sexta-feira, 20 de janeiro de 2012

Having-Your-Heart-in-the-Right-Place-Is-Not-Making-History - Art & Language, UK


















Let us not cite history. Our logic and time is new. I see no collective ideals, nothing outside personal truth to identify with . . .
By choice I identify myself with working men. I belong by craft yet my subject of aesthetics introduces a breach. I suppose that is because I believe in a workingman's society in the future and in that society I hope to find a place. In this society I find little place to identify myself economically . . .
I have strong social feelings but propaganda is not necessarily my fate . . .
The most important thing to know is who you are and what you stand for and to acknowledge this identity in your time. Concepts in art are your history; there you start
.
— David Smith, an artist with his heart in the right place

So the artist has no history outside concepts in art, and sees no "collective ideals," yet he identifies—by choice—with working men and "believes in" a "workingman's society in the future" in which he'll have a place! Is identification a matter of choice? A historical identification (i.e. identifying oneself idealistically with a history which one does not believe he can join in making) is more determinism parading as ideology; "If-I-could-I-would-ism." Smith was just being sentimental about (American) history. The technology of modern art is bourgeois technology.


In talking about "belonging by craft" Smith was referring to the expropriation of manufacturing modes for bourgeois ends. Judd, Morris, Andre and others (not to mention all those new-materials sculptors in England and elsewhere) have continued the process of expropriation (media-topicalization comes to mean the same thing). One might see Minimal Art, Process Art, Back-to-Nature Art, Jacking-off Art, Doing-things-for-People-Art, Conceptual Art, etc., as sophisticated means of bringing economically intractable commodities (albeit in symbolic forms) into the market place to be "valued." Naivete is the "concerned" artist's best defense in face of the commercialization of his activity.


Something stronger is needed than the kind of idealism which Smith proclaims, and which his successors have upheld. Belief in the objective conditions for the achieving of socialism is more than a mere matter of faith. When Rosa Luxemburg attacked the opportunist policies of the reformist Eduard Bernstein, she implied that he was guilty of a kind of defection, a stepping aside from the more demanding currents of history. If too many people give up it won't happen. Liberal-reformist projections of history are self-fulfilling prophecies, perhaps because they are essentially normative. We're talking about two kinds—two "strengths" (c.f. Hintikka) of belief.

Belief in a socialist future is not like saying the creed, more like sticking to your guns. David Smith was just affirming an empty faith (belief). Putting your historical productivity where your mouth is is something different. History is not made by accident, while one's not watching what he's doing. The concept of making history requires purport and purpose. The required purpose is purpose indexed to a defensible projected view ofhistorical reality.


Artists merely "realizing their socialization" are just people pursuing the pathology of a scandal. Ideological speculation becomes ideological action only when it generates class conflict and invests class struggle. "... The bourgeoisie maintains itself not only by virtue of force but also by virtue of the lack of class consciousness, the clinging to old habits, the timidity and lack of organization of the masses" (Lenin—"Letters on Tactics") Artists are members of an essentially bourgeois social section and thus cannot participate in progressive class struggle so long as they retain and promote the "integrity" of mere intra-social interests. For the artist, ideological interaction must follow upon class analysis and upon ideological penetration of class barriers.


There is a paradox here. One cannot defensibly be "doing it for them"; one must be doing it for oneself. The artist/intellectual's interests must be (must have been) transformed into those of the progressive class, and this transformation must be (will be, if it is real transformation) free of complacent "backwardness"; i.e. it must entail ineradicable change in productive function and class orientation.
Q."But who are you doing it for?"
A.'T'm not doing it for anyone.Tm just trying to make history.Socialization must involve historicalprojectivity, and 'history is classes.' 'Wanting to have it so' can invest (and thus can be) 'making history; but we have to be talking about more than just good intentions!"


During this century artists have mostly been non-combatants so far as effective class struggle is concerned. This is not to be accounted for by positing some mythical status as classless, or non-aligned, un-ideological beings. "End-of-ideology" (or "-of-philosophy" or whatever) fixations are themselves tediously ideological and deviously self-serving. It's just that art has been bogged down in social-sectional (merely "cultural") interests for so long now that artists have become accustomed to coprophagic forms of life and are generally unable or unwilling to see out over the edge of the cess-pit towards a feasible socialist future. For too long now artists have been by definition members of a non-working class. (So long as there has been a proletariat, artists have not been part of it.

As the historical identity of the proletariat has developed, so the class-orientation of the artist has been attenuated.) Yet to be defensible now, artists' projects must be projects in and for action along class lines.

Under present circumstances, the progressive artists will be those who seek, as however distant a prospect, the dictatorship of culture by the working classes. As a member of a bourgeois social section, the artist can thus only act progressively in the symptomatic and historical paradoxicalness of his own social practice.
One has to have a view of what should happen, in history, and sort one's tasks accordingly. It's no good just carrying-on with good intentions. The progressive intellectual's task is to generate ideological conflict. One's field of feasibly progressive action may be limited to superstructural (ideological) intervention (i.e. one has more potentially useful tasks to perform as a member of the intelligentsia than as a foot-soldier who can't shoot straight), but if one's ideological action doesn't include acceptance of the possible practical outcome of ideological conflict, then it is mere monkeying-about.


For instance, the dictatorship of culture by the working class will inevitably involve the progressive artist in persuading some of his social-sectional colleagues to desist, in compelling those who won't be persuaded, and in "disenfranchising" those who won't be compelled. The "radical" who does not accept this is just a liberal in Woolf's clothing. 1900-style Transcendental Socialism—the arty idealization of "human nature" as involving the potential of universal creativity—just won't do inside a concept of creativity as involving the making of history, and a concept of history as involving class struggle. (How about Joseph Beuys' solution to Ulster's troubles: set up free schools where the proletariat can be distracted by the realization of their own true creativity? What does he think they're going to do? Sculpting in fat and felt and talking to dead animals don't map easily onto the culture of the Six Counties.)
It's hard to see how social transformation can be achieved without some putting to death. This is not bloodlust but realism. It seems clear that there are those who will never be persuaded that they have no right to be greedy.

They are themselves realists of a sort. There can indeed be no equity of provision of "opportunities" where the appropriation of material and ideological commodities is concerned, at least certainly not without a transformation so radical as wholly to revise the terms of reference for the concept of opportunity, and it's unlikely that this could be countenanced by those who proclaim the importance of opportunity as presently construed.


While we might not wish to sanction labor camps, we could be sympathetic to a view of them as places where you send those who wont be put to work. (And we all have colleagues . . .) Nor would we fight for freedom of speech if that just meant fighting for the right to express merely superstructural (idealistic, asocial) concepts of "human rights." We might even see mental hospitals as not inappropriate places of residence for those dissident intellectuals who see dissidence as a mere function of individuality of intuition; i.e. it's more defensible to use them as prisons for those who are already the prisoners of their own minds than as centers of "treatment" for the victims of medically irrelevant demarcations imposed by "liberal" medicine in defense of property and social harmony.


This is the point at which the social democrat gets frightened and sells out in the name of (bourgeois) "humanism." "But I wanted peaceful transformation. If it can't be nonviolent it
won't be what I wanted. And what about my Art? I thought I was fighting for the right to go on doing my thing..."

This essay was first published in The Fox, 1:3 (1976), pp. 75-77.

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