Here’s the panel organized by Chris Mansour of the Platypus Affiliated Society on “The Significance of Art in the #Occupy Movement,” on which I spoke with Maria Byck and Noah Fischer at the Left Forum. Karen Archey, Pam’s old friend and roommate from Chicago, was originally supposed to be on the panel as well — and I would have paid good money to see her go at it with Noah (after their much-publicized feud in the media) — but she ended up getting a paying gig in London while the Left Forum was going on.
Some of the audience questions were great, especially on the communicability of art in the service of politics, the ideological function of art (i.e., as performance piece, as agitprop, as a beautiful object), the viability of art in an administered vs. a stateless society, and the problematic formulation of a “return to realism.” Thanks to everyone who came out, either as audience members or as panelists.
Below is the text of my opening remarks.
Of Guilds and Musea: An Inquiry into the Historical and Political Dimensions of Art in #OWS
Early in the first chapter of his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx observes that
just as [men] seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95.
It is thus perhaps to be expected that during our present moment of political upheaval, we should look to the struggles of a bygone age for guidance. What distinguishes this crisis from the other great outpourings of popular unrest witnessed over the last few centuries, however, is the rather jumbled and confused manner in which the past is being reappropriated. The detritus of dead epochs is dug up for all to see, whereupon it is hastily sifted through in search of anything that might admit of creative reuse. Recycled revolutionary catchphrases appear hoisted above the scattered throngs of protestors. Placards demanding “All power to the General Assemblies!” are held up beside banners reading “The Oakland Commune.” Some signs advise us to “Be realistic — demand the impossible,” while others inform us that “Another world is possible.” Slogans of more recent coinage can also be seen: “People before profit!” and “We are the 99%!” Sewn together from disparate sources in the history of the Left, #Occupy almost seems to represent a veritable Frankenstein’s monster of the radical imagination. Here might lie the unconscious motivation behind the highly publicized “zombie march” that took place in those early days of #OWS, even if the marchers understood themselves as portraying the brainless dupes of corporate greed. At this point, however, the ahistorical residue of postmodern consciousness takes its revenge on history: the past becomes pastiche. Continue reading