Martin Wooster is a philosopher who’s “Response to Asger Jorn’s ‘Value and Economy’” is published on this blog in the category of the same name. Below is the third and last part of a series of questions that his response raised with me, and which he generously agreed to answer.
HdB: In the second part of this interview you brought up Michael Jackson in relation to my question about the use of dialectics. I edited the part about Michael Jackson out, but as you righteously pointed out to me earlier on, “perhaps in any final analysis it is the examples we choose that will determine how successful we are.” Therefore I suggest to let us get back to Michael Jackson, and explain what he is doing in the midst of a conversation about the use of dialectics!
MW: In the second part of this interview I said that from the 1990’s onwards American literary critic and Marxist political theorist Fredric Jameson persuasively argues that the social space has become completely saturated by a homogeneous image of culture and therefore he maintains an urgent shift to a more dialectical mode of thought is necessary. Maintaining that the dialectic had never been fully realized in its full potential because it had failed to properly grasp the paradox of a world of constant changeability but nevertheless starved of ideas offering real alternatives.
Indeed when we always hear that we need to change, to change the status quo, we fail to properly grasp that change is our status quo, as art critic, media theorist, and philosopher Boris Groys argues: “we all live in the prison house of permanent change.” In response filmmaker Jean Luc Godard proposed the motto, “change nothing so that everything will be different” a neat reversal of “some things must change so that everything remains the same.” Similarly Jameson argued that we needed to change the very principle of change itself, which only becomes possible within a truly contradictory mode of thought. Hence the need to grasp the inertia of the old and the rise of the new as equally important to properly enact a dialectical mode of thought as manifested in a fuller notion of repetition. As such we may conclude that where the system becomes stuck by the persistence of the old beyond all possible usefulness is and remains the only possible site for the rise of the new.
If we take the example of some of our recent, most popular and brightest cultural stars we notice that nothing has really changed since all ‘becomings’ have instead taken on an obsession with self-transformation. Enacting nothing but a will to transform solely by transcending identity and origin shows itself as little more than a deliberate attempt at self-deterritorialization motivated by a will to universalization. Thus Michael Jackson did not want to be white, he wanted to be race-less and all races and by the same token Sylvester did not want to be a women, he wanted to be all sexes and none. Clearly the idea is to be everybody, which is to say nobody, and which ends by becoming just an abstract universalization through deterritorialization that does no more than mirror capital’s logic perfectly. Perhaps we might even look upon Michael Jackson given his final fate, as being pivotal in the process by which the great upsurge of radical energy powering the culture and politics of the 1960’s and 70’s was first harnessed, captured and then turned back upon its progenitors by the ingenious apparatuses of capitalism. What is certain though is that such Universalist delusions are no match to withstanding the inexorable forward march of capital’s vampirism and its insatiable need to expand.
HdB: When I edited your Michael Jackson example out of part of this interview, I did so because I thought it would distract attention from the answer about the use of dialectics, and from a more direct response to Asger Jorn. It turns out, that for you the example of Michael Jackson is also connected to another one of my questions based on your initial text A response to Asger Jorn’s Value and Economy) where you write “How are we to practice a properly critical art towards culture? Obviously any such practice involves taking up a stance unafraid of the culture industry and its growing solidified operations and attitudes validated by prevailing forms of rationality.” This strongly reminded me of Jorn who wrote: “When the aesthete reads a notice saying ‘The Ice is Unsafe’, for him it is a challenge not only to test whether the note is telling the truth, but to try out what unsafe ice feels like. This is the precondition of aesthetics, development and progress: skating on thin ice.” (Asger Jorn, Held og Hasard. Dolk og Guitar). Jorn’s willingness to move into unknown territory, to make mistakes and renounce ordinary logic was both a specific artistic strategy for Jorn and a general attitude to life. What I find interesting is, that this attitude is not only reflected in the physical outcome of his work, but also the way that he dealt with what in his time could have been called ‘the creative industry’. When he was awarded a Guggenheim Award in 1964 for instance he send a telegram to the president of the Guggenheim saying:
GO TO HELL BASTARD—STOP—REFUSE PRIZE—STOP—NEVER ASKED FOR IT—STOP—AGAINST ALL DECENCY MIX ARTIST AGAINST HIS WILL IN YOUR PUBLICITY—STOP—I WANT PUBLIC CONFIRMATION NOT TO HAVE PARTICIPATED IN YOUR RIDICULOUS GAME.
The Guggenheim Award also came with a large sum of money, and even though Jorn was better off at that time then he was in the earlier years, I still find it hard to imagine a similar response nowadays. Did we lose faith in our capacity to generate changes? Was this simply not the way to go about? Do we desire real changes at all? Those are, albeit not overly eloquently formulated, the type of questions that pop up when I read your text, and think of Jorn …
MW: We must ask if the example of Michael Jackson works in this context and not just as an aside for me to talk about American soul music which may be interesting in itself but not essential here. We have the great example of Jorn and his wish to skate on thin ice – an absolute need for those who truly wish to be creative. Why this dangerous need and has this need only increased in our time to become what we most essentially lack? If so in this respect Jorn is being rather prophetic. Aristotle held the view that only someone to whom the ‘greatness of soul’ had become second nature could become a citizen. If we continually speak of creative people and ‘creativity’ rather than those with greatness of soul, is it not then just as necessary that they stand up and be counted as those pointing in the right direction rather than being bogged down by ever more harmful routines. For me Michael Jackson gives us an extreme example of an all too common danger – the appropriation of massive collective desire inside the individualized commodified logic of post-Fordist consumer capitalism. This surely is what Jorn is warning us against. Each of us as separated from the other, the stranger, the unknown and the future as dark are left as increasingly hapless beings to be lost inside the enchanted revulsion of contemporary capitalism. Forming itself as an ever more compressed space we inevitably fall prey to capitalism’s ability to relentlessly abstract whilst simultaneously investing such structures with intense libidinal force. Thus we desperately need strategies to balance out the semantics of self-interest and self-preference that points us towards another idea of freedom and what it means to give.