Martin Wooster is a philosopher who’s “Response to Asger Jorn’s ‘Value and Economy'” is published in the category of the same name. Below is the first part of a series of questions that his response raised with me, and which he generously agreed to answer. 

HdB: When emailing with Dave Beech, the organizer of the conference ‘Art and Capitalism’, about Jorn’s Value and Economy he actually was quite critical about it, also questioning the ‘accuracy’ of Jorn’s critique of Marxist political economy. Reading your response to Jorn’s Value and Economy, it comes across as if you mainly felt inspired by Jorn’s writing, without focusing too much on how ‘accurate’ his criticism is or is not, which runs more parallel to my own approach to Jorn (who anyway hardly ever properly quotes of references his source material, and generally liked to mingle and appropriate as he saw fit). How do you feel about that?

MW: Yes I agree that Jorn is a complex and contradictory man but I guess this is something entirely fitting with someone fully engaged with ideas that resonate within his own time and which are also able with some urgency to speak to ours. I also agree that his writings are difficult but nevertheless they are imbued with energy and passion and I’m very thankful for Jakob Jakobsen for introducing this artist/thinker to our Marxist reading group.

Jorn’s text has multiple layers of interest that relay a care and concern for humanity and the dangers he saw for it looming upon the horizon but his writings do not suggest we can reclaim a future qualitatively different from the present by continuing to reinvest in the idea of the horizon. Rather I think we should take his notions of variability and value as so many opportunities to model experimental practices of negation that puncture such horizons of expectation. Jorn might in fact be saying, “I don’t want to expect anything from the future – so I start my future as an artist.” In this respect I found reading Jorn alongside Nietzsche best, for like him, the crisis of divided consciousness that governs 2,000 years of Christian experiments and which Hegel had attempted to solve through the unifying capacities of the will to reason, is instead one that can only truly be tackled by investing in the contingent histories of the human body.

Of course today more than ever, as processes of dematerialism gather pace, we know how prone the body is to its desperately clinging to any floating sign regardless of whether they be signs of death, panic, fear, signs of insecurity and instability but this does not exclude the possibility that there may also be signs of a new multiplicity that is struggling to be born, exist and thrive. For sure, such a promise is, if nothing else precarious because it is more than likely that, as Nietzsche pointed out, important events are ushered in ‘on doves feet’ and as such invariably go unnoticed.

But perhaps underlying and implicit to this logic also lies Nietzsche’s notion of what constitutes a ‘great health’ – the paradox that biological normality doesn’t reside in the capacity to impede variations or even diseases of the organism but will be found rather in integrating them within a different normative material. Equally at the social level, where we find that we are all elders and all children, wanting a hearing for our injustices, for our justices, but with increasingly no voice for the other, the forbidden, or the outcast to be heard there is only a world in which our danger to one another grows faster than our help for one another.

I’m a latecomer to Marx and then it is the philosopher in Marx that interests me more than any science we give to the term of historical materialism. Thus like Jorn, for me politics is primarily an art and not a science since any meaningful antagonisms we might be able to create and further what it means to be human are themselves the product of an artful intervention. To hold onto a certain discursive framework can be useful for building upon ever-greater discursive transparencies within the social sphere, and from here, for developing new social relations, particularly in allying the production of art to the greater discursive exchange with others. Yet for me underlying this logic is a certain teleological necessity that, to use a phrase from Badiou, ‘leads out of potentiality into the bull’s eye of actuality’ and only continues the history of metaphysics from Aristotle to Hegel.

HdB: Was there anything else striking in Jorn’s text that you did not mention in your contribution for the conference?

MW: Jorn explicitly understands value as the transportation of forces, something entirely opposed to the size of these forces, their validity in essence or their quantity. Indeed I very much like Jorn’s emphasis on transport, especially in its superfluous and unnecessary capacities because in this way he saw the transformation of time into space and space into time as events in themselves. This is something I didn’t really pick up on in a first reading but certainly allows us to think of Marx in artistic and literary terms and not solely as an outliner of a political program. For me this deals with the crisis of Marxism and sets us to think seriously the becoming necessary of the encounter of contingencies. Perhaps we can explore this thought a little further later.

HdB: And what would be your main critique on Jorn’s text?

MW: You ask me what my main critique of Jorn’s text might be to which I can only add I don’t really have one. He gives us certain ideas from his time of which it is then up to us to find ways to transport them into yet other ideas relevant to our time but in each case we should hold to the idea that it is the body and its power to affect and be affected that matters most. Its capacity to break through the upper crust of language to ultimately produce effects exceeding itself and the grammar of the language system we find ourselves immersed in is I think the only way we can recuperate more interesting temporal dimensions and spaces of which no equivalent value can be posited. Clearly Jorn thinks we need to move away from our emphasis on controlled critical minds towards critical bodies, for in seeking new forms of value we may push further the declination of the relation between body and world. Attempting to fragment the idea of the ‘political body’ in its modern as well as it totalitarian declensions could be one way of intensifying the agonistic politics that these multivocal conceptions of value might inspire. When Jorn alludes to the vibrancy of the Scandinavian sensibility towards the body that is ever subject to variability, change and fleeting in existence, we might look upon this as an initial movement from the body proper to something like an offering made by people to themselves. Perhaps as in learning to hunger for hunger itself this we should understand as something like an organ that now no longer stands for a body. Having no fixed class allegiance and out of place among all delicate hierarchies it takes to the road where easily put into the service of the oppressed it may take up the call of freedom.

HdB: At the very beginning of your own text you write that “Yet we find our modern world to be increasingly dominated by the propagation of work without quality and entertainment without value.” Are you then referring to Jorn’s idea that uniform work is valueless, and that only variability of the work, new ideas create surplus value?

MW: In many respects I feel I may have already answered the last question concerning our world where work is without quality and entertainment is without value. For Marx quality has its emphasis on space and the body and obviously when unemployment is now very much a form of labour and those who are employed are increasingly running in one place while following images moving across screens – the body is most in question. Equally as labour shows more and more signs of being performed as entertainment, effects, processes and feelings are communicated to us as entertainment, all becomes reduced to just one thing: the commodity. In my text I had treated entertainment as an effective mechanism to keeping meaninglessness at bay, too afraid of boredom we continually take flight from it, but this does not exclude the possibility of finding a new relationships between these terms, ones with a much greater value. This I think is an urgent area of thought for us today and one Jorn has helped in pointing us in the right direction.


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