September 24, 2014
Panel Event, Chicago, UIC
Walter Benn Michaels, UIC professor, English
John Bachtell, chairman, Communist Party USA
Judith K. Gardiner, UIC professor, Gender and Women's Studies, English
“After the failure of the 1960s New Left, the underlying despair with regard to the real efficacy of political will, of political agency, in a historical situation of heightened helplessness, became a self-constitution as outsider, as other, rather than an instrument of transformation. Focused on the bureaucratic stasis of the Fordist, late 20th Century world, the Left echoed the destruction of that world by the dynamics of capital: neoliberalism and globalization.
The idea of a fundamental transformation became bracketed and, instead, was replaced by the more ambiguous notion of ‘resistance.’ The notion of resistance, however, says little about the nature of that which is being resisted, or of the politics of the resistance involved.
‘Resistance’ is rarely based on a reflexive analysis of possibilities for fundamental change that are both generated and suppressed by the dynamic heteronomous order of capital. ‘Resistance’ is an undialectical category that does not grasp its own conditions of possibility; it fails to grasp the dynamic historical context of capital and its reconstitution of possibilities for both domination and emancipation, of which the ‘resisters’ do not recognize that that they are a part.”
— Moishe Postone, “History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism” (Public Culture¸ 18.1: 2006)
Resistance politics has waned since the Occupy movement, but it remains unclear to many on the left how an avowedly reform-oriented or even revolutionary politics might function other than as an elaborate act of resistance. What might render a strike more than a prolonging of workers’ accommodation to the prevailing trends? How might socialists build independent electoral parties that can become more than a protest vote? How are the spontaneous discontents (acts of ‘resistance’) that constantly emerge in our society channeled into a politics of the status quo, and what has it taken in the past-- what might it yet require-- for the Left to transcend such a politics?
Panel held on March 31st, 2012 at the Fourth Annual Platypus International Convention, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Hegel famously remarked that the task of philosophy was to "comprehend its own time in thought." In a sense, we can extend this as the raison d'etre for artistic production, albeit in a modified way: art's task is to "comprehend its own time in form." Yet only with the revolutionary rise of modernity can this dictum make sense. Beginning in the 18th Century, art sought to register and materialize the way in which social consciousness changed along side the developing material conditions of social life. Thus, in times of great social transformation, we also bear witness to major shifts in artistic production: The French Revolution and David, The Revolutions of 1848 and Courbet, and the Russian Revolution and Suprematism and Constructivism are three major examples.
This panel focuses on the relationship between social and aesthetic transformation. How do shifts in formal processes and approaches towards materiality speak to larger changes in the structures of social life? Is the focus on changes within art's form too confining of vision, and must art also concern itself with intervening into the political and social arena? Is art always reacting to, or tailing after social transformations, or can shifts in Culture prefigure such developments? -- In other words, can there be a cultural lag and a cultural leep? The panelists have been asked to address these questions among others in order to flesh out the uneven and at times obscure relationship that art has with a society that is constantly in flux.