October 28, 2009

I see now the problem...


I see now the problem is that I am a complete ideologue when it comes to theatre: always fighting for a certain, extremely specific, way of making and thinking about performance. I can be fair and reasonable and believe there is room for everybody but in my heart and blood I know that I am right. And when you are an ideologue you can never really be open and you can never, not for a second, rest. Towards my own ideology I feel only like Bartleby: I would prefer not too. But twenty years of fighting have turned me inside out. I am exhausted. No one particularly cares how or why performances are made. And when I was young, no one advised me to pick my fights more carefully. Is this what being an artist, a certain kind of artist (I suppose), in some sense, finally means? Then again, like Ranciere says, how to open a window and let in some air?

You are here to listen to voices that do not know you are listening. That startle with their clarity and prescience. The voices are you while at the same time they are not you. They are at war with each other and with their own absolute smoothness. You can edit them but you can never gain the upper hand. And when you die they will die along with you. While at the same time they will live on.

And just write anything. Because you left the book you were reading (and enjoying immensely) at home, because you are sitting in the café alone and perhaps want others to think you industrious. You have no thoughts so you write anything, not worrying that it’s pathetic or uninspired, no one will read it anyway. Even if by some miracle it is published hardly anyone will read it. But you sip the last dregs of your coffee and write. This is the perfect, public loneliness. You look around the café and continue to smile.

These moments of lucidity within the dumb, stupid, corrupt, venal, smug, overly-satisfied-with-itself world. And the lucidity that is little more than a stand-in for the overwhelming grayness of ones own inexplicable temperament.

Of course it’s too easy to think this way, as if every question had the same simple answer: that the world is irredeemably damaged. These people have style but that doesn’t guarantee they lack substance. Do more people read a book when it is the only one left in the shop? Do more people commit a crime when the pertinent law seems flimsy, arbitrary or ridiculous? In every matter there is choice but rarely does freedom decide everything. Does a belief in love automatically entail a belief in couples?


October 20, 2009

When I had my time as a poet, I was continuously appalled...


When I had my time as a poet, I was continuously appalled by how marginal and irrelevant poetry was. I couldn’t appreciate the actualized pleasures of the activity – of reading, writing, engaging deeply with language – as valuable ends in themselves. Perhaps because, for the most part, I don’t particularly experience pleasure. (Or at least I have found my experiences of pleasure to be thoroughly ambivalent and anxious.) And I didn’t want the activity to be an end in itself. I wanted the activity to shake things up, shift the very ground of art, in some sense change the world. How could one change the world with something as marginal and irrelevant as poetry? It is only now I realize how dangerous it is for someone who doesn’t experience or understand pleasure to want to change the world.


October 19, 2009

Evolutionary accomplishments that no longer have anything to do with survival


Art is evolutionary, in the sense that it coincides with and harnesses evolutionary accomplishments into avenues of expression that no longer have anything to do with survival. Art hijacks survival impulses and transforms them through vagaries and intensifications posed by sexuality, deranging them into a new order, a new practice. Art is the sexualization of survival or, equally, sexuality is the rendering artistic, the exploration of excessiveness, of nature.

- from Chaos, Territory, Art by Elizabeth Grosz


October 17, 2009

Religion is too important to be left to fundamentalists, indeed, it is too important to be left to believers alone


In one way or another, most recent religious controversies revolve around images – some of them highly dramatic and violent. They range from the attack on the World Trade Center, that abstract double icon of capitalism and American power, to the cartoons published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. Some of these were tailor made for escalation, and it comes as no surprise that they were used by hardliners on both sides to create the impression of an irreconcilable opposition between “the West” (or “modernity”) and Islam. The Danish caricatures not only represented the Prophet, thus breaking a widespread – though by no means universal – Muslin custom, but they caricatured him in ways that sometimes seemed racist and oddly reminiscent of anti-Semitic caricatures of old, while structurally resembling traditional Christian caricatures of Muhammad in hell. (In 2002, an al Qaeda cell in Italy was reported to have planned the bombing of a church in Bologna, the location of a fifteenth-century fresco depicting this scene.) Given that such images are met with outrage, monotheism – Islam, in particular – is often regarded as inherently intolerant, its iconoclastic ire presenting a danger to civilized society. Various atheist websites have posted an image of the Twin Towers with the Lennon-inspired caption: IMAGINE NO RELIGION. But religion is too important to be left to fundamentalists, indeed, it is too important to be left to believers alone.

Many of the recent controversies revolve around images that are seen as both idolatrous and blasphemous – perceived as illicit representations of a deity or prophet who should not be represented, as well as offensive caricatures. One of the Danish caricatures depicts Muhammad as a sinister-looking fellow whose turban hides a bomb; that image of Islam as backward and violent was effectively fortified by the preachers and masses engaged in violent protests against such caricatures. Certain Sudanese Muslin groups also actively embraced Western clichés about Islam in the absurd 2007 affair on an English school teacher, who had allowed her pupils to name the class teddy bear Muhammad, after one of the boys. She was sentenced to fifteen days in prison for insulting the prophet by seemingly representing him in the form of a soft toy. Clearly, one or more political factions were exploiting an imaginary offense by a western foreign national to further their political agenda, yet we should not treat the religious “surface” as a mere passive reflection of the “real” economic and political issues. Like cultural production in general, religion can develop a dynamic of its own, articulating political issues as well and interfering in them.

The interdiction of idolatry, of images that may come to be worshipped as false gods, is the founding act of monotheism. The seemingly secular “West” is seen by many Muslim fundamentalists as idolatrous, worshipping the false gods of material wealth and alluring images. It is, as the mid-twentieth century radical Sayyd Qutb stated, the new jahiliyya – the term jahiliyya standing for the idolatrous “state of ignorance” of pre-Muhammad Arabia. Some scholars emphasize that, in distancing themselves from the jahiliyya, the Qur’an and the hadith did not in fact accord a central place to the question of the image. However, a ban on images is implicit in the condemnation of shirk, or the polytheistic association of other gods with God. Furthermore, the Qur’an contains numerous references to the primal scene of idolatry in the Torah – the episode of the Golden Calf – when the Israelites relapsed into worshipping a material image as a divinity. Such a practice had been explicitly forbidden by the Second Commandment, which states that Israel shall have no other gods that Yahweh, and which condemns graven images “or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” This commandment, given in Exodus 30:3-4 and in Deuteronomy 20:3-4, is elaborated upon in Deuteronomy 4:15-19, when the Israelites are reminded that they “saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spoke unto [them] in Horeb out of the midst of the fire,” and that representation of people and animals should be avoided because they might lead to corruption”; to the worship of these images (a similar danger also existed in the case of the sun, moon and stars.)

These passages are anything but unambiguous; some elements clearly suggest a lingering belief in the reality of other gods. This means that originally, monotheism was not based on the ontological belief that there is only one God who is beyond representation, but on a much more personal, social relationship between Israel and a jealous, possessive God. Paradoxically, then, the belief that there is only one God is not as central to monotheism as the refusal to worship other gods, who may very well exist. In time, of course “social” monotheism or monolatry became “ontological” monotheism. Yet ontological monotheism is anything but monolithic or consistent; interpretations of the Second Commandment have varied widely over the centuries in all three “Abrahamic” religions.

- from Idols of the Market by Sven Lütticken


October 12, 2009

Atheism is the continuation of monotheism with other means.


Since the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, there has been no shortage of events that have been milked by the Islam-bashing authors who have hijacked the European and American public spheres with their insistence that Islam is structurally immune to reform and incompatible with the West, democracy and Enlightenment. These polemicists, including Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-Dutch authors and politician currently residing in the US; Christopher Hitchens, also in the US; Pascal Bruckner in France; and Necla Kelek in Germany, have been dubbed “Enlightenment Fundamentalists.” They claim the problem is that Islam is intrinsically backward and evil; those who argue that Islam has been seized by fanatic groups that exploit the economic deprivation, political disenfranchisement, and symbolic humiliation experienced by various Muslim populations, are accused of being cowardly appeasers, squandering Western values. Even liberals who are seen as opponents of the Enlightenment fundamentalists, such as Ian Burma, share some of their presuppositions when they reduce Islamic fundamentalism to a pathological, hysterical and prudish Occidentalism. In this climate, right-wing populists such as Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders can garner publicity (and votes) by comparing the Qur’an to Mein Kampf and demanding that it be banned. Meanwhile, the increasing importance of Christian fundamentalism in the United States is downplayed, as are the close historical ties between Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

What makes the Enlightenment fundamentalists’ writings deeply problematical is not primarily their manifest content. As the Enlightenment fundamentalists are keen to ask: How could anyone be against them criticizing the lack of democracy in Muslim societies, fundamentalist intolerance and anti-Semitism, the oppression of women, forced marriages, and female circumcision? The problem lies in the latent content of their discourse. By presenting all problems in Muslim societies and communities as an inevitable outcome of “Islam,” they deflect attention from the West’s destructive political, military and economic operations – including support for various charming dictatorships. In the process, they disavow any link between religion and the “western values” they claim to represent. Given the Bush-style “let’s bomb Iraq” stance taken by many Enlightenment fundamentalists while it seemed politically opportune, and given their reluctance to attack Christian-fundamentalist elements in the Republican party, their avowed secularism seems to be blind in one eye. That Hirsi Ali now works for the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, which had a very cozy relationship with the Bush Administration, is one symptom of her and others’ instrumental use of Enlightenment rhetoric.

The Enlightenment fundamentalists’ avowed opponent is a type of Islam that attempts to put everything in the service of a transcendental God. There is a great interest in “Salafism” and “Wahhabism” as dangerous fundamentalist movements, which claim to go back to the origins of Islam, but even while those tendencies within Islam are criticized and accused of being at the root of Islamic terrorism, many authors effectively seem to agree with Salafist radicals’ interpretation of Islam: yes, Islam indeed has a timeless essence, a core that is resistant to change and historical development, to critique. As Talal Asad puts it “A magical quality is attributed to Islamic religious texts, for they are said to be both essentially univocal (their meaning cannot be subject to dispute, just as ‘fundamentalists’ insist), and infectious. For Western Enlightenment fundamentalists, this timeless Islam is the perfect Professor Moriarty – an unyielding, tenacious, omnipresent threat. However, contrary to the Enlightenment fundamentalists, Judaism, Christianity and Islam propelled secularization forward by attacking idolatry. As Marc De Kesel puts it, monotheism already revolves around the criticism of religion, even if this criticism in turn takes on the form of a religion. Atheism is the continuation of monotheism with other means.

- from Idols of the Market by Sven Lütticken


October 9, 2009

I DON'T THINK I'M THE FUTURE OF ART: Excerpt from an interview with Tal R


The possibilities of painting?

Painting is a zombie medium. As a painter you are a little bit like a guy showing up in a tiger suit at a techno party. So your dress code is outdated, but you might still have the best moves on the dance floor.

Personally speaking, painting is a language though which I can get a lot of experience both in and out. But to tell you the truth, it is a complicated medium, it is and remains a puzzle to me, It is not a necessary medium anymore, but somehow so many people still keep on painting. Then again, it suits me and I like the flatness of a surface. I desperately need that flatness to tell my stories, because otherwise they are too weird and unfocused.

What kind of stories to you mean?

For me, at least, the things I really like and enjoy are not necessarily things I understand. Thus, my stories are not clear-cut, but quite strange, even if they can be pretty straightforward. One good example is a painting I just finished. It shows a woman sitting in a forest at night. There are birds flying around. It started with the desire to paint birds in the night. In the finished result they look like bats, which, I guess, is both the failure and the thrill of painting.

The role of the artist?

I don’t know. But I can tell you that as a painter who simply had fun making paintings, I did feel bad for a long time. I really did envy artists whop dealt directly with social issues. Then later on when I saw more of these works, I figured that they are actually the real painters. I became disappointed. Quite often these good citizens use social issues as if they were paint and brush, and organize them into big paintings.

But to be serious, I think the role of an artist is to make people’s lives a little more complicated.

Do you think you have succeeded?

No, Anyhow, I don’t think I’m the future of art. I consider myself like somebody who sings ballads, those stupid songs about being in love in the woods.

[From the catalogue for the exhibition Stop for a moment. Painting as Presence. (2002).]


October 8, 2009



My best work is behind me.

In the future, all that awaits is mediocrity and suicide.

I see no particular reason to do anything.

And I don’t feel like doing anything. And I don’t feel like doing nothing.

If someone could help I would let them but clearly there is nothing to be done. I am too stubborn for my own good.

All steps forward lead only towards further regret.

Something is ending. But nothing new will start.


October 3, 2009

Mark Fisher on Capitalist Realism


Getting to this real abstraction entails an analysis of what I call capitalist realism. Capitalist realism – which by no means collapsed with the banks last year; on the contrary, there is no greater testament to its continuing power than the scale of the bank bailouts – is the notion that capitalism is the only viable political-economic system. It maintains that there is an inherent relation between capitalism and reality. Capitalist realism is a kind of anti-mythical myth: in claiming to have deflated all previous myths on which societies were based, whether the divine right of kings or the Marxist concept of historical materialism, it presents its own myth, that of the free individual exercising choice. The distrust of abstractions – summarized by Margaret Thatcher’s famous denial: ‘there is no such thing as society’ – finds expression in a widespread reduction of cultural ideas and activities to psychobiography. We are invited to see the ‘inner life’ of individuals as the most authentic level of reality. Much of the appeal of reality television, for instance, consists in its seductive claim to show participants for what they ‘really are’. The media is a sea of faces that we are encouraged to feel we are on first name terms with. Feature interviews in mainstream papers and magazines are invariably structures around biographical chat and photographs. In Britain, now more than ever, artists and musicians are faced with the choice of representing themselves in this biographical way or not appearing at all. Attempts to appeal to abstract ideas alone – either in the art itself or the forces it is dealing with – are habitually greeted with a mixture of contempt and incomprehension.

- Mark Fisher