Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

70: Antonio Negri part IV:
On Art: On the Event and the Body

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         Over the last few weeks we saw how Negri's philosophy of art begins with the struggle of the moderns as they attempt to deal with the abstracted world and the death of transcendent truth. To overcome this struggle the postmodern individual must add or create their own truth after experiencing a sublime moment in which a new ethical vista is imagined. Work and struggle done with joy, animated by the sublime and constituting a new ethic is what makes a beautiful work of art. We can recognize such art in the left over material work when it speaks to us from out of time and impresses us with the universal and timeless experience of liberated labour.
         However, the postmodern person still lives in this world. The one most important and all pervasive mode of existence in the world is the real subsumption of capital. The notion of “real subsumption” refers to domination such that all the categories of life are reduced to one singular form: today, to the capitalist reproduction of society: the market.(Q1)
         The new ethic which the sublime experience lead to must be revolutionary; must be against the real subsumption of the day; for if it is not then the “new” ethic is really supportive of the status quo. The art produced would be real if the ethic is revolutionary or the art would be merely advertising and propaganda if it is not revolutionary.
         The true artist must always have a sublime experience; must always develop a revolutionary ethic; must today struggle against the domination of the market. In the struggle against real subsumption; in the refusal of the market, the artist can develop along three paths or alternatives: a utopian path; a terrorist path; and a constituent path.
         The utopian path has the characteristics of perfection and transcendence. The image grasped in the sublime experience was never grounded in the world that actually is. The failure of this path ends in abandonment and impotence.
         The terrorist path has the characteristics of reaction and destruction. The image grasped in the sublime experience cannot tolerate the abstract nature of the world as it is. Its failure ends in ruin and solitude.
         The constituent path keeps the factitious world but simultaneously goes beyond the abstracted world. It is grounded in what is but is always moving beyond to the new and back again in a rising spiral of meaning and significance. All the paths involve story telling but the constituent path is building narratives that link this world to the envisioned world (Q2). Telling a successful story means linking the factitious world; the historical shared world to the created meaning of the singular vision of the sublime – transforming and recreating both. It is through story telling that the glimpse of the sublime by an artist is communicated to the world; the only way to change the world with art is to communicate the vision of the artist. Every movement is the telling of a story. The future we create is the story of our liberation. (Q3)
         The story must be constructed and our bodies are the central and final point of the construction of the new world. In the modern world the body was just a subject that could produce and in so far as it produced art it could reveal that struggle of the masses. Today, in the postmodern world the body is more than just a subject; it is a machine in which production and art are inscribed. To have an inscribed body means that the abstracted world has become the living matter and fuel; the content and the motor; both determined and concrete of every one of our forms of expression. Q4
         Today's new tools range from the very concrete (smart phones, the Internet etc.) to mass education (widely spread knowledge and abstract critical thinking). The set of postmodern tools is much more abstract and immaterial when compared to the set of tools of generations ago. Two tools the author draws attention to are networking and exodus which he believes are transforming the world and by extension art. Therefore, as these tools become more like prostheses there are and will be new art and new forms of art in the postmodern world Q5.
         Q1 Have you heard stereotypical evolutionary biology theory that claims men look for women with whom they can have sex and women look for men that can provide material support for a family? This theory is an example of real subsumption in academic biology because it essentially says that women exist for men's consumption and men exist to provide women opportunities for consumption; thus further legitimizing many forms of domination including the dominance of market valuation which encourages consumption. Formal subsumption is the process of creating market value legitimation in a field; real subsumption is the victory of formal subsumption in all relevant fields of life. Do you believe that all things and institutions in modern society give legitimacy to the market valuation as the one possible way of life?
         Q2 Where a utopian would tell stories that no one can relate to and a terrorist would tell stories that are all about the negative problems without any solutions, the constituent storyteller uses the real lived experience of the abstracted world and links it to the world of the sublime vision. Do works of art that come with a story of some kind have more or less meaning for you? For the sake of its significance does it matter if a story is factitiously true? If it turned out that the parables of Jesus were factitiously true would that change you in any way? What if it turned out that the whole New Testament was really a parable?
         Q3 How does the notion that the factious truth is not as important as the created truth for the sake of art and social transformation. Is marketing that seeks to create a bigger market for a product revolutionary?
         Q4 Just over 100 years ago people lived a lot closer to unabstracted nature: people lived off the land; they were closer to the production of all things; there were many people who had the skills to live entirely on their own far away from everyone: their bodies were (in the literal sense) inscribed with that way of life. Today this is lost; with the division of labour no one knows how to take the raw materials of nature and build anything modern. Today we live in a totally abstracted world – whether good or bad it is capitalism that has brought this about; that has separated us from the natural world; today our bodies are spared the inscriptions of the “hard” life of the past; today we have cosmetic surgery and other protections against the natural world. But in the fullness of the separation a new abstracted world was created with a new “natural:” the abstracted material of the world. In our postmodern world we have begun to re-appropriate; to rediscover the tools and skills to live and change the postmodern world to our liking. We are re-acquiring the power to furnish the abstracted world to our liking (in an analogous way to how our ancestors had the power to furnish their natural world to their liking). Is this narrative believable? Is the new “natural” an abstracted world? Does social media provide empowering ways of affecting our postmodern world?
         Q5 One of the differences between the modern and postmodern set of tools is that the postmodern are becoming like prostheses in that they become an integral part of our being. In the modern world the tools were much more likely to have had a specific place and time that they were used. Then after their use they are put down. Today, for some of us, it is hard to put down our cell phones or to disregard our education. It would seem that a blacksmith could easily put down a hammer and go home; is your smart phone so easily put down today or do you bring it everywhere – do you sleep next to your phone? Are modern tools really harder to put down than older tools. Are postmodern tools becoming more like prostheses? If so, will art be fundamentally different? Do you see any other significance to the development of postmodern tools?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren