Social media asserts a massive multi-subjectivity. This is a conundrum for those who aimed to speak to/on behalf of the masses (for good or ill). It is a disaster for those who thought that without overdetermined capitalist media the masses would embrace their own emancipation, beauty and pathos. Storming Bastilles and unknowable poems were expected; instead there are incels and leftbook. (1) Of course, the Internet is also home to social genius and brilliant artworks. But these tend to be exceptions. This is because social media does not help the masses assert their actual subjectivities but leads the masses to create reified performances; it produces subjectivities as simulacra. Just like every other media phase in capital’s history, the majority of the content is mediocre and reinforces bourgeois “common sense.” (2) The difference is that this time we appear to be in control. It is an illusion. We have the apparent form of democratization without social content. We have the unique subject (in theory) without that subject’s emancipation. (3)
A Digital Gesamtkunstwerk (4)
In Stalin Gesamtkunstwerk Boris Groys argues that the “socialism” of the Soviet Union (USSR) (5) amounted, at least phenomenologically, to a total art installation in which public life became a sort of performance for the state. (6) In the contemporary US (at a minimum) the digital image has come to be part of its own total installation – a collective neoliberal performance.
In the “Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” (1936) Walter Benjamin writes that the (then) “function of film is to train human beings in the appreciations and reactions needed to deal with a vast apparatus whose role in their lives is expanding almost daily”. (7) Social media and its digital images have a similar function. Whereas film conditioned the masses of industrial capitalism, and sometimes sublimated left and right wing responses to its crises, the digital gesamtkunstwerk conditions the increasingly precarious masses of neoliberal capitalism, and telegraphs nascent and weak socialist and fascist responses to its crises.
The lessons it teaches, however, diverge from film. The montage element of film, by necessity, created (and creates) a unified totality determined by the filmmakers (and actualized in the eye and mind of the viewer). The montage of the digital gesamtkunstwerk appears random and decontextualized – but is in fact determined by algorithms meant to maximize information and capital accumulation. (8) The most capitalist film studios still needed human directors and writers to shape their totalities. The new meta-montage does not. (9) The remaining human element tends to be concentrated in the production of isolated images and text as they are put into montage, before they are given new association and meaning by the total installation of neoliberal capitalism. (10)
On Benjamin’s Essay
Walter Benjamin’s classic essay aimed at understanding how capital’s industrialized base had changed the aesthetic superstructure; the “development of art under the present conditions and practice.” (11) In this he identifies a pattern of gothic-futurist contradictions (12) related to the conflict between forces and relations of production, and their relationship to the then-growing threat of fascism and the persistence of then-mass communist parties in the European working-class.
Because Benjamin was the first to really identify how mechanical reproduction had altered the image, his observations are necessarily telescoped; and we can now see them as trajectories arising both from working-class impulses as well as capitalist relations. The neutralization of genius, eternal value and mystery (13) are only partial, and the underlying reproductive tendencies have mushroomed farther than Benjamin could have predicted (lithography, photography and film into digital video, camera phones, Instagram, etc.). As Benjamin argues, a key aspect of artwork before reproduction was its existence in a particular place; its authenticity. Authenticity eludes technological reproduction. (14) The technologically reproduced image becomes independent from, and more free than, the original. The copy finds itself in conversation with multiple images and contexts that the “original itself cannot attain.” As Benjamin famously argued the “aura” of the original artwork is undermined. But aura is not a mystical word – it is about the cult and poetic value achieved by distance. (15)
Benjamin is right that “what withers in the age of technological reproducibility of the work of art is [art’s] aura” (16) but this is a tendency with countervailing factors – and one in which neither the unique or reproduced image is objectively progressive or reactionary (in a Marxist sense).
Moreover, the development of the digital image has turned some of what Benjamin argued upside-down. This makes sense from the point-of-view of Benjamin (the historian) who saw history as unfolding disaster. (17) Here the dismantling of all sentiment noted by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto is not a 19th century event, but an ongoing process of capitalist social property relations, especially in the era of neoliberal capital, and the drive to quantify and commodify every aspect of human life – including the dream life of the class.
1st Note: On the Internet + Struggle
There can be no doubt that the Internet is useful. This is particularly true in local mobilizing and in sharing ideas and emergencies and networking leftists across large distances. Much of the traditional Leninist rationale for the “revolutionary newspaper” now occurs as a matter of course via social media; underlying the anachronism of the “Leninist” newspaper’s persistence. (18) Isolated revolutionaries are already connected; their struggles increasingly shared. While the focus of this essay is on digital images and the cultural and aesthetic aspects of the Internet – the Internet’s failures in organizing must also be noted. The chief of these is the tendency to separate activists from social context and IRL (“in real life”) organizing. The following passage by Fredric Jameson, recalling the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (1969-1971), is illustrative:
[T]he leadership of the League began to spread the word in other cities and traveled to Italy and Sweden to study workers’ strategies there and to explain their own model; reciprocally, out-of-town politicos came to Detroit to investigate the new strategies… What happened was that the jet-setting militants of the League had become media stars; not only were they becoming alienated from their local constituencies, but, worse than that, nobody stayed home to mind the store. Having acceded to a larger spatial plane, the base vanished under them; and with this the most successful social revolutionary experiment of that rich political decade in the United States came to a sadly undramatic end… Most ironic in our context, however, is the very success of their failure: the representation the model of this complex spatial dialectic-triumphantly survives in the form of a film and a book, but in the process of becoming an image and a spectacle, the referent seems to have disappeared, as so many people from Debord to Baudrillard always warned us it would. (19)
2nd Note: Authenticity is Political
It is not just the petit-bourgeois artist who rebels against the loss of authenticity. The loss of authenticity in art presents itself in tandem with the more material losses of working-class and oppressed people. In a system of constant change, the working-class is Janus faced – horror and nostalgia behind, horror and promise ahead – so workers have also sought the “authentic” (in real and imagined pasts, presents and futures).
Benjamin observes that “the desire of the present day masses” is to “’get closer’ to things, and their equally passionate concern for overcoming each thing’s uniqueness.” (20) This dynamic appears to apply to the digital image as well. But the desires of the masses are not entirely clear. When disposable packaging was invented, firms had to campaign to get working-class people to accept it. When the streets became the domain of cars there was a battle between working-class pedestrians and petit-bourgeois car owners.
The reproduced image contains the possibility of democracy but equally contains manufactured desire. This is key to the function of social media itself. The longed for eradication of distance, in the hopes of emancipation, is undoubtedly correct. But the working-class desire to overcome uniqueness is highly questionable. The decay of the auric image is shaped by two things: A) The nature of technology in closing distance. B) The weak position of the masses in the negotiation of the representation of their dream life (a representation the masses actively participate in but have little control over). In this dream life, oppressed and exploited subjects often seek authenticity as a re-assertion for that which has been lost in daily life. The political character of the sought for authenticity may be progressive or reactionary depending. (21)
The problem with Benjamin’s assertion, that once authenticity is removed by the mechanical we are left with politics, is that authenticity (and its absence) is political. (22)
3rd Note: The Internet of Things
The Internet, contrary to its own mythologies, began as an “Internet of Things” – first scientific research and military operations, but soon after as a key tool in re-organizing global lean production.
As described by Kim Moody and others, beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, and accelerating in the 1990s, there was a global restructuring of the working-class meant to further shift the balance of class forces in the favor of capital. Just-in-time production, regional supply and production networks, maximizing the use of low income workers (in labor intensive industries), attacking organized labor, and accelerating automation, were all part and parcel of lean production. (23)
The main “political” reinforcement of lean production was recuperating racist and sexist ideas (often but not always in code). In the US and UK this meant exaggerating crime into a “crisis.”
At the same time information technology became central in managing and reshaping the increasingly complex inputs and outputs of global finance, production and distribution. This is the material and economic base of the internet’s cultural superstructure. The old rallying cry that “information wants to be free” concealed how the Internet was “an extension of the ongoing quantification and instrumentalization of the life world imposed by early capitalism,” as Johnathan Beller argues. This was the “quantification” of the “life world,” of course, that animated both Romantic poets and very early working-class organizations. (24)
4th Note: Faux Public Sphere + Digital Enclosure
The early presentation of the Internet often appealed to the “public sphere,” whose norms, according to Jodi Dean’s assessment of the historical-theoretical concept, included “equality, transparency, inclusivity, rationality” in discussion/debate as a basis for democratic societies. (25) While the idea of the “public sphere” was always problematic, recalling bourgeois and middle-class milieus that helped birth the Enlightenment and democratic revolutions, Dean argues the claim that the Internet “materializes the aspirations long associated with the public sphere” fails even in these terms. (26)
Dean counters that the Internet is structured by “an ideology of publicity in the service of communicative capitalism.” (27) Noting the insidiousness of this ideology, she writes:
In effect, changing the system, organizing against and challenging communicative capitalism, seems to require strengthening the very system: how else to get out the message than to raise the money, buy the television time; register the domain names, build the websites, and craft the accessible, user-friendly, spectacular message? Democracy demands publicity. (28)
Written in the early 2000s, at a time of transition, before the algae bloom of the digital image, Dean’s argument here may seem antiquated. But her core point, the contradiction of participation, remains fundamental: “Precisely those technologies that materialize a promise of full political access and inclusion drive an economic formation whose brutalities render democracy worthless for the majority of people.” (29) If there was a moment of relative freedom and anarchic expression in the early Internet, and to some degree there was, (30) this incomplete and problematic digital “commons” was, in effect, enclosed by the rise of giant Internet corporations and platforms (Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr) as well as legislation. (31)
“In complaints of both lack and excess,” Dean writes, “the invocation of the public, or the territorialization of cyberia as a public, functions to authorize regulatory intervention.” (32) Legislation and corporate action pose as protection – against “fake news” for example – but serve to consolidate the logic of “communicative capitalism.” “These regulatory interventions are invoked and pursued so as to make the Net safe for commercial exchange,” Dean argues, “to protect the Intranets of financial markets, establish the trust necessary for consumer confidence in online transactions, and to make appear as a public sphere what is clearly the material basis of the global economy.” (33)
5th Note: Everything Undone
By necessity the digital gesamtkunstwerk is always changing. It is not the first “artwork” to do so. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass continually evolved over the poet’s life. Serialized novels, like those that of Charles Dickens, changed over time. Re-enacted performances, remade movies, covered songs, metanarratives (like those associated with science fiction and comic book franchises) all change over time. Since the 1950 Hans Namuth film of Jackson Pollock working in his studio (34) the “art world” has been increasingly interested in process, sometimes more than the “final” work. (35) Moreover, the meaning of artworks (and their copies) change and fragment after their production.
Alain Badiou is incorrect when he argues in the Handbook of Inaesthetics that “[a] work of art is essentially finite” and “always regulated by a Greek principle of of completion.” (36) Badiou’s assertion privileges two time periods – the ancient and the modern. In pre-historic and hunter-gatherer societies the idea of completion was often non-existent, as it was in many medieval folk performative traditions. Nevertheless, artworks are often thought of in the (false) manner described by Badiou. Even process oriented artworks tend to be exhibited in an isolated indexical moment. (37) The familiar mask of an early agricultural society is taken out of its cult performance and hung, static, in the museum. But even if we think of these images as fixed we usually see them in the digital gesamtkunstwerk.
Nothing in the digital gesamtkunstwerk is finished or complete.
The Liberated Image
“The bourgeoisie… has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade.” (38) (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels)
The arts became a (limited and distorted) preserve from this war on sentiment in early and modern capitalism, under the bourgeois ideology of “art for art’s sake” (an expression of the capitalist celebration of the “great individual.”) But capital’s “unconscionable freedom” did not stop metastasizing in the 19th century. Capital continually emancipates things and abolishes sentiment while leaving people in chains. The image has been liberated – (seemingly) free from social context and geography. You, however, are not liberated. You are subject to the authority of border guards, bosses and police.
Analog + Digital Part I: Reacquiring Aura
But context creeps back into the reproduced image. Aura eventually returns – because distance is about both space and time.
As John Berger notes in Ways of Seeing, the meaning of the mechanically reproduced image “multiplies and fragments into many meanings.” (39) The “liberated image,” in Benjamin’s time, was “emancipated” through industrial processes. These have now accrued their own aura and cult value. In “post-industrial” societies industrial images now recall a particular phase of class organization and life, and corresponding culture, that is now lost. Secondly, industrial process, as a more labor intensive process than the digital, takes more relative productive and consumptive time. Both factors re-establish distance and therefore auric/cult value. (40)
Benjamin argues that the uniqueness of a work of art is embedded in its relatively fixed context. (41) But, as noted, aura has proved resilient to shifting contexts. As reproductions age – and the signs associated with them take on new temporal bearings – VHS fetishism, Glitch Art and Vaporwave (42) for example – images acquire multiple contextual meanings. Picasso’s Guernica accumulated new meanings as it was toured to raise money for the Spanish partisans, as it was displayed in the United Nations, as copies of it were used in antiwar protests, as it was finally allowed to “come home” to Spain after the end of fascism.
Repeating digital enclosures (corporate and state), along with the passage of time and IRL disasters, have begun to create a gothic and auric Internet. (43) The relatively open/anarchic phase of the Internet (which continued with ever-decreasing weight after 2001) created a new constellation of referents and signs – signs that contain particular meanings for the formative generation that suffered the traumas of the War on Terror (2001-) and the economic crisis (2008-). This was the Internet before the fall. Many became generational-cultural reference points; the LOSS meme (2008-) for example, and some, like the web series Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared (2011-2016), are great works of art. Alternative reality games (ARGs) and trans media storytelling (TMS) – before their rapid co-optation by marketing departments – offered new models for critical narratives. Primitive Internet graphics (associated with platforms like GeoCities) have taken on an increasingly gothic hue. All recall a narrowed digital idyll.
Analog + Digital Part II: Social Positioning
Just as the unique art object has been made seemingly anachronistic, so too have many members of an increasingly precarious working-class. The seemingly endless pool of “free” viral imagery, made possible by globalization and technology, mirrors the seemingly endless pool of cheap labor made possible by “trade” and automation. The spectator develops a contradictory affinity for both the digital and analog; as each promises, in its being, an aspect of their liberation, as well as their current degradation. The digital seems to offer escape from the traps of the physical. (44) More importantly, the digital offers “democracy” without free subjects (which of course is not democracy). The analog offers free subjects without democracy (which of course is not free subjectivity).
While the mechanically reproduced image had intense democratic promise, the digital image comes to us without socialism (either in a post-capitalist society or in relationship to a large vibrant socialist movement). (45) This floating image takes on a profoundly alienating character depending on its “random” re-contextualization into the world. An Instagram image of “food porn” looked at on a tourist’s smartphone walking through Times Square in Manhattan has a vastly different meaning than the very same image on the phone of a working-class single mother walking by the partial ruin of the River Rouge Complex in Detroit. Again, the image is liberated but the spectator isn’t.
The digital gesamtkunstwerk becomes a constant reminder, in negative space, of social position. It is designed for ranking yourself in a vast neoliberal MMORPG. (46)
Performing the Digital Gesamtkunstwerk
We create our own doppelgangers, and do so repeatedly. We, in a sense, perform how neoliberal capital sees the working-class, as an endlessly exchangeable multiplicity of supposedly “unique” (but always changing and reproducible) modules (of greater but most often lesser value). We do this in a space in which each person/subject/worker is seemingly lifted from social context. The Horatio Alger myth is written into the structure of social media.
In “Zombie Gallery? The German Ideology and the White Cube,” Danica Radoshevich argues that the white cube gallery form is an expression of the bourgeois ideal. It isolates the “genius” art object and image beyond social context. (47) When we perform our digital selves we largely curate ourselves. In this way Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter are the white cube writ large. But unlike the white cube, which also valorizes the unique art object by underlining its auric value, the digital space eradicates auric value. We imagine we will become more with every post and image (but the inverse is usually true).
We perform, in our online selves, a cultural echo of lean production, to prove we are the indispensable unit.
In this sense, when we (on the left) call out the avatars of our fellow working-class and oppressed siblings – usually but not always for “correct” reasons – we are also re-enacting the competition enabled by lean production. A function of the digital image, as organized by capital’s digital gesamtkunstwerk, is to map and commodify our dreams, to foster a neoliberalism of the soul. (48) Part of the working-class dream is the abolition of oppression and exploitation. In this way, the digital call out can easily become an anti-working-class manifestation of a working-class dream. (49)
Analog + Digital Part III: Human Cult Value
What does Instagram teach us, most of all, about the art image? That the art image is, of course, mostly worthless (in terms of exchange value as well as auric/cult value) unless it is one of the chosen few. Who chooses those few images? A small coterie of bourgeois-controlled experts and corporate executives. This teaches the artist that they are worthless – and that they must constantly hustle to become worthy of the analog space. Its very structure sabotages the idea of collective aesthetic strategy. It tells the artist that they are an anachronism. It is, more or less, what online job applications teach the unemployed worker.
The ruling class ideology of “art for art’s sake” was dealt a major blow by the mechanically reproduced image. But it was not a fatal blow. “Art for art’s sake” translated capitalism’s cult of individuality to the art object. In this sense art’s auric value is tied up with capitalism. At the same time there is a human cult value that predates capitalism, as Benjamin also sketches, which is why pagan Greco-Roman statues were preserved by the medieval Catholic church. This is bound up in an ethos that centered the human as the measure of things; a secular cult value of indexes of past (lost) human performances. The present day cult/auric art object persists largely for the former reason. The artist, historically motivated to achieve the latter sort of cult/auric value (the historic and human) and predisposed to empathies, (50) finds no home. The sea of free images floats below. The empty (and mystifying) rituals hover above (51). Individual human performance, we are implicitly told, only matters at the very top. The sea of free images is but a means (for a very few) to get there.
The unique image “made maximum possible use of human beings,” as Benjamin writes, while the mechanical image “reduces their use to the minimum.” (52) The part automation has played in the class struggle, since the earliest days of industrialization, has been foundational – from King Ludd through the Chartists and the Haymarket martyrs. The reduction of human input, in the final analysis, is only emancipatory in enabling a post-capitalist society. Within capitalism it is a chief aspect of working-class resentment and torment – despite its promise.
The post-human presents in daily working-class life as both freedom from drudgery, as well as a monster, a Skynet, a frightening and alienating automaton.
Fascism vs. Socialism + the “Post-Human” I
“The overtaking of the icon ‘man’ as the privileged point of subjectification by the new and astonishing agency of financialized intelligent machines,” Beller writes, “reveals man for it was – a now obsolescent platform of the operating system of heteropatriarchy and racial capitalism.” (53) In other words the forces of production have sparked a crisis in the central “operating system” of capitalist ideology – the idea and ideal of the unique subjective individual.
This crisis of individual subjectivity is an important (but not solely determinant) element in the return of the far right and the limits of the new left. It also shapes the character of each. The expansion of utility further into the dream lives of the masses through the digital gesamtkunstwerk, for example, perpetuates branded socialist sects. These sects were produced by the hopes and disasters of the 20th century but they persist into the 21st as neoliberal gestures of working-class dreams (rather than as actual mass politics). (54) Beer hall putschists have morphed into dysfunctional men who believe they are owed a redistribution of women.
This is not to minimize these examples (and there are others). The digital can and will manifest IRL. The broader social and economic tendencies associated with the new left and right produced the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns of 2016. The fascist, however, manifests more easily, depending on conditions, because it is not, ultimately, anathema to the digital gesamtkunstwerk or the needs of capital.
Fascism “sees its salvation in granting expression to the masses – but on no account granting them rights,” Benjamin writes, “the masses have a right to changed property relations; fascism seeks to give them expression while keeping those relations unchanged. The logical outcome of fascism is an aestheticizing of political life.” (55) Without concluding that the Internet is fascist (although it is more authoritarian than widely conceded) this describes much of the digital firmament. And there are no shortages of tech millionaires and billionaires who have generalized IRL dystopias from its logic – from plans for floating bourgeois cities to neo-reactionary movements like the Dark Enlightenment. (56) Their common seed bed is what Liza Featherstone calls “The Listening Con” – in which focus groups displace democracy. (57) This takes the specific forms Featherstone outlines in her article as well as the general forms of social media; at its core, expression without rights, expression without a working-class counter totality, whose expressive aggregate, rather than creating socialist revolution, enriches a select elite. This does not make the Internet fascist. Fascism requires a particular constellation of class forces and crises. But these too exist in nascent form.
Today’s would-be fascist “recruit” was promised a privileged subjectivity; as white, middle or upper-class, male, American (or European, etc.). But they have come of age at the decline of the American empire (and “Western” dominance) along with the displacement of individual subjectivity. There is little room for expansion in the elite and the elite is increasingly outsourcing itself to the post-human. They hear shouts of “Black Lives Matter” and like the mass shooter they reply with nihilism, “If my life doesn’t matter then no one’s does.” They are enacting the historic “primal scream of the petit-bourgeois” in a neoliberal idiom; in no small part through the individual competition of social media and memes. The “unique” (but ultimately very common) individual middle-class white cis-hetero male “screams” because their relative autonomy and power has been encroached upon, by “Versailles,” imperial decline, by the failures of capitalism. Meanwhile they perceive the demands of the oppressed (born of systematic oppression) as a further threat to a declining status. Their horror at their own superfluousness fuels rage against Jews, women, immigrants, “Chads,” Muslims, Blacks, and on and on; increasingly under an anti-Semitic rubric of globalism (which they see as destroying the empire and their roles within it).
There is no moral comparison to be made between such monsters and what some have called “Tumblr Liberalism” (which is, in and of itself an inaccurate moniker). But, each presents, in some fashion, in the same atomized manner relating to a “hidden” center. (58) The alt-right can claim a mantle of transgression largely (but not solely) as they are presently (partially) shunned off the major sites and networks by the political center. But the ruling-class still relies on racism, nationalism and gender oppression for capital and social reproduction. In reference to this centered power, people with oppressed identities rightly clamor for redresses of grievances; but also in an increasingly atomized manner; the manner of “identity politics;” often through the digital gesamtkunstwerk. “The framework of identity reduces politics to who you are as an individual,” Asad Haider writes, “rather than your membership in a collectivity and the collective struggle against an oppressive power structure.” (59)
“Identity politics” (as it is now often practiced) often presupposes an appeal to that power – essentially idealizing (philosophically) identity by placing it a neutral and individualized space (that is, in truth, neither). Against the Black Liberation, feminist, queer and socialist movements from which “identity politics” sprang (before being decoupled from ideas of universality and collective emancipation), Haider reads today’s practice of “identity politics” as a “renaturalization of capitalism.” (60) Therefore its character often dovetails with that of the digital gesamtkunstwerk as tools in individual competition, instead of tools to dismantle competition. This should be made clear by the Hillary Clinton campaign’s adoption of “identity politics.” This was used to block and avoid discussion of the actual content of Black liberation or women’s liberation as related to class and the state. (61) Individual social mobility is (mostly) fine with the political center. Collective social emancipation is a threat.
The digital gesamtkunstwerk, of course, renaturalizes capitalism. Our identities become hundreds of millions of brands in competition. And we also appeal to that power (without naming it or even being fully aware of it) with great frequency. This is true in political posts. It is also true when an 18-year-old artist in Iowa posts her drawing of a horse on Instagram.
The Reification of Dreams: What If You’re a Nobody? (62)
Behind our artist in Iowa’s post is the anxiety, reproduced everywhere and at once, that we do not matter. It is an appeal to a neoliberal god (an algorithm designed by capitalists). But it is also an appeal to aura, to the importance of your performance as a unique living human being. But the Internet cannot valorize your humanity. It ruthlessly eradicates aura. It is not run by people who want to nurture artists in Iowa. The gesamtkunstwerk turns your dreams into aggregated information in the service of capital. But our artist in Iowa has few places to turn. The physical commons are gone. The middle-range galleries are failing. Tuition at the art schools is prohibitive. Only the faux digital commons remain. When the neoliberal god approves our artist’s post she gets “likes.” When it doesn’t she gets a little wave of sadness.
Referring to left melancholia, Haider writes “I have come to think that this sadness is the primary cause of the restriction of politics to personal identity.” (63) But what if that is true of the social sadness of neoliberal life more generally? In arguing for an “insurgent universality” Haider quotes Alain Badiou’s Ethics on identity’s ur-alterity.
Infinite alterity is quite simply what there is. Any experience at all is the infinite deployment of infinite differences. Even the apparently reflexive experience of myself is by no means the intuition of a unity but a labyrinth of differentiations, and Rimbaud was certainly not wrong when he said: ‘I am another.’ There are many differences, say, between a Chinese peasant and young Norwegian professional as between myself and anybody at all, including myself. (64)
The closure of distance has altered our inner autobiographies, once accumulated in a linear manner, they now bounce back and forth, from time to time, from site to site, from avatar to avatar. But this is only half of ourselves. The other half remains tethered; to work, children, disease, circumstance. In this way the Internet is a menu (the digital) and not a meal (the analog). And most of us cannot afford the meal; even as we share pictures of it on Instagram. Here again the “authentic” is political. The neoliberal soul is held in an uneven and combined body. “We are all Rachel Dolezal,” Haider writes, and “the infinite regress of ‘checking your privilege’ will eventually unmask everyone as inauthentic.” (65) The human being, literally abstracted into one or (many) more avatars, becomes even more untethered in the aggregate.
Our digital selves are loosed from the socialization that can provide liberation as well as the authentic images and gestures that valorize our lives and stories. We could be anyone (our selfies tell us) but we are no one (the rusted trailer next door reminds us). (66)
Post-Internet Art (67)
The self-conscious computer art of the open/anarchic Internet was marked by democratic and disruptive gestures (often an extension of analog punk, situationist and culture jamming ideas). In 1994, the year the first web browsers became widely available, artists Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans created the website jodi.org, made of “remixed found images and HTML scripts” recalling how Dada artists “played with the photographic imagery and typography of magazines and newspapers.” (68) Jodi did not, however, just play with code. They exposed code. As Toby Juliff and Travis Cox argue in “The Post-display Condition of Contemporary Computer Art” there tends to be an art theoretical blind-spot in terms of the importance and actuality of code in digital art. (69) This is an ideological overgrowth – a product of the digital gesamtkunstwerk and the Internet’s enclosure – that conceals the social relations embedded in it. As Juliff and Cox write:
We must consider again the artwork of jodi and how they employ a purposeful misuse of HTML in order to produce errors. Rachel Greene has termed this ‘desultory representations of code, protocols and operating system.’ This type of subversion is evident in many of jodi’s works, one being the site http://wwwwwwww.jodi.org in which the viewer is confronted with a sea of symbols that only resolve once the source code has been viewed. Within the source code, sandwiched between HTML, is an image made of text symbols forming the schematics of an explosive device. Jodi’s artwork, we argue, could be considered a literal example of the role of code within computer artworks. (70)
“Their technique of throwing up functioning code for the examination of the user, revealing aspects of its ideological function,” Julian Stallabras argues, “marks a strong, didactic break in the parade of simulacra.” (71)
The arc of the weak avant-garde’s discourse, however, is to obscure, rather than reveal, the ideological and material functions of the gesamtkunstwerk. Karen Archey and Robin Peckham, for example, in their essay for Art Post-Internet, reduce the discussion of the post-human to the “relationship between ecology and the human.” (72) This eschews the point. Dead labor (capital) displaces human subjectivity. It is not nature that displaces the “human” but the products of exploited human work. Capitalists use robots, not mulch, to replace truck drivers and auto workers. Even the Anthropocene can be similarly understood; past production limiting the options of current and future generations.
Archey and Peckham similarly present the work of “Post-Internet Artist” Arte Vierkant in a binary of material-immaterial. This removes the problem of social relations in each, whereas, in his essay on “The Image Object Post-Internet” the artist himself argues, first and foremost, “[a]rt is a social object.” (73)
But Vierkant, despite this statement, appeals to sort of Cyber-Greenbergianism, separating art from the social by the back door. (74) Vierkant admits that (computer) networks do not necessarily entail democracy or equality (75) but sees this through a Foucauldian lens of competing identities. This lets the central (capitalist) power off the hook while Vierkant doubles down on the idea that the “’the screen’ is our communal space.” (76) The artist takes a swipe at didacticism as an archaic gesture. (77) This, of course, ignores what the digital gesamtkunstwerk has become. The artist repeats the art school cult of ambiguity; conflating nuance and complication with political ambivalence. His strategy: “to create projects which move seamlessly from physical representation to Internet representation.” (78)
Let us compare Vierkant’s method with that of jodi.
Vierkant tacitly recognizes there is a contradiction between the analog and digital. His response to this contradiction is to conceal it; and by extension conceal the erosion of auric meaning, conceal the anti-democratic and post-human nature of the digital (as it is currently organized), conceal the social reality of the analog art space. This is rooted in an inverted Platonic idealism. “Even if an image or object is able to be traced back to a source,” Vierkant writes, “the substance (substance in the sense of both its materiality and its importance) of the source object can no longer be regarded as inherently greater than any of its copies.” (79) This may seem to be true (because of the digital gesamtkunstwerk). The controversy round Kenneth Goldsmith’s “remixing” of the Michael Brown autopsy report, however, shows the enduring primacy of source. (80) It endures because of the ongoing oppression and exploitation of the masses.
Jodi employed, by way of contrast, an essentially Brechtian gesture of exposure; exposing the code that is beneath the surface on the surface; the codes that would soon build the total installation of neoliberal capital; and did so by showing the expressive character of intentional mistakes (therefore asserting the subjective).
Between Jodi – produced during what Julian Stallabrass called the “Quixotic period of net.art” (81) – and Vierkant lies the digital gesamtkusntwerk.
Reification + Poe’s Law
An historic “punk” conception of reification could be schematized as follows. (82) Reification comes from without. It acts upon the cultural artifacts we produce. Our rebellious response comes from remixing those “external” reified images, bringing them back into contact with context and the authentic. The context being, at a minimum, local social relations and the authentic being, at a minimum, the local punk milieu. But with the further concealment of such referents, do we, as image producers of the total digital installation, reify our own work (and selves) at inception?
Moreover, context and authenticity, as additional meanings embedded in cultural signs, provide a clarity of intent. A general pattern – of would-be left transgressive performance faltering in the capitalist idiom of the digital gesamtkunstwerk – is further complicated by the (seemingly) successful “transgressive” gestures of the right. This is not to argue that the right-wing is “better at memes” (it is not). It is to get at what underlies the problem of Poe’s Law. (83)
Nathan Poe, in a 2005 discussion on the christianforums.com message board, argued “[w]ithout a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Creationism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.” (84) Most infamously the alt-right has used this aspect of our digital alterity to make absurd and exaggerated memes and digital gestures. These allow the right to spread its message while appearing (possibly) like mere satire. Meant to exist as both at the same time, and spread through the apparent randomness of the Internet, this latter-day fascist propaganda has helped organize the would-be center(s) of a new far right. It has also allowed them to appear like “tricksters” (a role adopted more often by apolitical, left-wing and “spiritual” – but rarely fascist – artists).
The reason Poe’s Law works for the right, in a way it cannot work for the left, is due to how it manipulates social decontextualization. The right thrives on decontextualization. The left withers. You can “trick” a petit-bourgeois into fascism. Fascism is an ideology. You cannot “trick” a worker into socialism. Socialism is working-class consciousness.
Beyond this, the alt-right meme (despite being generally inferior in quality) is able to exploit the digital gesamtkunstwerk because it reproduces the Internet’s overall logic; individual competition, aggregating “views” without regard to content (“click-bait”), as well as hostility to social context. These “transgressive” images and gestures appeal to a fragmented proto-milieu of (mostly) disaffected middle-class white cis-hetero men. And they can reach them in every middle-class basement and den from Long Island to Idaho.
Poe’s Law may superficially recall the punk remix (in the heyday of zine culture) but it is the inverse. Instead of throwing “shit” in the face of capitalist culture, it takes capitalist culture to its logical extreme (against the present wishes, to be clear, of the neoliberal center). The punk remix – even with its most problematic mixed consciousness – tended to politicize aesthetics (largely by re-asserting subjectivity and context). The alt-right remix aestheticizes politics. Of course fascists did invade historic punk milieus. But because those spaces existed in the analog and were tied to geography, right-wing punks were largely expelled from them, in a series of sporadic (literal, not figurative) fights that spanned the 1970s into the 1990s, in small and big cities alike.
Nevertheless, Poe’s Law is contradictory. It opens up the possibility of an irrealist Internet. (85) Irrealism is present in mimetic gestures like the “Tide Pod Challenge.” Neither right nor left wing, this meme expresses a generational class reality channeling an admixture of consumerism, poverty and depression. (86) An irrealist meme is disruptive primarily in its creative re-assertion of social context. Less popular, but interesting, examples include the Posadist and “Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism” memes. (87) Each cites the past (either aesthetically or historically) and projects it in a (sometimes absurd) futurist manner.
Irrealist and other interruptions of the Internet are too varied to map here; many are the expression of passing social genius. There are (or were), for example, Facebook groups in which every member is also an administrator, and the (few thousand or so) members collectively and constantly rename and repurpose the group, often (but not always) expressing or ridiculing the problems of everyday life and the banality of the digital gesamtkunstwerk. Recent examples from one group include:
“buy, sell and trade menstrual cups,”
“Sailors on Viagra you cuck”
“Yes the Bendy Bois With the Cronkly Bendy Bit”
“Help! I have a 12-hour Shift in 6 hours and I Can’t Sleep!”
“I will pay you to kill me”
“I will pay you to give me a job where you pay me more”
“Look at This Owl”
“Everybody Wants to Rule the World”
“Everybody Wants to Be a Cat”
“Sadsville, population: 1”
“Sadsville, population: Everyone”
“Tax Churches to Fund Abortions” (88)
Even this performative democracy is too much. In June, 2018 member/administrators were sent notices from Facebook:
I understand that you would like to change your Group’s name. I know how important it can be to have the name you desire. I will be happy to explain the new policy.
To prevent misuse of changing a group’s name, we will now only allow one group name change every 28 days. If you try to change a group’s name less than 28 days after your last name change you will receive an error message…(89)
Fascism vs. Socialism + the “Post-Human” II
It is here that we also see abstracted (weak and contradictory) avatars of the “old ideas” that read like degenerated photocopies of historic fascisms and “socialisms.” Soviet tanks become memes for “tankies” rather than the tools that crushed the Nazis (as well as student and worker rebellions in Prague and Budapest). The objective content of Nuremburg rallies is condensed into a presidential tweet. This is not to argue that such things do not have real world importance. They clearly do as we saw in the rapid formation of concentration camps for migrant children in the US. It is to contrast the level of their development with their antecedents.
The primitiveness of present fascist and socialist imagery and rhetoric (90) is a product of class forces and the level of capitalist crisis, but also shaped by the digital gesamtkunstwerk. Hitler spoke at Nuremburg. But the main character of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935) is arguably a “redeemed” German nation. An aging man in a bathrobe issuing electronic edicts that “TODAY WE HAVE MADE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” does not achieve the same aestheticizing of politics. (91)
Such weak signs are reified but they are also a reassertion. Consciousness in transition can take “identical” forms but have very different trajectories. A “tankie” image in 1968 has a different meaning than a “tankie’ image in 2018. In 2014 a wealthy revanchist wretch looks like a mere buffoon, embodying the passage from Marx that “[m]oney is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good” no matter how vapid and ugly its possessor may be. (92) In 2018 the wretch puts children in concentration camps, takes away health insurance and food assistance (with little to no mainstream opposition of substance).
These ghost-images of the past will become increasingly “real” in the coming months and years. The fascists will further aestheticize politics. The communists will respond by politicizing art.
What is to Be Done?: Four Points
The following are reflections on possible courses of action for artists of the Popular Avant-Garde. (93)
1. Brechtian Cybernetics
If we are to create a 21st century socialist art we cannot merely echo the socialist art of the past; we must position our art in relationship to the present-day working-class, technologies and culture. This does not mean thoughtlessly using the newest means of image-making or writing novels about the Internet. This means, most of all, re-asserting the significance of individual subjectivity (including identity), in relationship to (and through) the idea and actuality of the collective.
The analog and digital are each insufficient in this project. The digital promises the celebration of unique subjectivity but instead strips away aura. It promises democracy but there can be no democracy when its constituent parts are not free. It quantifies, commodifies and reshapes working-class dreams. In the end the digital montage/gesamtkunstwerk is a totality determined by an alienating post-human capitalism that conditions a precarious working-class for neoliberal capital. The analog art space/image/object seems to promise unique subjectivities; but these are mystified by an increasingly confused bourgeoisie that has called into being forces of production (the digital) that threaten the core ruling-class ideology of the art space itself. Moreover, the unique subjective expressions in the analog art space are almost always those of privileged white men (and sometimes a relatively privileged woman or artist of color, and only vary rarely working-class artists). It remains a rarefied space that is alien to the majority. And it is a space that can no longer explain its reason for being. The great subjective gestures (like those of post-war New York abstraction) are now impossible, not just because of time and technology, but because they seem cruel in a post-human Anthropocene.
These contradictions call for a Brechtian cybernetics that uses, alternates between, and exposes both the analog and digital; that can use the false democracy of the digital, turn, and then use the auric value of the analog, repeatedly; to recuperate and telegraph both the value of the individual proletarian and the collective working-class. (94)
2. Gothic Futurity
Lining up at the unemployment line (real or virtual), in the glow of digital screens, the workers in the post-industrial societies are becoming anachronistic cyborgs. The “dreaming” bourgeois – the tech and space CEO – plans our further obsolescence. They plan to turn us into grotesques and monsters; technologically and genetically. We should embrace and queer our monstrousness: presenting a gothic futurity as the temporal echo of a Brechtian cybernetics.
In both the Passagenwerk and his “Theses on History,” Benjamin alludes to, or directly references, the idea of a materialist apokatastasis – the theological concept of a redemption of lost (past) souls. (95) The messianic generation (that actualizes the revolution), as he argues in the “Theses on History,” is fueled by the defeated generations of exploited and oppressed; rather than mere dreams of a future paradise.
But neoliberal capitalism, pushing our dreams out of time and into the digital gestamtkunstwerk, tends to rob us of both “enslaved ancestors” and “liberated grandchildren.” (96) They are best imagined in relationship to one another; ghosts from the past avenging the children denied us by the Anthropocene.
3. Irrealist Screens and Galleries
The digital gesamtunstwerk presents a totality; a metanarrative of capital. The total digital installation is the HUSTLE of neoliberal capitalism as a soulless self-replicating church. We carry that faith in our pocket like a little Book of Hours. We check it for regularly for “randomly generated” prayers. The post-modernists hailed its coming as an end to totalizing narratives; but it is the greatest story ever told.
This capitalist mythology aggregator demands a counter-mythology. It demands counter-narratives. This means mining the traditions of Russian and Eastern European narrative conceptualism, critical speculative fiction, Surrealism, magical realism, ARGs and TMS. It is here, most of all, where violations of the “principle of completion” are central in the presentation of unfolding working-class narratives. (97)
We need a critical irrealist world-building to struggle for the dream-life of the working-class; using both art and digital realms as theatrical spaces to re-assert subjectivity and context.
4. The Actuality of the Working-Class
The job applications may all be online but wage slavery is still analog. Wage slavery still depends on our need for food, shelter, medicine and the roses of life.
Ending wage slavery requires organizing in the analog first and foremost; something that the Internet can facilitate but, due to its hostile bourgeois structure, cannot be used a substitute for IRL base building. (98) This does not mean art should primarily be directed as organizing and activism. This over privileges artists as a social force (where they have little real power) while undermining them as artists (where they can actually influence the social subconscious). Only the self-activity of the working-class and oppressed can actually change conditions.
Socialist artists must, however, do two things. Firstly, we must play a practical solidarizing role in the day to day organizing of the class. This means working in socialist and mass organizing as rank-and-file participants when possible. Secondly, because context and sign mutually shape meanings, because of gentrification and because of the limits of the digital gesamtkunstwerk and the white cube art space, (99) artists must connect their work, not just in content but in physical and political proximity, to the left and to the working-class. This means finding ways to use artwork in the course of organizing as well as nurturing a left-wing and working-class patronage. (100)
It is a trick of the moment, with rising fascists and flood waters, climate change, increasing inter-imperialist competition and concentration camps, that the urgency of the moment can seem to contrast with what must be done. Base-building and the analog take time. The digital is instant. (101)
But socialism is about the emancipation of millions of working-class people. It cannot be achieved by merely sharing facts and destroying myths. It cannot be achieved without recognizing the unique subjectivity of the individual worker; and by extension the auric/cult value of the individual proletarian’s life performance. The worker cannot be emancipated socially without the emancipation of consciousness. This requires the construction of new mythologies, a new pantheon of heroes that will, eventually, number in the millions, where each hero is also a unique and flawed existential human subject – a “total art of socialism.”
Most of this will occur through the self-activity of workers.
The job of the socialist artist is, in part, to facilitate the dreams, and recognize the nightmares, of the class. The digital gesamtkunstwerk is a hostile cultural battleground. It is part of the nightmare.
Postscript: Aura’s Revenge
In the future the majority of avatars in the digital gesamtkunstwerk will be avatars of the dead.
The left Romantic has known there was something wrong with the Internet (as it now exists) but has been largely confused about what that problem may be. This may explain the vacillations of the show Black Mirror for example.
In its Gramscian meaning.
This essay has no pretense in living up to its historic namesake by Walter Benjamin. Moreover, it tends to be focused on the terrain in the post-industrial societies – particularly the United States. The author hopes it will be a contribution to the discussion among artists and socialists about the forms, functions and meanings of media that now appear “natural” but are very new and determined largely by the needs of capital. This article will not provide a historiography of Marxist writing on the Internet. That is not its purpose. It is written by a socialist artist rather than a socialist media studies theorist. A good survey of Marxist media studies can be found in the following paper: Christian Fuchs, Nick Dyer-Witherford, “Karl Marx @ Internet Studies” (November 26, 2012): http://fuchs.uti.at/wp-content/NMS_FDW.pdf
A gesamtkunstwerk is a “total artwork” – an installation that surrounds the viewer using various media.
Groys, as an anti-socialist, takes the claim the USSR was socialist at face value. The Soviet Union was not, however, a socialist society. Socialism requires the democratic rule of the working-class.
Boris Groys, The Total Art of Stalinism (New York: Verso, 2011). The book’s untranslated title is Stalin Gesamtkunstwerk.
Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility and Other Writings on Media (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008) 37
For an extreme version of this dynamic see the phenomenon of algorithm-generated YouTube videos for children. “Random” characters (from Marvel, Disney, etc.) are generated based on view totals related to keywords (Spiderman, The Hulk, etc.). These are then put through plot generators, also based on data collection, and animations (and sometimes scripts for live actors) are produced. See James Briddle, “How Peppa Pig Became a Video Nightmare for Children,” The Guardian (June 17, 2018) and Sapna Maheshwari, “On YouTube Kids, Startling Videos Slip Past Filters,” The New York Times (November 4, 2017): https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jun/17/peppa-pig-youtube-weird-algorithms-automated-content and https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/04/business/media/youtube-kids-paw-patrol.html
As Toby Juliff and Travis Cox note there has been a tendency to ignore, in art and cultural theory, the actual coding of online space. Referring to Julian Stallabrass’ Internet Art: The Online Clash of Culture and Commerce, they argue “the failure to specifiy the nature of that code – and in particular, in its relation to artist an user – in terms that challenge the privileged position of the interface, display and user, initiates further consideration…” Toby Juliff and Travis Cox, “The Post-display Condition of Contemporary Computer Art,” emaj 8 (April 2015), 4: https://emajartjournal.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/cox-and-juliff_the-post-display-condition-of-contemporary-computer-art.pdf
It is important to note that the Internet and the digital gesamtkunstwerk are not the same thing per se.
Although he does not schematize it this way.
See Michael Löwy, Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin’s ‘On the Concept of History’ (New York: Verso, 2016) and Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History” (1940) in Howard Eiland, Michael W. Jennings, editors, Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Volume 4: 1938-1940 (Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006), 389-400
I refer here only to countries in which the vast majority of the working-class is online. Nor am I arguing against physical left publications (including, at times, newspapers). I am referring to a particular conception of the socialist newspaper.
From Fredric Jameson’s lecture, “Cognitive Mapping,” collected in Cary Nelson, Lawrence Grossberg, editors, Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (Champaign-Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1988)
Benjamin, The Work of Art…, 23
To which Benjamin would no doubt agree. The problem here is less with Benjamin and more with certain “followers” in the arts who have taken his arguments toward ananti-expressionistic, soulless and oddly positivistic (but non-Marxist) political art.
Moody’s latest outline of the present class dynamics: On New Terrain: How Capital is Reshaping the Battleground of Class War (Chicago: Haymarket, 2017)
Johnathan Beller, The Message is Murder: Substrates of Computational Capital (London: Pluto Press, 2018), 1
Jodi Dean, “Why the Net is not a Public Sphere,” Constellations Volume 10, No. 1 (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), 96
Dean, 96: As Dean notes the concepts of the “public sphere” (and its practice) excluded women, were supported by the exploitation of the working-class, etc.
Although, like the historic-theoretical “public sphere,” this was very limited by class, access and other forms of gatekeeping.
For a partial list of Internet legislation in the US: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Internet_law_in_the_United_States
Dean, 100. In Dean’s framework, “lack,” refers to the clear insufficiency of the online space as “public sphere.” In “excess” she refers to the ways in which it appears to allow the unqualified into the “discussion.” Legislation is required, therefore, in terms of public discourse, to bring everyone into the faux commons as well as minimize disruption to it. The contradiction of these two tendencies in the public discourse on the Internet underline, for Dean, the Internet as a product of bourgeois ideology.
“Jackson Pollock 51: Short Film Captures the Painter Creating Abstract Expressionist Art,” Open Culture (August 24, 2011): http://www.openculture.com/2011/08/jackson_pollock_lights_camera_paint.html
Although it must be noted that Dada and Surrealism took the first major steps down this road in modern art; in Dada’s experiments with the indexical and random and Surrealist automatism.
Alain Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2005) 10-11.
For example, despite the art academe’s emphasis on new media, most art school admission requirements still ask for 10-20 jpgs of static work or a few minutes (at most) of video, with very little in the way of conceptual text. This reinforces the bourgeois hostility to context and totality.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, edited by Phil Gasper, The Communist Manifesto: A Roadmap to History’s Most Important Document (Chicago: Haymarket, 2005), 43
John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: BBC and Penguin, 1972), 19
You have to go to the movies. You had to go to Blockbuster to rent a movie. Each developed, over time, a performative cult value. To watch a movie on Netflix you have to push a button.
In recent years people have begun collecting and watching VHS tapes, similar to the collection of vinyl records after the rise of audio-tape and digital media. Interestingly, while vinyl collectors generally talked about the superior quality of records, VHS collectors often prize their inferior quality. Glitch art is the process of making intentional errors in mechanical analog and digital reproduction and design. Vaporwave is a related genre of digital music.
For my purposes here I schematize Internet culture in three stages: Arpanet/classical Internet (1970s - 1990s), open/anarchic Internet (1994-2000) and the increasingly enclosed Internet (after 2001)
Fuchs, Dyer-Witheford, 8
The recent growth of the Democratic Socialists of America notwithstanding.
MMORPG stands for “massively multiplayer online role-playing game” – for example: World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, etc.
Danica Radoshevich, “Zombie Gallery? The German Ideology and the White Cube,” RedWedgeMagazine.com (February 8, 2015): http://www.redwedgemagazine.com/commentary/the-white-cube-and-the-german-ideology-gallery-space-as-bourgeois-farce
I am borrowing this phrase from the discussion/debate about the United Auto Workers (UAW) union failure to organize a Volkswagen plant in Chatanooga, Tennessee in 2013-2014. Richard Seymour wrote the following: “Union mishandling played a role in this, of which more in a moment. However, to grasp how they fucked up so badly, it is necessary to see how they were fighting on a terrain that was far more structurally loaded against them than they perhaps realized. The real question is not why unions fuck up in their bureaucratic, back-room way, but why workers were so available for the Right. This sort of outcome cries out for a neoliberalism-in-their-souls form of analysis.’ Richard Seymour, “Hegemony begins in the workplace,” Lenin’s Tomb (February 19, 2014): http://www.leninology.co.uk/2014/02/hegemony-begins-in-workplace.html
I hesitate to note this, for obvious reasons. The digital “call out” has become one of the most problematic aspects of online Left culture. Most of the criticisms of the “call out,” however, quickly degenerate into minimizing oppressions. This, of course, completes the ideological job of capital coming and going.
Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art (New York: Verso, 2010): “[The Human Being] rebels against having to consume himself within the confines of his own life, within the transient, chance limits of his own personality.” page 16. In Fischer’s chapters on “The Functions of Art” and “The Origins of Art” he outlines several purposes for “art” in its origins in hunter-gatherer societies. Among these are the idea of “life substitute”; artists facilitating the viewer (or listener) in imagining they are other people, animals, forces, things, etc. In this way empathy is woven into the foundational DNA of what became art.
This is not to say that the answer to this problem is entirely clear.
Benjamin, The Work of Art…, 41
Josh Gabbatis, “World’s First Floating City to Be Guilt of French Polynesia by 2020,” The Independent (November 14, 2017): https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/floating-city-french-polynesia-2020-coast-islands-south-pacific-ocean-peter-thiel-seasteading-a8053836.html
Liza Featherstone, “The Listening Con,” The Baffler (February 13, 2018): https://thebaffler.com/latest/listening-con-featherstone
The large capitalists and the state as represented by the algorithms of the gestamtkunstwerk.
Asad Haider, Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump (New York: Verso, 2018), 25
Reification, in Marxist theory, means to make the concrete abstract. For example, capitalism takes the concrete social relations that go into the production of a commodity and presents that commodity as separate from those relationships. The commodity appears almost as if by magic. In terms of culture, capitalism tends to turn signs of resistance, or signs that merely reflect working-class life, into mere aesthetics reifying the social content of those images.
Socialism counters, you are someone because and in spite of the rusted trailer: you are a worker, you will free the human race.
For a good left survey of early Internet art see Julian Stallabrass, Internet Art: The Online Clash of Culture and Commerce (London: Tate Publishing, 2003)
Mark Tribe, “New Media Art-Introduction,” Brown University Wiki: http://atc.berkeley.edu/201/readings/New%20Media%20Art%20-%20Introduction%20-%20Mark%20Tribe%20-%20Brown%20University%20Wiki.pdf
Toby Juliff and Travis Cox, “The Post-display Condition of Contemporary Computer Art,” emaj 8 (April 2015), 10: https://emajartjournal.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/cox-and-juliff_the-post-display-condition-of-contemporary-computer-art.pdf
Juliff and Cox, 9
Quoted in Juliff and Cox, 5
Karen Archer, Robin Peckham, Art Post-Internet, PDF catalog for the exhibition Art Post-Internet” (Beijing: Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, 2014) 14: http://post-inter.net/
Artie Vierkant, “The Image Object Post-Internet,” PDF (2010), 4 : http://jstchillin.org/artie/pdf/The_Image_Object_Post-Internet_us.pdf
In March 2015 Kenneth Goldsmith (the poet laureate of the New York Museum of Modern Art) read a “remixed” text of the Michael Brown autopsy report as a poem. The detachment from the seriousness of the subject matter – Brown’s death helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri – and Goldsmith’s focus on Brown’s genitalia, led to protests among left-wing poets and poets of color. Jillian Steinhauser, “Kenneth Goldsmith Remixes Michael Brown Autopsy Report as Poetry,” Hyperallergic (March 16, 2015): https://hyperallergic.com/190954/kenneth-goldsmith-remixes-michael-brown-autopsy-report-as-poetry/
I have focused on punk here because it was one of the two great popular culture responses to and against the neoliberal turn (the other being Hip Hop).
Tim Chivers, “The Internet Rules and Laws: The Top Ten from Godwin to Poe,” The Telegraph (October 23, 2009): https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/6408927/Internet-rules-and-laws-the-top-10-from-Godwin-to-Poe.html
The original discussion can be found here: https://www.christianforums.com/threads/big-contradictions-in-the-evolution-theory.1962980/page-3#post-17606580
For a good introduction to critical irrealism see: Michael Löwy, “The Current of Critical Irrealism: ‘A Moonlight Enchanted Night,’” in Matt Beaumont, editor, Adventures in Realism (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). Also see Red Wedge’s interview with Michael Löwy in Red Wedge 5, “Bad Dreams” (Summer 2018)
Maggie Fox, “Fewer Teens Having Sex and Doing Drugs but More Are Depressed,” NBC News (June 15, 2018): https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/fewer-teens-having-sex-doing-drugs-more-are-depressed-n883276
Posadism, named for J. Posadas, was an offshoot of the post-WW2 Trotskyist movement. Posadas came to emphasize, in what became a joke on the international left, ideas about communist alien life, nuclear war and socialist dolphins. Aesthetic Posadism, like the “Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism” memes have become a means to reassert the future from within the despair of the Anthropocene. See the “Intergalactic Workers’ League: Posadist” and “Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism” Facebook pages (there are several versions of the latter): https://www.facebook.com/IntergalacticWorkers/ and https://www.facebook.com/falgsc/
See the Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/fartsssss/
This information was posted on the group page by one of the members/administrators under the status “Winter is Coming.”
This is not to conflate socialism and capitalism but to evaluate two opposing camps in competition.
Christian Fuchs, Digital Demagogue: Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Trump and Twitter (London: Pluto Press, 2018), discussion of the Trump twitter study can be found in chapter six, “Trump and Twitter: Authoritarian-Capitalist Ideology on Social Media,” 197-256
Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, 1844, available on the Marxist Internet Archive: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/power.htm
The following are based, in part, on discussions with Alexander Billet and other comrades in the Red Wedge editorial collective, although I am solely responsible for any errors.
This refers to the Marxist playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht’s concepts of “Epic Theater”; that aimed to create estrangement and critical distance by alternating between employing traditional theatrical tropes and exposing them (breaking the fourth wall, placing the band on stage instead of the orchestra pit, etc.). Brecht wanted to seduce the viewer in the theater and then break that traditional seduction, to prime belief and disbelief toward a more critical consciousness.
Benjamin, “Theses on History,” “Thesis XII,” in Selected Writings, 394
As is, the gesamtkunstwerk goes everywhere, but the working-class viewer goes nowhere.
DSA Refoundation, “Base Building and Refoundation” (February 1, 2018): https://dsarefoundation.org/2018/02/01/base-building-and-refoundation/
This does not mean abandoning either the digital or white cube space. This is not possible. While both are shaped by capital and hostile to our emancipation they are also arenas of ideological contestation; although their specific characteristics are quite different.
This is a process made wrought and more complex by the current struggles against gentrification. See the fight in Boyle Heights/Los Angeles in which housing protesters have targeted art galleries for their role in the gentrification process.
Indeed, the urgency of politics vs. the actuality of organizing is partly an extension of the anxiety felt by the individual worker in lean production into the political realm.
Adam Turl is an artist and writer from southern Illinois (by way of upstate New York, Wisconsin, Chicago and St. Louis) living in Las Vegas, Nevada. His is the art and design editor at Red Wedge and an adjunct instructor at the University of Nevada - Las Vegas. He has an MFA from the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, and a BFA from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. Turl’s most recent exhibitions include Revolt of the Swivel Chairs at the Cube Gallery (Las Vegas, NV 2018), The Barista Who Disappeared at Arspace 304 (Carbondale, IL 2018) and The Barista Who Could See the Future at Gallery 210 as part of Exposure 19 (St. Louis, MO 2017). In 2016 he received a fellowship and residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, France. Turl’s Instagram is adamturl_art. His website, which he shares with writer Tish Markley, is evictedart.com.