Oct 3

“One of the things I’ve noticed is that the people who benefit the most from living in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy are always the ones who most adamantly insist it does not exist. The people who have always had the right to tell their own story are usually the first ones to protest when their story is reframed in the context of our white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. The idea that their story, their personal experience is somehow part of a larger narrative, a larger context, never sits well with people who have been told their whole lives that they are exceptional, whose individuality has never been contested. … One way to threaten someone’s power is to say, “You think you acted purely on your own free will and individual volition but there are forces larger than you, larger than any individual, that contributed to you being the way you are and doing the things you have done.” Or: “Your intentions are not all that matters and good intentions do not absolve you of your complicity in harming others.”

“Truth, for many of these authors, is a product of bodily experience. Of registering a fact that loosens something in the nervous system, only later made available for cerebral analysis. They find a middle path between Cynthia Ozick’s rejection of embodiment, and the essentialism of women’s thinking so ensnared by their corporeality. The mind has always formed thoughts in a sensual context, they argue, has always been an instrument of erotic instinct and perceptive impulse. These authors do not allow knowledge to be fenced in the scant fields of the discarnate. They are comfortable leaving contradictory evidence in a state of structural friction, rather than resolving divergence into simplification. They seek, to quote the psychologist William James, ‘the reinstatement of the vague to its proper place in our mental life’, even as their writing advances an overtly political agenda (indeed, this recognition of irreconcilable complexity is itself, a political act). In short, these are writers who use nonfiction to burn down the barriers between masculine and feminine discourse, inner and outer worlds, form and content. … Of all the arts, literature has the best capacity to examine the reality of how we dwell in ourselves, the world and our public discourse. ‘Woman’ is not an imaginative category. Yet categories of the imagination challenge the way women’s creativity is politicised. In nonfiction might be found a set of tools with which to begin loosening the screws, and shaking the building.”

“There’s an electric charge in toggling back and forth between the shimmer of what’s been artfully constructed and the glint of what actually was. The reader is impressed by the panoramic architecture even as she forgets its presence.
This ambiguous territory has a more established place in poetry, a genre never filed into separate “fiction” and “nonfiction” areas on the shelves. But for narrative we’ve long been obsessed with partitioning the actual from the imagined, and the memoir-novel offers, finally, some relief from that Sisyphean taxonomy project. Shields describes the pleasure of “blurring (to the point of invisibility) . . . any distinction between fiction and nonfiction: the lure and blur of the real.”
One explanation for the apparent shift “back” to fiction is that the memoir had never strayed that far from fiction in the first place — in form and, notoriously, sometimes in content, too. At the height of the memoir boom, the highest praise you could lavish on a work of autobiographical nonfiction was that it “read like a novel.” Life, after all, is mostly uneventful; even the crises that we experience now and then are often random, inexplicable. That inexplicability is precisely what makes us want our lives to have “meaning” in the same way works of art and literature have ‘meaning’ — meaning derived from structure, pattern, order.”

“What is it about this work I like so much? The confusion between field report and self-portrait; the confusion between fiction and nonfiction; the author-narrators’ use of themselves, as personae, as representatives of feeling-states; the antilinear, semi-grab-bag nature of their narratives; the absolute seriousness phrased as comedy; the violent torque of their beautifully idiosyncratic voices.
… Every artistic moment from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure out a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art. Braque’s goal: “To get as close as I could to reality.” Zola: “Every artist is more or less a realist according to his eyes.” Whitman: “The true poem is the daily paper.”
One of my favorite things anyone has ever said about something I’ve written was, “It’s all about you and yet somehow it’s not about you. How can that be?” Montaigne: “Every man has within himself the entire human condition.” Emerson: “He then learns that in going down into the secrets of his own mind he has descended into the secrets of all minds. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”

The question “What is contemporary art?” implicates the question “What is the contemporary?” How could the contemporary as such be shown?
Being contemporary can be understood as being immediately present, as being here-and-now. In this sense, art seems to be truly contemporary if it is able to capture and express the presence of the present in a way that is radically uncorrupted by past traditions or strategies aiming at success in the future. Meanwhile, however, we are familiar with the critique of presence, especially as formulated by Jacques Derrida, who has shown—convincingly enough—that the present is originally corrupted by past and future, that there is always absence at the heart of presence, and that history, including art history, cannot be interpreted, to use Derrida’s expression, as “a procession of presences.”
I would like to take a step back, and to ask: What is it about the present—the here-and-now—that so interests us?

Ernst Jünger famously said that modernity—the time of projects and plans, par excellence—taught us to travel with light luggage. In order to move further down the narrow path of the present, modernity shed all that seemed too heavy, too loaded with meaning, mimesis, traditional criteria of mastery, inherited ethical and aesthetic conventions, and so forth. Modern reductionism is a strategy for surviving the difficult journey through the present. Art, literature, music, and philosophy have survived the twentieth century because they threw out all unnecessary baggage. At the same time, these radical reductions also reveal a kind of hidden truth that transcends their immediate effectiveness. They show that one can give up a great deal—traditions, hopes, skills, and ideas—and still continue one’s project in this reduced form. This truth also made the modernist reductions transculturally efficient—crossing a cultural border is in many ways like crossing the limit of the present.
But when we begin to question our projects, to doubt or reformulate them, the present, the contemporary, becomes important, even central for us. This is because the contemporary is actually constituted by doubt, hesitation, uncertainty, indecision—by the need for prolonged reflection, for a delay. … Ours is a time in which we reconsider—not abandon, not reject, but analyze and reconsider—the modern projects. The most immediate reason for this reconsideration is, of course, the abandonment of the Communist project in Russia and Eastern Europe. Politically and culturally, the Communist project dominated the twentieth century. Thus, contemporary art can be seen as art that is involved in the reconsideration of the modern projects.
Classical modernity believed in the ability of the future to realize the promises of past and present—even after the death of God, even after the loss of faith in the immortality of the soul. The notion of a permanent art collection says it all: archive, library, and museum promised secular permanency, a material infinitude that substituted the religious promise of resurrection and eternal life. During the period of modernity, the “body of work” replaced the soul as the potentially immortal part of the Self. Foucault famously called such modern sites in which time was accumulated rather than simply being lost, heterotopias.
But today, this promise of an infinite future holding the results of our work has lost its plausibility. The past is also permanently rewritten—names and events appear, disappear, reappear, and disappear again. The present has ceased to be a point of transition from the past to the future, becoming instead a site of the permanent rewriting of both past and future—of constant proliferations of historical narratives beyond any individual grasp or control.
The ideology of modernity—in all of its forms—was directed against contemplation, against spectatorship, against the passivity of the masses paralyzed by the spectacle of modern life. However, at the turn of the twenty-first century, art entered a new era—one of mass artistic production, and not only mass art consumption. The practice of self-documentation has today become a mass practice and even a mass obsession. And that means that contemporary art has today become a mass-cultural practice. So the question arises: How can a contemporary artist survive this popular success of contemporary art? If contemporary society is, therefore, still a society of spectacle, then it seems to be a spectacle without spectators.

“After reading books like Aisthesis, we come to appreciate that every worthy aesthetic act is a redistribution of material life — of the way we see or touch or smell. In this way, art becomes an intervention into the police order, or the arrangement of possibilities that governs who can speak or who matters at all.
On the other end of the political spectrum, there is Boris Groys, a Mephistophelian trickster whose commentaries on contemporary art are as indispensable as they are profound. A Soviet who later moved to Germany, and still later the United States, Groys has two advantages over his peers: he was raised on dialectical thinking, and he has resided in the epicenters of ideology (again: the Soviet Union, Germany, and the United States). Add to this another advantage: it is sometimes said of Groys that his philosophy is delivered from the perspective of the dead. He is the philosopher as corpse.
In Groys’ argument, all contemporary art seeks to imitate the future, and, in the future (because it is the future), all things will expire.

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