Monday, December 28, 2015

2016 Art Predictions

Ellsworth Kelly

It’s the final week of 2015. Thank gawd. So ready for the New Year to begin. 2015 wasn’t bad at all, things in the art world seemed to tilt back and although bubbles didn’t pop, there felt like a sense of equilibrium. It’s still unpleasant in many ways, all that money making everything funny and all but as a whole it was a relief from the years before. What will 2016 bring for the art world? Who knows for sure but below are some of my predictions.

Feminism becomes cache – Oh the women and art conundrum. It’s fraught, it stinks, it is everlasting but I predict this year that the “F” word and all its wrappings will become the legitimizing flavor of the year. This will manifest in exhibitions that pointedly refer and focus on this in both content and artists shown. It will also be the standard which institutions measure their progressive authority. These things in themselves may be wrapped up in tokenism and false intentions but hopefully it will do some lasting good.

Garbage is in – Trash art, sloppy art, dirt art, we’ve been seeing it a lot already but it will be even more plentiful this coming year. It’s not about the eco-system or some other residency applicable write up, rather it is about the pathetic-ness of an object, the limpid lack of necessity and the humor, charm and malaise that can be evoked by that.

Everyone you know will be successful – The older one gets and the longer one stays in the art industry the easier it is to ascend. The art world is strong and will remain thus until something truly calamitous happens as it is linked inextricably with the one percenters of the world and unless they topple (which they won’t) this art thing will be fine. This means that there is a ton of money, ton of opportunity and a ton of ways you and yours can thrive. Are their rules to playing the game correctly so you can cash in? Yes. If you are making the cash, getting the promotion and being profiled then you are doing it right. If you’re not, then you are either an idealist or bitter. The first is commendable; the second off-putting but both are tragic in their own ways.

Lower East Side redundancy – This saturated neighborhood has to lose some weight and it will this year. Not in the amount of galleries, openings, and new things taking up one former shoe box store or another but in the influence it has. It’s like looking at a menu with too many options. Everything looses it flavor. Instead, there will be a few standouts that will be the must sees while the others are pit stops for a free beer before dinner.

PR town – Everyone seems to need a PR agent these days and it’s grossing me out but hey, nothing any of us can do about it. The professionalization of art branding is a big bucks churn. Those that have the money spend it to dominate. Those that want the money feel an anxious ticking making them feel they need it. It’s silly and I think pretty useless but it’s the nature of the beast now. Coca-cola does it, movie stars do it, politicians do it, so why shouldn’t the art world? While doing it though, understand that all that press is becoming befuddled and dull. Like I’ve always said, if there’s a piece about it in The New York Times Magazine then it’s probably, definitely, already over.

Artists from out of nowhere – Every year an art star pops up that seems to have come out of thin air. Lately it has been people from “third world” countries, the former Eastern Bloc or older, almost about to die women that have been there the whole time and someone finally took time to notice. This year will most likely cull from this pool as well but I also think there might be a shift, something more attached to math and science perhaps.

Russia – Russia is going to make itself felt in the coming art year. I don’t know in what way but I can just feel it. It’s not just about all that oligarchical money, but about art and artists. Not sure what it will be like but it’s exciting to think about.

Art Scandals revealed – Can someone, anyone, everyone make a site where it has all the gross things men in power do in the art world? This is more of a wish then a prediction but ya, that would be a fabulous thing and you could probably make a lot of money somehow from it.

Art Malaise – I have it and I think a lot of people have it too. Art – all of it: gallery shows, museum shows, art fairs, curating, art books, art talks, art parties, art art art – all of it seems to be so obvious and dull at the moment. I think sadly this will carry on through the new year but hopefully there will be (I’m sure there will be) moments that tingle the brain and make you remember why you love art in the first place. But I think sadly it will be a slow, annoying, familiar art vista that we have to maybe ride out until it is somehow punctured.

No more cartoons – Art, especially painting, that incorporates cartoon like things has been very successful of late and although that’s an a-ok trend it’s been a bit done to death this past year and hopefully we all get a respite from it. Those that are good will last. Those that are bandwagon jumpers will get kicked to the curb.

Flowers – You can never go wrong with flowers in art.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Boris Groys, The Obligation of Self - Design

I’ve had tough day today. So instead of an aimless, defeated post I will share with you this essay, which seems befitting the season and is interesting to think the production of the self.

Boris Groys, The Obligation of Self- Design (e-flux, 2008)

Design, as we know it today, is a twentieth-century phenomenon. Admittedly, concern for the appearance of things is not new. All cultures have been concerned with making clothes, everyday objects, interiors of various spaces, whether sacred spaces, spaces of power, or private spaces, “beautiful and impressive.”

The history of the applied arts is indeed long. Yet modern design emerged precisely from the revolt against the tradition of the applied arts. Even more so than the transition from traditional art to modernist art, the transition from the traditional applied arts to modern design marked a break with tradition, a radical paradigm shift. This paradigm shift is, however, usually overlooked. The function of design has often enough been described using the old metaphysical opposition between appearance and essence. Design, in this view, is responsible only for the appearance of things, and thus it seems predestined to conceal the essence of things, to deceive the viewer’s understanding of the true nature of reality. Thus design has been repeatedly interpreted as an epiphany of the omnipresent market, of exchange value, of fetishism of the commodity, of the society of the spectacle—as the creation of a seductive surface behind which things themselves not only become invisible, but disappear entirely.

Modern design, as it emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century, internalized this critique aimed at the traditional applied arts and set itself the task of revealing the hidden essence of things rather than designing their surfaces. Avant-garde design sought to eliminate and purify all that had accumulated on the surface of things through the practice of the applied arts over centuries in order to expose the true, undesigned nature of things. Modern design thus did not see its task as creating the surface, but rather as eliminating it—as negative design, antidesign. Genuine modern design is reductionist; it does not add, it subtracts. It is no longer about simply designing individual things to be offered to the gaze of viewers and consumers in order to seduce them. Rather, design seeks to shape the gaze of viewers in such a way that they become capable of discovering things themselves. A central feature of the paradigm shift from traditional applied arts to modern design was just this extension of the will to design from the world of things to that of human beings themselves—understood as one thing among many. The rise of modern design is profoundly linked to the project of redesigning the old man into the New Man. This project, which emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century and is often dismissed today as utopian, has never really been abandoned de facto. In a modified, commercialized form, this project continues to have an effect, and its initial utopian potential has been updated repeatedly. The design of things that present themselves to the gaze of the viewing subject is critical to an understanding of design. The ultimate form of design is, however, the design of the subject. The problems of design are only adequately addressed if the subject is asked how it wants to manifest itself, what form it wants to give itself, and how it wants to present itself to the gaze of the Other.

This question was first raised with appropriate acuity in the early twentieth century—after Nietzsche diagnosed God’s death. As long as God was alive, the design of the soul was more important to people than the design of the body. The human body, along with its environment, was understood from the perspective of faith as an outer shell that conceals the soul. God was thought to be the only viewer of the soul. To him the ethically correct, righteous soul was supposed to look beautiful—that is, simple, transparent, well constructed, proportional, and not disfigured by any vices or marked by any worldly passion. It is often overlooked that in the Christian tradition ethics has always been subordinated to aesthetics—that is, to the design of the soul. Ethical rules, like the rules of spiritual asceticism—of spiritual exercises, spiritual training—serve above all the objective of designing the soul in such a way that it would be acceptable in God’s eyes, so that He would allow it into paradise. The design of one’s own soul under God’s gaze is a persistent theme of theological treatises, and its rules can be visualized with the help of medieval depictions of the soul waiting for the Last Judgment. The design of the soul which was destined for God’s eyes was clearly distinct from the worldly applied arts: whereas the applied arts sought richness of materials, complex ornamentation, and outward radiance, the design of the soul focused on the essential, the plain, the natural, the reduced, and even the ascetic. The revolution in design that took place at the start of the twentieth century can best be characterized as the application of the rules for the design of the soul to the design of worldly objects.

The death of God signified the disappearance of the viewer of the soul, for whom its design was practiced for centuries. Thus the site of the design of the soul shifted. The soul became the sum of the relationships into which the human body in the world entered. Previously, the body was the prison of the soul; now the soul became the clothing of the body, its social, political, and aesthetic appearance. Suddenly the only possible manifestation of the soul became the look of the clothes in which human beings appear, the everyday things with which they surround themselves, the spaces they inhabit. With the death of God, design became the medium of the soul, the revelation of the subject hidden inside the human body. Thus design took on an ethical dimension it had not had previously. In design, ethics became aesthetics; it became form. Where religion once was, design has emerged. The modern subject now has a new obligation: the obligation to self-design, an aesthetic presentation as ethical subject. The ethically motivated polemic against design, launched repeatedly over the course of the twentieth century and formulated in ethical and political terms, can only be understood on the basis of this new definition of design; such a polemic would be entirely incongruous if directed at the traditional applied arts. Adolf Loos’ famous essay “Ornament and Crime” is an early example of this turn.

From the outset, Loos postulated in his essay a unity between the aesthetic and the ethical. Loos condemned every decoration, every ornament, as a sign of depravity, of vices. Loos judged a person’s appearance, to the extent it represents a consciously designed exterior, to be an immediate expression of his or her ethical stance. For example, he believed he had demonstrated that only criminals, primitives, heathens, or degenerates ornament themselves by tattooing their skin. Ornament was thus an expression either of amorality or of crime: “The Papuan covers his skin with tattoos, his boat, his oars, in short everything he can lay his hands on. He is no criminal. The modern person who tattoos himself is either a criminal or a degenerate.”1 Particularly striking in this quotation is the fact that Loos makes no distinction between tattooing one’s own skin and decorating a boat or an oar. Just as the modern human being is expected to present him or herself to the gaze of the Other as an honest, plain, unornamented, “undesigned” object, so should all the other things with which this person has to deal be presented as honest, plain, unornamented, undesigned things. Only then do they demonstrate that the soul of the person using them is pure, virtuous, and unspoiled. According to Loos, the function of design is not to pack, decorate, and ornament things differently each time, that is, to constantly design a supplementary outside so that an inside, the true nature of things, remains hidden. Rather, the real function of the modern design is to prevent people from wanting to design things at all. Thus Loos describes his attempts to convince a shoemaker from whom he had ordered shoes not to ornament them.2 For Loos, it was enough that the shoemaker use the best materials and work them with care. The quality of the material and the honesty and precision of the work, and not their external appearance, determine the quality of the shoes. The criminal thing about ornamenting shoes is that this ornament does not reveal the shoemaker’s honesty, that is, the ethical dimension of the shoes. The ethically dissatisfactory aspects of the product are concealed by ornament and the ethically impeccable are made unrecognizable by it. For Loos, true design is the struggle against design—against the criminal will to conceal the ethical essence of things behind their aesthetic surface. Yet paradoxically, only the creation of another, revelatory layer of ornament—that is, of design—guarantees the unity of the ethical and the aesthetic that Loos sought.

The messianic, apocalyptic features of the struggle against applied art that Loos was engaged in are unmistakable. For example, Loos wrote: “Do not weep. Do you not see the greatness of our age resides in our very inability to create new ornament? We have gone beyond ornament, we have achieved plain, undecorated simplicity. Behold, the time is at hand, fulfillment awaits us. Soon the streets of the cities will shine like white walls! Like Zion, the Holy City, Heaven’s capital. Then fulfillment will be ours.”3 The struggle against the applied arts is the final struggle before the arrival of God’s Kingdom on Earth. Loos wanted to bring heaven down to earth; he wanted to see things as they are, without ornament. Thus Loos wanted to appropriate the divine gaze. But not only that, he wanted to make everyone else capable of seeing the things as they are revealed in God’s gaze. Modern design wants the apocalypse now, the apocalypse that unveils things, strips them of their ornament, and causes them to be seen as they truly are. Without this claim that design manifests the truth of things, it would be impossible to understand many of the discussions among designers, artists, and art theorists over the course of the twentieth century. Such artists and designers as Donald Judd or architects such as Herzog & de Meuron, to name only a few, do not argue aesthetically when they want to justify their artistic practices but rather ethically, and in doing so they appeal to the truth of things as such. The modern designer does not wait for the apocalypse to remove the external shell of things and show them to people as they are. The designer wants here and now the apocalyptic vision that makes everyone New Men. The body takes on the form of the soul. The soul becomes the body. All things become heavenly. Heaven becomes earthly, material. Modernism becomes absolute.

Loos’ essay is, famously, not an isolated phenomenon. Rather, it reflects the mood of the entire artistic avant-garde of the twentieth century, which sought a synthesis of art and life. This synthesis was supposed to be achieved by removing the things that looked too arty both from art and from life. Both were supposed to reach the zero point of the artistic in order to achieve a unity. The conventionally artistic was understood to be the “human, all too human” that obstructed the gaze to perceive the true inner form of things. Hence the traditional painting was seen as something that prevents the gaze of a spectator to recognize it as a combination of shapes and colors on canvas. And shoes made in the traditional way were understood to be a thing that prevented the gaze of a consumer to recognize the essence, function, and true composition of the shoe. The gaze of the New Man had to be freed of all such obstructions by the force of (anti)design.

Whereas Loos still formulated his argument in rather bourgeois terms and wanted to reveal the value of certain materials, craftsmanship, and individual honesty, the will to absolute design reached its climax in Russian Constructivism, with its “proletarian” ideal of the collective soul, which is manifested in industrially organized work. For the Russian Constructivists, the path to virtuous, genuinely proletarian objects also passed through the elimination of everything that was merely artistic. The Russian Constructivists called for the objects of everyday communist life to show themselves as what they are: as functional things whose forms serve only to make their ethics visible. Ethics as understood here was given an additional political dimension, since the collective soul had to be organized politically in order to act properly in accordance with ethical terms. The collective soul was manifested in the political organization that embraced both people and things. The function of “proletarian” design—at the time, admittedly, people spoke rather of “proletarian art”—must therefore be to make this total political organization visible. The experience of the October Revolution of 1917 was crucial for the Russian Constructivists. They understood the revolution to be a radical act of purifying society of every form of ornament: the finest example of modern design, which eliminates all traditional social customs, rituals, conventions, and forms of representation in order for the essence of the political organization to emerge. Thus the Russian Constructivists called for the abolition of all autonomous art. Art should rather be placed entirely at the service of the design of utilitarian objects. In essence, it was a call to completely subsume art to design.

At the same time, the project of Russian Constructivism was a total project: it wanted to design life as a whole. Only for that reason—and only at that price—was Russian Constructivism prepared to exchange autonomous art for utilitarian art: just as the traditional artist designed the whole of the artwork, so the Constructivist artist wanted to design the whole of society. In a certain sense, the Soviet artists had no choice at the time other than to forward such a total claim. The market, including the art market, was eliminated by the Communists. Artists were no longer faced with private consumers and their private and aesthetic preferences, but with the state as a whole. Necessarily, it was all or nothing for artists. This situation is clearly reflected in the manifestos of Russian Constructivism. For example, in his programmatic text entitled “Constructivism,” Alexei Gan wrote: “Not to reflect, not to represent and not to interpret reality, but to really build and express the systematic tasks of the new class, the proletariat… Especially now, when the proletarian revolution has been victorious, and its destructive, creative movement is progressing along the iron rails into culture, which is organized according to a grand plan of social production, everyone—the master of color and line, the builder of space-volume forms and the organizer of mass productions—must all become constructors in the general work of the arming and moving of the many-millioned human masses.”4 For Gan, the goal of Constructivist design was not to impose a new form on everyday life under socialism but rather to remain loyal to radical, revolutionary reduction and to avoid making new ornaments for new things. Hence Nikolai Tarabukin asserted in his then-famous essay “From the Easel to the Machine” that the Constructivist artist could not play a formative role in the process of actual social production. His role was rather that of a propagandist who defends and praises the beauty of industrial production and opens the public’s eyes to this beauty.5 The artist, as described by Tarabukin, is someone who looks at the entirety of socialist production as a ready-made—a kind of socialist Duchamp who exhibits socialist industry as a whole as something good and beautiful.
The modern designer, whether bourgeois or proletarian, calls for the other, divine vision: for the metanoia that enables people to see the true form of things. In the Platonic and Christian traditions, undergoing a metanoia means making the transition from a worldly perspective to an otherworldly perspective, from a perspective of the mortal body to a perspective of the immortal soul. Since the death of God, of course, we can no longer believe that there is something like the soul that is distinguished from the body in the sense that it is made independent of the body and can be separated from it. However, that does not by any means suggest that a metanoia is no longer possible. Modern design is the attempt to bring about such a metanoia—an effort to see one’s own body and one’s own surroundings as purified of everything earthly, arbitrary, and subjected to a particular aesthetic taste. In a sense, it could be said that modernism substituted the design of the corpse for the design of the soul.

This funeral aspect of modern design was recognized by Loos even before he wrote “Ornament and Crime.” In his text “The Poor Little Rich Man,” Loos tells of the imagined fate of a rich Viennese man who decided to have his entire house designed by an artist. This man totally subjected his everyday life to the dictates of the designer (Loos speaks, admittedly, of the architect), for as soon as his thoroughly designed house is finished, the man can no longer change anything in it without the designer’s permission. Everything that this man would later buy and do must fit into the overall design of the house, not just literally but also aesthetically. In a world of total design, the man himself has become a designed thing, a kind of museum object, a mummy, a publicly exhibited corpse. Loos concludes his description of the fate of the poor rich man as follows: “He was shut out of future life and its strivings, its developments, and its desires. He felt: Now is the time to learn to walk about with one’s own corpse. Indeed! He is finished! He is complete!”6 In his essay “Design and Crime,” whose title was inspired by Loos’, Hal Foster interpreted this passage as an implicit call for “running room,” for breaking out of the prison of total design.7 It is obvious, however, that Loos’ text should not be understood as a protest against the total dominance of design. Loos protests against design as ornament in the name of another, “true” design, in the name of an antidesign that frees the consumer from dependence on the taste of the professional designer. As the aforementioned example of the shoes demonstrates, under the regime of avant-garde antidesign, consumers take responsibility for their own appearance and for the design of their daily lives. Consumers do so by asserting their own, modern taste, which tolerates no ornament and hence no additional artistic or craft labor. By taking ethical and aesthetic responsibility for the image they offer the outside world, however, consumers become prisoners of total design to a much larger degree than ever before, inasmuch as they can no longer delegate their aesthetic decisions to others. Modern consumers present the world the image of their own personality—purified of all outside influence and ornamentation. But this purification of their own image is potentially just as infinite a process as the purification of the soul before God. In the white city, in the heavenly Zion, as Loos imagines it, design is truly total for the first time. Nothing can be changed there either: nothing colorful, no ornament can be smuggled in. The difference is simply that in the white city of the future, everyone is the author of his own corpse—everyone becomes an artist-designer who has ethical, political, and aesthetic responsibility for his or her environment.

One can claim, of course, that the original pathos of avant-garde antidesign has long since faded, that avant-garde design has become a certain designer style among other possible styles. That is why many people view our entire society today—the society of commercial design, of the spectacle—as a game with simulacra behind which there is only a void. That is indeed how this society presents itself, but only if one takes a purely contemplative position, sitting in the lodge and watching the spectacle of society. But this position overlooks the fact that design today has become total—and hence it no longer admits of a contemplative position from the perspective of an outsider. The turn that Loos announced in his day has proven to be irreversible: every citizen of the contemporary world still has to take ethical, aesthetic, and political responsibility for his or her self-design. In a society in which design has taken over the function of religion, self-design becomes a creed. By designing one’s self and one’s environment in a certain way, one declares one’s faith in certain values, attitudes, programs, and ideologies. In accordance with this creed, one is judged by society, and this judgment can certainly be negative and even threaten the life and well-being of the person concerned.

Hence modern design belongs not so much in an economic context as in a political one. Modern design has transformed the whole of social space into an exhibition space for an absent divine visitor, in which individuals appear both as artists and as self-produced works of art. In the gaze of the modern viewer, however, the aesthetic composition of artworks inevitably betrays the political convictions of their authors—and it is primarily on that basis that they are judged. The debate over headscarves demonstrates the political force of design. In order to understand that this is primarily a debate about design, it suffices to imagine that Prada or Gucci has begun to design headscarves. In such a case, deciding between the headscarf as a symbol of Islamic convictions and the headscarf as a commercial brand becomes an extremely difficult aesthetic and political task. Design cannot therefore be analyzed exclusively within the context of the economy of commodities. One could just as soon speak of suicide design—for example, in the case of suicide attacks, which are well known to be staged according to strict aesthetic rules. One can speak about the design of power but also about the design of resistance or the design of alternative political movements. In these instances design is practiced as a production of differences—differences that often take on a political semantics at the same time. We often hear laments that politics today is concerned only with a superficial image—and that so-called content loses its relevance in the process. This is thought to be the fundamental malaise of politics today. More and more, there are calls to turn away from political design and image making and return to content. Such laments ignore the fact that under the regime of modern design, it is precisely the visual positioning of politicians in the field of the mass media that makes the crucial statement concerning their politics—or even constitutes their politics. Content, by contrast, is completely irrelevant, because it changes constantly. Hence the general public is by no means wrong to judge its politicians according to their appearance—that is, according to their basic aesthetic and political creed, and not according to arbitrarily changing programs and contents that they support or formulate.

Thus modern design evades Kant’s famous distinction between disinterested aesthetic contemplation and the use of things guided by interests. For a long time after Kant, disinterested contemplation was considered superior to a practical attitude: a higher, if not the highest, manifestation of the human spirit. But already by the end of the nineteenth century, a reevaluation of values had taken place: the vita contemplativa was thoroughly discredited, and the vita activa was elevated to the true task of humankind. Hence today design is accused of seducing people into weakening their activity, vitality, and energy—of making them passive consumers who lack will, who are manipulated by omnipresent advertising and thus become victims of capital. The apparent cure for this lulling into sleep by the society of the spectacle is a shocklike encounter with the “real” that is supposed to rescue people from their contemplative passivity and move them to action, which is the only thing that promises an experience of truth as living intensity. The debate now is only over the question whether such an encounter with the real is still possible or whether the real has definitively disappeared behind its designed surface.
Now, however, we can no longer speak of disinterested contemplation when it is a matter of self-manifestation, self-design, and self-positioning in the aesthetic field, since the subject of such self-contemplation clearly has a vital interest in the image he or she offers to the outside world. Once people had an interest in how their souls appeared to God; today they have an interest in how their bodies appear to their political surroundings. This interest certainly points to the real. The real, however, emerges here not as a shocklike interruption of the designed surface but as a question of the technique and practice of self-design—a question no one can escape anymore. In his day, Beuys said that everyone had the right to see him- or herself as an artist. What was then understood as a right has now become an obligation. In the meantime we have been condemned to being the designers of our selves.

1 Adolf Loos, “Ornament and Crime” (1908), in Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays, ed. Adolf Opel, trans. Michael Mitchell (Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 1998), 167.
2 Ibid., 174.
3 Ibid., 168.
4 Alexei Gan, “From Constructivism,” in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, eds., Art in Theory, 1900–1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1993), 320 (translation modified).
5 Nikolai Tarabukin, “From the Easel to the Machine,” in Francis Frascina and Charles Harrison, eds., Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology (New York: Harper and Row, 1982), 135–42.
6 Adolf Loos, “The Poor Little Rich Man,” in August Sarnitz, Adolf Loos, 1870–1933: Architect, Cultural Critic, Dandy, trans. Latido (Cologne: Taschen, 2003), 21.
7 Hal Foster, “Design and Crime,” in idem, Design and Crime (and Other Diatribes) (London: Verso, 2002), 17.
Translated from the German by Steven Lindberg.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Everything Is So Passé

It’s December and I don’t know about you all but for me it’s the most grueling of months. Holidays, New Year, winter is coming. It’s a month that you just wait for it to be over. One you endure in order to start again. In addition to the boredom of it all, there is a grumpiness that has seeped into my bones, making everything feel so blasé. With this being my mental state, I will share with you the things that irk, blah and are to me so passé in art, life and culture at the moment. Out with the old! And hopefully the New Year will bring some sparkle that doesn’t quickly fade.

Ai wei wei – Why? The art world’s frothing/fawning over this overrated artist truly reveals how impotent the art world is with politics and also how cliché.

Art Fairs – Hate em 4eva.

Artforum – It just seems so dull these days. The writing is barely intriguing, the critics choices (for the most part) are just reflection pools of the gatekeepers of a tier of art world that don’t need it as they are the fortress of it already, and the access feels like society pages. It is admirable that it is still so thick in this time of advertising collapse, but darlings, let’s be frank: it is a self perpetuating tome with not an ounce of subversion or challenge to the status quo.

Artsy – The start-up trying to mastermind art’s online platform. The most agg thing about it is its pricing schemes and it having galleries pay to have editorial written. Please, art writers of the world! Do you not have any dignity?! (As I write on a stupid blog and make no money) BUT still! Have you no dignity! It’s your brains, don’t co-opt that.

Art World Cliques – Yes, yes, yes, you are all ravageingly cool and attractive. Yes, we get that your squad rolls deep. Yes, we understand that you know the ones to know and those that others don’t even know they should know. Your Matrix like entering and exiting the building has been noted. Now. Why don’t we all just relax, make eye contact and remember that people are interesting and have a lot to offer and learn from.

Being “Triggered” –Please stop self-anointing yourself and victimizing oneself in order to circulate a masked form of trolling. If there is a conversation to be had, of course have it. If there are strong emotions stirred, of course air them. Creating a tone or dialogue that only preaches to the choir or is one-sided is not a conversation but just a version of the things that one should detest.

Bragging/Self Promotion Online – You are fabulous and somehow are at every party, opening, and time zone all at once. Your CV is a blistering docket of accolades. You work hard. You deserve your rewards but maybe just on occasion chill on the need for affirmation. It’s not a good look and it’s tiresome for those repeatedly exposed to it.

Bushwick – Always hated it. Still hate it.

Celebrities at Art Fairs – Who Cares???!!!! And if you do, you are in the wrong industry. And if you do and you have power in this industry, then F-you for making this into farce.

Contemporary Art Daily – I don’t think I have checked this site for months. It was a hot little thing but its function has faded (was there even a function?). There is nothing surprising, it is just creating a catalog that feels like a photography/installation shots lighting handbook.

Ceramics – I really don’t need to see anymore sloppy, wobbly, smiley-faced ceramics for at least six months.

Dating – Like, Jesus, h, oh my god. Dying alone. Also, dating in/around the NYC art world is possibly the most, dull, cringe thing ever.

Gagosian – It’s become so big that it’s become irrelevant.

Gluten Free – Fine you have something wrong with your guts or it makes you have gas or you are trying to skim off some pounds. Fine. But it is nearly killing me when I see things like seltzer, peanuts, bags of carrots say “Gluten Free” on them. If you don’t know what is gluten free, you are probably doing it wrong.

Group Shows – When reading off the list of artists in a group show and you can already imagine what that show will look like, take a step back and ask yourself, ‘Do we really need to do this.’ If you look at a list of artists for a group show and you think, ‘This might fail,’ then definitely do it.

Karaoke Art After Parties – If you’re going to sing – Love these. If you’re going to just look cool in the corner and sip vodka sodas – Go away.

LES Galleries – Some are good of course but the overall feeling when one pops into the hundreds of spaces in this area, it feels a bit sad and reflects poorly on the state of contemporary art, especially young artists. Everyone is so good at making the money that there is little edge left. But hey, that’s the goal right?

Social Media Jobs – Can we all collectively agree to stop trying to use social media in such fascicle ways? I’m not sure how to make it better but what’s happening surely is dull.

This Blog – Every time someone tells me they read my blog a little part of me dies inside.

V-Files – When something that could have been cool just became a glorified cultural accessory. (I am obviously not here to make friends).

The Whitney’s Current Shows – Seems like sucha downer compared to it’s opener. Here’s to hoping things get better the next time around.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Today I’m an ENFP

When one’s life becomes a series of shifting elements things can start to get weird. There is a form of levitation that occurs and you start to look at yourself from outside yourself. This is produced from the unknowing, the expectancy, and the ambiguity of what is to come and what that might mean. This is where I am at the moment and it is producing good things, like an energized appreciation for New York, art  and frankly just living, but it is also producing bad things, like me drunk calling/texting the bulk of my contacts at 3am (tragic). Anyways, that being said, in this, at times, muddy middle of waiting and anticipating for what may mold the near future for you, one can’t help but be, well bluntly, self absorbed.

The, ‘Who am I?’ ‘What am I doing?’ ‘What’s going on?’ plus other whiney and rhetoric pleas are like oxygen to anxieties fires. In order to distract, chill, or amuse oneself in this state, doing things like kvetching to mates, writing in a diary, tarot reading and muttering to oneself are fine ways to cope with this. Another to add to that list is doing a funny little thing called the Myers Briggs Test.

It was once used by companies to assess worker’s personalities and now it flourishes on online dating profiles and worn as badges for the socially marred. It was created by Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers in 1944 and it cues and incorporates Carl Jung’s theory that there are four principle psychological types that underlie human personalities; sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking. With this foundation they created a test and you can take a derivation of this online here, for free, and find out what you are in their scale of personality types (there are sixteen).

I just did this 64 question test and was resulted as being an ENFP. I have done this test before and have gotten other results so I am assuming that at this moment and time my life, mood and brain are veering towards this type. Knowing this doesn’t really change much of anything but sometimes it is fun to be distracted by yourself through yourself so that you can see how cliché, absurd and possibly true one can be.

Below is the write up as given on the test’s sites. I agree with some but also have a strange feeling that I am very good at falsifying and performing myself even to myself sometimes.

Extraverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving

(ENFP stands for Extravert, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving and represents individual's preferences in four dimensions characterising personality type, according to Jung's and Briggs Myers' theories of personality type.)

Your Type Preferences: Extravert(12%) iNtuitive(12%) Feeling(25%) Perceiving(6%)

by Marina Margaret Heiss and Joe Butt

ENFPs are both "idea"-people and "people"-people, who see everyone and everything as part of a cosmic whole. They want to both help and to be liked and admired by other people, on both an individual and a humanitarian level. This is rarely a problem for the ENFP, as they are outgoing and warm, and genuinely like people. Some ENFPs have a great deal of zany charm, which can ingratiate them to more stodgy types in spite of their unconventionality.

ENFPs often have strong, if sometimes surprising, values and viewpoints. They tend to try to use their social skills and contacts to persuade others gently (though enthusiastically) of the rightness of these views; this sometimes results in the ENFP neglecting their nearest and dearest while caught up their efforts to change the world.

ENFPs can be the warmest, kindest, and most sympathetic of mates; affectionate, demonstrative, and spontaneous. Many in relationships with an ENFP literally say, "They light up my life." But there is usually a trade-off: the partner must be willing to deal with the practical and financial aspects of the relationship, and the ENFP must be allowed the freedom to follow their latest path, whatever that entails.

For some ENFPs, relationships can be seriously tested by their short attention spans and emotional needs. They are easily intrigued and distracted by new friends and acquaintances, forgetting their older and more familiar emotional ties for long stretches at a time. And the less mature ENFP may need to feel they’re the constant center of attention, to confirm their image of themselves as a wonderful and fascinating person.

In the workplace, ENFPs are pleasant and friendly, and interact in a positive and creative manner with both their co-workers and the public. ENFPs are also a major asset in brainstorming sessions; follow-through on projects can be a problem, however. ENFPs do get distracted, especially if another interesting issue comes along. They also tend towards procrastination, and dislike performing small, uninteresting tasks. ENFPs are most productive when working in a group with a few Js to handle the details and the deadlines.

ENFPs are friendly folks. Most are really enjoyable people. Some of the most soft-hearted people are ENFPs.

ENFPs have what some call a "silly switch." They can be intellectual, serious, all business for a while, but whenever they get the chance, they flip that switch and become CAPTAIN WILDCHILD, the scourge of the swimming pool, ticklers par excellence. Sometimes they may even appear intoxicated when the "switch" is flipped.

One study has shown that ENFPs are significantly overrepresented in psychodrama. Most have a natural propensity for role-playing and acting.
ENFPs like to tell funny stories, especially about their friends. This penchant may be why many are attracted to journalism. I kid one of my ENFP friends that if I want the sixth fleet to know something, I'll just tell him.

ENFPs are global learners. Close enough is satisfactory to the ENFP, which may unnerve more precise thinking types, especially with such things as piano practice ("three quarter notes or four ... what's the difference?") Amazingly, some ENFPs are adept at exacting disciplines such as mathematics.

Friends are what life is about to ENFPs, moreso even than the other NFs. They hold up their end of the relationship, sometimes being victimized by less caring individuals. ENFPs are energized by being around people. Some have real difficulty being alone, especially on a regular basis.

One ENFP colleague, a social worker, had such tremendous interpersonal skills that she put her interviewers at ease during her own job interview. She had the ability to make strangers feel like old friends.

ENFPs sometimes can be blindsided by their secondary Feeling function. Hasty decisions based on deeply felt values may boil over with unpredictable results. More than one ENFP has abruptly quit a job in such a moment.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Why Turning 34 Basically Sucks

So I just turned 34. Yup. The big three four. The, ‘oh my god I’m very much in my mid 30s now’ is a big bag of uggg. It seems almost like a lie. To wake up one day and damn it, you are thirty freakin four years old. How the hell did that happen? I know most of you reading this are practically ten years younger then me and have a very vague idea of what being this age might even mean. I know some of you reading this think, ‘get over it,’ and that I’m not that old at all. Well to both camps, I get your point but for the moment, being in it, and going through it, it's not pleasant at all.

Being thirty-four is not so bad really. You are no longer a dumbass who cares what people think about you. You are still fit and your body has not been taken over by the ravages of gravity and most illnesses that come with age. You are smarter and more patient and able to see the big picture of things. These are all great. They at times make me feel like a goddamn mastermind of life but then there are the other things.

The other things are produced by the measure of things one has or lacks at this unglamorous age and this is especially potent for women. For me that’s a lot of the big things that most thirty-four year olds should have and that lack basically sucks. These things are like having kids, a long and stable romantic relationship, some form of ownership of property or at least a dope pad, money (lots more money), disposable income, a savings, and a steady and inclining career. All the above I lack so yeah, not doing so great.

I know, I know that I’m being hard on myself. I know that I have done this, that and the other thing and that if someone was to write my biography to date I would have done, seen and experienced way more then most but the lack of the above is like having your judgmental family members give you the ‘poor you’ head nod all the damn time.

Do I, should one, even want those things listed above? Depends on who you are obviously but by this time, this thirty four year old time (and there abouts) is when even if you don’t want them the lack thereof makes you really think, ‘what the hell am I doing with my life.’

Why is this? It’s social construct of course. All the crap clichés of life are these contraptions built to make us behave and conform to one thing or another. But there is some reason for this and biology being  a huge factor.

When you are in your early twenties you are like little emperors and empresses who truly believe you can change the world and have no limits. This usually doesn’t pan out for most so then you enter your mid twenties and you think, ‘job’ or something like that and you go and get one. Then late twenties you are juggling being fabulously young with being fabulously networked. Then you turn the big 3-0 and you think what next? Then you try to sort that out over the next few years. This includes new friends, new jobs, new significant others. The whole marriage and babies questions arises more at this time too, especially for women who seem to many times be physically and mentally hijacked by the ‘baby bug.’ Then around this time you think, ‘settle down’ and most people do. They marry the person next to them. They upgrade their life in home and attire and they get into the rhythm of life. You basically become domesticated and hopefully will be happily so for a few years to forever. Then you turn 40 and someone might have a breakdown and then you turn 50 and someone else might have a break down and then you turn 60 and you chill out and then you turn 70 you are perma-chill and then you are 80 -100 and you are just ‘I don’t give a crap’ chilled out. And then you die.

So, this is the trajectory. We all know it. We all know what is supposed to come even if one lives an uber creative and anti-conformist life. Not keeping to pace and matching, at least to some degree, this path makes you stick out like a Santa Claus decoration still out on the lawn in June. I’m a Santa Claus decoration at the moment. Someone please put me in the basement.

But seriously, I know being 34 is no big thang really. I feel like I can melt people with my eyes in regards to my confidence levels and am super blessed to have the life I have which is for the most part pretty freaking amazing, full of the best people in the world and so privileged. 

I guess I’m just having a bit of a gripe fest and in doing so I realize that it is just that. I may be 34 and grumpy at times but at least I’m not 23 and hey it could be worse. I could be dead.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Things That I Really Liked This Week: BDSMozart, Ecocore, Baepecestre

Ruth Angel Edwards

Back in New York for 2 weeks and it feels like I’ve been here for months. One thing that NYC has going is that it is always busy, there are always things to see, places to be and people to meet. Needless to say I’ve been doing and going to a lot of things and absorbing culture, in various ways, to elevate and explore the conditions that make up art and life. Below are a few things that especially caught my eye or made my brain change a bit.


It’s an opera folks. That’s right, an opera. Written, directed and co-produced by Cameron Soren and Melissa Sachs (known also as Body by Body) this approximately hour long play ran for two nights as a commissioned work by Rhizome for Performa15. It takes place in a still used artist’s studio loft at 140 Greene Street and in general terms is about a landlord, a building, and new and old tenants. The incorporation of the artist loft is the storytelling frame in which to sketch out and have reason for interactions between the landlord (Mozart) and the potential new tenant (Lieutenant Captain Colonel Baby Boy). To get to the quick of it, it is absurdist and raucously cliché. I found myself almost hurting from smiling the whole time. It’s not a ‘oh isn’t that nice’ sort of smile but an almost maniacal one full of ironic knowing. It’s funny to a maximal point but that humor is edged with darkness, bitchiness and touches of boredom.

The characters are tropes of themselves, which could have produced a blasé familiarity but instead they shine and carry the opera by their obvious talents. Tomas Cruz, who plays Mozart, is just beyond good and Eliza Bagg, who plays Filomena is a one women talent universe. Their charisma and voices makes you see how far ‘visual’ performance art is from ‘theatre’ and it makes you see how much is lacking in the former.

This was the ah-ha moment for me. After it was over, the full impacts of how effective the piece was as a piece of theatre made you feel the dividing lines between an art show/presentation and a work like this. You can feel the hours spent, the care, the time, and the efforts. There is such an accumulation of parts to make an essentially ephemeral whole and witnessing and watching it is not only impressive but also immersive. This opera cum art piece is active in a way that affects differently then art and that felt amazing and buzzing and I want to see more.


An artist and friend who was in town is a feature editor for this publication along side Alessandro Bava who is the editor and he gave me a copy. Most times when someone gives me a magazine/art publication project or some such thing I skim it and maybe select a few things that catch my eye to read but usually I gloss over them quickly. Art books/magazine and I have never really gotten along. They usually feel too self-aggrandized and cloy to me but this issue of Ecocore grabbed my attention unusually well.

It’s issue number four and is, “The God Issue,” a bit over the top but a bit of dramatics can also be fun. On this theme there are 27 contributors. A lot yes but most fill just a page or so. The theme seems to be a launch pad for loose interpretation, some submissions seem more direct in its associations then others. It’s a bit scattered and the greatest flaw is the quality of the printing, which does no one any favors, but inside there are some very nice things to look at and to read. In particular are the text pieces, which range from dystopian sci-fi, (a too familiar trend these days but here not so off putting), as well as touching back to the ancient and the animal. The predominance of capitalism threads throughout and that being so in an issue about “God” seems a bit vague but I thought that, that is what made it interesting. It’s a type of thing that you can open at any page and start again but it has enough something -perhaps its very nature of being deconstructed- holding it together. It’s good to meander and think about god or whatever else might be on one’s mind and Ecocore promotes that sort of wandering.


This is a music mix by Ruth Angel Edwards that is on DIS and it is a forty-five minute mind fuck. I usually don’t use words like fuck but in this case it is the most apt as it is a mix that incorporates the language of porn with intense dubstep. It calls itself pornstep and when you listen to it you feel your mind being pummeled. It’s aggressive and dark but in a way that detangles and reveals. Listening to it while walking to Bushwick, walking in Soho, walking in the subway, transforms the scene before your eyes into a discomfiting vision and reveal of reality. The moments of unrelenting base mixed with porn sighs makes the gaggle of tourists with Zara bags feel much more sinister then before. Listening to the sound clip of a man proposing a woman to work in the porn industry while selecting a ripe avocado makes your whole body seem out of space.

Edwards is masterful at the edit, the cut, and she seamlessly slices, joins and stacks sound upon sound. In her hands it doesn’t feel like music per se but more a force that can bore into your head and body. The seduction, the violence, the dissociation and the trauma of pornography and of the capitalized body is in this mix transformed to a feeling that pushes through your skin.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Paolo Virno, Déjà Vu and the End of History

I am reading this book now. If you are interested in ideas about memory, perception, mediation of subjectivity and Kojeve then you might like it too. This is an excerpt published on eflux ( a bit ago.

Paolo Virno
Déjà Vu and the End of History

Watching Themselves Live1

When psychiatrists refer to déjà vu, they do not mean a known event of the past playing out again, accompanied by either euphoric amazement or bored condescension. Rather, here we have an only apparent repetition, one that is entirely illusory. We believe that we have already experienced (or seen, heard, done, etc.) something that is, in fact, happening for the first time at this very moment. We mistake the current experience for the very faithful copy of an original that never really existed. We believe that we are recognizing something of which we are only now cognizant. As such, we could also describe déjà vu in terms of “false recognition.”

Déjà vu does not entail a defect of memory, nor its qualitative alteration. Rather, it means the untrammelled extension of memory’s jurisdiction, of its dominion. Rather than limit itself to preserving traces of times past, memory also applies itself to actuality, to the evanescent “now.” The instantaneous present takes the form of memory, and is re-evoked even as it is taking place. But what can “remembering the present” mean, except having the irresistible sensation of having already experienced it previously? Inasmuch as it is an object of memory, the “now” is camouflaged as the already-been, and is thus duplicated in an imaginary “back then,” in a fictitious “other-then.” It goes without saying that between the current event, considered a mere repeat, and the phantom original prototype, there is no mere analogy, but rather the most complete identity. The present and the pseudo-past, which have the same perceptual and emotional content, are indistinguishable. The consequence is a troubling one: every act and every word that I say and do now seems destined to repeat, step by step, the course that was fixed back then, without the possibility of omitting or changing anything. As Henri Bergson put it in “Le souvenir du Présent et la Fausse Reconnaissance”: “We feel that we choose and will, but that we are choosing what is imposed on us and willing the inevitable.”2

The state of mind correlated to déjà vu is that typical of those set on watching themselves live. This means apathy, fatalism, and indifference to a future that seems prescribed even down to the last detail. Since the present is dressed in the clothes of an irrevocable past, these people must renounce any influence on how the present plays out. It is impossible to change something that has taken on the appearances of memory. As such, they give up on action. Or, better, they becomespectators of their own actions, almost as if these were part of an already-known and unalterable script. They are dumbfounded spectators, sometimes ironic and often inclined to cynicism. The individual at the mercy of the déjà vu is her own epigone. To her eyes, the historical scansion of events is suspended or paralyzed; the distinction between before and after, cause and effect, seems futile and even derisory.

The phenomenon of “false recognition” allows us to decipher critically the fundamental idea of every philosophy of history: the end, the exhaustion, or the implosion of history itself. Above all, it allows us to settle accounts with the contemporary—that is, “postmodern”—version of this idea, which descends from a noble lineage and complicated family tree. According to Baudrillard and his miniature disciples, history thins out to the point of vanishing when the millenarian aspiration to wipe out the duration of time (and, with this, any irritating delays) appears to have been satisfied by the instantaneousness of information, real-time communications, and by the desire to lay “hold of things almost before they have taken place.”3 And yet the affirmation of an eternal present, a centripetal and despotic actuality, is provoked by déjà vu, namely by the form of experience in which there prevails—as Bergson put it—“the feeling that the future is closed, that the situation is detached from everything although I am attached to it.”4 In capricious, rampant years of history, Karl Mannheim prophesied:

It is possible … that in the future, in a world in which there is never anything new, in which all is finished and each moment a repetition of the past, there can exist a condition in which thought is utterly devoid of all ideological and utopian elements.5
A posthistorical situation, then; but also, at the same time, a condition marked by the mnestic pathology of which we have already spoken: “there is never anything new … each moment [is] a repetition of the past.”

Now, however, we need to interrupt this game of assonances and analogies. To understand the increasing fragility of historical experience and, at the same time, to refute the mediocre ideologies that set up camp on this terrain, it is necessary to observe more closely the actual texture of “false recognition.” What clay is a memory of the present made of? How is it formed? What does it reveal?

The Temporality of the Possible

It is in the past that we find the center of gravity of the temporality of potential. This is still something of an enigma, however. In order to illustrate its meaning and significance, it is worth asking ourselves, first of all, what past it concerns, and how the perennial “having been” of the virtual is articulated. This is nothing more than a morphological description, on the basis of which we can then address the important question: To what experience or way of being does such a “back then” correspond?

The past in which the possible is inscribed is neither recent nor remote: in “Le possible et le réel,” Bergson speaks of a “passé indéfini,” of an incalculable “de tout temps,” a formless other-then.6 And in “Le souvenir du present,” we read that in false recognition, the memory is never located at a specific point in the past, but rather in “the past in general.” What is at issue here is not this or that former present, with its own unique countenance, but rather a simple “before” that cannot be circumscribed within any chronological order: “a past that has no date and can have none.”7 The past-in-general accompanies every actuality like an aura—without, though, itself having ever been actual. It is, therefore, the pure form of anteriority that is here at work. It is an a priori form, with the capacity to subordinate any experience whatsoever to itself: not just that which has already been, but also current experience and what is now to come. We ought to recognize that “a representation can bear the mark of the past independently of what it represents.”8

If representation concerns a particular (dateable, defined) past, the past-form so closely adheres to its object that it goes almost unperceived. Conversely, where the “now” is depicted as the “back then” (namely, where we have a memory of the present) the past-in-general sticks out in sharp relief. The déjà vu is its epiphany. Moreover, the past-form also corresponds to the representation of the future. How? Whenever we adopt the future perfect tense of a verb, the future seems to be emptied out, locked away: “I will have enjoyed,” “I will have had many opportunities,” and so on. In all such cases, what does not yet exist is put behind us, and we include it in the past-in-general, making it a matter of memory. The future perfect is the memory of what is to come.9

Whatever the temporal location of the experience to which we are referring, the past-form always implies that the actual must step back in favor of the potential. An event that took place many years ago is “past” in a double sense: something that was perceived and something that was remembered as it took place, a real “back then” and a virtual “back then,” the chronologically situated past and the past-in-general. An event in the present, as we know, demonstrates its own enduring potential as soon as its image is anachronistically projected back onto the “passé indéfini.” An event that takes place subsequently, will have been possible: contingency is inherent within future states of affairs (or rather, seems to be one of their salient traits) precisely and only because they also have a place in the past-in-general, have something of the previous about them, and are vested with memory.

In a well-known passage of his Confessions, Augustine writes:

But even now it is manifest and clear that there are neither times future nor times past. Thus it is not properly said that there are three times, past, present, and future. Perhaps it might be said rightly that there are three times: a time present of things past; a time present of things present; and a time present of things future. For these three do coexist somehow in the soul, for otherwise I could not see them. The time present of things past is memory; the time present of things present is direct experience; the time present of things future is expectation.10

And yet such a scansion, with its axis in the current present (the object of perception or “direct intuition”), speaks to the modality of the real, rather than to the modality of the possible. The past—or better, the indeterminate “de tout temps”—is preeminent with regard to the potentially existing. Paraphrasing Augustine, we ought speak of a past of the past (the old “memory of the present” now placed side-by-side with the perception of the present); of a past of the present (as arises in the déjà vu phenomenon); and a past of the future (the memory of what is to come, as established by what “will have been”).

Language as the Indefinite Past
The past that was never actual, a “before” with no date, the pure form of the previous: such are the structural characteristics of the time pertaining to possibility. But such a morphological description is only one first step. The past-form is not, indeed, a mental abstraction (possible to grasp by identifying what the countless particular pasts have in common), nor a mere psychological device. Nothing is less “formalistic” than this form: it does not limit itself to making its mark on many and varied representations, but also exhibits its own particular mode of existence. The past-in-general, beyond being a “how?,” is also and above all a “what?”: it refers to an aspect of existence, and is incarnated in an unavoidable concrete process. Our next task, then, consists in understanding what the past-in-general is, or—the same thing—in naming the potential nestled within it.

The past-in-general is, in the first place, language. Meaning: the phonetic, lexical, and grammatical system, which exists in the sense of an inexhaustible potential, a potential that is perennial because it is never exhausted or attenuated by the ensemble of its realizations. But the term “language” here has a more extensive—or less rigorous—meaning than Saussure gives it: it also indicates the general disposition towards articulated discourse, the very fact that we can speak. Here we are referring to the language faculty as such, not only the system of signs (langue in the strict sense, that is) that allows and mediates its exercise.

According to psychiatrists, people subject to déjà vu are, without exception, inclined to find familiar words strange. Their vocabulary is immobilized, stopping the phrase in its tracks: derailed from its habitual use, it comes into sharp relief, and produces a sort of echo. We are suddenly struck by certain among its material characteristics (the excess of vowels in “queue,” for example), or by the obviousness of its etymology, or by a previously unnoticed homonymy. The familiar word is split in two: we use it to say something, but, at the same time, we put it in inverted commas, as if it were a quotation. It is used but also mentioned; perceived in its actuality, and together with this remembered as something virtual. On the one hand, the mention of the term—simultaneous to its use—situates what is being said in the past. On the other hand, its mention re-evokes the fact that it belongs to the infinite potential of language, restoring the dictum to the terms of the speakable, and referring the act of speaking back to the faculty that made it possible. On the one hand and the other: But is it really the case that two distinct aspects are at play here? Or are we talking about one and the same thing? On closer inspection, the mention of the familiar word pushes it back into the passé indéfini precisely insofar as it reassimilates it to language. And language is, in itself, the purely previous, an indeterminate other-then. The language faculty is the never-present “back then” to which what I now utter can always look back.

The Snobbery of Memory

This reflection on the two different forms of anachronism now allows us to formulate a detailed and sharp-pointed thesis that will not be blunted by too many nuances. More than a thesis, it is a guide-to-thought with which we can mount an offensive against certain theories and emotional inclinations that postulate the completion or collapse of the process of history.

The feeling of déjà vu, awakened by “false recognition,” leads us to believe that even if we are faced with continuous change, everything is the same, everything is repeating itself. It goes without saying, however, that there would be no “false recognition” if it were not for “the memory of the present.” Only where the virtual is in full flower right next to the actual could we ever illusorily confuse it for something that we have experienced already. The real anachronism makes use of materials that the formal anachronism puts at its disposal: and nothing else beyond them. As such, it uses its opposite as its own lever. But since “false recognition” conceals the genesis of historical time, the genesis that the “memory of the present,” conversely, reveals and displays, to state that the former presupposes the latter has a consequence of some significance (here accorded the value of a “thesis”). Namely: the “end of history” is an idea, or state of mind, that arises precisely when the very condition of possibility of history comes into view; when the root of all historical activity is cast out onto the surface of historical becoming, and is evident as a phenomenon; when thehistoricity of experience is itself also manifested historically.

The best way to examine this guide-to-thought more closely is to put it to the test. That is, we ought to test the waters of its explanatory capacity and critical force in relation to an example text. In a long footnote to his Introduction à la lecture de Hegel, Alexandre Kojève maintains that the exhaustion of history diagnosed by Hegel is no longer, in our epoch, some future eventuality, but rather is a fait accompli.11 The industrial societies of the post-Second World War period, in this view, had now left behind the struggle against nature and the struggle for mutual recognition. Labor—that is, the opposition between Subject and Object—was losing weight and significance as automated production processes captured and subjugated nature in such measure as to allow for a stable relation with it. Similarly, politics—the search for the recognition of others by way of wars and revolutions—was also declining. The bloody conflicts of the last century represented only a “spatial extension” of the essential results achieved once and for all time by Robespierre and Napoleon. Also disappearing together with Labor and Politics is “Action in the strong sense of the term,” which, rejecting “the given,” was always seeking to establish a historically new world. But what forms of life prevail in post-historical societies? Kojève saw two of them, a pair that diverged and were even opposites.
On the one hand, the post-history in which we are supposedly immersed is explained as man “becoming an animal again.” Rather than inhabiting a world with struggle and labor, the living being of the Homo sapiens species is now encapsulated in an environment, to which it adapts without any kind of friction. Certainly, even after the conclusion of the business of History, we will build houses and create works of art, but following the same impulse that leads a bird to make its nest or a spider to spin its web. Nothing like happiness is any longer in question: rather, “men will surely be content as a result of their artistic,erotic, and playful behavior inasmuch as, by definition, they will be contented with it.” Also accounted for here is the “definitive disappearance of human discourse (Logos) in the strict sense.” In its place, “vocal signals or sign ‘language’” will proliferate, to which we would react by conditioned reflex: nothing much different from “what is supposed to be the ‘language’ of bees.” In Kojève’s view, the American way of life, in which the eternal present typical of an “environment” dominates, exemplifies well the condition of post-historical animals.

Another way of being also comes into view at the end of history, diametrically opposed to the one just sketched out. It is a matter of snobbery. That is to say, an affected attitude that shrinks from any utilitarian automatism and clashes with the “‘animal’ or ‘natural’ given.” Though having nothing to do with Labor or “warlike and revolutionary Fights,” the snob nonetheless maintains a separation between the forms and contents of his own activity, such as to guarantee the former a marked independence from (and supremacy over) the latter. The unequalled model of this way of being is Japanese culture: there, indeed, Noh theatre, the tea ceremony, and the art of flower arranging have built up a widespread propensity to “live according to totally formalized values.” No longer historical yet still human (the fracture between Subject and Object having been reinvented), Japanese snobbery, according to Kojève, alludes to a principle-hope of general applicability:

While henceforth speaking in an adequate fashion of everything that is given to him, post-historical Man must continue to detach “form” from “content,” doing so no longer in order actively to transform the latter, but so that he may oppose himself as a pure “form” to himself and to others taken as “content” of any sort.

Becoming an animal again, or else snobbery. The alternative proposed by Kojève is in many aspects akin to that with which we dealt in earlier: real anachronism or formal anachronism, false recognition or memory of the present. However, in order to make clear this consonance, we must call into question the conceptual schema within which Kojève inscribes his pair of opposed choices. And it attracts two principal objections.
First off, far from it playing a protagonist’s role on the little stage of post-history, we could even say that snobbery constitutes the very quintessence of historical life. Its prerogative is to show the autonomy and exuberance of “forms” with respect to “contents”: But what are this autonomy and exuberance, other than the prerequisite of Labor and Politics: in other words, “Action in the strong sense of the term”? Snobbery unveils the foundation of historical conflicts, since it devotes itself to representing, through a series of determinate acts, the contrast that generally exists between human action and “the given.” Detaching “forms” from “contents,” snobbery factually expresses the impossibility of any fact entirely realizing the corresponding capacity-to-do. To put it another way: snobbery is a peculiar praxis that reflects in itself—and relentlessly exhibits—the historicity of every type of praxis (including “snobbish” praxis as well, of course). To attribute a post-historical character to the snob is a classic case of being blinded by too much light.

Secondly, “becoming an animal again” is not a biological fate, corresponding to the disappearance of any friction with nature. On the contrary, it is an existential possibility that reveals itself insofar as the gap with “the given” is exaggeratedly accentuated, becomes most visible, and is experienced as such. But this accentuation, as well as the visibility and direct experience of the gap with “the given,” is the result of snobbery. As such, we must say that “becoming an animal again” is the existential possibility that reveals itself on the basis of the full affirmation of the snobbish lifestyle. For Kojève, the post-historical animal always adheres symbiotically to the “contents” of its action, while the snob distances himself from them, counterpoising to this the autonomy of “forms.” But he is mistaken here. Such a symbiotic adherence would only be conceivable, in truth, if we supposed thatHomo sapiens somersaulted into the immutable condition of the wolf or the ape; but if we did suppose such a somersault, the self-distancing subsequently operated by the snob would itself be inconceivable. On closer inspection, the fracture between the “forms” and “contents” of activity is at the basis of both modes of being. The division that separates and renders them antithetical is, rather, the following: the snob tries to live at the level of this fracture, understanding that the source of history is to be found within it; the post-historical animal, conversely, makes the overpopulation of forms into an environment at one remove, viscous and all-embracing, and adapts to its prescriptions in virtue of some (pseudo-)instinctive behavior. To use Kojève’s example: the post-historical animal is he who reduces the most elaborate, affected aspects of the tea ceremony to an immediate “given.” Precisely because they are detached from their natural “contents,” and precisely because of their independence (and hypertrophy), “forms” are surreptitiously taken for a catalog of minute “contents”—and with this, their frictionless mutual penetration does indeed seem possible.

The post-historical animal and the snob do not limit themselves to coexisting spatially, each of them extraneous and refractory with regard to the other. Within the latter we can still make out the silhouette of the former, even if it has been disfigured and upended. The intimate relationship between these two contenders does not, however, blunt the contest itself. The antithesis between these two forms of life is all the more radical, indeed, the more they are based on identical premises and defined against the same background. This background is not, as Kojève supposes, the “end of history.” On the contrary, the opposition between “becoming an animal again” and snobbery is resolved on the stage of a hyper-historical epoch: the epoch in which, let us repeat, not only do we experience historical events, but we face up to the very thing that confers a historical tone on every event.

False recognition suits “becoming an animal again” very well. And the converse is also true: “becoming an animal again” announces itself first and foremost as false recognition. When today’s potential is confused for an already-experienced act, which we are now constrained to copy unvaryingly, human praxis degenerates into repetitive, predetermined behavior patterns. To identify the faculty (capacity-to-do) with a list of specific performances (faits accomplis) carves out an environment for us within which any freedom from “the given” is imperceptible. It is clear, however, that this confusion and this identification would be impossible if the potential and the faculty had not acquired an autonomous significance thanks to the snobbish memory of the present. When we experience language through the prism of each concrete utterance, communication resembles a weft of “vocal signals or sign ‘language,’” but, in experiencing it, we take it for an immense reservoir of already-spoken words, to be repeated and repeated again in correspondence with environmental stimuli. The impulse for happiness declines, and people are simply content (inasmuch as they are contented with their own behavior), when the disposition to enjoy pleasure appears as such—as distinct from a single actual pleasure—but, at the same time, it is equated (through “false recognition,” indeed) with the sum of already-enjoyed pleasures.

The Modernariat

The excess of memory, which without doubt characterizes the contemporary situation, has a name: the memory of the present. This latter, rather than remaining a fundamental and yet hidden characteristic of the mnestic faculty, breaks through to the surface and is explicitly manifest. What is excessive is not per se the split in every instant between a perceived “now” and a remembered “now,” but rather the fact that this split has become fully visible. To what do we owe such a radical disclosure? Perhaps to a pathological “lack of attention to life,” as Bergson claims? Nothing of the kind. The memory of the present, whose peculiar function is precisely to represent the possible, presents itself unreservedly when the experience of the possible assumes a crucial importance in the fulfillment of life’s tasks. It is the objective preeminence of the virtual in any given type of praxis that brings the mnestic mechanism openly into relief—in determining the temporality of the virtual, this mechanism opens the way to the virtual itself. The excess of memory does not induce lethargy and resignation, but on the contrary guarantees the most intense alacrity.

The paralysis of action, often accompanied by an ironic disillusionment, derives above all from the inability to bear the experience of the possible. To put it another way, the effective cause of this paralysis is the overturning of the memory of the present in false recognition, which, as we know, reconfigures today’s possible as a previously-existing real that we must now inevitably reiterate. Since the memory of the present is an explicit, pervasive phenomenon, even its direct negation—that is, false recognition—is immediately in evidence. Déjà vu is, indeed, a pathology: but, we must add, it is a public pathology.

In the contemporary situation, apparently in harmony with the plot of the second of Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations, the overabundance of memory entails an overabundance of history. This does not, however, mean the maniacal (and asphyxiating) predominance of historiographical studies. The problem is something rather more extreme: the unprecedented proximity of every particular instance of action and suffering to history’s conditions of possibility, namely what historicizes action and suffering per se.

In our epoch, the root of acting historically (the coexistence of, as well as the discrepancy between, potential and act) has acquired empirical and even pragmatic significance as a phenomenon. There is no work task today that does not require—if it is to be discharged in full—the exhibition of the generic psycho-physical disposition to produce (namely, labor-power), which goes beyond the task itself. Nor is there any effective, pertinent discourse today that, beyond communicating something, does not also have to demonstrate the speaker’s linguistic competence pure and simple, namely the capacity-to-speak (language), which always exceeds the content that the communication happens to have. The formal anachronism thus also itself becomes a public mechanism, an inevitable requisite of production and discourse. The overabundance of history (connected to the overabundance of memory) points us to where human praxis is directly grappling with the difference between faculty and performance, which constitutes history’s condition of possibility.

Nietzsche held that “at the point of a certain excess of history, life crumbles and degenerates—as does, ultimately, as a result of this degeneration, history itself, as well.” We can here put our own name to this statement, on condition that the original meaning is altered. The idea of an “end of history” is not the consequence of excess, as Nietzsche hypothesizes, but rather the consequence of its obfuscation. It is also true, moreover, that this obfuscation presupposes a revelation: it concerns something (namely, the overabundance of history) on which our gaze is now fixed. Let us consider these two aspects more closely. The post-historical state of mind is awakened by the overturning of the (historicizing) formal anachronism in the real anachronism, which is symmetrically opposed to it. The real anachronism conceals the difference between potential and act (the foundation of historicity), thus reducing potential to a previous act, a faculty to past performances, and language to already-spoken words. Nonetheless, the radical difference between capacity-to-do and faits accomplis is subject to a transfiguration—one that conceals this difference—precisely and only when it comes to the fore, when it is empirically most dazzling. The real anachronism is based on the formal anachronism, attesting to its opposite as it clashes with and deforms it. The impression that the historical process is stuck (“history itself … crumbles and degenerates”) does indeed arise when human praxis stands closest to history’s condition of possibility (“a certain excess of history”), but it arises as a reaction that detracts from it, or what Dante called acontrapasso.

Here, we get to something else that perhaps ought to be counted among the many ways in which we can formulate the salient problem of the contemporary situation. Namely, learning to experience the memory of the present (or better, its explicit, pervasive character) as such, thus liberating it from the nemesis that degrades it into false recognition. Learning to experience the memory of the present means to attain the possibility of a fully historical existence. Such a possibility, if it is not incarnated in a set of habits—that is, in an ethos—will not remain neglected, ever-flickering on the horizon, but rather penetrates into its opposite, taking on the semblance of the “end of history.” And that is what is happening today, in the main. Faced with the hyper-historicity of experience, postmodern ideology hurries to play the broken record of the déjà vu, simultaneously both sweet and gloomy. Everything has already been; history has fallen “into the order of the recyclable”; we are destined, for better or for worse, to “the massive recall, at every moment, of all the patterns of our life”12; every action has the status and the mannerisms of a quotation.

Making its mark on the contemporary public spirit, the déjà vu (or false recognition, or real anachronism) determines collective behaviors, lifestyles, and emotional propensities. To illustrate these behaviors, lifestyles, and propensities in a synthetic (yet not elusive) manner, it is opportune again to turn to the second of Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations. We know already that the déjà vu subjects us to a pseudo-past, the fictitious “back then” that the present seems compelled zealously to reproduce. But every relationship with the past, even when it is utterly illusory, requires the development of a certain historiographical talent. Obviously what is in question here is not a scientific methodology, but an undertone of common sense, the nonpremeditated inclination to take care of what has been. The question that makes us again turn to Nietzsche’s text is more or less the following: What kind of “historiography” appertains to the false past set up by déjà vu? What type of historical narration establishes itself at the “end of history”?
Nietzsche discerned three possible approaches to the cadaster of res gestae. He termed monumental that history (read: historiography) which strives to present models worthy of emulation: “a collection of ‘effects in themselves’ of events that will have an effect in every age.”13 Critical history is that concerned with “passing judgment on and destroying the past”: it is cultivated by those of us who, unable to bear the miserable present, attempt “to give ourselves a posteriori, as it were, a new past from which we would prefer to be descended, as opposed to that past from which we actually descended.”14

Finally (though taking the middle place in Nietzsche’s ordering), there is antiquarian history, which “preserves and venerates” the past, as it really was, in its totality, without missing out the slightest detail.15 For the antiquarian historian, everything deserves to be kept alive in memory: the village fête, an incidental comment that just slipped out, the humble “almost vanishing traces” of history. Monumental historiography can degenerate into overblown rhetoric, and the critical approach into peevish rancor: however, since each of them maintains a certain link with activity and the unfolding of history, their overabundance is harmful to life to only a limited degree. Only the excess of antiquarian history causes irreparable damage. Its stunning suggestion that we ought to remember every particular raises the specter of hypermnesia, which Nietzsche discusses right at the beginning of this text: “Imagine the most extreme example, a human being who does not possess the power to forget.”16 This extreme case, at first brought up as a bogeyman, becomes a routine when antiquarian history has its way. It flourishes untroubled even “when history itself is lost”—even and especially then.

The pseudo-past, when we are being led on by the déjà vu, does not allow for filters or choices. Rather, it appears to be “preserving and venerating” everything, almost as if it were a vivid hic et nunc. Antiquarian historiography lovingly tends to the “once upon a time” evoked by false recognition. But, we should repeat, here “historiography” must not be taken to mean specialist knowledge, but rather a widespread and even banalized existential attitude. Correlating extremely closely to the post-historical mood, the antiquarian attitude is an indelible component of the forms of life characterized by the déjà vu as public pathology. But of what, exactly, does this attitude consist?
The “past” to be preserved and venerated (and this veneration’s only requite is in mimesis) is nothing other than the present: or better, the present smuggled in place of something that already happened, through a real anachronism. Antiquarian historiography applies its own typical methods to actuality: everything that happens is treated as suggestive evidence, while it is still happening; the current moment is consumed by nostalgia. But the antiquarian inclination ought to have a more specific name for when it is concentrated on the present: modernariat. In its common usage, this term designates the—sentimental, aesthetic, commercial—interest in objects and artifacts belonging to the recent past (so recent, it skirts on today): the music of the 1960s, the political posters of the following decade, and then, continuing onward, the washing machine that just gave up the ghost, or last summer’s fashionable hats. In the radical usage that we here propose, “modernariat” instead means the systematic development of an antiquarian sensibility with regard to thehic et nunc being lived at any given moment. In one sense, the modernariat is a symptom of the doubling of the present as an illusory “already-been”; but it also actively contributes to the ever-renewed realization of this double.
The modernariat is the historiographical genre that prevails when History always seems to be setting the pace; when, that is, it seems—as Bergson wrote of the déjà vu—“that the future is closed, that the situation is detached from everything although I am attached to it.”17

The antiquarian history of the present gives rise to what Nietzsche called “a blind mania to collect.”18 The modernariat develops a sort of cult of whatever happens to exist now: it surveys it with “insatiable curiosity” and attributes it the stunning fascination and prestige of destiny. Walter Benjamin tried to put some of the prerogatives of the “antiquarian” approach to the service of “critical” history, or to make the antiquariat supremely critical: as such, he sang the praises of the collector (think of his “Edward Fuchs, Collector and Historian”19) and his vocation of redeeming the “oppressed past” sabotaged by the victors of history, with special concern for the lowly, the hidden and the silenced. Benjamin’s proposal is, today, being hideously caricatured by part of the modernariat, who favor a particular form of collecting: not to bring out in the present the plot of a thorny past which has been misunderstood (i.e., Benjamin’s intention), but rather to give the present the stigmata of a sacred and unmodifiable past. Not satisfied with contemplating the “now” as if it were a “back then,” the post-historical collector also nurtures a certain admiration for it, to the extent of concluding that “it’s too late to do anything better.”

The antiquarian history of the present, or modernariat, is wholly at one with the society of the spectacle. In turn, we could say that the society of the spectacle is the modernariat raised to the nth degree. The “blind mania to collect” of our time understands the present day as a sort of world’s fair. An exhibition, that is, where the same individual attends both as an actor (“playing a role—for most people, many roles, thus playing them all superficially and badly”) and as a spectator “wandering in search of pleasure.” That is, they are their own spectators; or rather, though it is the same thing, they collect their own life while it is passing, rather than living it. Why is the present incessantly duplicated as the spectacle of the present? Why does it take on the aspect of a “world’s fair”?
Such questions have become rhetorical, by now. The present is duplicated because of the déjà vu. When we feel that we are simultaneously both acting in and spectating on our lives, this is a case of false recognition. It is then, according to Bergson, that a person “is looking on at his own movements, thoughts and actions,” such as to split him into two people, as if one were “an actor playing a part” for the other, spectating.20 Far from only referring to the growing consumption of cultural commodities, the notion of the spectacle concerns, first and foremost, the post-historical inclination towards watching oneself live. To put it another way: the spectacle is the form that the déjà vu takes, as soon as this becomes an exterior, public form beyond one’s own person. The society of the spectacle offers people the “world’s fair” of their own capacity to do, to speak and to be—but reduced to already-performed actions, already-spoken phrases, and already-complete events.

1 [A reference to Luigi Pirandello. –Trans.]
2 Henri Bergson, “Memory of the Present and False Recognition,” in Key Writings(London: Continuum, 2002), 149.
3 Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 9.
4 Bergson, “Memory of the Present and False Recognition,” 155.
5 Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia(London: Routledge, 1936), 235–36.
6 Bergson, “The Possible and the Real,” inKey Writings (London: Continuum, 2002), 230.
7 Bergson, “Memory of the Present and False Recognition,” 148.
8 Ibid., 150.
9 The future perfect verb tense is of some significance in both Bergson’s essay on the déjà vu and that concerning the possible. In “Le Souvenir du present et la fausse reconnaissance” (Revue Philosophique de la France et de I’Etranger [Dec. 1908]: 561), he writes: “As we witness an event or participate in a conversation, there suddenly arises the conviction that we have already seen what we are seeing, already heard what we are hearing, and already said what is being said … in sum, we are reliving down to the last detail an instant of our own past life. The illusion is sometimes so strong that in each moment, as long as this illusion lasts, we believe ourselves to be at the point of predicting what is about to happen: how could we not know already, if we feel that soon we will know that we knew it?” [Italics added. This passage does not appear in the existing English translation in Key Writings. –Trans.]
10 Augustine, Confessions, Book XI, Chapter 20.
11 Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980). In the text I focus exclusively on the long note in which he develops the discussion from the twelfth of his 1938–39 lectures at the École pratique des hautes études.
12 Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, 27, 73.
13 The Nietzsche Reader, eds. Keith Ansell Pearson and Duncan Large (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 133–34.
14 Ibid., 138.
15 Ibid., 135.
16 Ibid., 127.
17 Bergson, “Memory of the Present and False Recognition,” 155.
18 Nietzsche Reader, 137.
19 Translation in New German Critique 5 (1975): 27–58.
20 Bergson, “Memory of the Present and False Recognition,” 150.