There’s a good review by Jeffrey Petts over at the low-key online publication Marx and Philosophy of Hal Foster’s excellent The Art-Architecture Complex (2011). Currently I’m writing a double-review of Foster’s book along with another very good book, Gevork Hartoonian’s recent Architecture and Spectacle: A Critique (2013) for the LA Review of Books. Petts covers all the major points of Foster’s study with clarity and concision; I especially appreciate the way he elucidates the connection with Kenneth Frampton’s advocacy of “critical regionalism.” Indeed, the opposition between image and building, the visual and the tactile, the scenographic and the tectonic — frames the entire discussion. (Same goes for Hartoonian, incidentally).
But one thing I’m really grateful to Petts’ review for was its reference to criticisms Foster has recently leveled against the post-Marxist philosopher and aesthetic theorist Jacques Rancière. He cites an November 2013 review Foster wrote of Rancière’s Aisthesis, just translated into English by Zakir Paul and published by Verso. You can read that review in PDF form here. Rancière has been enthusiastically embraced by art critics and practitioners alike for too long. It’s high time that he be properly critiqued. And so below I am reproducing an article Foster wrote in December 2012 for The Brooklyn Rail on “post-critical” theory, focusing on Rancière and the French philosopher Bruno Latour. This represents Foster’s latest move away from his earlier promotion of aesthetic postmodernism in The Anti-Aesthetic (1981), a collection of essays he edited.
Critical theory took a serious beating during the culture wars of the 1980s and the 1990s, and the 2000s were only worse. Under Bush the demand for affirmation was all but total, and today there is little space for critique even in the universities and the museums. Bullied by conservative commentators, most academics no longer stress the importance of critical thinking for an engaged citizenry, and, dependent on corporate sponsors, most curators no longer promote the critical debate once deemed essential to the public reception of advanced art. Indeed, the sheer out-of-date-ness of criticism in an art world that couldn’t care less seems evident enough. Yet what are the options on offer? Celebrating beauty? Affirming affect? Hoping for a “redistribution of the sensible”? Trusting in “the general intellect”? The post-critical condition is supposed to release us from our straightjackets (historical, theoretical, and political), yet for the most part it has abetted a relativism that has little to do with pluralism.
How did we arrive at the point where critique is so broadly dismissed? Over the years most of the charges have concerned the positioning of the critic. First, there was a rejection of judgment, of the moral right presumed in critical evaluation. Then, there was a refusal of authority, of the political privilege that allows the critic to speak abstractly on behalf of others. Finally, there was skepticism about distance, about the cultural separation from the very conditions that the critic purports to examine. “Criticism is a matter of correct distancing,” Benjamin wrote in One-Way Street (1928). “It was at home in a world where perspectives and prospects counted and where it was still possible to adopt a standpoint. Now things press too urgently on human society.” How much more urgent is this pressing today? Continue reading