Monday Night 08.02.04 — Brian Holmes Reading/Discussion — MASS MoCA Series

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Monday Night 08.02.04 — Brian Holmes Reading/Discussion — MASS MoCA Series
1. About this Monday (Brian Holmes text)
2. About this Tuesday (Reverand Billy)
3. Download the Reading (The Flexible Personality)
4. About Brian Holmes
5. Interview with Brian Holmes by Rene Gabri
6. About the MASS MoCA Series
1. About this Monday
What: A reading/discussion of Brian Holmes
Who: Anyone interested is invited
When: 7.00 pm,
Where: 16 Beaver Street 5th floor (NYC)
This Monday all who may be interested are invited to attend a discussion of “THE FLEXIBLE PERSONALITY : FOR A NEW CULTURAL CRITIQUE” written by Brian Holmes. Within the context of the discussions we have been having there could not have been a more opportune text written. In it, Brian attempts to take on directly the paradigmatic examples of cultural critique of the post-war era, paying close attention to the Frankfurt School as well other important proposals including British Cultural Studies (i.e., the Birmingham School).
One axis of the essay rests on a lesser known but seminal text initiated at the behest of Horkheimer and written by four authors including Adorno, entitled the “Authoritarian Personality”. In the essay, Adorno et al attempt to locate through statistics and other sociological methods the empirical identification of a fascistic character. This “Ideal Type” is identified as the “Authoritarian Personality.”
Brian asserts that much of Adorno’s rhetorical and aesthetic strategies (for example, what we read a few weeks ago in the “Commitment” text) are indeed based on his opposition to the “AP.” Thus, with the development of the “Flexible Personality,” Brian argues that the critiques proposed by key figures associated with the Frankfurt School (including Adorno) have more or less run their course. More importantly, he argues that the current structures of domination results in part from the failures of earlier critiques (including but not limited to the Frankfurt School) to evolve in the face of their own absorption by contemporary capitalism.
Of course, much more can be said about the essay, but what is included above is only meant to outline the links between this text and the ones we have been discussing/reading these last few weeks.
Here is a bit more in Brian’s own words:
The central idea of this piece – about the cooptation of formerly subversive ideas by the networked managerial class – is hardly new: after all, “The Californian Ideology,” by Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, was written in 1995. But the absorption of counter-cultural practices in a working neoliberal hegemony turns out to be not just a California product. Nor do I think we can blame it all on the popularity of Deleuze and Guattari. What I try to analyze here is the way a new culture-ideology was forged in response to the response to the last great cycle of dissent in the 60s-70s, how it came to center on the personal computer, and how it fits into an integrated economic system, that of “flexible accumulation.” The demonstration takes the form of a dialectical reevaluation and actualization of some of the central theses of the Frankfurt School
2. About this Tuesday with Reverend Billy
What: Creative Protest + Discussion with Reverend Billy
Who: Anyone interested is invited
When: 6.30 pm,
Where: WTC Path Train, Church Street (NYC), details below
This Tuesday we will be joining one of the Interventionist Artists, Reverand Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping in reciting the First Amendment in front of the WTC Path Station on Church Street at Ground Zero.
After the participatory demonstration/performance we will either head to 16beaver or find a public location to hold a discussion with Bill about his work, this particular intervention, the possibilities and limits of cultural critique, and his observations on the upcoming events being planned around the Republican National Convention.
Details About First Amendment Mob Below:
EVERY Tuesday!
Come and recite the single sentence that guarantees the right of free speech and peaceable assembly….
First Amendment of the US Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
When: Tuesday, 6:30 PM, for 30 minutes.
Where: WTC Path Station on Church Street at Ground Zero (Subway: “A” to Cortland, “N/R” to Rector, “4/6” walk over from City Hall)
What: Come down the steps into station, a large boxy room with a view of GZ.
And bring a cell phone!
How: First, memorize the 1st Amendment, or wear it on your sleeve, or have a friend prompt you over the phone. Enter the station repeating phrases of the Amendment. As you do this, you will be surrounded by others on cell phones doing the same thing.
Pretend you don’t know them.
Then, after ten minutes of repetition, say the whole thing forcefully. We all get better at the same rate and gather, reciting the great words in unison. We become a crowd with one common statement. Finally: We repeat the phrase big and clean.
The room is “live” and acts as a natural amplifier – this is exciting.
Getting put in pens at peace marches is ILLEGAL.
Ground Zero cannot be a SUPER MALL. Bring our rights under the Constitution back to the LIGHT.
3. Download the reading
We have two versions of the reading.
PDF version:
HTML version
4. About Brian Holmes
Brian Holmes is an art and cultural critic, activist and translator, living in Paris, interested primarily in the intersections of artistic and political practice. He holds a doctorate in Romance Languages and Literatures from the University of California at Berkeley. He was the English editor of publications for Documenta X, Kassel, Germany, 1997, was a member of the graphic arts group Ne pas plier from 1999 to 2001, and has recently worked with the French conceptual art group Bureau d’études. He is a frequent contributor to the international mailinglist Nettime, a member of the editorial committee of the art magazine “Springerin” and the political-economy journal “Multitudes”, a regular contributor to the magazine Parachute, and a founder of the new journal “Autonomie Artistique”.
5. Brian Holmes Interview
Opening Remarks: These questions and answers gathered over a period of a few days via email, we have not had a chance to edit the material, nor finish the interview, but thought it would be useful in relation to this evening’s discussion to send out as is. –RG
The Flexible Personality Interview
Rene Gabri (RG): The question I am asking myself at the moment is exactly related to the value of returning to a text like Adorno’s “Commitment”.
I think first and foremost is the question of return here, I suppose, it may well be a question similar to the one Derrida raises in “Specters of Marx” which is linked intrinsically to inheritance (as well as
pre-inheritance) and also to revolution.
In “Specters of Marx”, there are a number of important questions raised, which include the choices involved in inheriting a legacy such as Marxism.
Of inheritance, Derrida writes, “there is always more than one spirit.
Whenever one speaks of spirit, one immediately evokes spirits, specters, and whoever inherits chooses one spirit over another. Inheritance for Derrida is something active, it implies “decision, responsibility, response, and consequently, critical selection, choice.”
Clearly, in arguing for a new cultural critique, your “Flexible
Personality” text needs to address and redress the questions raised by some seminal figures including Adorno. What is your relation to this notion of return or inheritance in considering this particular text as well as others you have written?
Brian Holmes (BH): Well, it seems that Derrida’s very interiorized reflections on inheritance and choice are more important to you than to me, or maybe it’s just a matter of priorities. For me, politics and therefore commitment starts outside, with social movements, it starts in the street, as a collective creation. What is created is, in fact, the outside itself, an embodied critical gap with the prevailing norms. And often in these circumstances, the inheritance chooses you, it takes hold of you (Colectivo Situaciones, in Argentina, speaks of “la toma”). You find yourself thrust into a collective attempt to rework the tools of previous struggles, previous generations. And then you begin moving through this collective effort, according to your understandings and predilections, but also according to what works, to what builds
solidarity, opens up new possibilities, permits concrete victories and gains. For me, that meant relinking with a Marxist economic analysis of globalization first of all; then trying to integrate anarchist, autonomist and differentialist variations, which lead away from reliance on state bureaucracies and correspond more closely to the way people experience themselves and their social relations. But in our societies of cultural or semiotic capitalism, all that can become quite complex: because everything the social movements manage to create is very rapidly reworked according to many many other priorities, often by organizations with far superior capacities for information gathering, analysis, modelization and the production of effective simulacra (by which I mean signs and images which can channel people’s behavior). So in The Flexible Personality, I tried to look at the way that the collective creations of the 60s and 70s had been analyzed, and how that analytic process – carried on by governments, human resources departments, advertisers, educators – had gradually resulted in the creation of new normative models which responded to certain aspects of former critiques, and flattered people’s aspirations to a certain kind of freedom or disalienation. In other words, how did a more-or-less
calculated response to the 60s’ anti-disciplinary, anti-authoritarian revolts finally produce the control societies of the 1990s?
Now, you may feel impatient, think that we’re still on too trivial or inessential a level here, that we haven’t yet begun talking about Adorno. But some kind of Marxism is almost necessary when you are trying to challenge the basic structures of capitalist society. And the brilliant thing about that tradition is its historicity. Marx helps one understand that we do not exactly write the philosophy of our choosing, much less carry out the struggles of our personal choice, because all that is conditioned by the antagonisms of the time we live in. I tried to look at the Frankfurt School – a collective psycho-sociological and philosophical effort – in its relation to an historical period, running from the 30s to the late 60s. I think it was a very successful effort, shared of course by other, similar strains on the Left. Adorno specifically was involved in the construction of the “ideal-type” called the authoritarian personality, which revealed much about the relation between the social order and the individual psyche of the time; and I think that his refusal of the disciplinary order of party politics, and his insistence on fragmentation, on non-totality, were extremely powerful tools in the attempt to dissolve that particular psycho-social relation. But there are real limits; and the history within which we think affects philosophy all the way to its core. The Frankfurt School basically retained the Enlightenment figure of the autonomous individual as its negative ideal, its unattainable ethical touchstone. The position of reserve that Adorno in particular adopted is a dead end: it has been thoroughly integrated by the academy (cf. many texts by Jameson, for instance), just as the expressive attacks on conformity and standardization have been integrated by the advertising industry. In the end, the second integration – the new, highly individualized
advertising, or the new finance-driven cultural capitalism – seemed to me to present the much greater challenge, the much more relevant framework within/against which to think, and I just dropped a lot of debates which seemed and still seem to me very academic. I also came to formulate what I think is a strong critique of what had been a very promising collective effort to interpret and change the world from a Leftist position: the Birmingham School of cultural Studies, which I really think was swallowed up and even functionalized, made productive, by the new semiotic
capitalism. What I have retained from Adorno and the Frankfurt School is a fantastic ambition: that of characterizing a system of domination in its economic and social materiality, and in all its psychic, cultural and scientific prolongations or intrications. The gesture of characterizing such a system is itself negative, even scandalously or savagely negative. But the difference is the position from which such a characterization is made; about which more below.
to continue reading the rest of the interview please visit the following:
6. About the MASS MoCA Series
At the conclusion of May 2004, MASS MoCA opened its doors to “The
Interventionists: Art in the Social Sphere – a brief survey of
interventionist political art practices of the 90s”.
Since 1999, we have been organizing events, presentations, and activities
which have among other things generated/addressed questions related to
social/political engagement within cultural practice.
So rather than produce something outside our framework of ongoing
activities for this exhibition, we will instead tie together our
discussions/events which deal with the larger questions of art in the
social sphere.
We will not only attempt to invite artists who are involved with the
exhibition, but other projects, artists, practices which we find
interesting and believe make an important contribution to the subject at
hand. We also hope to organize some readings and open discussions that do
not center on one particular artist or group.
Other events in the series have included:
16 Beaver Group
16 Beaver Street, 5th fl.
New York, NY 10004
phone: 212.480.2093
for directions/subscriptions/info visit:
4,5 Bowling Green
N,R Whitehall
2,3 Wall Street
J,M Broad Street
1,9 South Ferry