Kunkel reviews Groys for the London Review of Books

The latest issue of the London Review of Books features an article by Benjamin Kunkel on Boris Groys’ Introduction to Antiphilosophy. It’s a fairly good review, with an unexpected emphasis on Adorno — against whom Kunkel contrasts Groys’ aesthetic theory. There are bits and pieces I disagree with, quibbles about some of Kunkel’s passing characterizations of Adorno’s thought, and think he’s a bit unfair to Groys at times. But Kunkel recognizes that Groys’ main value consists in his ability to unsettle and disturb his readers, something I’ve always appreciated in his writings.

Still, considered purely as a review of his most recent collection of essays, Introduction to Antiphilosophy, Kunkel’s piece falls well short. In fact, his entire focus is on one essay out of the entire volume, in which Groys revisits the Gesamtkunstwerk theme in tracing out a genealogy of participatory aesthetics. Otherwise, the rest of the review goes over Groys’ long career as a theorist-provocateur, which is admittedly an interesting narrative, but spends most of its time on his first book on Stalinist aesthetics and his 2010 nostalgia piece on The Communist Postscript. Left completely out of the picture are some of the more interesting essays in the book, though on the whole it’s a rather uneven text.

Kunkel neglects to mention a few vital details about Introduction to Antiphilosophy‘s composition, moreover. These, I should think, would have been worthwhile to include for anyone who might be interested in purchasing the book. Among them, there’s the fact that the articles that show up were assembled from a wide range of pieces Groys published in his career. The essay on Derrida, for example, though respectful and appreciative of poststructuralism’s immanent critique of structuralist linguistics, concludes with a very standard set of criticisms from the official Eastern Bloc Marxist-Leninist playbook of condemnations concerning Western bourgeois philosophy. It’s understandable, of course; the essay first appeared in the mid-1980s, when Groys was still just a literary critic and aesthetic theorist living in the DDR. However, it’s slightly surprising to anyone unfamiliar with his earlier work.

Worth a read, however. Kunkel can be a very incisive critic when he wants to be, and even cites Paperny’s excellent Culture Two in the course of the article. This is always sure to win someone points with me. The Nekrasov poem rhyming Beuys with Groys was a nice touch. Readers of this blog may want to check out the review I wrote for Stanley Aronowitz’s Situations: Project of the Radical Imagination of Groys’ Total Art of Stalinism and Paperny’s Culture Two, as well as the edited transcription of the interview I conducted with Groys several months back.

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