Thursday, February 22, 2007

ideological victory is also ideological defeat

Picture by gusset. Some rights reserved

in a radical revolution, people not only have to 'realize thgeir old (emancipatory, etc.) dreams'; rather, they have to reinvent their very modes of dreaming. - Zizek

We might even say that religious fundamentalism (along the lines of Paul Weyrich, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell) is the victory of 'postmodernism' and/or cultural studies. These guys take social construction and the importance of packaging, marketing, representation absolutely seriously. They put it to work. To add one more example (and I'm thinking here of Thomas Frank's One Market Under God), we can also say that corporate capitalism is the triumph of a version of 'postmodernism'/cultural studies--think about wink marketing, bricolage, irony, etc.

All these examples suggest the implications of ideological victory--it is also ideological defeat. When one's enemy accepts one's terms, one's very point of critique and resistance is lost, subsumed. The dimension of antagonism vanishes. At this point, other antagonisms emerge, many that are small and non-fundamental, non-crucial. A new kind of confusion occurs as this multiplicity of small antagonisms, each seemingly central, make finding the key division difficult. - Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean has a remarkable post today: Zizek- the true victory. So what happens when your message is accepted as a universal? even by your traditional enemy? That's a hard question and arguably the centerpiece of where we are. The right accepts and practices the by-lines of the pomo-critique yet the left doesn't so readily see this as it still trods along the same lines it did 30 years ago. I think this is largely true in academia and frankly the visual arts. People are still thinking irony is a critique as if they have never watched an advert in their lives. (see Long Sunday's link to an article in the Economist about how POMO has "inspired" retail and shopping strategies)

So what are the repercussions when a hard fought position is accepted by the very people you sought to challenge, even defeat? In the political arena, as Jodi observes, people act as if
the right is still concerned with essentialism and origins. The veneer of rhetoric may be there - via O'Reilly - but the strategies, mechanics have long moved on. The center-left needs to understand this if human rights are to be upheld and direct democracy implemented.

For the artworld, this ideological victory/defeat dynamic seems very prescient. I believe (and I think Speaking of Ashes feels the same) that much art today seems to be battling some old notions of meta-narratives and "conservative" art. I've mentioned irony, but we could easily cite a litany of other tried and true methods of revolt - ugly painting, pornography, appropriation, "low" art, etc. etc. Even supposedly political art - as The Differance Engine so aptly nailed in this post - is often times stagnant and self indulgent. In an international market worth billions, these protests largely become niche styles that in fact resemble the establishment more than they confront the establishment and the practitioners are allowed to continue on with their illusions of dissent.

To be fair, I don't have a real answer to confront this or a 'program', but I am glad that Jodi has brought this topic to her blog because it is a critical observation that we can ill afford to not engage.


Ashes77 said...

thanks for the thought provoking piece. I've often thought that political work should just get done through existing political channels and leave the art to what it does well... but maybe that is not always the case.

highlowbetween said...

Exactly right. I like a lot of political art but I hate more than I like because it feels platformish and weak ultimately.
Who's mind are you changing by repeating what is essentially in the news to begin with? How is an installation really changing the minds that you want it to? It's an installation not legislation.

I'm committed to the politics of poetic ultimately. Francis Bacon, Philip Guston changed me on the inside not some rant on George Bush or sloganeering in some white cube.