Saturday, September 21, 2013

dispatch from greece: murder of an antifascist

Pavlos Fyssas (aka Killah P)

Antifascist Killah P Stabbed to Death by Golden Dawn Member in Piraeus

by Contra Info

In the early hours of September 18, 2013, 34-years-old antifascist Pavlos Fyssas (aka Killah P) was stabbed to death by Nazis of the “Golden Dawn” party in Piraeus (port of Athens).
Raw reports on indymedia relate that the murder took place just after midnight on Wednesday in Amfiali, in the Keratsini district of Piraeus. It appears that Pavlos Fyssas and his small company of friends were persecuted and ambushed by a larger group of Nazis. This in the presence of cops from the DIAS motorcycle unit. Minutes later, the antifascist was stabbed twice by one of the Nazis who came out of a vehicle and attacked him. The assailant was arrested by cops at the scene. But the exact circumstances of the assassination are yet to be confirmed, and much of this news comes from mainstream media coverage.
Pavlos Fyssas succumbed to his injuries shortly after he was evacuated in the Nikaia hospital. His funeral was arranged for September 19 at the Schisto cemetery.
In recent months, there have been several attempted murders and assassinations of ‘people of color’ (migrants, etc.) across Greece. This time, a Greek-born white leftist was assassinated by fascist scum. It appears, though, that Pavlos Fyssas was not a member of any leftist organization, but rather a street fighter with strong antifascist action. Killah P(ast) was his stage name as hip-hopper/rapper.
Meanwhile, there were major ‘repercussions’ in official politics. The establishment parties already tried to manipulate this deadly incident for electoral gains, while the Golden Dawn parliamentary thugs as always refuted any involvement of their devoted followers in any murder, again for electoral gains. However, the 45-year-old stabber Giorgos Roupakias, resident of Nikaia, has confessed his deed to the police, as well as his close association with the Golden Dawn. His association with Golden Dawn MP Kostas Barbarousis is well documented. The murderer is in custody, and three other Nazis — including his wife — were also detained (for withholding evidence of Roupakias’ association to the Nazi party).
On September 18, antifascist protests were called in response to the assassination in more than twenty cities/towns across Greece. Also, in few cities (e.g. in Chania, on Crete) Golden Dawn offices were trashed, and police troops were attacked. Various different direct actions happened at numerous spontaneous protests throughout the day.
During a large evening demonstration near the murder scene in Keratsini, heavy clashes broke out against the police; dozens of protesters were detained amid street battles (many faced charges). Previously, the leader of the far-right party “Independent Greeks” alongside his patriot henchmen were effectively attacked by antifascists. At least one demonstrator suffered severe eye injury from a direct shot of police tear gas, and underwent surgery at a local hospital. Doctors from the Tzaneio hospital stated that 31 protesters who were treated after the antifascist march in Keratsini were all wounded on the head by DIAS and DELTA cops. In addition, anti-riot squadrons and plainclothes thugs attacked antifascists jointly during that demo in Piraeus.
Clashes occurred in Thessaloniki and Patras, too, where mass detentions were reported.
Thanks to the comrades at Contra Info. -GR

Thursday, August 29, 2013

review: AIRossini in berlin

AIRossini: Opera as Critical Entertainment

By Anna Papaeti & Áine Sheil

The death of opera has been pronounced and debated almost since the inception of the art form. Often criticized as a dated and costly medium, monopolizing the majority of state funding for the arts, it appears to be addressed to a small, upper middle-class, elitist and, in most cases, aging audience. This critique is one of the most serious ones faced by opera houses internationally. Despite their many (often imaginative) efforts to attract a wider public through education departments, outreach programmes and technological dissemination (for example, New York’s Metropolitan Opera’s High Definition cinema broadcasts or the Royal Opera House Covent Garden’s Big Screens in public spaces), opera audiences do not appear to be changing significantly in profile.[1] Except in cases where opera houses are heavily subsidized by taxpayers, operatic repertory is essentially focused on popular composers of the canon such as Puccini, Verdi, Mozart and Rossini; Wagner remains for the most part the reserve of larger, better-resourced companies. Although the rise of so-called director’s opera, inspired by Regietheater, has led to more complex and critical opera stagings in continental Europe and to a lesser degree in the UK, many companies shy away from overtly political productions, perhaps for fear of alienating patrons and harming box office returns. The Metropolitan Opera’s recent staging of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is telling. Employing an impressive array of new staging technologies, its director, the renowned Robert Lepage, disappointingly chose to convey Wagner’s story in a literal, one-dimensional fashion, minimizing the multi-layered political, social and historical aspects of the work. In effect, this production became part of the culinary culture with which Bertolt Brecht famously associated opera in his essay ‘The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre’, written in 1930. For Brecht, opera as an ‘apparatus’ of entertainment establishes an attitude in the spectator that is uncritical and ill-suited to reflection on social and political issues of the day. Its ‘culinary’ aspect leads to an enjoyable intoxication, mainly aimed at pleasure, entertainment and illusion – a criticism he mounted in particular against Wagner’s music drama and the fusion of the arts (Gesamtkunstwerk).[2]

A recent Greek-German collaboration between The Beggars’ Operas, Athens, and Neuköllner Oper, Berlin, brings back to the fore the question of opera’s relevance as a forum for critique, political intervention and debate. Although perhaps not strictly Brechtian, the two productions that have stemmed from this fruitful collaboration have put contemporary politics on stage, clearly taking on board Brecht’s critique of opera. Politics are not staged in the usual manner of a shallow reading of a work, highlighting obvious (often historical) political dimensions. On the contrary, urgent contemporary politics pervade the very core of the two productions undertaken so far, namely Yasou Aida! (2012) and AIRossini (2013). In both cases, Alexandros Efklidis (director), Kharálampos Goyós (composer) and Dimitris Dimopoulos (writer) have used certain core elements of old works, on which they have built a new contemporary story. Musically the works are adjusted for a small stage and a very small orchestra.  In the case of Yasou Aida!, the music of Verdi’s Aida was used along with the opera’s colonial discourse to form the basis of a contemporary story about the economic neocolonializing policies in Europe and the crude national stereotypes stemming from the Greek economic crisis in the era of austerity. It received both box-office and critical acclaim. Glowing media responses were not restricted to cultural columns and were not solely published and broadcast in Germany and Greece (where it was staged), but also appeared in the international media (e.g. BBC News).

Friday, July 5, 2013

snowden and the terror state

Trevor Paglen, They Watch the Moon, 2010.

Turnkey Tyranny, Surveillance and the Terror State

By Trevor Paglen

By exposing NSA programs like PRISM and Boundless Informant, Edward Snowden has revealed that we are not moving toward a surveillance state: we live in the heart of one. The 30-year-old whistleblower told The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald that the NSA’s data collection created the possibility of a “turnkey tyranny,” whereby a malevolent future government could create an authoritarian state with the flick of a switch. The truth is actually worse. Within the context of current economic, political and environmental trends, the existence of a surveillance state doesn’t just create a theoretical possibility of tyranny with the turn of a key—it virtually guarantees it.

For more than a decade, we’ve seen the rise of what we might call a “Terror State,” of which the NSA’s surveillance capabilities represent just one part. Its rise occurs at a historical moment when state agencies and programs designed to enable social mobility, provide economic security and enhance civic life have been targeted for significant cuts. The last three decades, in fact, have seen serious and consistent attacks on social security, food assistance programs, unemployment benefits and education and health programs. As the social safety net has shrunk, the prison system has grown. The United States now imprisons its own citizens at a higher rate than any other country in the world.

While civic parts of the state have been in retreat, institutions of the Terror State have grown dramatically. In the name of an amorphous and never-ending “war on terror,” the Department of Homeland Security was created, while institutions such as the CIA, FBI and NSA, and darker parts of the military like the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) have expanded considerably in size and political influence. The world has become a battlefield—a stage for extralegal renditions, indefinite detentions without trial, drone assassination programs and cyberwarfare. We have entered an era of secret laws, classified interpretations of laws and the retroactive “legalization” of classified programs that were clearly illegal when they began. Funding for the secret parts of the state comes from a “black budget” hidden from Congress—not to mention the people—that now tops $100 billion annually. Finally, to ensure that only government-approved “leaks” appear in the media, the Terror State has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, leakers and journalists. All of these state programs and capacities would have been considered aberrant only a short time ago. Now, they are the norm.

Monday, July 1, 2013

on the new phase in greece

Brutal Nihilism

by Yannis Stavrakakis

The recent decision to shut down ERT, the Greek public radio and television, has shocked the international community due to its brutal symbolism. However, although it constitutes a serious escalation of the ‘shock and awe’ strategy unfolding in Greece during the last three years, it should not cause surprise. The thoroughly unexpected and violent blackening of the screens has only highlighted the nihilism characteristic of the dominant policies already implemented under the auspices of European and international institutions.

While in the first stages of the crisis the imposition of the austerity avalanche involved and relied on its meaningful packaging, its embellishment with an ideological meaning able to secure a minimum of hegemonic consent – even one based on fear, blame, moralism and demonization – during the last period a variety of indications signal the passage into a new phase. Decision-making has gradually stopped claiming any concretely meaningful foundation, it lost any interest in winning consent – even through fear and extortion. What remains is, thus, its brutal imposition. It is not an illness, anymore, that justifies the (bitter) medication; it is not guilt that justifies the (harsh) punishment. Medication and punishment are autonomised and affect severely and equally the ill and the healthy, those who are guilty and those who are not-guilty, very often without the articulation of any persuasive justification. As a result, politics and policy is detached from any reasonable content and domination is reduced to repression. Distanced from any real argumentative support, the measures implemented openly reveal their functioning in favor of establishing a nihilistic system of domination through cruelty, which reduces citizens to ‘serfs’. This seems to be their only meaning and purpose.

Monday, June 17, 2013

chomsky on biosphere and enforcement

Humanity Imperiled: The path to disaster.

by Noam Chomsky

What is the future likely to bring? A reasonable stance might be to try to look at the human species from the outside. So imagine that you’re an extraterrestrial observer who is trying to figure out what’s happening here or, for that matter, imagine you’re an historian 100 years from now—assuming there are any historians 100 years from now, which is not obvious — and you’re looking back at what’s happening today. You’d see something quite remarkable.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

marcuse on ecology and revolution

Ecology and Revolution

By Herbert Marcuse

(from Liberation 16 (September 1972):10-12)

Coming from the United States, I am a little uneasy discussing the ecological movement, which has already by and large been co-opted [there]. Among militant groups in the United States, and particularly among young people, the primary commitment is to fight, with all the means (severely limited means) at their disposal, against the war crimes being committed against the Vietnamese people. The student movement – which had been proclaimed to be dead or dying, cynical and apathetic – is being reborn all over the country. This is not an organized opposition at all, but rather a spontaneous movement which organizes itself as best it can, provisionally, on the local level. But the revolt against the war in Indochina is the only oppositional movement the establishment is unable to co-opt because neocolonial war is an integral part of that global counterrevolution which is the most advanced form of monopoly capitalism.

So, why be concerned about ecology? Because the violation of the earth is a vital aspect of the counterrevolution. The genocidal war against people is also “ecocide” insofar as it attacks the sources and resources of life itself. It is no longer enough to do away with people living now; life must also be denied to those who aren’t even born yet by burning and poisoning the earth, defoliating the forests, blowing up the dikes. This bloody insanity will not alter the ultimate course of the war, but it is a very clear expression of where contemporary capitalism is at: the cruel waste of productive resources in the imperialist homeland goes hand in hand with the cruel waste of destructive forces and consumption of commodities of death manufactured by the war industry.

In a very specific sense, the genocide and ecocide in Indochina are the capitalist response to the attempt at revolutionary ecological liberation: the bombs are meant to prevent the people of North Vietnam from undertaking the economic and social rehabilitation of the land. But in a broader sense, monopoly capitalism is waging a war against nature – human nature as well as external nature. For the demands of ever more intense exploitation come into conflict with nature itself, since nature is the source and locus of the life-instincts which struggle against the instincts of aggression and destruction. And the demands of exploitation progressively reduce and exhaust resources: the more capitalist productivity increases, the more destructive it becomes. This is one sign of the internal contradictions of capitalism.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

science, galileo and us

Notes on the First Two Paragraphs of Dialectic of Enlightenment

by Gene Ray

The two paragraphs that open Dialectic of Enlightenment (hereafter DoE) set out some key elements of the Frankfurt critique of modernist science. The text, based on transcribed discussions between Horkheimer and Adorno (H&A), was worked up in Los Angeles between 1941 and 1944. Toward the end of that period, Brecht, also in exile in LA, began the collaboration with Charles Laughton that would result in 1947 in the staging of a revised, post-Hiroshima Life of Galileo. In both DoE and Galileo, the problem of science and its broken promise is forcefully, if differently, inscribed. Now as then, the problem is an urgent one.

The following notes belong to a work-in-progress: Galileo in the Force Field reflects on the legacies of modernist science, still-unfolding in world facing biospheric meltdown. More notes and fragments will follow, on the way to book-form. Here, I re-read the remarkable opening of DoE; rereading it, I end up retranslating the first two paragraphs. These are offered, for better or worse, followed by a short commentary and some remarks on the standard translations. In this context (scurvy tunes), the gist of H&A’s paragraphs and their importance for a critical reorientation of science will, I trust, resonate helpfully.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

gunboats redux

The Control Society and Gunboat Diplomacy

by Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen

Twenty-two years ago Gilles Deleuze published the short, five-page text “Postscript on control societies” in the French journal L’autre journal edited by Michel Butel. The text is an analysis of the arrival of what Deleuze calls the society of control, which he claims is replacing the disciplinary society. “We are moving toward control societies that no longer operate by confining people but through continuous control and instant communication”.[1] Deleuze’s text describes how the institutions of the modern disciplinary society wither and are replaced with a new kind of control that is no longer rooted in these institutions but is spread throughout the social body. As Deleuze phrases it, the striated space of the disciplinary society is replaced by the smooth space of the society of control. Control is now everywhere and is no longer only exercised in the delimited space of disciplinary power.

As Deleuze writes, his short sketch builds on insight from his friend Michel Foucault who analysed how in the 18th and 19th centuries there occurred a transformation of the former ‘sovereign’ society, where power was located at the top and was exercised over a territory. This hierarchical structure was replaced by another structure, the disciplinary society, where social mastery was located in institutions fabricating specific productive subjects and behaviours. In this society individuals moved from one closed room to another undergoing a production and regulation of habits and conduct: the factory, the family, the hospital, the school and the prison. The disciplinary society was thus a series of closed spaces producing relatively stable and demarcated forms. Each of these spaces or institutions had its specific logic of subjectification, structured according to a distinction between normal and deviant.

The point of departure for Deleuze’s small note is of course that the institutions of the disciplinary society are in a state of crisis. The closed spaces have become porous and the production of subjects has acquired a new form; it has become fluid, Deleuze writes. Now normalization is no longer restricted to the closed space of the institutions but takes place everywhere directly within the subjects that are no longer able to escape the disciplinary apparatus but are always working, studying, recovering, etc.

Friday, May 3, 2013

jenny brown in berlin

Governmentality and the illusions of emancipation in Jenny Brown's Many Happy Returns

by Sacha Kagan

We all live in a little Village… Your village may be different from other people’s villages but we are all prisoners. (Patrick Mc Goohan)

Since March 17th 2013 (and until the end of April), the gallery Semmer Berlin hosted Jenny Brown’s Many Happy Returns, a show revolving around the cult television series The Prisoner from the late 1960s. The prisoner in that TV series is a British former secret agent (played by Patrick Mc Goohan), held in an isolated mysterious coastal village resort where his captors try to find out why he abruptly resigned from his job. The village is a surrealistically set-up environment, a jail without walls but replete with CCTVs and anti-evasion technologies. The village is also a factitious community where personal names are replaced by numbers (the prisoner is referred to only as “number 6”) and where social interactions are performed and manipulated in a variety of ways.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

banksy on the meltdown

As the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit ended in fiasco, Banksy commented wryly by détourning a wall in North London.

Monday, January 28, 2013

arts of sustainability

Jenny Brown, Learning the Ropes, 2007
Forms of Responsibility - Recent Projects by Jenny Brown

by Gary Sangster

In early 2005, an elegant gesture of product repatriation was conceived and produced by Jenny Brown as a way of both describing certain elements of a working global economy and tracing the efficiency of a path of distribution. It was a modest act of economic anthropology that engaged research, performance, and documentation, as well as articulating an imagined or real cultural narrative of a concept of homeland and the actual journey of anonymous artifacts to their site of origin. The somewhat poignant, yet deeply ironic, pursuit of a homecoming, for near valueless materials or objects, small stones, garden decor-purchased inexpensively from a down-market, transnational department store in Sydney-heightens the sense of disconnection and inauthenticity produced through a global economic marketplace. The project, Placing stones as they are found, suggests a sense of loss, or alienation, as objects of value, objects of use, objects of function, and objects of desire, large or small, voluble or mute, are interminably transferable, anonymously interchangeable, dislocated and redefined throughout the trade routes of mass-market capital. The work is an action of little consequence, a specific kind of elusive gesture of futility towards irreversible systems and processes, which makes sense only as a poetic or aesthetic form of art.

Monday, December 24, 2012

dispatch from spain

[Last autumn, a new and awful form of protest came to Spain. A string of homeowners on the verge of eviction by court orders and the riot police (antidisturbios) committed suicide by leaping from the windows of their mortgaged houses. The growing anti-eviction movement has altered the dynamic of social protest in Spain, broadening and deepening the opposition to austerity already manifested in the 15M and 25S movements. In the general strike of 14 November, called for by the largest unions, ‘everyone except the Partido Popular and Basque nationalist unions’ poured into the streets. Darío Corbeira, editor of Brumaria, sends the following reflection on the context of the unfolding social struggle. Many thanks to him for taking the time, and to Maria Adelaida Samper for the fine translation. –GR]

Hermeneutic Antidisturbios: 25S, the Anti-Eviction Movement and the 14 November General Strike in Context

By Darío Corbeira

On 25 September, several thousand citizens responded to an anonymous call to surround Madrid’s Congress of Deputies: ‘Surround the Congress, remain there indefinitely. Desert and break with the current regime, demand the dissolution of the entire government, courts and heads of state, and abolition of the existing Constitution. Begin constituting a new system of political, economic and social organization.’ The gathering citizens aimed to convey to the parliamentarians their deep opposition to the austerity program of Mariano Rajoy Brey’s governing Partido Popular (PP) and to the interventions of the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and European Union. Framing it was a radical critique of the parliamentarism that came out of the so so-called Transition to democracy. As made clear in their manifestos, proclamations and chants, the protesters saw that form of democracy as utterly bankrupt. What began that day has become known as the 25S movement, distinct from but clearly related to its predecessor 15M and the other movements that have emerged from the neighbourhoods, universities, hospitals, cultural centers, and manufacturing areas. All were questioning the perverse effects of neoliberal policies designed by financial capitalism and applied to the letter by the governing authorities. Those effects have shaken the fragile ‘welfare state’ slowly built up since Franco’s death and have undermined all it has achieved by way of diminishing the gaping social and economic disparities that persist in Spain despite the governments of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party/PSOE).

Thursday, December 13, 2012

re third text

There is no more point in mincing words: the journal Third Text has been hijacked by its own Board of Trustees. The fiats of this administrative regime have, over the last two years, shut out founder Rasheed Araeen and turned over editorial control to a usurper whose abilities inspire little confidence and whose politics are dubious. This, in the name of bureaucratic values: "professionalization" and neo-liberal "governance." In the background, publisher Taylor & Francis and funding agency Arts Council England may have welcomed such changes, but for all those who know the history of this journal and value its committed critical vision, this takeover is unacceptable. 

Rasheed Araeen at Asia Art Archive, 2009

In the 1970s, artist Rasheed Araeen emerged as a leader in the struggle against institutionalized racism in the London art world. Positions first expressed in his 1975/6 "Preliminary Notes for a BLACK MANIFESTO," were developed in the late 1970s into the anti-imperialist Black Phoenix, and eventually, in 1987, into Third Text. Through the 1990s and into the new century, this journal nurtured many new voices, including my own, and was truly a forum for global critical perspectives on contemporary art and culture. Its feisty spirit was fed by its origins in struggle, and practical amnesia from above will not make this history disappear.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

review: lilley et al on catastrophism

Review: Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen and James Davis, Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth (PM Press, 2012)

     This is the end. My only friend: the end. - JM

Capitalist governance is hardly thinkable today outside the shifting contours of the politics of fear. Terror pulses and surges within the global social process, and anxiety shapes the very forms of contemporary subjectivity. The logic of accumulation dominates through a flexible mix of enjoyment and enforcement. Under the pressures and miseries of social and ecological crises, fantasies of doom animate both the dream machines of the culture industry and the political imaginaries of divergent social movements. To experience collective self-destruction as a supreme aesthetic pleasure, Benjamin noted back at the opening of the new era of terror, is bad politics.

Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth offers a superb and needed critical overview of current tendencies toward an aestheticizing politics of doom. Evolving out of discussions catalyzed by Iain Boal and the Retort collective, these essays by Lilley, McNally, Yuen and Davis survey and analyze the traps and delusions involved when catastrophe scenarios are deployed as a mobilizing political figure. Clearly, we need to understand these pitfalls, for as Yuen observes, our moment ‘is saturated with instrumental, spurious, and sometimes maniacal versions of catastrophism – including right-wing racial paranoia, religious millenarianism, liberal panics over fascism, leftist fetishization of capitalist collapse, capitalist invocation of the “shock doctrine,” and pop culture cliché’(pp. 15-16).

Friday, November 2, 2012

science in the force field

Climate scientists have not yet reached consensus about whether global warming will tend to increase or decrease the total number of hurricane-strength storms. But there is strong agreement that warming creates the conditions for larger and more powerful hurricanes: warmer sea surface temperatures, higher sea levels and more moisture in the atmosphere. These general tendencies interact with other local and regional factors to produce the local weather.

Climatologist Kevin Trenberth parses the specific conjuncture that intensified Hurricane Sandy: ‘The sea surface temperatures along the Atlantic coast have been running at over 3C above normal for a region extending 800km off shore all the way from Florida to Canada. Global warming contributes 0.6C to this. With every degree Celsius [of warming], the water holding of the atmosphere goes up 7%, and the moisture provides fuel for the tropical storm, increases its intensity, and magnifies the rainfall by double that amount compared with normal conditions.’

In the week or so before Hurricane Sandy pummeled the northeast US, the warming denial industry was hard at work. The right-wing, Koch-funded Cato Institute (publishers of In Defense of Global Capitalism, among other dismal screeds) attempted to sabotage a US government assessment of climate change impacts by issuing what poses as an ‘addendum’ to the original. The 2009 report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, was prepared by the US Global Change Research Center and presented to Congress as a summary of the ‘best science’ on the subject. The authoring federal entity is itself a conglomeration of thirteen departments and agencies, including the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Smithsonian Institution,  but also others, like the Environmental Protection Agency, that are routinely contained by hostile political appointments, as well as a battery of agencies straightforwardly in the business of promoting or defending the status quo of accumulation (Departments of Commerce, Interior, Energy, Defense and State, and the Agency for International Development). One can only imagine the pressures and internal struggles that shaped the publication of this report.

Monday, October 29, 2012

administering biodiversity

‘Extinction rates are rising by a factor of up to 1,000 above natural rates. Every hour, three species disappear. Every day, up to 150 species are lost. Every year, between 18,000 and 55,000 species become extinct. The cause: human activities.’
- Ahmed Djoghlaf, head of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

The problem, again: The interconnected ecosystems that make up the biosphere are all dependent on the capture, conversion and distribution of the sun’s energy through the planetary cycling of carbon. The biosphere has proved to be fairly resilient. Within the constraining parameters of life on earth, however, changes in climate can have enormous consequences. Interventions, human or non-human, that impact ecosystems and the carbon cycle can result in irreversible losses of biodiversity and trigger abrupt and uncontrollable climate changes. The contemporary form of human society – the global social process we know as capitalist modernity – has initiated both a new mass extinction event and global warming. As a result, tens of thousands of life forms will be ‘disappeared’ and millions of people will lose, directly or indirectly, their lives, health or homes through famine, drought, illness and war. These processes are already unfolding. The urgent question is: how far will they go?

Put differently, the problem is the dominant social process and the difficulty in changing it. The social process, organized to maximize capital accumulation and channeled through a rivalrous interstate system, compels all individuals to compete for places in a national economy and compels all states to promote and defend one national economy against all others. Growth, measured in Gross Domestic Product, is a given. By this logic, capital and biosphere are caught in a relation of antagonism, setting up endless and dreary struggles between the claims of jobs and environment, profits and endangered species, consumption and biodiversity. Through this optic, climate change and mass extinction are simply matters of national security and risk assessment. It is taken for granted that science and technology will enable human adaptation to ecological degradation and the weather. The national security-surveillance state is oriented toward enforcing the current social logic, not changing it. The state’s concern is: who can dominate in the new climate scenario? Or in other words: what must be changed, in order to keep in place the current regime of accumulation and logic of domination? Seen from below, however, the problem is how to change that very logic.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

greening documenta?

Kristina Buch, The Lover, 2012
Radical Camouflage at Documenta 13

by Julian Stallabrass


Documenta, held every five years in the central German city of Kassel, is the art world’s equivalent of the Olympics. While its scale may be rivalled by Venice, its five-yearly timetable and large budget allow curators time to develop an elaborate vision, and it has often been used to test the temperature of contemporary art production. Some previous editions have been very influential in changing the direction of the art world—for instance, Catherine David’s Documenta X and Okwui Owenzor’s Documenta XII did much to push it towards documentary and a greater engagement with politics.

The unusual situation and history of Documenta has haunted many of its editions, including the one currently on show. Kassel is a smallish industrial city set in hilly and forested countryside. In the Second World War, it produced planes and tanks, and it is still a production centre for Germany’s main battle tank, a fact that has not escaped Kassel’s Occupy protestors. The city was repeatedly bombed by the RAF, and extensively destroyed, with thousands killed and many more made homeless. As with so many German cities, its modern centre is the product of that destruction, and its few older buildings were those considered worth restoring from ruin. Documenta, founded in 1955, was from the beginning seen as a restoration of Nazi cultural wrecking, and its first edition showed works of classical modernism which had, of course, been condemned by the Nazis as ‘degenerate’. They were shown in what remains the main venue of Documenta, the Fridericianum, which then still bore some of the marks of war damage.

The current Documenta—or dOCUMENTA (13) if you follow the rubric of its branding—is a vastly ambitious attempt to influence the course of art and culture as a whole. Its curator, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, using a frame of reference that takes in phenomenology, quantum theory, feminist thinking and psychoanalysis, wants to push the centre of human cultural concerns away from simple subject-object oppositions towards a perspective that would take in the viewpoints of all entities, living and inorganic. If matter has an intricate connection with information, at least at the quantum level, then all entities may be said to communicate and even to have will. In recounting a failed attempt to have the world’s heaviest meteorite shipped across the world for display at Documenta, Christov-Bakargiev is led to ask, not just what she wanted or what the rock’s custodians (the indigenous Moqoit people in Argentina) wanted, but what it wanted:

'It had traveled through vertiginous space before landing on Earth and settling. Would it have wished to go on this further journey? Does it have any rights, and if so, how can they be exercised? Can it ask to be buried again, as some of the Moqoit argue, or would it have enjoyed a short trip to an art exhibition, rather than a science or world’s fair?'

This thinking is used to prop up a series of gestures towards radical positions: environmental, activist, participatory, anti-war, and in the defence of various minorities. In all this, it is paramount that there must be no ‘closure’, no settling and no agreement: rather a dissonant dance of beings and objects in which all perspectives are acknowledged in an ‘anti-logocentric’ frame.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

reflexive domination and plastic soup

Photo: Mandy Barker
Truth is timeful; history is its core and index. So taught the first generation of Frankfurt Institute thinkers - Benjamin, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse. In keeping with this temporal truth notion, critical theorists today continuously rethink and revise their concepts in light of a dynamically unfolding social process. The master logic of that process may persist as a static essence of domination, but its specific appearance-forms emerge within a lived spectacle of kaleidoscopic flux. In a stimulating essay included in Critical Ecologies (Toronto UP, 2012), Christoph Görg discusses some recent efforts to rethink the dialectic of enlightenment.

Görg thinks the human relation to the biosphere is changing in some subtle ways, and he calls for a nuanced analysis of the domination of nature. As the ecological crises become increasingly undeniable, he argues, elites are responding in ways that cannot be characterized as simple denial or disavowal. In the post-Fordist phase of capitalist accumulation, the historical attempt to achieve utter or complete mastery of nature is finally understood to be impossible, according to Görg. Instead, technocrats and CEOs now try to master the unintended negative consequences of the failing forms of the attempted mastery of nature. But this ‘mastery of secondary effects’ or ‘reflexive domination of nature’ is a strategy of risk management that does not give up the goal of capital accumulation. The master logic remains the same, but the degrading biosphere is now addressed as an assessable risk or ‘security problem’ that must be coped in order to sustain the expectation of high returns on investment.

Photo: Mandy Barker
This reflexive domination of nature increasingly takes the form of so-called ‘ecological modernization’ and ‘greening of capitalism’. Techno-fixes are sought for the new problems that emerge continuously from the violent interface with the biosphere, which still is not acknowledged as a non-identical end-in-itself. In critiquing these pseudo-solutions, then, we need to acknowledge that capitalist technocracy does not have a single, unified position or strategy with regard to biospheric meltdown. A vast range of responses are being put into play, which must be analyzed within the specifics of local contexts and social force-fields. The emerging tendency, a reading of Görg suggests, is risk management through the ad hoc remediation of negative consequences, as these come into view.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

on the mattering of silence and avowal

Arman, untitled combustion, 1964
Plight of the After: Further Notes on Cage, Silence, Arman, Beuys, Adorno, Beckett, Trauma, Rememoration and Negative Presentation in Post-1945 Visual Art

by Gene Ray

Beuys, Plight, 1985
Two works by Joseph Beuys, or more precisely, two contrasting moments in his output: the first, a proposal for a Holocaust memorial produced in 1958, a feeble misfire; the second, the installation Plight, made and exhibited in 1985, a forcefully effective work of historical avowal. These two moments document the impressive development of one German artist. But more than that, they indicate the whole painful struggle within the visual arts to confront and respond to the Nazi genocide, a crime of state terror for which the place-name ‘Auschwitz’ has come synecdochically to stand. For visual artists willing to risk such a confrontation, the means and strategies with which to do so were by no means clear or obvious in 1958; if, after 1985, such means and strategies were established and available, that was due to the work of many, in a collective development that was absorbed and synthesized in Plight.
Beuys’ proposal for a memorial at Auschwitz-Birkenau, submitted in March 1958 to the juried competition organized by an association of camp survivors, was a failure by any standard. His offer to overshadow the camp with a monumental ‘monstrance’ derived from Roman Catholic ritual was wildly, monstrously inappropriate. I register this moment of misfire only to establish Beuys’ relatively early concern with the meaning, legacy and representation of Auschwitz. Beuys was one of 426 artists who submitted proposals to the jury convened in 1956 by the Comité international d’Auschwitz. For it, he produced numerous drawings and models in wood, pewter and zinc. None are compelling or evince much insight. Some were later incorporated into various installations and vitrines, including Auschwitz Demonstration 1956-1964; the dates in the title of the latter indicate the artist’s retrospective desire to establish his continuous engagement with the Nazi genocide and the problem of its artistic representation. This desire is significant, especially given Beuys’ evident reticence with regard to Nazism and its crimes. These early sketches and models, loaded with the Christian symbolism of sin, guilt, sacrifice and forgiveness, may betray the stirrings of the artist’s own unresolved conflicts in facing this history. They certainly illuminate a profound confusion before the crisis of representation imposed on art ‘after Auschwitz’, to use the phrase of Theodor W. Adorno. This confusion was hardly unique at the time; it marks a moment when the dialectic between genocidal history and representation was felt by some European visual artists as the pressure of a still unclarified problematic.
Beuys, Auschwitz Demonstration, 1964
The negative presentation of Auschwitz through the indirect material linkages and evocative strategies deployed so effectively in Plight – the environment he installed in the London gallery of Anthony d’Offay in 1985 – was only possible after the investigation of negative presentation in the visual arts had reached a certain point of development. The artistic strategy evident in this work manifests an understanding of the potentials of negative evocation to respond to historical trauma and catastrophe, as well as an at least minimally conscious control of the sculptural means for such evocation. With regard to artistic means, all the techniques used by Beuys in Plight had probably been developed by other artists by the end of 1961, although their potentials would not have been immediately clear to all.[1] The necessary historical disclosures no doubt took longer to circulate and fully sink in; the critical processing of those disclosures is by no means complete today.

Plight is a culminating work, in the precise sense that it consolidates this collective investigation and development that took place in the visual arts between 1945 and the end of 1961 in a way so compelling that it establishes a new standard for artistic approaches to Auschwitz. The negative memorials that in the 1990s would become the institutionally preferred model for monumental public remembrance are prefigured by Plight and are, by and large, merely echoes or variations on it. I am not concerned in this essay to treat Beuys’ personal development or career in any detail, beyond what I have done elsewhere.[2] Here I focus on Plight, in order to unfold from this one work the outlines of a larger history – the discovery and development, in the visual arts, of negative, dissonant strategies for representing catastrophic history in the aftermath of World War II.

Friday, October 5, 2012

review: wilson on the mass extinction

Review: Edward O. Wilson, The Future of Life (Little, Brown, 2002)

‘Although it is possible to predict species extinction for the near future – say, over the next decade or two – such a projection is impossible for the more distant future. The obvious reason is that the trajectory depends on human choice. If the decision were taken today to freeze all conservation efforts at their current level while allowing the same rates of deforestation and other forms of environmental destruction to continue, it is safe to say that at least a fifth of the species of plants and animals would be gone or committed to early extinction by 2030, and half by the end of the century. If, on the other hand, an all-out effort is made to save the biologically richest parts of the natural world, the amount of loss can be cut by at least half.
     – Edward O. Wilson, The Future of Life (pp. 101-2)

This is, I am obliged to say right away, my first reading of a book by Edward O. Wilson. I can’t say it is my first encounter, for I have met this name many times already. Wilson is one of those prolific scientists whose presence and influence has grown far beyond his area of specialization (myrmecology, the study of ants) and has attained enough aura and eminence, within the mediations of spectacular culture, to enable him to act as that rarity, a public intellectual: someone whose views and assessments are widely disseminated and may actually count for something in the deliberations of policymakers and even, perhaps, in the formation of so-called public opinion.

I read this book to learn more about the loss of biodiversity and the extinction of species. In particular, I wanted to know what is behind Wilson’s assertion, often cited in the literature around extinction, that if nothing is done to counteract current trends, we can expect to lose half of all present life-forms by the end of the twenty-first century. This book certainly clarifies his position and provides all the evidence and steps that led him to this shocking prognosis. The gyst is in the citation above, and I discuss Wilson’s prescriptions for the conservation of global biodiversity at the end of this review.

Friday, September 28, 2012

review: nicholsen on the bio-meltdown

Shierry Weber Nicholsen, The Love of Nature and the End of the World: The Unspoken Dimensions of Environmental Concern (MIT Press, 2002)

Those concerned and alarmed by the biospheric meltdown need to understand the obstacles that are blocking effective responses. These obstacles are mainly of two kinds: social and psychological. The unsustainable logic of accumulation that drives our contemporary capitalist society is also driving the biospheric crisis. But to change this logic would be to change the form of society itself. To do that, we would have to overcome formidable processes of social reproduction, including the addictive enjoyments of commodified life and the coercive enforcements of war machines and state terror.

The psychological blockages are no less formidable. To respond effectively to catastrophic ecocide, we would first need to bring it fully to awareness and attention. The extent of the damage being done is staggering and the implications are intimidating. We would need to acknowledge the destructiveness of our current way of life and our own deep implication in the global social process. Such awareness is painful and distressing. The feelings of fear, anxiety and guilt it may arouse are so threatening, in fact, that they provoke all our psychic defenses: we avoid this awareness by repressing and disavowing it, or by projecting it outward in the form of more violence or self-violence.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

elegy for an albatross

A juvenile albatross desiccate on sand, feathers cupping the fist of flotsam that starved it. As the biosphere melts down and species disappear forever, Chris Jordan documents the real appearance-forms of accumulation. On Midway Atoll (Pihemanu Kauihelani in Hawaiian), in the middle of the North Pacific, he photographed the carcasses of albatrosses killed by plastic. These are hard images, documents of barbarism in Benjamin’s sense: alarms that call us to awake.

This archive, which Jordan subtitles Message from the Gyre, is a lesson in dialectics. In a forensic sense, these images are evidence of a deadly process: capitalist modernity interacting with and transforming ‘nature’. In the commodity, capital animates and inspirits dead things with living relations: they are made to move and dance and flow on a global scale. Here, in these images, we can see in a flash the terrible, indifferent truth of this social process: accumulation, our master, grows within life like an incubus. The commodity – or its traces and refuse – acquires its life at the expense of life, a process that ends in the starvation of living things and the slow disappearance of life-forms. Modernity has launched a new mass extinction event, which now, steadily, comes into view.