways in which it includes artists in re-shaping a public reading of spatial languages and the dense meanings they hold, as they are imbricated in zones of cross- and intra-national incursion. Significantly, it steers cultural production away from a speculative marketplace of aesthetic signifiers (i.e. the auction house and the gallery model), or at least creates a new space for cultural production and a new spectator for it. This type of program has the potential to offer a way out of the American M.F.A. impasse for artists committed to critical and politically engaged work, who upon graduating (often with massive debt) are abandoned in an economic tundra, or left to parlay their technical skills in the world of advertising and marketing. In this sense, The Centre for Research Architecture can be thought of as concerned with ethics at many scales, including the pedagogical one.

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This work utilizes the technologies of Computer-aided Design (CAD) to achieve a counter forensic. Weizman’s talk included quite a few different discourses – technological, cultural, historical, juridical, human rights, spatial, political, and philosophical. Several brilliant questions were raised after the talk. But what lingered for me was an unasked one. What seems under-examined in this remarkable work is the question of what place it can occupy at a time when “truth” has so little currency. In other words, the work recognizes that juridical appraisal is not guaranteed to be accurate, let alone just, and insists on the vital importance of bringing out of the shadows –through innovative methods– the occluded actions that cause destruction today (another project focuses on the secret life of drones by reconstructing with stunning precision the exact location of a secret attack). But an attention to the psyche of the addressee, and the reception of truth, seems to be missing. It may be present in the more academic part of the program (I haven’t seen syllabi), but it wasn’t present in the lecture.  And the psyche is an essential focus because it would allow for a more nuanced strategic presentation of the material in the public realm. Ideally it would also affect the very language and imagery and sound of their counter-forensics.

forensic 3For example, by an oblique analogy, it’s futile to try to convince supporters of capital punishment in the U.S., through a medically proven argument, of the suffering caused by botched lethal injections. Those who support capital punishment support the suffering of the sentenced, in part because they don’t identify (with) the convicted as human. To be effective at all, a discursive argument would have to be focussed on that lack of identification. Weizman pointed out that they don’t function as conventional forensic experts do, in that for them the timing of the output of results into the public realm is strategic, and differs from how the law might typically use forensic experts. He also pointed out, in response to a question, that the affective dimension of the conflicts have to be taken into account (in addition to the diagrammatic science). The value of their approach exists at a discursive level as well as at the level of forensic proof. But to aim for truth – or even for its discursive value – one has to examine in depth the contradictory ways in which the psyche transforms it.

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