Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
The other week I met someone who was going off on a show that I casually mentioned a couple posts ago, Jon Pestoni and Zak Prekop at Lisa Cooley gallery. This acquaintance couldn't get past the fact that next door Miguel Abreu had decided to hang Olivier Mosset as part of a sequential group exhibition, and kept insisting that Mosset was the "godfather" of Pestoni's and Prekop's "limp" (not my word...) practices. Now a statement such as that is the sort of bullshit that's so easy to spot when someone says it but so hard to let go of its clutching vices a week or so after first hearing it--well at least for me.
Given painting's once heterosex/macho historical traditions, being a godfather to "limp" painting seems a curious badge to wear; yet as such traditions recede into the discursive twilight (as it has been for some time now...), "limpness" in macho-painting is to be praised and admired (think of Krebber as an example). Yet within Mosset's hog-riding oeuvre it is a little harder to detect "limpness."
Mosset first exhibited, to my knowledge, in Daniel Buren's '66-67 version of the Dziga Vertov Group, BMPT. Mosset and his collaborators--Buren, Niele Toroni and Michel Parmentier--typified the mid-century exposure of painting to its zero degree and the subsequent opening of such nil-quantities to the political aggressiveness of Lettrist and Situationist tactics. Yet as BHD Buchloh wonders in his retrospective take on the group the group's politicization of this aesthetic void, Buren's especially, such artistic horizons do not come problem-free:
Had we arrived at the point where artistic practice has to mimic the mass-cultural forms of advertising if it is to remain at all visible in whatever residual (or mythical) public spaces are left to us? At what precise historical moment will artistic practice have declined to such an extent as to fully fuse with the very mechanisms of ideological suture that it supposedly critiques? That decline was at first hesitantly, and then enthusiastically, embraced by Buren in his transition from conceiving spatial structures as analytical and phenomenological situations for the viewer's self-determination to thinking instead of spatial experience as an art consumer's celebratory disco design.
Comparing Buren's post-BMPT development and subsequent influence on present-day artists with Mosset's becomes a shell game of choosing the lesser of two ills; where of course Mosset's "limp" cynicism is a more desirable option to Buren's "aggressive" cynicism in the same sense that, given his Mosset-derived "authentic" mystique, Steve Parrino is more desirable than Takashi Murakami--even though they both show at Gagosian.
Toroni, by contrast, remained obstinately, almost idiocally loyal to modernist pictorial mark making. And the self-reflexive positivist signal of a merely iterative facture acquired, in contrast to Buren's ever-expanding empire of decoration, a strangely resistant dimension. As though the very materialist trace of the serialized and regularized deposit of pigment, in its seeming inanity was more impervious to fetishization and spectacularization, and as if its anonymous intimacy granted its viewers a last gasp of what painting might have had to offer.
Toroni's resistant idiocy, or political "limpness" when compared to Buren's expansive politicality, does seem particularly relevant today, specifically for a necrophilic economy like contemporary painting--a necrophilia Mosset gleefully milks. Rather than mung dogging corpses like Mosset, Toroni libidinally engages paint like a fool who doesn't know what a boner is, preferring rather to endlessly map the site of art with his modernized fetish like the Marquis de Sade eunuch'd into iconoclasm. Considering Buchloh's testimony, Toroni--with his idiotic obstinacy, his "limp" yet limpid artistic horizons, atypical libidinal investiture--is much more of a godfather to a pair of painters like Pestoni and Prekop than the cynical bone-zone of Mosset and his designer, cigarette-choked children.
With Pestoni's paintings in particular the viewer is treated to work that looks as if it's incongruously caught half way between the authorless facture of Toroni and the inadvertent tomfoolery of someone like Ralph Humphrey or some "new image" painter, two seemingly oppositional tracks of post-minimal painting brought together in uneasy yet inventive tension within seemingly "limp" paintings. Like many other artists today, Pestoni is all too aware of painting's rote, neurotic "can't go on, must go on" economic zombiism and, in subsequent obstinacy, makes paintings like Howard Hawks (or John Carpenter) made genre films. Simply read Pestoni's abstractions along the lines of Manny Farber's discussion of Hawks' termite art:
Buglike immersion in a small area without point or aim, and, over all, concentration on nailing down one moment without glamorizing it, but forgetting this accomplishment as soon as it has been passed; the feeling that all is expendable, that it can be chopped up and flung down in a different arrangement without ruin.
These termite horizons seem to best approximate the share contemporary art has rationed to legit painting these days and Pestoni, like Hawks, makes the best of it. While it's easy to consign one's self to the mystique of contemporary painting's mortuary lust, Pestoni's harebrain'd exploration of the conceptual and emotional forms subjected to the economy of aesthetic desires is, however, a most noteworthy feat this side of Rio Bravo.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
Mike Smith & Mike Kelley @ Sculpture Center
Jeez, it took this long for the art world to get to Burning Man--even though I do recall Abreu-tard Jimmy Raskin insisting I play his Burning Man mix at a party once. A truly wonderful show though, filled with the usual MK uncanny, the most striking being Baby Ikki's seamless blending in with the burning man crowd-- a marked contrast from earlier Ikki performances. A plentiful helping of olde-fashioned '90s style sarcasm--see the 30ft tall scrap metal Burning Baby, the real-life babies in a Kelley'd-out mini-thunderdome--is always a good thing for NY's humor-deficient ways; this attitude might also be the best way of approaching the larger problem of an infantalized society and its "subcultural" phantasias like the overpriced and overpoliced BM or its virtual twin, Second Life. I only hope The Gathering is Baby Ikki's next stop. Sascha Cohen could really learn a thing or two...
Zak Prekop & Jon Pestoni @ Lisa Cooley
Like Hayley Thompkins @ Andrew Kreps, abstract painting is tossed through the harmless indie teeth machine. Unlike Thompkins' shitgaze anthems, Prekop readily approximates big bro's, Sam Prekop, pristine thrill jockey musical stylings in paintings that are already clinical renderings of late Krasner and Tworkov rasterized into piquant portrait sizes. Pestoni doesn't hedge his bets with Stadelschuele'd moves like Prekop, rather throws into the ring a potential history of quasi-abstraction rooted not in modernist anthropomorphism but rather in the conceptual aleatories of dadaism. Or so the press release says...
Alistair Frost, Ida Ekblad, David Hominal @ GBE
Killing time before the heavy donk, GBE rolls some multi-sided dice and creates 3 "young" artists out of various mixtures of Michael Werner's roster. 2 parts Polke + 1 part Penck = Alistair Frost; 1 part Baselitz + 1 part Vliet + 1 part that Kieslar show = Ida Ekblad; 1 part Kirkeby + 1 part Penck + 1 part Immendorf = David Hominal. In truth the equation only really works for Frost yet it was actually his work that stood out most among the predictably dumpy heaps that the other artists offer...even though the last thing NY needs to be seeing is a fucking painting of a dress shirt; the international art world's various methods of overidentifying with the oppressor is getting a little out of control (expect more writing on this tack in the future...).
Wood @ Maccarone
Speaking of overidentification, here's an example that inverts the mimed subject, favoring alienated over alienator... A whatever show except for Oscar Tuazon and Eli Hansen's sculptural/architectural Kaczynski-isms. While Tuazon has fostered a fashionable following given his work's FTW themes, I am still enamored with his collaborative practice and its openness to the psychogeographics of off-the-grid living and its lumpen aggregates. While a genuine nutjob like Julie Becker has effected a similar expanded sculptural practice more convincingly, Tuazon and Hanson give it a scout's try.
Friday, September 11, 2009
There is a chance that I was a bit unnecessary when I previewed Davis Rhodes' current show at Team. I admit that labeling him as an "underbite plagued douchebag" may have crossed some imaginary line that many call decency but I certainly meant every word when I wrote that he "aestheticizes crypto-racist/classist indignation (urban 'abstraction')." After getting some free time, I passed by Team today to get a whiff of his stink and boy it smelled somethin' strong. Like anyone else out there I'm totally down to throw preconceptions to the curb after knucklin' down with the real deal and, truthfully, I'd hoped this was the case.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
quick note: it still needs a grammatical once over or two. These changes will occur within the day after the post is uploaded. Sorry for any confusion.
Presentation from the editor :
Given that union bureaucrats have nothing worse to fear than the effective emancipation of workers, the worst enemy of intellectuals is truth, which puts them out of work. Nowadays, their function is to accompany with their blabber the creation of events - for example "09/11" or more recently "the crisis" - by means of which the Empire justifies the accelerated planetary deployment of its mechanisms. Of course, there are other ways of using one’s intelligence; the productions of which are instantly recognizable to our times’ sore disregard towards them. No one – and especially not its supporters – seems to have thought of giving credit to Tiqqun for having understood the physiognomy of our times, its lines of power and its weaknesses with an almost prophetic lucidity. Being right is a good start, but one must act consequently; and that is why Tiqqun – publishing so seldom that it was more than once taken for dead – has meant a lot more than just a magazine to the last ten years : a part of a resistance plan that has been growing in depth and intensity. That lives have affiliated themselves with what has here been deemed true is a strong enough blow dealt to the ambient cynicism to justify being called a “terrorist”.
Conscious fraction of the Parti Imaginaire, Tiqqun believes that truth doesn’t need to be signed with a name, practices anonymity like others practice terrorism, is comfortable with all forms of sabotage to come, does not criticize “society” to improve it, spreads doubt about the very existence of the latter, attempts at shedding light on the stratagems of an interior enemy, faceless, engaged in a permanent conspiracy against this fiction and anticipates a mass desertion of the social corpse.
E.H. (eric hazan): The last issue of Tiqqun, issue number II, came out in Autumn 2001, which means the articles it contains have preceded 09/11 and in a way, predicted and analyzed it. It’s true that two issues isn’t a lot for a magazine. On the other hand, the “German Franco-Annals” published by Karl Marx in 1843 in Paris only ran one issue, and the texts in that issue have been read all over the world and are still being widely distributed, translated and commented in all possible languages. In the end, the frequency of publication doesn’t seem to be such a determining factor. But Tiqqun is not just a publication. It’s something pretty well defined in what is written here at the bottom, in the space usually reserved for the editor. It says : “a zone of offensive opacity”. Which seems to me like a very good definition of what Tiqqun is.
A “zone”-–that is to say a space that is very well defined in its political and intellectual component and at the same time, blurry and imprecise when it comes to geography.
In that sense, Tiqqun, what happens around Tiqqun and what surrounds Tiqqun is not a group like one could say the surrealists were a group, or later the international situationist, who were people that would meet regularly, publish manifestos, sign them, that once in a while had purges, in any case one could tell those who were “part of it” from those who weren’t. Tiqqun is something that is much less formal; it’s a space for thinking and, how can I say, communal speech.
“Opacity” because nothing in Tiqqun is signed, all articles published in the two issues were more or less written collectively. But it’s impossible to say – even for friends – exactly who did what, who contributed. This will has nothing to do with protecting oneself from eventual police lawsuits; it is an ethical position, a refusal of the notion of authorship. The third word is “offensive”, and I don’t think we have to go into it, it is self-explanatory. I don’t know if I made enough clarifications, if there is someone from central intelligence in the room, I hope they understood.
I will let Giorgio speak, a friend who-–I must admit--has been tied to Tiqqun longer than I have, much intimately.
G.A. : Between 1975 and 1984, at a moment when political thought was going through a stagnant phase, the works of Michel Foucault came and got rid of the false concepts that were preventing it from moving forward.
In a class from January 5th 1983, Foucault offers a summary of his strategy in two parts:
Firstly, substitute a historical analysis of the techniques and procedures of governmentality for the history of dominations.
Secondly, replace the theory of the subject and the history of subjectivity with the historical analysis of subjectivation and practices of the self.
So, departing from a clear rejection of the empty universal formulas - law, sovereignty, general will, etc - that were monopolizing the theoretical attention given to politics going into a detailed analysis of governmental mechanisms and practices. Power not as a separate hypostasis but regarded as a set of relations. In the place of a transcendental subject, a punctual analysis of the processes of subjectivation.
I think that if we want to understand what the coming of Tiqqun meant to political thought 15 years after Foucault, this is the context from which we have to start.
If on the one hand, as we have just seen, Foucault fully suppressed the idea of an anthropological perspective; the space where methods of governance and subjectivation processes met potentially remained empty.
Or rather, there was nothing in that zone, the zone where techniques of governance and processes of subjectivation meet, there was nothing but figures which an extraordinary text from 1983, “The Life of Infamous Men”-–actually he calls them “infamous lives”, “shadows without faces” found in police archives and lettres de cachet , onto which power suddenly sheds its light, its obscure light. Something that is new with Tiqqun is that it serves both a radicalization and a blurring together of two strategies : the analysis of techniques of governance and the processes of subjectivation; who with Foucault never seemed to find a point of junction.
Thus, as demonstrated by Foucault, in a microphysics of power, power does and always has circulated in mechanisms of all kinds; legal, material, etc. For Tiqqun, power is nothing more than that. It doesn’t stand as a sovereign hypostatic entity in relation to civil society and life; it coincides internally with life and society.
Power cannot be understood as having a center anymore; it is a mere accumulation of mechanisms into which subjects, or in Foucault’s words “processes of subjectivation”, are entangled.
In this context, Tiqqun tries to cause the two plans, the two analyses kept separate in the work of Foucault – mechanisms and techniques of governance, subject - to fully coincide with one another. There is a text in one of the essays published in the book called “métaphysique critique”, and it says it very clearly : “a theory of the subject is only possible as a theory of mechanisms.”
Thus, the search for new political subjects that have the potential to paralyze, one that still paralyzes the tradition of the left, becomes unthinkable. Theory of the subject and theory of mechanisms are one.
This is the opaque zone of indifference between theory of the subject and theory of devices in which the texts gathered for Tiqqun I and II – already with “Bloom Theory” - are situated, and the two major texts republished in the book, “Introduction to the civil war” and “A critical metaphysics could emerge as a science of devices”.
It seems clear to me that from one’s position within this zone of indifference, none of the notions associated with classical politics – state, civil society, class, citizen, representation, etc - make sense anymore. On the other hand it’s only from this specific perspective that the notions developed by Tiqqun - Bloom, esthetic politics, the imaginary party, civil war (in the particular sense given to these words in the texts) – acquire a meaning of their own. And I think that one has to start from that situation in a zone of indifference to make sense of the writing, thinking and action practices at work within Tiqqun.
Regarding the writing – as Eric already mentioned – the aim is not to approach writing in a way that is anonymous, even less pseudonymous or teronymous. There, we see that efforts by the police to attribute a specific text to an author will be in vain. There could not be an author for this text because it stands in a zone where the very concept author is void. The concept of author, as Foucault demonstrated, has always had a double function in our culture. On the one hand it a figure of the subject; on the other it is a mechanism for attributing penal responsibility. The fact remains, however, that Julien Coupat and his friends are not and could never be the authors of any of the articles published in Tiqqun - or anywhere else for that matter - because their position, from the outset, is one in which subjects and mechanisms coincide to such an extent that the notion of author does not apply anymore. Also, I believe that it is only when engaged from the perspective opened up by Tiqqun - for example regarding the permanent civil war waged by the state - that otherwise indecipherable macroscopic facts acquire a meaning in the said “democracies” in which we live. A fact I would like to point out, which we all pretend to be ignoring; and one needs only to go to a library and conduct a short research; there are readily available documents that support the evidence of it; that the current laws in France and other so-called democratic European countries are three or four times as repressive as those in Italy under fascism. This is a fact we cannot discuss. From all points of view, length of detentions… It’s something we never talk about. Another fact: we always blamed totalitarian societies and states for instating special tribunals. For example, the judges working on the Tarnac Nine case. We never use the words “special tribunal”, but that’s what it is. We don’t know by whom and how the judges were named and therefore, it constitutes a special tribunal. And you probably are aware of the fact that by definition, a special tribunal is illegitimate, because it violates the principle of equality of all individuals before the law and the principle of interdiction of
So you see that regarding law and principles of law in our societies, it’s devoid of any legitimacy. And we have said enough. We tolerate special tribunals but we blame fascist Italy and nazi Germany for having instated them. And I think it’s in this sense that what Tiqqun calls the “civil war” has to be understood. And the same goes for understanding the extension of biometric screening measures conceived for recidivist criminals to the whole of the population. Did you know that all French citizens will soon have an ID card embedded with their biometrical data? These are things that were invented with criminals in mind. Each citizen is treated like a criminal or a potential terrorist; and it should be no surprise that those who refuse to comply with this be treated like terrorists.
Here I would like to conclude by recalling a story told to me by a great friend of mine, José Bergamin, who fought in the Spanish civil war in 36, and they had sent him, a poet and an intellectual, they had sent him with another poet, Rafael Alberti. The republican government had sent him to the United States to seek support from the government there, but they were stopped at the border by the police who had already began endless interrogations, accusing them of being communists. Ten hours of sustained interrogation, after which of course they still wouldn’t let them in, my friend told them :
“Listen, I am not, and never was a communist; but what you call a communist, that I surely am”. And I think we have to say : “We are not, and will never be terrorists; what you seem to designate by the word terrorist, that we are.”
E.H. : (…) The book will be on sale on April 23, I understand your impatience. (Laughs)
G.A. : I would like to say that it’s a great initiative that Eric published these articles, but personally I wish they would all get published, because it’s difficult to chose one or another… they should all be published.
E.H. : “Bloom Theory” is still available at La Fabrique and “Theory of the Young Woman” at Mille et Une Nuits. Also, there will be a tome coming out in the fall with three or four articles from Tiqqun I and II; we are still debating as to which ones will be includes but the book will come out. And, there will undoubtedly be a third issue of Tiqqun because Tiqqun seems to keep functioning in spite of everything.
Since nobody in the room seems to have a question, I will go ahead with mine. There is, particularly in Tiqqun II, in “Critical Metaphysics”, there is a Heideggerian – I was going to say stench but that’s a really negative word – connotation which I absolutely dislike, and it’s one of the main topics in my discussions with Julien when he is not in prison. Since you have known Heidegger personally, would it be possible for you to talk about how he and Tiqqun…
G.A. : I can’t see what you are referring to here. What struck me when I first came in contact with the four or five people that were doing Tiqqun back then… (from the back of the room, a man shouts : page … it’s the Heideggerian reference… the concept of shame…) (Agamben resumes) Precisely, what I found amazing with these people was the range of theoretical and philosophical references, there was a bit of everything. In the end, political thought in Europe has always confined itself to the same authors; it’s always Machiavelli, Hobbes, Marx, Lenin, there’s rarely ever anything else. There, arguably for the first time, there was a range of references that went from Heidegger to Aristotle; from kabala and the Jewish tradition to theological texts here and there… It struck me. For the first time we were leaving a certain way of reflecting upon politics that had become terribly redundant. So there is Heidegger too but that is a good thing.
(…) A question evoking Deleuze on Foucault. Not very clear.
G.A. : I’m not sure I understood the question properly. The point I tried to make is that with Foucault, were are already talking about a polarization of between a theory of mechanisms for governments of power and the subjectivation processes affecting subjects; and that indicates a correlation, which is to say that subjectivations always happen in relationship to mechanisms of power.
With Tiqqun, there is an extreme radicalization of this; there isn’t a relationship between mechanisms of power and the subjects anymore. What it refers to as a situation of civil war in which we are living is caused by the fact that power mechanisms and theories of the subject have almost completely merged, and they find themselves flattened out, and that is the premise onto which they build their analysis, so in fact, there isn’t a theory of the subject anymore. There is no need to look for a new subject because this flattening of power mechanisms and subjects is something completely different. That’s the reason why the opaque figure of the “Bloom” is at the same time everyone and anyone, it’s the ordinary man. It comes from Joyce, it’s the ordinary man, the whatever singularity. And so there is a re-thinking of the political subject, coinciding instead of colliding with the theory of mechanisms. There is no struggle between the mechanisms of power, the situation is such that we much re-think the whole.
E.H. : Could we say that this idea of civil war springs from what you just said?
G.A. : What Tiqqun refers to as “civil war” is the assessment of a situation, not a struggle to engage with. The realization that we are living in a planetary civil war is the first step to re-thinking political action.
E.H. : I thought that was exactly what I said before.
F.C. : On the book it still says that Tiqqun is the author.
E.H. : Like it was the case for “Bloom Theory”.
Unknown voice : Tiqqun is a meeting point. (same male voice as before)
E.H. : It seems to me that what you might be talking nonsense because it reproduces exactly what I said.
F.C. : Great then it looks like we all agree…
(the voice of a man) : (…) the resistance is bound to be defeated because it is always co-opted… (…) (Hazan interrupts him, you can ask the question to us?)
(voice resumes) : The question : page 118 : armed struggle, to be armed, the bear arms while at the same time loathing them. Dealing blows to the eternal enemy army without bearing arms, except for the eternal question : how to get rid of an army of occupation, how to get rid of an economy of occupation, how to get rid of a genocide of occupation, how to get rid of cemetery guards, how to get rid of gravediggers, how to get rid of those who invest in death if not by a shared resistance. Get the soldiers to mutiny and chop their officers’ heads off.
Make it so that the rifle points its butt towards the sky, that soldiers chop their officers’ heads off, you know, it’s the theory of the crosse en l’air7.
E.H. : Yes, la crosse en l’air, that’s really nice.
E.H. : Yes, it happened with the 17th line regiment in 1904 when it was deployed against the wine growers in the Languedoc. Monthéus wrote a beautiful song about it, maybe you know it.
I think one that looking back at Tiqqun, one of the things that strike me the most is that back in 2001 when we were talking about civil war, people would look at you with a mix of pity and sympathy in their eyes. What’s wrong with him? What is he talking about? And today it seems so obvious that people don’t even bother discussing it anymore, which brings me to say that Tiqqun has been somewhat of a prophetic voice, in that sense.
(voice of a man, unclear)
G.A. : I think that the Bloom theory is the assessment of a situation, like in the other texts, it’s not that we want to push something so far as to provoke a dialectical reversal, because it’s true that it is being done a lot and that one can always resort to it. But still I feel that the tone defining those texts is one of “assessment of a situation”. What is going to happen next is not clear. It’s not implicit whether or not, beginning with what Tiqqun calls the Bloom, this “non-subject” referred to as the Bloom, there will be a revolution. That’s always what makes the the texts a little difficult, because on the one hand they could be read as a merciless, completely negative analysis and on the other, since it’s the assessment of a political situation, one could discover a new set of potentialities. Any situation has its set of potentialities.
And it doesn’t mean that when the situation is very negative, there is such a thing as a negative theology if one still tries to look for a potentiality.
(voice of a man) : In Tiqqun, there is an attempt to define the abolition of class struggle put into… in a metaphysical way… (interrupted by Hazan)
E.H. : I don’t think this would be a problematic in the texts, not at all. I am not sure I understood them correctly, those texts. It begins with the end of big ideas, class, class struggle, and that’s were things start off for Tiqqun.
G.A. : One thing that struck me with Tiqqun was this completely radical posture that wasn’t concerned with the finding a subject. There was autonomy, negrism, the figure of the factory worker diffused throughout society… In Tiqqun, there is no such thing anymore, it’s not good or bad, the gesture is not about looking for a subject that would take on the role of savior or revolutionary subject; it’s beginning with this flattening, symptomatic of the society in which we live, and trying to search for unsuspected potentialities in it.
(woman’s voice) : question about the concept of spectacle… And G.D.
G.A. : We should ask the interested parties… Debord is of course very present. Sometime one gets the impression that he has a strong presence, even just on a stylistic level. But at the same time there’s always been a critique of situationism. That’s why I chose to allude to the works of Foucault rather than to the situation created by Debord and the situationists. Because even if Debord is mentioned a few times, I don’t really see a continuity, whereas Foucault is mentioned without anyone invoquing an influence, and it seems to be a better starting point to understand what’s happening. You can ask questions… to… (F.)
(man’s voice) : Is there a need to revise the Bloom theory today? So if Tiqqun III ever comes out, I know you are not the only author so the question is not just for you, I know you have your own conception of this Bloom theory which you already evoked in “The Coming Community” with the whatever singularity, this idea of… (inaudible). At the same time, Julien Coupat has to admit that the fact that he’s in prison does not make him such a whatever singularity. So I was wondering if given the fast deterioration of the situation since 2001, it wouldn’t make sense to bring some adjustments to this definition of the conditions of contemporary existence that Bloom represented. To conclude, coming back on this idea from Deleuze, who talked about the need to “shift”, and for whom if I remember correctly, one shouldn’t talk about “I, me” but about an event…
G.A. : By no means do I have the authority to speak in the name of Tiqqun. But I can say that, and Fulvia remembers, we were discussing the Bloom theory and whether or not we could try to improve it and make it more precise since there was something there that ressembled a theory of the subject. But the articles I have quoted from Tiqqun II are very clear on the matter. “A theory of the subject can only exist as a theory of mechanisms of power of governance.” So in the end, it is saying “no”. It seems to me that there is a refusal to elaborate something like a theory of the subject. I don’t know if it was meant as a criticism to what I was saying. But the sentence caught my attention, and that’s why I wanted to start by mentioning it, because it gets the idea that there would be a new theory of the subject to found out of the way. So this means that the Bloom theory was something else than a theory of the subject.
It remains valid, but as I said, one must understand as something else than a theory of the subject. The task to be done at the junction of theory of the subject and theory of mechanisms is not an easy one. It seems like there’s no space for a subject to fit in there. The article about “Critical Metaphysics” goes a bit further. It refers to a “crisis of presence”9 , an acknowledgement of the collapse of the subject. What is at work here, contrarily to what Foucault was describing as a process of subjectivation, is rather one of “desubjectivation”. How can one imagine a politics that is not founded on a subject? It’s not easy because political theories were always built on the premise that there was a subject bearing some sort of meaning, with certain needs and certain desires connected to them. And here we have something new – whether it is completely new, that I can’t say, but it seems very important to me to attempt to re-think political action without the anthropological reference to a subject. It implies an anthropological critique that was already present in the work of Foucault but that re-emerges here in a much more radical form.
E.H. : Do you think that what you just said could be partly responsible for a relative occultation that happened within Tiqqun? It has something to do with the date too, 2001, but it also probably has to do with what you just mentioned, this complete refusal of anthropology. Isn’t that the reason why Tiqqun didn’t see, didn’t perceive the strength that the anticolonial struggle represents in a country like France. Is the relative occultation not partly explained by the date, 2001, when things weren’t so clear as they are today and maybe also by this radical rejection of the subject. Isn’t everything somehow linked and isn’t the occultation somehow partly explained by this?
G.A. : The occultation you are talking about is a paradox directly linked to the position chosen by Tiqqun.
If we are addressing the Bloom, the “non-subject”, it’s a paradox, because what does it mean to be addressing a non-subject? Of course there won’t be an answer. The occultation happens because the gesture of founding a politics without a subject to refer to is something new.
(man’s voice) : Regarding what you say about a radicalization of the Foucauldian position, what surprises me is that if the main big concepts disappear not only from the labor movement but from the political thinking of this last century, it is quite surprising that amongst the new ones that emerge, the one that being insisted upon the most is that of the civil war. It’s a notion that was already present in positions from the past, namely military and revolutionary ones. So taking your idea as a starting point, I begin to wonder and that is the problem with this kind of writing, in which there are things I find extraordinary and at the same time, moments when it indulges in polysemy, even sometimes in conceptual puns which actually rely on ancient imagery a little bit much for my taste. Is the concept of civil war really the best suited to talk about an ongoing war where all that remains are states of exception, which brings us to your own work to say that yes, the democracy in which we live is nothing more than a generalized state of exception. But still I must say that I am less than glad to see such an old notion as that of the civil war being employed.
G.A. : I think it’s one of the rare instances with Tiqqun when a notion whose novelty, as you say, is linked to a whole tradition of thought. Why? Because the notion of civil war – and I think this is also being said in Tiqqun somewhere – is at the very basis of our political tradition.
Hobbes means : “Men are engaged in a permanent civil war”, “the war of everyone against everyone”, and it’s against this civil war that we will think our own politics .
For once, Tiqqun’s gesture references tradition, and will say here in fact, civil war is at the basis of the politics in which we live so we have to take that into account and not hide the fact that it’s at the core of our way of thinking them. That’s Hobbes, but at the same time, we always read him as being “good”. Now civil war is discarded, it helped lay the foundations for the system but it’s not there anymore. But if we read Hobbes carefully, we see that he always had the idea of civil war in mind, that it was always there, it is not true that it’s been repressed. Tiqqun’s gesture is not to invent a notion of thin air, but to take something that is already there, to look at something. What has been repressed and hidden at the time of its founding emerges in our politics again. In the situation of a planetary empire in which we live the current events, the occulted foundation re-emerges. It’s not a new concept but it works at showing something in the translation of western politics that has always been repressed: the fact that the civil war is at the foundation of western politics.
E.H. : Also, I’d like to add that I’m not sure that the notion of civil war used by Tiqqun refers to the same thing as the civil war in France Marx mentions in his works. It’s something less historical and a lot more deep-reaching, isn’t it? It’s not conjectural, it’s fundamental. Whereas the civil war we usually think about is an outburst.
G.A. : No, it’s a constitutional fact.
(a man’s voice) : Isn’t the notion of civil war echoing the one Roberto Esposito describes in his essay “Comunitas”10 ? (…) Isn’t Tiqqun a extension of Esposito’s philosophy when it tries to define the nature of what we can found a politics on without an anthropological subject? For me, it’s almost unthinkable. And while we’re at it, why even chose this idea of civil war, if it’s Hobbes, ok, but in the sense of Esposito’s definiton rather than that of the commonly accepted doxa.
G.A. : First of all, I don’t see any correlation between Tiqqun and Esposito… Also, here, I don’t think there is a theoretical pretention of having invented a new notion. For once, it’s about showing how a repressed foundational element of our politics emerges, and this is not what will constitute the community. It is not that civil war will be at the basis of a community. It’s an acknowledgement. Something appears. We are in the middle of this civil war that the state was supposed to purge and repress.
(a man’s voice) : (…) If there isn’t a subject to speak of and we are talking about Bloom, and if we can’t talk to Bloom anymore precisely because it is not a subject, who or what are we talking to?
And I think that this problem echoes the one Hazan was mentioning earlier, the recuperation of certain formulations from Heidegger, like the term WE for example. In fact, we will not be discussing the State or Capital, it’s something that takes place at a biopolitical level and that although it seem to resist classification, still has consequences. And all of a sudden, the question, as dumb as it may sound, would be “who is attacking us?” “who is doing something against us?” Isn’t Tiqqun in fact trying to reveal a new dimension in politics and in the end struggling with the impossibility of naming this new power? I get the impression that with Bloom and this difficulty of naming the power in its new decay, or its new evanescence, we encounter the problem of who makes what, who can resist against something if they can’t even name what it is.
G.A. : It seems to me that the difficulty your are evoking comes from the fact that you keep employing the notions you pretend to think are not valid anymore; state, individual, subject, state, etc. But this is already present in Foucault, it was the main idea, the fact that there isn’t one power, an evil subject that will repress others; there’s only power relationships diffused in each one of us. And if we radically espouse this idea, things get complicated because there isn’t a clearly defined enemy to be faced and there aren’t any subjects that can resist in a clearly defined way and what not, but still, at least we are addressing the real state of affairs for once. So I don’t see a problem, that being said, the difficulty appears when we once again try to rename subjects. But putting that aside completely, we are dealing with ontology and not anthropology. And that is the situation in which we are now, we are not searching anymore, we don’t absolutely want to name a particular subject or a particular power. That’s why the positions are in relation to the power mechanisms Foucault was talking about and which Tiqqun talks about today. And there might a debatable thesis in the texts about the civil war. There isn’t a call to a civil society that could be turned against the state. Quite the contrary, the state so to say is nothing but the civil society taken as the whole of the mechanism.
I don’t want to say it’s simple. However it forces us to think the possibility of a true political action without referring to the figures of evil subjects on the one hand and clear subjects on the other. It’s really about politics as ontology rather than anthropology.
(same man’s voice) : I’m not sure if we can stand behind this brand of ontology that, in the end, insists on the degree of precision and atomization of power until it emerges in each individual. The question is not so much to know whether or not the strategy is good as much as to know if it can bring results we can use in a pragmatic way.
G.A. : To give a clear example. A philosopher for whom I have a lot of respect, very interesting, Alan Badiou, made a book about Sarkozy, as you may know, and here we are still wondering what that name means, a subject… Tiqqun’s approach is completely different. And I’m not saying that to criticize Badiou. We don’t have to name, to research what the definition of that name is, it’s something else.
E.H. : It’s the thesis put forward by Badiou in his book, because he asks : “What thing does the word Sarkozy designate?”, which means that behind the gigantic entity, there is a mechanism, and it seems to me that it’s not so much a book about Sarkozy as it is a book about the mechanisms underlying Sarkozy.
G.A. : That brought him to Vichy, all this, a whole tradition…
(a woman’s voice) : I am not the only who thinks all of this is very abstract (applause and laughter). And you are asking “what does Sarkozy designate”, ok, I guess there is a whole system behind it, but the name is his own, it’s his name. I am not a philosopher, but I’ll tell you what I think. And the Bloom, the Bloom! (laughs) From what I understood, it’s the entangled mass of our fellow citizens, of people stupefied by television, the non-language, maybe that’s what you call “mechanisms”, then I agree, they are so scatterbrained that it’s hard to shake things up, but I don’t see what good your Tiqqun philosophy could ever bring. But maybe I just don’t understand.
E.H. : Tiqqun is extremely useful because it helps to avoid thinking dumb thoughts.
(a man’s voice) : Maybe you could try to apply the science of dismantling mechanisms right now! Maybe Bloom is in fact just a sort of attitude that makes us follow, listen, follow, listen and that just now it’s been broken. Thanks to the person who did that! Because talking about the philosophy of the civil war… Talking about the civil war, sure. Now think about the civil war philosophically, the mechanisms and how to recreate them, I think we are putting the civil war in the wrong place, the civil war is within us.
G.A. : What you just said is very abstract. That’s what abstraction is. What you just said is abstraction. It’s very abstract because what you just said was an opinion and you don’t think it’s an opinion.
(same man’s voice) : I am not saying it wasn’t an opinion, but there is such a big gap between theory and practice that…
E.H. : Tiqqun is not an insurrectional manual, if you want to grease your machine gun in the corner, there’s nothing to stop you. But one should take Tiqqun for what it isn’t. Tiqqun is not an insurrectional manual, it is not an insurrectional breviary, it’s a way of trying to understand what is going on to act intelligently rather than the other way around.
(a woman’s voice) : could we read an excerpt from it?
E.H. : You can buy the book on Tuesday. We can’t give an answer to something that isn’t even a question.
(a man’s voice) : Joseph Goebbels says : “nowadays in Germany, the only time a German is free is when he’s dreaming”. So obviously we can draw a parallel. So my question for you Giorgio is: where would you find the joy not to succumb to our sad passion?
G.A. : That is the central question in Ethics. You made an allusion to Spinoza, well, it’s each and everyone’s duty, it’s your duty not to succumb to a sad passion.
(same man’s voice) : But I was really addressing the question to you. (laughs)
G.A. : I think I manage to not succumb to them and also not to under-estimate them. And I think that Tiqqun is definitely not a place of sad passion.
(a woman’s voice) : I have no idea what you are talking about.
(a young man’s voice) : There is something pretty simple your are not really talking about. How does one act intelligently? How does one act within the situation we know by publishing books like that? To what extent is publishing an act? The question could be for both of you. How is talking about this book a way of acting?
E.H. : These texts are not manuals for action. Nowhere in the book will you find instructions as to what to do. Nowhere. Before doing anything at all, I think one has to understand the situation, understand who we are and whom we are facing. It’s a book that helps making sense of a situation whose evidence is misleading.
G.A.: I always find the easy division between theory and praxis to be a fallacy. It’s silly. Some theories are very pratical and some actions are completely theoretical. I don’t agree with the idea that there is a theory and that one just takes it and wonders what to do. I don’t recognize that division and you are not going to ask this question. Of course if you are stuck in the antithesis between theory and praxis, you are going to end up paralyzed, what is there to be done? False question.
(a woman’s voice) : Could we have some connections between the non-subject and the bare life?
G.A. : Bare life does not spawn from power; it is the extreme figure of power’s pressure on human beings and so of course that has something to do with a theory that tries to re-think desubjectivation. I don’t think that there are any references to that in Tiqqun.
(voice of a young woman) : You gave a superficial answer to the man’s question about action moments ago, saying that he wanted to posit an opposition between theory and praxis. I am not familiar with either Tiqqun or your thinking, but from the theoretical propositions I have heard from you today about ways to think the political by avoiding the category of the subject as much as possible, it’s something that we could debate but that I find objectively very problematic. And so I think it is possible to ask oneself what notion of political action, without having to end up opposing theory and traditional praxis, but what thinking of the political action are possible using the categories you propose.
G.A.: I did not propose any category. I tried to present, from my point of view, the reasoning behind Tiqqun, in which there is no opposition between theory and praxis. I always find it out of place to go and ask someone what to do, what is there to be done? On the other hand, the model of action is always present in Tiqqun’s thought. To think a political action that has no connection to a subject is something absolutely problematic, I give you that, but at the same time it’s something that’s very palpable, all time, and it’s in all the texts published in Tiqqun. Those are not theoretical texts that would then call for praxis. Everything is holistic thought. With Tiqqun, everything is thought together.
(voice of the same young woman) : that I understand. (…) But could you say something about the notion of action posited by the young man and to which you haven’t responded.
G.A.: If someone asks me what action, it shows they missed the point because they still want me to say : go out in the streets and do this? It has nothing to do with that, it’s completely…
(voice of a man) : How would you explain the misunderstanding by which you, having gathered so many people in one place, are constantly being asked this question...
G.A. : It’s a misunderstanding that happens very often.
(voice of the same man) : so what does it mean?
G.A. : It means that people still make a distinction between theory and praxis.
(voice of a man) : What’s this interest in making an assessment of the actual situation in a book? Maybe that would be the question.
E.H.: It seems to me that a good strategist begins with an assessment. Clausewitz begins with the following piece of advice: make an assessment, a ground assessment and an assessment of forces. The assessment is at the very basis of action. If you go straight into action without assessing anything, nothing good can come out of it. I really think that the very idea of books that explain what is happening but don’t tell you what to do is a fallacy.
(the voice of a woman) : Earlier you were talking about the mechanisms of power, and think that those never function as much as when they are unconscious or hidden; and by unveiling them, we can already deprive them of a lot of their efficiency. So I do think that the false contradictions between unveiling and action, all of this goes hand in hand.
(a man violently hits the table where Agamben and Hazan are sitting)
(voice of a woman) : Mister Hazan, you were talking about an assessment, you were saying there was a time for assessing. I am wondering if there is a difference between what you are saying and what Giogio Agamben is saying. You, Hazan, seem to situate action in another point in time, things arrange themselves in time. Now, I get the impression he is saying something different than what we are all saying, than we don’t really understand him. He keeps coming back even though we understood already – theory and praxis are not separate -, but nevertheless the question about action keeps coming back. I don’t think the question the question should be “what should we do?”, it is not a command and we don’t need help but it’s still the place of action in time. There’s something I don’t quite grasp, you, Hazan, you seem to be saying that first comes an assessment and only then we can act, you said that in a few different ways.
E.H. : Then I didn’t properly express myself. I don’t believe in an assessment-action time sequence. During the civil war, action and assessment are completely entangled. I don’t think there would be a peaceful moment of contemplation after which we would go out in the streets with machine guns. That’s not what I was trying to say. If I said that then it was surely a mistake.
(the same woman’s voice) : Then I probably misunderstood.
(voice of a very young man) : Indeed, your suicide is confusing. I am in the shadow, to your left. I’m not familiar with the Tiqqun experiment, and I don’t know if I’ll read the books you are proposing, it seems a little bit too obscure for me. And for now, the notion of non-author sounds problematic. I get the impression that people ask you about Tiqqun like they would ask a priest about the Bible. What I’m actually wondering, is that if we lose this notion of a subject, because in the end the action has entangled itself in our practices, during which we discover our sensibilities by constructing them at the same time, I was still thinking, to “act” as a group, and to develop sensibilities as a group, you have to address what you’re saying to someone in particular. And for example in the case of your experiment with the non-author, it’s hard to tell whom you are talking to and that makes it hard to act together, be it in the framework of your theory whose name I forget or that of your writing experiment with Tiqqun.
G.A.: (very angry) What a bizarre idea you have to be interested in someone… You say you don’t know the books and that you’re not interested in them, you don’t have the faintest idea of what we’re discussing? What are you interested in? In who I am? You’re interested in my body, what do you want from me? (he gets up and leaves)
Agamben leaves the room.
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