A conversation between Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik
continues from the previous post:
SM: Under the guise of the contemporary the modernist left has a kind of melancholia for a future that it cancels to preserve its received premise: the present. The past and the future are taken as modifications of the present. The advantage for left-criticality is that the contemporary can then accommodate, dissimilate, colonize all of time in its own terms. This is really evident in contemporary art, which becomes a kind of last word in art. It cancels even its own futurity if not the future in general for the sake of its own critical accomplishments, which are of course capture-mechanisms demonstrating contemporary art’s salience to everything.
AA: Contemporary art is a good example also because it has not been just a victim of the recent economic and political reordering of neoliberalism, but has really helped build the matrix of that reorganization by implementing its logic on all levels from a left-critical angle. Specifically, it has stressed the dominance of the present or the past as condition for action, and also, as we said before, individuated experience as the main benefit of that reorganization. It takes the lead in a general aestheticization at all levels: personal/individual creativity, originality etc; environment and cities as spaces of creativity and “disruptive” entrepreneurialism; the conflation of production and consumption with the prosumer, whose “natural” habitat is, precisely, the smart city itself turned into a kind-of continual biennial event. All of this goes back to the fetishization of presentness and of the aesthetic experience of everyday life at the expense of its reconstruction, which would be the task of poiesis or a poetics.
SM: Via the continued enrichment of experience through an aesthetic encounter, contemporary art also draws attention to specifics and particulars at the cost of systemic understanding. Victoria Ivanova draws attention to this operational logic in her contribution to this issue, linking it to the human rights regime as a kind-of counterpart in global ordering that constructs the relation between universality and particulars after the so-called “end of history.”
Let’s be clear that this is not a condition of stasis: contemporary art is integrated into neoliberalism’s enrichment of experience for its elite beneficiaries, and those thereabouts, in a way that promotes change and revision. This is part of the complexity of the speculative present of neoliberal capitalist development: it looks like a personal good, an enrichment of experiment by aestheticization, by promoting change while maintaining a certain stability --
AA: An aesthetic experience not just of art, but of everything.
SM: Yes, the aestheticization of experience, or experience as an aesthetic. That is also a generalization of ethics too: the appreciation of differences without political demand, a kind of superliberal --
SM: A de-politicization because it’s a de-systematization. Such an aesthetic/ethical appreciation is a repudiation — indirectly made, as a kind of background condition — against making systemic determinations. The latter are held to be too complex to be apprehended or reworked, impossible or just wrong-headed because totalitarian. What we are obliged to be restricted to are instead only the singularities of what is and of experiences. That is certainly the injunction of contemporary art, operating via each artwork and its social norms. And to that extent it is a minor but paradigmatic model for a neoliberal sociality, as Ivanova remarks.
The way in which contemporary art becomes a plaything for big power in neoliberalism, despite many of art’s critical content claims against that model of domination, this convergence makes coherent sense on this basis. But what needs to be emphasized here is that rather than just remaining at the level of the conflation of varieties of anarcho-leftism in contemporary art’s critical claims with the rightist interests of increasingly concentrated capital and power, the two can be seen to have common interests in flattening out or simplifying the speculative time-complex, as reactive detemporalizations of the speculative present.
What is necessary against these and other such reactions is to have strategies and praxes — and that means theories — to gain traction in the speculative present. And that is what both right-wing conservative strategies and left-critical or aesthetic approaches are utterly incapable of doing. As we’ve said, both are combined in contemporary art which is then also incapable of doing anything but consolidating this condition, no matter what it claims to do, what it pretends to do, or what its content claims are.
AA: We agree that we have to think and act within a post-contemporary speculative time-complex. But now the question is: how to differ from the capitalist or financial-feudalistic version of it? How does a speculative theory introduce a difference into the speculative present from its exploitative formation by neoliberalism, however else we might characterize that form of domination? What would be a speculative politics capable of accelerating the time-complex, in the sense of introducing a difference to it?
SM: That is the fundamental political question, for sure. One further theoretical point might help us understand the difficulties here. Namely, why is our wish to get past contemporaneity not just Jacques Derrida’s criticism of the metaphysics of presence? For Derrida, presence is the primary category of western metaphysics, circumscribing not just the main philosophical doctrines in the Western tradition but also correlative prevailing social, political and language formations. And Derrida proposes that the present held to be adequate to itself needs to be dismantled and reconstituted. For him, the task is to deconstruct presence — ontologically, in time, space, and so on. We are contending that that contemporaneity is no less an extended social historical present, presentification. So, in a way, aren’t we just doing Derrida again, even though he is a key figure in the critical lineage that needs to be surpassed?
AA: It’s not the worst thing to be repeating Derrida to some extent. But with his deconstruction, it’s a necessarily ongoing process of the ideology or effect of presentness establishing itself and also being deconstructed: Metaphysics needs to be deconstructed and it deconstructs itself all the time, so it’s an unending procedure. Unfortunately, this goes down all too well with a tedious modernist aesthetic of the negative, not so far away from the fetishes of Frankfurt School, of the non-identical, or of a “différance” that plays with the opposition between meaning or content, traditionally the bad thing, and subtraction, which is the good thing, as are emptiness and non-readability. And I think that’s a very modernist, twentieth century logic, and also the logic of the contemporary. Contrary to all such attempts, the reworking of the speculative present must admit that meaning is always there anyway, and the constant procedure of changing and subtracting it endorsed by Derrida and the lineage of critique he belongs to is not necessarily something positive.
So, with deconstruction and most other strands of last century’s aesthetic philosophy, whatever its other merits are, you end up in an aesthetics that is an ongoing celebration of the gesture of interruption, of emptying out, and so on (just think of some of Badiou’s tedious disciples). But with the speculative time-complex we are no longer in that logic of interruption. I don’t have a problem with an ontology of time, as long as it gives us another possibility of understanding time than via the present.
SM: You are right to say Derrida ends up in an aesthetics. But it is also an ethics, with its emphasis of an always singular and irreconcilable experience of vulnerability. He rails against established meaning.
AA: We should not be afraid of establishing meaning. On the contrary.
SM: Certainly. I don’t know if my additional observation is compatible with your response, but it’s that the construction of the speculative time-complex is the societal — meaning mainly technical and economic — operation of the deconstruction of presence. That is, the way that semantics or instrumental operations are occasioned in time-complex societies is precisely the deconstruction of presence and meaning in the way that Derrida affirmed. We are then no longer in a metaphysics of presence because of the speculative time-complex. Derrida speaks to this somewhat in his discussion of teletechnologies and the displacements of space, locality, and ontology that are involved.8 But the politically difficult and mostly evaded point in these discussions is that the sought-after deconstruction of time, meaning and so on are actually taking place though processes of capitalization. The “they” of the state-business nexus effectuated that deconstruction, and they did it better than Derrida. In this light, what “the contemporary” enforces is the retrenchment of presence against its deconstruction by the speculative time-complex. Contemporaneity here includes all the procedures of interruption, subtraction, delay and non-identity you mention, as well as many others including semantic deconstruction.
8. Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler, Echographies of Television: Filmed Interviews (Cambridge: Polity, 2002)
A conversation between Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik is taken from:
Speculating Freedom: Addiction, Control and Rescriptive Subjectivity in the Work of William S. Burroughs
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Obsolete Capitalism - Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 2)
Obsolete Capitalism: Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 3)
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Terence Blake - CONCEPTS OUT OF THE SHADOWS: Notes on Deleuze and Guattari’s “What is Philosophy?” (2)
Terence Blake - GUATTARI’S LINES OF FLIGHT (2): transversal vs transferential approaches to the reading contract
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Himanshu Damle - Hegelian Marxism of Lukács: Philosophy as Systematization of Ideology and Politics as Manipulation of Ideology.
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