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THE COLLAPSE OF FANTASY
IMAGERY IN THE REAL OF PRODUCTION
Under capitalism the future is an open field ahead of us that we can shape and construct through our work. Since we’re condemned to have a future, we’re condemned to work, and at the same time, if you are condemned to work, you are condemned to have a future. Whatever you choose you will be working and you will be acting strategically, towards a goal and therefore you’ll be productive. In order to change this dominant fate that wants to control the future, and therefore stay in the realm of the known, you have to sabotage this double machine of work and future so that it stops functioning for a while and that a space is opened up (a present) and later, the future will come.
Valentina Desideri and Stefano Harney in Fate Work
Is it today possible to find strategies that allow us to combine a production of artistic material and/or experience with the wish to collectively share this publicly, and still stay in the logic of production instead of surrendering to the logic of display? How can we, in the age of an economy based on the production of attention, develop aesthetic tools and/or modes of discourse without operating in a paradigmatic desire of ”the New”? And what practices can help us fantasize about our reality without automatically being re-territorialized into the modes of production constituting this reality?
The following paragraphs are based on a cross reading of among others Benjamin Noys' Malign Velocities (2014) and the Mad Max tetralogy by George Miller. They reflect some questions and tendencies that might, or might not, be addressed by the structure and content of the work produced by Weld Company.
Life In This Blighted Place
For anyone concerned with the phenomenon of synchronicity, scribbling around with a time-line of the three first Mad Max films provides for some interesting associations.
1979: Mad Max
Margret Thatcher becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, launching the sentence ”There is no such thing as society” as the credo of a new economic paradigm.
1981: Mad Max 2 - The Road Warrior
Ronald Reagan is elected as President of the United States of America.
1985: Mad Max - Beyond Thunderdome
Gorbachev is appointed general secretary of the Soviet Union.
Ronald Reagan is elected for a second term as president in the U.S. Reagan and Gorbachev have their first meeting (#Perestrojka, #CollapseOfSovietUnion, #HelloGlobalCapitalism).
All that remains are memories.
I remember a time of chaos,
ruined dreams, this wasted land.
I remember the Road Warrior,
the man we called Max
To understand who he was,
you have to go back to another time,
when the world was powered by the black fuel,
and the deserts sprouted great cities of pipe and steel.
Gone now, swept away.
Without fuel they were nothing.
They´d built a house of straw.
The thundering machines sputtered and stopped.
Their leaders talked and talked and talked.
But nothing could stem the avalanche.
Their world crumbled, the cities exploded,
a whirlwind of looting, a firestorm of fear.
Men began to feed on men
On the roads it was a white-line nightmare
Only those mobile enough to scavenge
brutal enough to pillage, would survive
The gangs took over the highways,
ready to wage war for a tank of juice.
And in this maelstrom of decay,
ordinary men were battered and smashed.
Men like Max. The warrior Max.
In the roar of an engine, he lost everything
and became a shell of a man.
A man haunted by the demons of his past
A man who wandered out into the wasteland.
And it was here, in this blighted place,
that he learned to live again.
The opening lines of Mad Max 2 from 1981 describe a passage; obviously between the different worlds of the first Mad Max (1979) and the recent Mad Max, Fury Road (2015), but also between two socio-economic paradigms.
This passage is a transition from a world ”powered by the black fuel”, where war had been fought between nations in order to control production, to a world ”haunted by the demons of its past”; where all imaginable kind of production is obsolete and everyone is fighting anyone in a dog-eats-dog war over the leftovers from a capitalism, since long lost ”in the roar of an engine”.
In the first Mad Max life still related to institutional structures like family and police of rural communities. In the sequel existence plays out in an all-embracing desert landscape. Here, where the desert is the surface of the Real, dreams are projected onto a future. In the last Mad Max: Fury Road, the idea of an exterior utopia is finally cancelled: the dreamt-of oasis of organic growth is a toxic swamp. The feminist cell resisting the patriarchy of systematized subordination is thrown back into the immanent world of roaring engines and ultra-speed. There is no outside, no other space, the war has to be fought in Real of the desert.
”When I talk about shit, it is hardly a metaphor: Capitalism reduces everything to shit, to the state of undifferentiated and decoded streams out of which everyone has to take its part in a private ode and with a sense of culpability”
Felix Guattari (as quoted by Benjamin Noys in Malign Velocities)
When Mad Max – Beyond Thunderdome begins, the sun rises over a wasteland desert, void of organic ecology. Bartertown, not a town really, rather an intensification of humanoids, is kept alive literally by pig shit – the methane gas being the new resource of power to keep cars and other machines running.
In Thunderdome there actually is some sort of other-place – a hidden oasis, a kind of paradisic concealment, randomly forgotten by its environment. It is inhabited by a tribe of kids celebrating a mythology built on the narrative of a lost civilization: the legend of Tomorrow-Morrow Land, a fantasy of cities before the apocalyptic event called the Pox-eclipse, is simultaneously history and future; a lost origin onto which the orphan children and adolescents project their hope of a possible future
The iconic representation of this past-future is a crashed airplane, half-buried in the sand of the desert. The kids worship Captain Walker, the mythic overlord of the vehicle, who will return and take them back to the Eden of urban civilization – the Tomorrow-Morrow Land. But when encountering Max, whom the orphans mistake for Captain Walker, he has only harsh facts to offer: "There were places like this, they were called cities. But then this Pox-eclipse happened, so it is all finished. It´s just not there anymore. So, we got to understand that this is home. There is no Tomorrow-land.”
36 years have passed between Mad Max and Mad Max: Fury Road. In terms of gender perspectives a lot has changed; Max has transformed into witness and side-kick and the imagery of woman as complementary, wife and victim, has taken over the actual subjectivity of the story. But when it comes to the world as relation between modes of production and imagery, humanity is still stuck in an infinte, self-feeding ultra-speed voyage through the wasteland, where ”only those mobile enough to scavenge will survive”. There is no way out, any vision of a possible escape proves the collective fantasy to be a wormhole leading back to the Real of the desert as constituted by the reality of production.
And it was here, in this blighted place, that we learned to live again.
Collapse of Fantasy into the Real
What accelerationism registers in particular are two contradictory trendlines: the first is that of real deceleration of capitalism, in terms of a declining rate of return on capital investment, which has led to a massive switching into debt. The second is the acceleration of financialization, driven by the new computing and cybernetic technologies, which themselves create an image of dynamism. Of course, this 'contradiction' of deceleration and acceleration speaks to a dual dynamic as capitalism tries to restart processes by acceleration… It is in this double dynamic that accelerationism finds its theorization, answering deceleration with the promise of a new acceleration.
Malign Velocities, Benjamin Noys
A common narrative of our time is that with contemporary neoliberalism we have become submersed in a capitalism of unprecedented strength, too well-oiled and superior to be opposed from a position outside of the system. Global capitalism covers the whole map, and the effeciency of this system is producing an immanence that doesn´t allow for even the idea of an exteriority. We might mock Fukuyama´s notion of the End of History for its tacky popularism, but in everyday life we´ve still kind of surrendered to the idea.
Reading Malign Velocities by Benjamin Noys opens up a parallel pattern of financial imagery, kind of similar to the one suggested in Mad Max: It is not the productive effeciency of capitalism that defines our current existence, but quite the opposite. Capitalism has stalled, reached the end of the road where it is stuck in stasis, and accelerationism – contrary to its self-understanding as flight-route – in fact operates as the cure of a non-functional capitalism. Rather than a Trojan guerilla resistance, tricking capitalism to collapse by accelerating it towards its own limits, accelerationism is the prescription for how to keep the wheels spinning inspite of the fact that no actual substance is produced. Or, to speak with Mad Max, it is how we learn to ”live again in this blighted place.”
I want to stay with Noys´s book for a while, trying to follow two interconnected trajectories: one being the relation of aesthetic avant-garde with productive forces and the other describing the desire for ”the new” as trope for the production of politics as well as aesthetics. What is described in Malign Velocities is the underlying narrative of accelerationism in some of the major movements of the 20th century. In the desire for ”the new”, and the faith in production and speed, apparently disparate tendencies like Futurism, Stalinism and Fordism are joining historic forces, feeding and molding each other into contemporary phenomenons like global capitalism and accelerationism.
What I find most interesting here is maybe not the rhetorical argument about Marxist interpretations, but rather an intriguing perspective on the relation between notions of avant-garde, modes of production and collective imagery.
In the Founding Manifesto Marinetti announced that ”others who are younger and stronger will throw us in the wastebasket, like useless manuscripts. - We want it to happen!” This logic of obsolescence speaks not only to the frantic emergence and aextinction of the avant-garde, with each trying to accelerate beyond the other, but also to the experience of labor. The worn-out bodies of factory workers, or other laborers, are retired or dumped to be replaced by new 'younger and stronger' bodies
Malign Velocities, Benjamin Noys
The logic of the avant-garde is to outdate the present, to replace the existing with a new possibility. By operating beyond the horizon of existing paradigms it is meant to provide alternative visions of aesthetic as well as political potentialities, and at the same time outdate its predecessors. It operates in the field of not-yet-possible, visions that can not be realized in the present are authorized through the idea of an transcendent event in the future. If I understand Benjamin Noys correctly, he lines up a co-dependency of sorts, where the imagery produced by the avant-garde is so wired up to economy, that its projected desire of ”the new” onto the future in fact throws all possible imagination back into the immanent desert of contemporary economy. The avant-garde no longer is capable of offering alternative visions (maybe it never was). Quite the contrary – in the promise of a transcendent transformation in a utopian future – that ironically often nostalgically refers to visions from the past – accelerationism actually provides the key to a maintained paradigm. It is – to borrow from Adam Curtis – a trap: In my desire for visualizing a possible change, I am producing imageries and fantasies that are re-producing the Real of production.
Lacan´s notion of the Real could be understood as existence previous to language, the world as it appears before being filtered and organized into a Symbolic Order. Living in the Real is the state of a newly born infant (or the schizophrenic); thrown into the world, overexposed to reality just ”happening” as a continuous stream of sensations and where the Self and the World are the same. The way I see it, stories are something we tell each other to dislodge reality from itself; in order to think or talk about a thing, event or phenomenon it first has to be separated from the chaotic Real of the world, an act of violence where we apply fiction and narrative in order to by force rip something out of the continuous stream that constitutes ”reality”. Fiction, in this way, is not the opposite of documentary but rather the imaginary narrative we need to add in order to make reality unfold.
We see a collapsing of fantasy, and also a collapsing of the fictional space, into the Real of prodution and acceleration. If someone should accuse this of a pshychotic collapsing of our capacities for language and symbolization then the response can simply be you haven´t really gone all the way...
The fantasy of integration is the fantasy of abolishing fantasy. What accelerationism promises is the integration of the person into machine, of sex into work, and the generation of the Real of production. In this way fantasy as the access to the Real is collapsed into an immersive and immediate experience of the Real without mediation.
Benjamin Noys, Malign Velocities
There has always been a tight and intricate relation between the fields of art and economy, connected by the fetishized value of objects and images. Today, working with performing arts might mean operating in the exaggerated epicenter of this logic. The performative act of transforming the status or value of an object or phenomenon, is the key to Post-Fordist economy. When the production of new objects can´t supply enough surplus value, the performative ability to re-define values becomes crucial. In the creative economy, fetishized artistic labor is hard currency.
In the constant blinding light of the desert, everything has to surrender to its full subjugation to exposure and total visibility. I might seek temporary refuge from the capitalization of my work in flight-routes like research platforms and work-in-process residencies, but in order to provide for my survival I have to render my work accessible to the capitalist logic of display. Choosing to focus my work on the process of labor rather than the display of its results just means that it is my ”creative” working processes that have to become exposed to exhibition; instead of fetishized objects, it is my very labor itself that is commodified through its display.
Contemporary modes of art production – festivals, projects, temporary collaborations – focusing on an accelerated production and exhibition of identity and subjectivity, rather than the implementation and negotiation of the produced notions into a public sphere, thus becomes a machine for continuous production of discursive and aesthetic redundance. It´s like gadgets and clothing; following the logic of novelty and fashion, where the task of the new product/knowledge is to outdate its predecessor. Yesterdays knowledge, strategy, concept or notion has to be outdated; not because it actually has stopped being useful or interesting, it just got a bit old. It's an obstacle, it is in our way. In the accelerated logic – where we stay afloat as long as we keep moving, where speed and flexibility are the recipe for our super-powers – neither knowledge nor discourse have the objective of actually interacting with society or its institutions. It has become a feld of its own, separated from the political reality. The task of the new concept is to keep its predecessor out of reach of reality.
Notes on How ”To Get the Thing on the Canvas”
So: How do I make possible an artistic production, combining discursive reflection with an investigation of possible aesthetic tools, aiming for an interruption rather than acceleration of the projected future? If interruption of the display of artistic labor and/or production is the thing, then how to translate this interruption into artistic practice?
A thousand years have passed since the earth last bore a living creature on her breast. All is void, void, void. The bodies of all living creatures have dropped to dust, and eternal matter has transformed them into stones and water and clouds. I know not where I am, nor what awaits me. Oh, horror! horror! horror!
Konstantin´s play in The Seagull by Anton Chekov
”Fiat ars-pereat mundus" (create art – destroy the world), says Fascism, and expects war to supply, just as Marinetti confesses that it does, the artistic gratification of a sense perception that has been altered by technology. This is the obvious perfection of l'artpour l'art. Humanity that, according to Homer, was once an object of spectacle for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it is capable of experiencing its own destruction as an aesthetic enjoyment of the highest order. So it is with the aestheticization of politics, which is being managed by Fascism. Communism responds with the politicization of art.
Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
FRANK STELLA: European geometric painters really strive for what I call relational painting. The basis of their whole idea is balance. You do something in one corner and you balance it with something in the other corner. Now the “new painting” is being characterized as symmetrical. It’s nonrelational. In the newer American painting we strive to get the thing in the middle, and symmetrical, but just to get a kind of force, just to get the thing on the canvas.
BRUCE GLASER: What is the “thing” you’re getting on the canvas?
FRANK STELLA: I guess you’d have to describe it as the image, either the image or the scheme. As soon as you use any kind of relational placement for symmetry, you get into a terrible kind of fussiness, which is the one thing that most of the painters now want to avoid. When you’re always making these delicate balances, it seems to present too many problems; it becomes sort of arch.
Questions to Stella and Judd, interview by Bruce Glaser
In his 1966 essay, ”Cremonini, Painter of the Abstract”, Louis Althusser made a distinction between ‘abstract painting’ and ‘the painting of abstraction’. The painter Leonardo Cremonini, Althusser argued, managed to expose the abstractions of capital not by directly depicting them – such a thing is impossible – but by showing ‘the determinate absence which governs [us]’. As Benjamin Noys puts it in a commentary on Althusser’s essay in his forthcoming book ”The Persistence Of The Negative”: ‘We have no image of capital, capital itself is a kind of pure relationality, a pure abstraction of value, labour, and accumulation, which can only be “seen” in negative. This is why the negation of real abstractions demands further abstraction, as abstraction is the only possible means to reveal this pure relationality which conceals itself in plain sight.’
Mark Fischer, Real Abstractions in Frieze Magazine
Eisenstein understood Kabuki acting… as ”organic to film”, and in this regard emphasized its ”cut acting” with sudden jumps from one depiction to another. There was also unprecedented slowing-down of movement ”beyond any point we have ever seen”, and ”disintegrated” acting, as with the depiction of a dying woman, the role performed in pieces detached from one another, acting with the right arm only, acting with the leg only, acting with the head and neck only (compare with break-dancing). Each member of the death agony played a solo performance, ”a breaking up of shots”, as Eisenstein gleefully put it, working at a faster and faster rhythm. Thus was the yoke of naturalism lifted for this early theoretician of mimetic machinery, so as to all the better exploit the nature of magic.
He is similar, not similar to something, but just similar.
Mimesis & Alterity by Michael Taussig
Breakbeat science, as I see it, is when Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool Herc and all those guys isolate the breakbeat, when they literally go to the moment of a record where the melody and the harmony drops away and where the beats and the drum and the bass moves forward. By isolating this, they did something comparable to switching on a kind of electricity, by making the beat portable, by extracting the beat. I call it motion capturing, which is like, in things like Jurassic Park and all the big animatronic films, motion capure is the device by which they synthesize, they virtualize, the human body. And I think that’s kind of what they did with the beat. They more or less grabbed a kind of potential beat which was always there, by materializing it as actually a portion of vinyl that could be repeated.
Techno’s a complete reversal of the classic 60s myth of the blues and the Rolling Stones, the entire rock heritage. Black Americans are synthetic; the key in techno is literally to synthesize yourself into a new American alien. Part of the thing is to very much reverse traditional accounts of black music. Traditionally, they’ve either been autobiographical, they’ve been biographical, or they’ve been heavily social, they’ve been heavily political. Suspend all of that, absolutely, and then, in the shock of these absences, you put in this huge world opened up by a microperception of the actual material vinyl. I’m looking at all these sonic fictions that exist within the material object.
Sampladelia, by definition, allows you to analogize a lot of things. And not only does it analogize, it lets you mutate and recombinate. Sampladelia is a mandate to recombinate. That’s what it is, that’s how it works.
Walter Benjamin’s traditional “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, that argument doesn’t work any more. One of his main points is that in the age of reproduction the single, unique aura has gone, but of course as soon as you have the dub plate then that’s all gone out of the window. The dub plate is where you’ve got the reproductive process, the mechanical process of pressing vinyl onto the plate that’s being played, and suddenly in the middle of that you’ve got the one-off remix, you’ve got the track that there’s only one of in the world, but it’s not an original, it’s like a copy, or a third copy. So you’ve got this thing that’s never supposed to exist in Benjamin’s world: you’ve got the one-off copy, you’ve got the one-off fifth remix, you’ve got the one-off tenth remix, you’ve got the one-off twentieth remix. There’s only one of it. So the dub plate means that the whole idea of the aura being over doesn’t make any sense because the aura is reborn in the middle of the industrial reproduction. Hence the whole jungle acceleration, intensification of the dub plate; the dub plate is reborn as this music of the future.
More Brilliant Than the Sun by Kodwo Eshun