Thursday, May 01, 2014

[轉貼] Contractions of Time: On Social Practice from a Temporal Perspective

Contractions of Time: On Social Practice from a Temporal Perspective
Nato Thompson

e-flux journal #20 November 2010

Many can relate to a sense of disembodied franticness that expands across the landscape of our daily lives. We are busy people. We are plugged in to phones and computers, and constantly on the move. An elusive horizon – the purpose of our quicksilver existence – has been erased in favor of a go-to emotional state that is the result of a privatization of time. We are frantic workers even when we work against the very conditions that produce our franticness.

In his incisive book Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher diagnoses various psychological ailments (Attention Deficit Disorder, dyslexia, bipolar disorder) that have emerged from a social environment of deeply privatized and consumable moments:

If, then, something like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a pathology, it is a pathology of late capitalism – a consequence of being wired into the entertainment-control circuits of hypermediated consumer culture.1

This affective control not only perpetuates a form of consumption but, more basically, a particular temporality. If products demand to be produced and consumed in ever-expanding contexts, they may also be adapted to durations more suitable to electronics than to what our bodies can endure. And without a doubt, the accelerated pace of disembodied consumer desire ultimately alters the basic structure of our bodies. “The consequence of being hooked into the entertainment matrix is a twitchy, agitated interpassivity, an inability to concentrate or focus.”2 We are plugged in. We are in the matrix. We are atrophied hunger machines.

Fisher’s lament that life is getting too fast and that people cannot concentrate is hardly new. And in left-leaning art culture, pointing the finger at capitalism is no more novel a diagnosis. Certainly, the dominant social order is responsible for the present social order – the system perpetuates itself and we are its subjects. And the self-help industry would be much more compelling if its balm for depression and spazzed-out children included a radical redistribution of wealth, but that goes without saying. Nonetheless, the picture Fisher paints offers a clue to an evolving condition of behavior that must be accounted for in the production of meaning in culture writ large. Any cultural formation that comes into being now necessarily does so according to the terms of a general cultural shift toward the twitchy, the disinterested, the agitated, the dyslexic, and the bipolar.

When Marina Abramovic sat for hours at a time in the central gallery of MoMA, bright lights beaming down on her as she met visitor after visitor with her steady gaze, what shook the audience was her commitment. The act of willfully placing oneself on a rigorous schedule best suited to an endurance sport, sitting passively and doing nothing but staring, struck the audience as touching upon the two poles of the elegiac and nihilistic. The artful meaning of looking into the artist’s eyes was eclipsed by the pure physicality of it all D how could she possibly sit there every day?

Marina Abramovic

Having emerged in the context of 1960s art, the durational performance finds a new form of reception at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. The return of the body and of prolonged time resists the dematerialized, agitated nature of the current era. Abramovic’s performance brought the world of spectacle into the two forms of experience many considered beyond its purview: the body, and time. If spectacle is meant to be consumed rapidly, and from a distance, then Abramovic’s performance rendered the spectral character of fame human flesh, placing it front and center for the long term. Imagine Brad Pitt just standing there day after day, not running away from paparazzi and their flashing cameras; just a sustained presence. It runs counter to the collective nature of spectatorship, and for that reason, Abramovic’s performance sparked the imagination of a mass public. The title of both the work and the exhibition, the phrase “The Artist is Present” captures a heightened sense of engagement – as though, for the very first time, the artist is finally here. Elevated to the stature of an icon by marketing materials promoting the exhibition, Abramovic’s performance, in a reverse gesture, pulls the artist down into that space we normally occupy without noticing.

In witnessing Abramovic’s steady breathing calm, we sense our own fidgety qualities. We sense our own nervous appetites. The arts have long played host to patience and duration. One can usually identify contemporary video art, dance, and performance by its agonizing embrace of all things slow, endless, and tedious. Operating against the grain of contemporary temporality may not only be a hallmark of the arts, but also the delineation of their discursive boundary. How do we know it is art? Because it takes so long to appreciate, it couldn’t be aimed at a typical consumer. Because it is so annoyingly long it must be interesting.

Inevitably, the fast pace of consumerism is accompanied by the tantalizing promise of slow time - Allen Ginsberg once complained of a heart attack en route to his weekly meditation.

Just as the arts were reinvented in the age of the camera, so too must they be in the age of accelerated time. If the internet and the touch screen represent the apparatuses of our age, then the material and the prolonged have become a niche for the discursive and formal role of the arts. Much like a spa, the arts play host to a malnourished subject eager to experience something nostalgically other. Slow time and tangible bodies become so rare experientially that their aesthetic value finds a home in the cul-de-sac of scarcity that is art.

Since the advent of mechanical production, the arts have been the space in which the hard-to-find seeks refuge. And while the art market has been much discussed, we now find another form of scarcity in forms of experience. At times in tension, at times in collusion with capitalist scarcity, the scarcity of experience encourages forms of art that are not as easily distributed as – and thus more distinguishable from – the mass produced goods of the broader market. Massive installations, sculptures, performance, civic institutions (the museum), time-based relational aesthetics all find value in their experiential distinction from larger markets. Museums offer special opportunities to experience the body in space. In this spasmodic era, we find the arts recalibrated as a temporal, spatial, and bodily escape.

This kind of shifted aesthetic disposition resists not only the pace of the information economy, but, perhaps more importantly, our very ability to consume our experience. If we are frantic, it is only because we need to be so in order to keep up. Slowness does not only characterize a mode of consumption, but also a mode of behavior. To that end, we now find numerous forms of contemporary art that gain resonance by tweaking behavioral codes with regard to the body and temporality. Some projects comprise bite-sized moments that are quickly consumed, context-specific chunks of experience that enter the mind and dissipate quickly, in harmony with the frantic and the contingent. They are brain candy and they are meant to be delicious. While there is nothing new in describing numerous forms of participatory art as mere products of an information economy that caters to the needs of power, their temporal qualities certainly play a role as pithy and poetic correspondences to capitalist consumption.

2010 could be described as the year that relational aesthetics made its way to the mainstream in the US, where it had remained quietly operational for ten years. Abramovic’s retrospective, which could in theory be collapsed into a relational sort of zeitgeist, garnered the most attention, but there were many other associated phenomena. Over at the Guggenheim, Tino Sehgal had a multi-generational armada leading people by the hand in explorations of the idea of progress. At the New Museum, Rivane Neuenschwander granted wishes on bracelets. At Creative Time, Paul Ramirez JonasOs project titled Key to the City allowed the general public in Times Square to briefly participate in a ceremony that provided them with a key to the city of New York. This object, to all appearances an ordinary house key, awarded to the public in a brief but intimate moment at the heart of NYC spectacle, is not only symbolic, but also functional, in that it opens a myriad of locks across the five boroughs. These unmediated interpersonal projects take as their starting point a specific experience, a poetic moment, that is registered, digested, appreciated, and completed.

Just upstairs from Abramovic’s time-based project at MoMA, we found a carnival of discreet projects in which performance artists were hired to enact Abramovic’s earlier works, bringing new life to these works. The most notable of these works was Imponderabilia (1977), originally performed by Abramovic and her partner Ulay, in which the couple stood naked in a doorway and visitors were required to squeeze between them in order to gain access to the other side. The 2010 reenactment had a different character altogether; sliding between the two naked performers became an option and not a requirement, as one could simply access the same room through an alternate hallway. This slight transformation reveals something about our present condition, and perhaps also something about the popularity of the exhibition itself. In place of coercion or daring, the passage assumed the character of a carnival ride. People opted to participate, and participate they did. Lines grew as the eager public waited anxiously to brush their bodies against the bodies of the performers. The performers’ nakedness became even more tantalizing as people waited in line for this strangely sanctioned experience. Whereas Abramovic’s central-gallery project was about duration, the retrospective upstairs was a discreet pleasure zone, a mall of bodily experiences ready for consumption.

But what else can a museum or public art organization do? Without question, certain temporal limits are necessary for artistic projects to be brought to a general audience. Were the discreet embodied moments of Abramovic’s retrospective limited simply by the duration of a conventional museum visit? Is there really any value in a critique that calls for a duration so extensive that no public institution can actually host it?

Rather than make normative claims regarding the display or function of these works, my intention is to clarify the emerging cultural landscape across which these aesthetic experiments function. The reenactment of these performance artworks of the past allowed the work to fit neatly into the current aesthetic needs of a public deprived of its own bodies, wherein any renewed interest in performance has to be reframed and displayed in a manner that accounts for the dematerialized and accelerated climate of today. And the aesthetic allure of Abramovic’s physical presence captured the temporally agitated imagination of a mass audience.

But this kind of artistic production also provokes skepticism for its compatibility with a predatory capitalist economy. It can be bottled and sold as tiny little moments, all for the taking. Tino Sehgal’s This is Propaganda (2002) hovered over the exhibition of the Dakis Joannou collection curated by Jeff Koons at the New Museum, in the voice of a paid performer who sang, “This is propaganda.” The voice expands melodiously throughout the space and then states in a rather officious tone, “Tino Sehgal, This is Propaganda, 2002.” What is propaganda? Perhaps self-conscious, perhaps commenting on the artworks on display, or perhaps commenting on the condition of communication in general, this reflexivity certainly gains another layer when sung in the public exhibition of a collection of a New Museum board member. “This is propaganda,” as the song goes – a song paid for and included in a collection, that whistles its way into the ears of an audience finding their way through a museum. This is propaganda.

Tino Sehgal’s work has enjoyed a tremendous critical reception from the writer Claire Bishop, who has written:

It is worth paying closer attention to Sehgal’s aspiration to a “simultaneity of production and deproduction instead of economics of growth.” It is clear that what is being deproduced in his practice is the materiality of the art object; but what is being produced? Gesture – and here it may be worth recalling Giorgio Agamben’s claim in Means Without End (2000) that gesture is the purest form of politics (and also of intellectual activity).3

Despite Sehgal’s reflexivity, or perhaps enhanced by it, the singular embodied practice of a song sung during an exhibition nonetheless constitutes a form that is extremely convenient for a dematerialized economy. It should be noted that Bishop’s assessment came following Sehgal’s work being on display at London’s ICA in 2004. But with the intentionally vague “this” of its “this is propaganda,” the work’s meaning shifts radically depending on context. And so the performance at the New Museum, situated in an exhibition of a private collection, had an entirely different character than its ICA counterpart. If the statement at the ICA had some implications, in the context of the New Museum it became a confession of outright complicity.

Tino Sehgal casting announcement.

Can it really be the case that market-friendly forms are simultaneously, and conveniently, the highest form of political content? Now that information has become a commodity and advertising codes have penetrated the very essence of what it means to communicate, we can no longer pretend that art remains magically outside this logic. While it would be wonderful if the gesture could somehow escape this trap of cultural production, the museum and gallery are not safe-zones immune from capital and power. As a result, we must continue to view artistic gestures with the special skepticism reserved for all cultural production. Reflexivity alone won’t save it. An advertisement that tells you it’s an advertisement is no less edifying, just more contemporary.

Even if the disembodied and easily consumed are not inherently corrupt, they are assiduously brought into the fold of a transitioning art market. And this quality of economic acquiescence that characterized relational aesthetics in the ‘90s can now be found in the United States. So while there are certainly merits to discussing the limits of the gesture, the commodification of the present nevertheless plays out across the body and time.

In some cases, a strategic recalibration of the gesture’s market-friendly quality has resulted in cultural projects seeking refuge in the long term, in methodologies that expand across a temporal horizon. Slowness has emerged as a strategy for resisting the consumable flow of information and developing a form of social cohesion that withstands the frenetic needs of capital. Artist and de facto urban planner Rick Lowe’s seventeen-year involvement in the alternative arts and Project Row Houses certainly demonstrates an exceptional commitment. Unwilling to follow Richard Florida’s pro-developer gentrification models, Lowe created a locally based community housing project that combined cultural production, community organizing, and artist residencies in an economically depressed African-American neighborhood in Houston’s Third Ward, even integrating art residencies and housing for single mothers.4 This peculiar hybrid, multiuse center evolved over the last two decades into a space of trust and, to use that Deleuzian term, becoming.

The community of the area gradually became involved in a process of spatial transformation. Rather than operate with a top-down model, Lowe introduced the tools and resources for the neighborhood to rebuild their own subject positions, and his commitments demonstrate that time is indeed a more valuable social relation than money. What makes Lowe’s project altogether different is its resistance to not only the demands of consumer culture, but also to its underlying class and race determinations.

There are few corollaries in the arts to Lowe’s work, which has more in common with civic infrastructures that tend to be far more vernacular and collectively produced than art projects. Churches, social clubs, fraternal organizations, union halls, faith-based youth organizations, after-school programs, the workplace, and schools are all social spaces that evolve over time. As sites of becoming, they go far beyond the gestural. Unwieldy, loose-knit, and often dealing directly with sites of power, they hold far more sway than the arts in producing collective social imagination. And yet, the prospect of undertaking a seventeen-year project such as Lowe’s Project Row Houses is extremely daunting. According to the terms of survival in a flexible contingent economy, committing to such a long-term socially based project seems like economic suicide. Could such a long-term practice be a little too successful at resisting the market? How can one gain the social capital (or, for that matter, the capital) necessary to survive while being committed to a project in the long term? The answer is not easy and must be negotiated at the heart of the politics of cultural production today.

Project Row Houses

The artist Tania Bruguera has said that it is time to put Duchamp’s urinal back in the bathroom. That is to say that bringing life into art can no longer be considered an important gesture. Rather, life should be viewed from the epistemological vantage point found in some contemporary art. If one is interested in a more ambitious and meaningful project, perhaps it isn’t enough to depend on the niche market that is art. As accelerated time comes to characterize not only survival in the arts, but also the default condition of the public, we find forms of meaning that resist the tide of capital and gravitate toward not only the long term, but also the profoundly civic.

A certain interest has emerged in civic infrastructural projects that unfold over an extended period of time. While a pedagogic turn has been heralded in the field of contemporary art, it has been accompanied by a temporal logic. As alternative schools appear, so do more sustained commitments to subjects that resist the readily consumable moment. This is not to say that these infrastructural projects are impervious to the needs of the market, but rather that this shifting economic and cultural landscape has produced heightened interest in forms of infrastructure (they will most definitely find their own moments of coercion and vulnerability). Socially based artistic projects in the form of alternative schools, markets, legislation, and food programs appear to be on the rise as a move away from the gestural and convenient.

Jakob Jakobsen and Henrietta Heise’s Copenhagen Free University, which closed its doors in 2007, used a long-term approach to emancipatory public education; the Chicago-based artist collective Incubate works as “radical arts administrators” on alternative funding models for cultural production; the artist Caroline Woolard’s skill-share trade site OurGoods offers a Craigslist approach to swapping services in order to escape the logic of capital. In all of these approaches, we find a civic form of participation whose goals are infrastructural in scope. They all propose a means of connecting people over an extended period, and offer a response to the problem of shrinking time. In the long run, these works may find their resistance to consumable capitalism to have worked all too well. The production of cultural meaning that resists the flow of capital will need to ultimately produce forms that contribute to radically altering culture. If the civic is a space of long-term engagement with subjectivity, then perhaps the cultural producer interested in producing meaning must find a way to overcome the economic and temporal logic of the attention-deprived.

Ultimately, the spasmodic age we live in has created new needs, new desires, new markets. And the art world has catered to the shifting aesthetic, experiential, and economic conditions of the contemporary age. Movements along the temporal and bodily axes have acted as strategic calibrations between the desire to communicate and the demands of capital. It will not be so simple to locate where these long- and short-term projects find their place, but in attempting to understand them we begin to enter their complex politics.

Nato Thompson is Chief Curator at New York-based public arts institution Creative Time.

1, Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Winchester UK: Zero Books, 2009), 25.

2, Ibid., 24.

3, Claire Bishop, “No Pictures, Please: Claire Bishop on the Art of Tino Sehgal,” in Artforum International 43, no. 9 (May 2005): 215D217.

4, See Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class. And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure and Everyday Life (New York: Basic Books, 2002).

Friday, April 04, 2014

[轉貼] 伊格尔顿:马克思赞

In Praise of Marx
By Terry Eagleton

Praising Karl Marx might seem as perverse as putting in a good word for the Boston Strangler. Were not Marx's ideas responsible for despotism, mass murder, labor camps, economic catastrophe, and the loss of liberty for millions of men and women? Was not one of his devoted disciples a paranoid Georgian peasant by the name of Stalin, and another a brutal Chinese dictator who may well have had the blood of some 30 million of his people on his hands?

The truth is that Marx was no more responsible for the monstrous oppression of the communist world than Jesus was responsible for the Inquisition. For one thing, Marx would have scorned the idea that socialism could take root in desperately impoverished, chronically backward societies like Russia and China. If it did, then the result would simply be what he called "generalized scarcity," by which he means that everyone would now be deprived, not just the poor. It would mean a recycling of "the old filthy business"—or, in less tasteful translation, "the same old crap." Marxism is a theory of how well-heeled capitalist nations might use their immense resources to achieve justice and prosperity for their people. It is not a program by which nations bereft of material resources, a flourishing civic culture, a democratic heritage, a well-evolved technology, enlightened liberal traditions, and a skilled, educated work force might catapult themselves into the modern age.

Marx certainly wanted to see justice and prosperity thrive in such forsaken spots. He wrote angrily and eloquently about several of Britain's downtrodden colonies, not least Ireland and India. And the political movement which his work set in motion has done more to help small nations throw off their imperialist masters than any other political current. Yet Marx was not foolish enough to imagine that socialism could be built in such countries without more-advanced nations flying to their aid. And that meant that the common people of those advanced nations had to wrest the means of production from their rulers and place them at the service of the wretched of the earth. If this had happened in 19th-century Ireland, there would have been no famine to send a million men and women to their graves and another two or three million to the far corners of the earth.

There is a sense in which the whole of Marx's writing boils down to several embarrassing questions: Why is it that the capitalist West has accumulated more resources than human history has ever witnessed, yet appears powerless to overcome poverty, starvation, exploitation, and inequality? What are the mechanisms by which affluence for a minority seems to breed hardship and indignity for the many? Why does private wealth seem to go hand in hand with public squalor? Is it, as the good-hearted liberal reformist suggests, that we have simply not got around to mopping up these pockets of human misery, but shall do so in the fullness of time? Or is it more plausible to maintain that there is something in the nature of capitalism itself which generates deprivation and inequality, as surely as Charlie Sheen generates gossip?

Marx was the first thinker to talk in those terms. This down-at-heel émigré Jew, a man who once remarked that nobody else had written so much about money and had so little, bequeathed us the language in which the system under which we live could be grasped as a whole. Its contradictions were analyzed, its inner dynamics laid bare, its historical origins examined, and its potential demise foreshadowed. This is not to suggest for a moment that Marx considered capitalism as simply a Bad Thing, like admiring Sarah Palin or blowing tobacco smoke in your children's faces. On the contrary, he was extravagant in his praise for the class that created it, a fact that both his critics and his disciples have conveniently suppressed. No other social system in history, he wrote, had proved so revolutionary. In a mere handful of centuries, the capitalist middle classes had erased almost every trace of their feudal foes from the face of the earth. They had piled up cultural and material treasures, invented human rights, emancipated slaves, toppled autocrats, dismantled empires, fought and died for human freedom, and laid the basis for a truly global civilization. No document lavishes such florid compliments on this mighty historical achievement as The Communist Manifesto, not even The Wall Street Journal.

That, however, was only part of the story. There are those who see modern history as an enthralling tale of progress, and those who view it as one long nightmare. Marx, with his usual perversity, thought it was both. Every advance in civilization had brought with it new possibilities of barbarism. The great slogans of the middle-class revolution—"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"—were his watchwords, too. He simply inquired why those ideas could never be put into practice without violence, poverty, and exploitation. Capitalism had developed human powers and capacities beyond all previous measure. Yet it had not used those capacities to set men and women free of fruitless toil. On the contrary, it had forced them to labor harder than ever. The richest civilizations on earth sweated every bit as hard as their Neolithic ancestors.

This, Marx considered, was not because of natural scarcity. It was because of the peculiarly contradictory way in which the capitalist system generated its fabulous wealth. Equality for some meant inequality for others, and freedom for some brought oppression and unhappiness for many. The system's voracious pursuit of power and profit had turned foreign nations into enslaved colonies, and human beings into the playthings of economic forces beyond their control. It had blighted the planet with pollution and mass starvation, and scarred it with atrocious wars. Some critics of Marx point with proper outrage to the mass murders in Communist Russia and China. They do not usually recall with equal indignation the genocidal crimes of capitalism: the late-19th-century famines in Asia and Africa in which untold millions perished; the carnage of the First World War, in which imperialist nations massacred one another's working men in the struggle for global resources; and the horrors of fascism, a regime to which capitalism tends to resort when its back is to the wall. Without the self-sacrifice of the Soviet Union, among other nations, the Nazi regime might still be in place.

Marxists were warning of the perils of fascism while the politicians of the so-called free world were still wondering aloud whether Hitler was quite such a nasty guy as he was painted. Almost all followers of Marx today reject the villainies of Stalin and Mao, while many non-Marxists would still vigorously defend the destruction of Dresden or Hiroshima. Modern capitalist nations are for the most part the fruit of a history of genocide, violence, and extermination every bit as abhorrent as the crimes of Communism. Capitalism, too, was forged in blood and tears, and Marx was around to witness it. It is just that the system has been in business long enough for most of us to be oblivious of that fact.

The selectiveness of political memory takes some curious forms. Take, for example, 9/11. I mean the first 9/11, not the second. I am referring to the 9/11 that took place exactly 30 years before the fall of the World Trade Center, when the United States helped to violently overthrow the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende of Chile, and installed in its place an odious dictator who went on to murder far more people than died on that dreadful day in New York and Washington. How many Americans are aware of that? How many times has it been mentioned on Fox News?

Marx was not some dreamy utopianist. On the contrary, he began his political career in fierce contention with the dreamy utopianists who surrounded him. He has about as much interest in a perfect human society as a Clint Eastwood character would, and never once speaks in such absurd terms. He did not believe that men and women could surpass the Archangel Gabriel in sanctity. Rather, he believed that the world could feasibly be made a considerably better place. In this he was a realist, not an idealist. Those truly with their heads stuck in the sand—the moral ostriches of this world—are those who deny that there can be any radical change. They behave as though Family Guy and multicolored toothpaste will still be around in the year 4000. The whole of human history disproves this viewpoint.

Radical change, to be sure, may not be for the better. Perhaps the only socialism we shall ever witness is one forced upon the handful of human beings who might crawl out the other side of some nuclear holocaust or ecological disaster. Marx even speaks dourly of the possible "mutual ruin of all parties." A man who witnessed the horrors of industrial-capitalist England was unlikely to be starry-eyed about his fellow humans. All he meant was that there are more than enough resources on the planet to resolve most of our material problems, just as there was more than enough food in Britain in the 1840s to feed the famished Irish population several times over. It is the way we organize our production that is crucial. Notoriously, Marx did not provide us with blueprints for how we should do things differently. He has famously little to say about the future. The only image of the future is the failure of the present. He is not a prophet in the sense of peering into a crystal ball. He is a prophet in the authentic biblical sense of one who warns us that unless we change our unjust ways, the future is likely to be deeply unpleasant. Or that there will be no future at all.

Socialism, then, does not depend on some miraculous change in human nature. Some of those who defended feudalism against capitalist values in the late Middle Ages preached that capitalism would never work because it was contrary to human nature. Some capitalists now say the same about socialism. No doubt there is a tribe somewhere in the Amazon Basin that believes no social order can survive in which a man is allowed to marry his deceased brother's wife. We all tend to absolutize our own conditions. Socialism would not banish rivalry, envy, aggression, possessiveness, domination, and competition. The world would still have its share of bullies, cheats, freeloaders, free riders, and occasional psychopaths. It is just that rivalry, aggression, and competition would no longer take the form of some bankers complaining that their bonuses had been reduced to a miserly $5-million, while millions of others in the world struggled to survive on less than $2 a day.

Marx was a profoundly moral thinker. He speaks in The Communist Manifesto of a world in which "the free self-development of each would be the condition of the free self-development of all." This is an ideal to guide us, not a condition we could ever entirely achieve. But its language is nonetheless significant. As a good Romantic humanist, Marx believed in the uniqueness of the individual. The idea permeates his writings from end to end. He had a passion for the sensuously specific and a marked aversion to abstract ideas, however occasionally necessary he thought they might be. His so-called materialism is at root about the human body. Again and again, he speaks of the just society as one in which men and women will be able to realize their distinctive powers and capacities in their own distinctive ways. His moral goal is pleasurable self-fulfillment. In this he is at one with his great mentor Aristotle, who understood that morality is about how to flourish most richly and enjoyably, not in the first place (as the modern age disastrously imagines) about laws, duties, obligations, and responsibilities.

How does this moral goal differ from liberal individualism? The difference is that to achieve true self-fulfillment, human beings for Marx must find it in and through one another. It is not just a question of each doing his or her own thing in grand isolation from others. That would not even be possible. The other must become the ground of one's own self-realization, at the same time as he or she provides the condition for one's own. At the interpersonal level, this is known as love. At the political level, it is known as socialism. Socialism for Marx would be simply whatever set of institutions would allow this reciprocity to happen to the greatest possible extent. Think of the difference between a capitalist company, in which the majority work for the benefit of the few, and a socialist cooperative, in which my own participation in the project augments the welfare of all the others, and vice versa. This is not a question of some saintly self-sacrifice. The process is built into the structure of the institution.

Marx's goal is leisure, not labor. The best reason for being a socialist, apart from annoying people you happen to dislike, is that you detest having to work. Marx thought that capitalism had developed the forces of production to the point at which, under different social relations, they could be used to emancipate the majority of men and women from the most degrading forms of labor. What did he think we would do then? Whatever we wanted. If, like the great Irish socialist Oscar Wilde, we chose simply to lie around all day in loose crimson garments, sipping absinthe and reading the odd page of Homer to each other, then so be it. The point, however, was that this kind of free activity had to be available to all. We would no longer tolerate a situation in which the minority had leisure because the majority had labor.

What interested Marx, in other words, was what one might somewhat misleadingly call the spiritual, not the material. If material conditions had to be changed, it was to set us free from the tyranny of the economic. He himself was staggeringly well read in world literature, delighted in art, culture, and civilized conversation, reveled in wit, humor, and high spirits, and was once chased by a policeman for breaking a street lamp in the course of a pub crawl. He was, of course, an atheist, but you do not have to be religious to be spiritual. He was one of the many great Jewish heretics, and his work is saturated with the great themes of Judaism—justice, emancipation, the Day of Reckoning, the reign of peace and plenty, the redemption of the poor.

What, though, of the fearful Day of Reckoning? Would not Marx's vision for humanity require a bloody revolution? Not necessarily. He himself thought that some nations, like Britain, Holland, and the United States, might achieve socialism peacefully. If he was a revolutionary, he was also a robust champion of reform. In any case, people who claim that they are opposed to revolution usually mean that they dislike certain revolutions and not others. Are antirevolutionary Americans hostile to the American Revolution as well as the Cuban one? Are they wringing their hands over the recent insurrections in Egypt and Libya, or the ones that toppled colonial powers in Asia and Africa? We ourselves are products of revolutionary upheavals in the past. Some processes of reform have been far more bloodstained than some acts of revolution. There are velvet revolutions as well as violent ones. The Bolshevik Revolution itself took place with remarkably little loss of life. The Soviet Union to which it gave birth fell some 70 years later, with scarcely any bloodshed.

Some critics of Marx reject a state-dominated society. But so did he. He detested the political state quite as much as the Tea Party does, if for rather less redneck reasons. Was he, feminists might ask, a Victorian patriarch? To be sure. But as some (non-Marxist) modern commentators have pointed out, it was men from the socialist and communist camps who, up to the resurgence of the women's movement, in the 1960s, regarded the issue of women's equality as vital to other forms of political liberation. The word "proletarian" means those who in ancient society were too poor to serve the state with anything but the fruit of their wombs. "Proles" means "offspring." Today, in the sweatshops and on the small farms of the third world, the typical proletarian is still a woman.

Much the same goes for ethnic matters. In the 1920s and 30s, practically the only men and women to be found preaching racial equality were communists. Most anticolonial movements were inspired by Marxism. The antisocialist thinker Ludwig von Mises described socialism as "the most powerful reform movement that history has ever known, the first ideological trend not limited to a section of mankind but supported by people of all races, nations, religions, and civilizations." Marx, who knew his history rather better, might have reminded von Mises of Christianity, but the point remains forceful. As for the environment, Marx astonishingly prefigured our own Green politics. Nature, and the need to regard it as an ally rather than an antagonist, was one of his constant preoccupations.

Why might Marx be back on the agenda? The answer, ironically, is because of capitalism. Whenever you hear capitalists talking about capitalism, you know the system is in trouble. Usually they prefer a more anodyne term, like "free enterprise." The recent financial crashes have forced us once again to think of the setup under which we live as a whole, and it was Marx who first made it possible to do so. It was The Communist Manifesto which predicted that capitalism would become global, and that its inequalities would severely sharpen. Has his work any defects? Hundreds of them. But he is too creative and original a thinker to be surrendered to the vulgar stereotypes of his enemies.

Terry Eagleton is a visiting professor at Lancaster University, in England; the National University of Ireland; and the University of Notre Dame. His latest book, Why Marx Was Right, was just published by Yale University Press.


Saturday, March 08, 2014

[轉貼] Postscript: Duchamp's Postmodern Returns

Art does not have a biological excuse.
—Marcel Duchamp

 Tzanck Check

Marcel Duchamp's rapid passage through different pictorial idioms, leading to his abandonment of painting and the discovery of the ready-mades, may seem to many as facile, or even fad oriented. In his essay "Counter-Avant-Garde" (1971), Clement Greenberg assesses Duchamp's intervention, not as avant-garde but as avant-gardism:

The Futurists discovered avant-gardness, but it was left to Duchamp to create what I call avant-gardism. In a few short years after 1912 he laid down the precedents for everything that advanced-advanced art has done in the fifty-odd years since. Avant-gardism owes a lot to the Futurist vision, but it was Duchamp alone who worked out, as it now looks, every implication of that vision and locked advanced-advanced art into what has amounted to hardly more than elaborations, variations on, and recapitulations of his original ideas.[1]

While recognizing Duchamp's decisive impact on Modernism, Greenberg argues that his gesture reflects his vanguardism: the desire to embody and consume the avant-garde as an idea, thereby seeking shock and novelty as ends in themselves. While recognizing Duchamp's role as innovator, he questions Duchamp's vanguardism, which he equates with the cult of the new for its own sake, rather than for initial side effects, and with the deliberate liquidation of cultural traditions. At issue is the notion of artistic originality, which according to him exceeds conscious intentions, since it can be neither "envisaged in advance" nor "attained by mere dint of willing." As Greenberg explains:

Conscious volition, deliberateness, play a principal part in avantgardist art: that is, resorting to ingenuity instead of inspiration, contrivance instead of creation, "fancy" instead of "imagination"; and in effect, to the known rather than the unknown. The "new" as known beforehand—the general look of the "new" as made recognizable by the avant-garde past—is what is aimed at, and because known and recognizable, it can be willed.[2]

Greenberg's critique of avant-gardist art pits the notion of conscious deliberation or will against notions of artistic creativity that exceed conscious intentions. While associating originality with inspiration, creativity, and imagination, he defines vanguardism in terms of ingenuity, contrivance, and fancy, that is, trivialized forms of artistic production. The latter are modes of artistic production that rely on reproduction, the deliberate manipulation of already given elements or ideas. Greenberg's devaluation of the already known in favor of the unknown is intended to restore to artistic production forms of unconscious expression and intent. The problem with Greenberg's distinction, however, is that it perpetuates an artistic ideology that refuses to acknowledge that forms of artistic production reflect social and economic forms of production and, therefore, conventions subject to reproduction.

In contrast to Greenberg's position, Pierre Bourdieu argues in The Field of Cultural Production that artistic production is a strategic exercise of positioning the artist as creator in a historical field of already established determinations. Rather than liquidating artistic traditions, he suggests that the avant-garde, like previous artistic movements or styles, "makes history" by introducing a new position into the field, which "'displaces' the whole series of previous artistic acts."[3] Comparing Marcel Duchamp and the "Douanier" Rousseau, as producers, Bourdieu contrasts their respective relations to notions of artistic production:

Rousseau, the painter as object, who does something other than what he thinks he is doing, does not know what he does, because he knows nothing of the field he stumbles into, of which he is the play-thing (it is significant that his painter and poet "friends" stage parodic consecration scenes for him); he is made by the field, a "creator" who has to be "created" as a legitimate producer, with the character of "Douanier Rousseau," in order to legitimate his product. By contrast, Duchamp, born into a family of painters, the younger brother of painters, has all the tricks of the artist's trade at his fingertips, i.e. an art of painting which (subsequently) implies not only the art of producing a work but the art of self-presentation; like the chess-player he is, he shows himself capable of thinking several moves ahead, producing art objects in which the production of the producer as artist is the precondition for the production of these objects as works of art.[4]

Bourdieu's distinction emphasizes the fact that the art of producing a work reflects the art of self-presentation, that is, the recognition of the creator not as a given but as a product generated by the artistic understood in the mode of production. Duchamp's conception of the artistic field is a modal one, as both producer and consumer, where "history is immanent to the functioning of the field."[5] As this study has demonstrated, Duchamp's originality lies in his recognition of the field of artistic production as a field of ready-mades. In this context, artistic production emerges necessarily in the form of reproduction, that is, the deliberate staging and reappropriation of previous styles and artistic movements. The novelty of his works reflects neither the rejection nor the assimilation of artistic traditions, but rather, the fact of making visible the conditions of possibility of art, at the very moment where it threatens to lapse into that which it has designated as outside of itself, as non-art.

Marcel Duchamp's deliberate and strategic engagement with pictorial traditions, his redefinition of the notion of artistic creativity through reproduction, challenges Greenberg's dismissal of vanguardism. As this study has shown, Duchamp draws on pictorial and artistic conventions only to redefine their meaning. He questions the function of the creative act by redefining it as "making", as a notion of production that renders the artist an ordinary being, one akin to a craftsman or even, a businessman. Refusing the privileged role of the artist, which he associates with the emergence of art as an autonomous domain in the social sphere, Duchamp seeks to reinvent the notion of "making" that art involves, even if that ultimately implies doing away with art altogether. Seeking to distance himself from art as a form of expression, Duchamp discovers through mechanical reproduction new ways for envisioning both artistic creativity and the artist, for mechanical reproduction involves forms of impression whose multiple character challenges both the uniqueness of the artist and the unity of the work of art. By appropriating the logic of the multiple, Duchamp valorizes the notion of reproduction as a form of production, one that brings together the artistic, social, and economic realms.

If Duchamp's ready-mades usurp the notion of pictorial reproduction by highlighting the redundancy of a work of art as a commonplace object, works such as The Large GlassThe Box in a Valise, and Given expose the redundancy of artworks as artistic ready-mades. In the first instance, ordinary objects make claims on notions of artistic status; in the second case, works that look like art objectify artistic conventions through their reproduction. In both instances, concepts of art and value are not merely treated as philosophical abstractions but as literal and objective inquiries whose reproductive logic is akin to the expenditure of linguistic and figurative meaning through puns. Given the reproductive logic of Duchamp's works, how are we then to understand the notion of authorship?[6] If the creative act is not merely productive but reproductive, what becomes of the authorial signature as a form of validation? Do Duchamp's works provide us with indications about how the authorial signature is conceived, legitimated, and circulated?

 The Box in a Valise

The answer to these questions can be found in Duchamp's works on art and economics. It is in this context that the notion of value, both as artistic token and as economic currency is at issue. His explorations of the relation of art and economics including the production of checks, bonds, and numismatic coins, demonstrate the conflation of financial and artistic currency, of economic value and artistic worth. In these works, Duchamp questions how the validity of a work both as a commercial transaction and as artistic intervention is defined through signature. Works such as Tzanck Check or the Czech Check reveal that the endorsing value of a signature relies on a larger system of institutional validation that backs the signature. The signature as authorizing instance is merely a relay in a network of validation, which includes other agents such as the bank, or, in the case of the artwork, the public, the critic, and the art market. The signature in and of itself cannot authenticate either a check or a work of art. Sundering the relation between the signature and the producer as authorizing agent, Duchamp places himself into the position of a notary. This is not altogether surprising, given Duchamp's fascination with his father's professional occupation and the technical language of the documents he authorized.

But what does it mean to conceive the authorial signature in the mode of a notary? A notary (from the Latin notarius, secretary; notare, to note) is an official permitted by law to attest or acknowledge deeds and contracts, administer oaths, and take affidavits. In France the authority of the notary, who often had some legal training, relies both on the credibility of the individual and his or her legal recognition as a member of a professional body. In America, however, a notary public is anyone who pays to become a certified member of the organization. In both cases, the notary does not have any intrinsic authority, but simply validates the authority of the transaction. The notary signs or stamps the signature, authorizing and legitimizing it, and thereby validating a validation. If the value of a work of art is defined by the signature as authorial inscription, then the fact of conceiving the signature as a notarized intervention implies positing authorship in the mode of appropriation. Bypassing the notion of authorial intent, such a model suggests that authorship is a relay of signatures, of forms of appropriation that defer the identificatory instance. The authorial signature becomes yet another way of staging the fact that notions of artistic production are reproductive, that is, they involve forms of appropriation that are essentially reappropriative. Duchamp inscribes into the notion of authorship a deferral or postponement that opens up authorship to future reappropriations whether they involve the posterity of the spectator or the posterity of other artists. By demonstrating that art and economics share the same transactional sphere, since the work of art is a "check" of sorts, Duchamp opens up authorship to speculative considerations. His interpretation of art as a field of strategic gestures whose character is reproductive invites new forms of artistic appropriation and expenditure. Furthermore, his originality lies less in his individual signature than in his signing over the signature to posterity understood as a speculative venture. He "notorizes" Modernism as a field of artistic production whose legitimacy is not given in advance but can only be reproduced and thus strategically repeated. This act of signing over the authority of the signature also opens up modernity to forms of notoriety, that is, forms of symbolic expenditure that will compete speculatively with other forms of artistic currency and worth.

Duchamp's legacy to postmodernity is visible in appropriations of his works in the contemporary context, such as J. S. G. Boggs's hand-drawn reproductions of money. Boggs issues reproductions of money in exchange for services, and the receipts and documents surrounding these transactions are exhibited as art. In the fall of 1987, after confiscating the works of J. S. G. Boggs and hauling him off to jail, the Bank of England filed suit against the artist for putative reproduction and, therefore, deliberate counterfeiting of British currency.[7] The seriousness of the charge, coupled with the requisite criminal overtones of the case, only serves to highlight the fact that money is such serious business that even art cannot make light of it. Boggs's carefully hand-drawn reproductions of money include such alterations as impersonating, caricaturing, and/or defacing the engraved images, as well as counterfeiting official signatures. Rather than restrict himself to reproduction alone, however, Boggs also annotates original bills, thereby drawing them into his artistic transactions and thus, in effect, withdrawing them from circulation. While strategies of quotation and appropriation are common in postmodern art, Boggs's contribution lies in the fact that his reproductions of money, rather than art, reveal our premises about value as it is constituted in the artistic and economic domain.[8] By reproducing money, Boggs revalorizes it artistically; at the same time, he devalues its utility as a standard of economic exchange.

Boggs's artistic project to reproduce money and document the transactions it engenders draws on Marcel Duchamp's extensive explorations of the relation of art and economics. Rather than considering money as a medium for economic exchange, Boggs, like Duchamp, examines its artistic interest and speculative potential. As Boggs explains, the lawsuit against him relies on defining "reproduction," which may vary according to its artistic or commercial context:

The whole case turned on whether or not I had been engaged in making "reproductions" of British currency. . . . Now, in art world parlance, the word "reproduction" has a very specific meaning. It suggests a debased form of image production—one achieved in multiples of some sort. In ordinary usage one says, "Oh, that's not an original, that's a reproduction." So, I mean,there's no way that I was doing a reproduction. Regular British pound notes are reproductions. I was making original drawings. (emphasis added)[9]

Boggs's summation of his case in terms of the notion of "reproduction" captures most pointedly the problem of defining the notion of value in the modern age. Instead of considering reproduction as a debased form of production, Boggs's revalorizes it by exploring its conceptual and artistic potential. His laboriously hand-drawn reproductions of money redefine its exchange-value as currency, thereby introducing a speculative dimension, which, ironically, depends on the artisanal intervention of the artist.

The notion of originality begins to be eroded in the modernist context since mechanical reproduction subverts both artisanal and authorial intervention. In the current postmodern context the distinction between an original and its reproduction becomes meaningless to the extent that modes of artistic production can be conceived as a function of reproduction. In Boggs's case, as in the case of Duchamp's ready-mades, reproductions are worth more than the original, thereby redefining the notion of value in relationship to both the art object and notions of authorship. Given that Duchamp's own works rely on strategies of appropriation, the question of Boggs's indebtedness becomes meaningless unless examined in terms of the earlier modernist context. It is within Modernism, therefore, that we witness the crisis and ultimate failure of traditional notions of value to account for transformations in both economic and artistic modes of production.

Duchamp's speculative forays into the reproduction of value by means of different financial species, checks, bonds, and numismatic coins, set up the horizon of Boggs's artistic inquiry into the transactional value of money and the artwork as documentation. If Boggs reproduces certain Duchampian strategies, his appropriations reflect the speculative potential that he is able to recover or to draw on as "interest." By literally drawing money into the circuit of art, he cashes in Duchamp's checks. However, Boggs's cashing in, or banking on money as artistic currency, only makes legible the fact that its very definition involves strategies of appropriation, that is, modes of production redefined through reproduction. Just as Duchamp "reinvested" spectator interest in Leonardo's Mona Lisa, so does Boggs reinvest our interest in money (following Duchamp's interventions), postponing its financial impact only to rediscover its intellectual and speculative potential as art. As Boggs explained in an interview (6 December 1992): "They said I was a counterfeiter. They don't understand the difference between art and crime."[10] In the wake of Duchamp's work the difference between art and crime, between an original and a copy, has been subverted. This subversion is a symptom of the overlap of art and economics in the social and technological sphere. It reflects the redefinition of notions of artistic production by reproduction.

Duchamp's postmodernity lies precisely in his discovery that Modernism would exhaust itself were it to simply conceive of itself in terms of vanguardism, seeking shock value for its own sake. Instead, Duchamp devises a strategic approach, one that "draws" on previous traditions, only to uncover within them new forms of artistic appropriation. He plays chess with art, using both sides of the board in order to redefine the game. In doing so he liberates the artist from the obligation of producing art objects, for plasticity now emerges as a function of the shifting strategies on the board, rather than as a feature of a particular object. Artistic creativity in this context takes on an entirely new meaning. It becomes a form of production, which, like other forms of social and economic production, involves reassembling and redeploying already given elements and rules. Duchamp's discovery through the ready-made is that art, language, and institutions are ready-mades: they are systems of reference whose meaning, like chess, is constituted by a set of predetermined rules. The issue is not that these rules are given but how one plays the game as a function of them. To discover the world in the modality of the ready-made is to confront the condition of postmodernity, not as a development in a historical progression but as a premise whose history is already posted in Modernism itself.[11] Duchamp's speculative forays, his efforts to redefine both art and the artist, open up the historical destiny of Modernism to a set of inquiries whose conceptual potential can continue to be elaborated, appropriated, or simply parodied. The monumentality of Marcel Duchamp's artistic legacy is one that continues to be discovered and reinvented as contemporary art strategically engages with its modernist past, in order to draw on and speculate about its own potential.

From Dalia JudovitzUnpacking Duchamp: Art in Transit. Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1995. 
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Monday, February 10, 2014


An Interview with Pierre Bourdieu
Franz Schultheis
college de france, paris, june 26, 2001

Franz Schultheis : Pierre Bourdieu, when you agreed to allow us to view the photographs that you took during your stay in Algeria, and that had been lying in boxes for forty years, you also promised to give us an interview about your use of photography for your ethnographic field research and sociological studies on site. Let us start with a very down-to-earth question. What camera did you use to take the photos in Algeria?

Pierre Bourdieu : It was a camera that I had bought in Germany. A Zeiss Ikoflex. Unfortunately, the camera got broken on my trip to the United States in the seventies, which I regretted very much. If I find the time, I sometimes have a look around second-hand photography shops to see if I can find the same camera again, but several people have already told me that you cannot get hold of it any more. The Zeiss Ikoflex cameras were the cutting edge of technology in Germany at the time. That’s where I bought mine. It must have been the first year I started earning my own money (I was appointed professor in 1955). Incidentally, I think I smuggled it to France. . . . It had a very special lens, which is why it was so expensive. Apart from that it was identical to the classical Rolleiflex model with the viewfinder on top of the body. . . . That was very useful to me because there were often situations in Algeria where it was very ticklish to take photographs, and this way I could take them without anyone noticing. For example, I also had a Leica; I had friends in Algeria who were professional photographers, and I asked them for advice, as one of the problems in Algeria is the very, very bright light that destroys every picture, so I needed their advice. Well, almost all of these friends used a Leica; that was the usual camera for professionals at the time, but it means that you have to be standing opposite the person you are photographing. But often enough that was not possiblefor instance, if you wanted to photograph a woman in a country where that is frowned upon, etc. In some cases, I got a permitfor example, during my field research in the Collo or Orleansville regions. So, of course, I took a lot of photos there, and the people were happy about it. These photos also include a series of pretty dramatic pictures of a circumcisionthe father asked me to take them: “Come and take some pictures.” Photography was a way of relating to people and of being welcome. Afterwards I would send them the photos.

F.S. Did you develop these photos yourself?

P.B. I only bought all the equipment much later, because all of my photographer friends said, a real photographer develops his own photos, because only while you are developing do you see the true quality of the photos, and you can work with the material, blowing up specific details, for example. I was not able to do it at the time, but I did have a little photo lab in Algiers that worked pretty quickly, and I could tell them exactly what I wanted. I had contact prints made and little positives; later on I talked with the man from the lab a bit longer and I ordered some more complicated things. Because I was taking a lot of photos at the time, he was very interested and I gave him a free hand, although I did always try to keep control of everything as well, after a fashion.

F.S. In a way, you were already fascinated by photography even before you left for Algeria. Had you been planning to make systematic use of photography during your stay? Was it a proper project?

P.B. I took this thing very seriously; I started notebooks, sticking the negatives in them, and I had shoeboxes that I sorted the fi lm material into. And then I bought little celluloid bags and put the photos in them, writing a number on each of them and then entering the number in the notebook with the negatives stuck in them. But I had a problem: Should I keep all the film material? I tended to keep a lot because the material had two functions: a documentary function, on the one hand. Sometimes I would take photos for the simple reason of being able to remember something, later to be able to describe it, or I would photograph objects that I couldn’t take with me. But there was something else, too: Photography washow can I put ita way of looking. There is this petit bourgeois spontaneous sociology (that petit bourgeois writer Daninos in France, for example) that makes fun of people who set out on their tourist excursions with cameras over their shoulders and then do not even really see the landscape because they are so busy taking photographs. I always thought that was class racism. In my case, at least, it was a way of sharpening my eye, of looking more closely, of finding a way to approach a particular subject. . . . During my years in Algeria, I often accompanied photographers doing photo reportages, and I noticed that they never spoke to the people they were photographing; they knew next to nothing about them. So there were different kinds of photographs. For example, there was a marriage lamp that I photographed so that I could study how it had been made later on, or a grain mill, etc. On the other hand, I took photos of things that appealed to me. I remember a photo of a little girl with plaits, with her little sister standing by her side. You might have thought it was a fifteenth-century German Madonna. Or this other photo I really like tooI still remember, it was on the outskirts of a slumit is a picture of a little girl who was just about 80 cm tall; she was carrying a loaf of bread pressed against her belly; it was almost as big as the girl. The photo is very sober and reserved; the girl stands out against the white wall that she is standing in front of.

F.S. And when did you start taking photos systematically? Was that after your military service?

P.B. Yes, exactly. It was in the late fifties. I had the idea to take photos of situations that really touched me because different, dissonant realities merged into each other in them. I particularly like one of these photos: It is a picture I took in broad daylight in Orleansville in summer, at one of the hottest spots in Algeria. The picture is of an advertising sign for a driving school, with a road winding its way between fi r trees, and an advertisement for refrigerators right next to it. I was amused by this kind of mixing of realities. I used another very typical photo for the cover of the book Algerie 60. It’s a picture of two men wearing turbansreally traditional Arabssitting on a car bumper (incidentally, a bit further back you can see my own car, a Renault Dauphine); so these men are sitting there, deep in a serious conversation.

F.S. If you look at these photos, you are faced with the following question: You can tell that they are not tourist photos, but photographs that were taken very consciously. So the photos have a very specific purpose. You say to yourself that you took photos in order to objectify, to create a distance, or to make time stand still for a moment. The thought would seem to suggest itself, then, that there is an intrinsic link between the objectification achieved by means of the photographic view and the ethnological approach you were developing at the time as a self-taught ethnologist, and that both viewsthe ethnologist s or anthropologist s and the photographer shave an elective affinity.

P.B. Yes, I am sure you are right there; in both cases there was this objectifying and loving, detached and yet intimate relationship to the object, something similar to humor. There are a number of photos that I took in the Collo region, in a pretty dramatic situation. I was in the hands of people who had the power over life or deathmy life, but also the lives of the people who were with me. It is a series of pictures of people sitting, discussing and drinking coffee under a big olive tree. In this case, taking photos was a way of saying to them, “I’m interested in you, I’m on your side, I’ll listen to you, I’ll testify to what you’re going through.” For example, there is another series of photos, which are not particularly aesthetic, that I took in a place called Ain Aghbel and in another place called Kerkera. The military had herded people together who had previously been living scattered around the mountains and resettled them in terraced houses styled on a Roman castrum . Against the advice of my friends, I had set out into the mountains on foot to look at the destroyed villages, and I found houses that had had their roof taken off to force people to leave. They had not been burned down, but they were no longer habitable. And I came across clay pitchers in the houses (something I had already begun researching in a different village, Ain Aghbel: There are places where everything we would call furnishings is made of fi red clay, made and shaped by the women); in Kabylia they call them aqoufis , those big clay grain pitchers decorated with drawings. The drawings are often of snakes, snakes being a symbol of resurrection. And although the situation was so sad, I was happy to be able to take photographsit was all so contradictory. I was only able to take photos of these houses and immovables because they had no roofs any more. . . . This is very characteristic of the experience I had there, a quite extraordinary experience. I was very moved by and sensitive to the sufferring of the people, but at the same time I had the detachment of an observer, as manifested by the fact that I was taking photos. All this came to mind when I was reading Germaine Tillion, an ethnologist who worked on a different region in Algeria, Aures; in her book Ravensbruck she relates that she was forced to see people die in a concentration camp, and every time someone died, she made a notch. She was just working as a professional ethnologist, and in her book she says it helped her keep going. So I thought about this and I said to myself, “You’re a funny guy”: It was here, in this village with the olive tree, that people started talking to us on the first day after our arrivalno, not the first day, it was the second day, the first day was much more dramatic, but I won’t go into that here, it would sound like heroic pathos; so on the second day after we arrived they started telling us things like: “I used to have this, I used to have that, I had ten goats, I had three sheep.” They enumerated all the things they had lost, and I wrote down as much as I could, together with three other people. I recorded the catastrophe, and at the same time I intended to analyze it all with the methods available to me with a kind of irresponsibilityand that was really a scholastic irresponsibility, I realize that in retrospectwhile I would always say to myself: “Poor Bourdieu, with the pathetic instruments you’ve got, you’re not up to it, you would have to know everything and understand everything, psychoanalysis, economy. . . .” I performed Rorschach tests, I did what I could to understandand at the same time I intended to collect ritualsfor example, the ritual at the start of spring. And these people told me stories, stories of man-eaters, and they told me about the games they always played: They took some olives from the olive tree under which they were sitting, olives that were not yet fully ripe, and they threw them up into the air. Then you have to catch them on the back of your hand and, depending on how many olives you drop, someone hits you with three or four fingers. Under that olive tree I interviewed guys between thirty and fifty years old, and some of them had a weapon concealed under their djellaba. So they would play there (if you dropped two, you got hit with two fingers; if you dropped three, then with three fingers), and they hit very, very hard, playing like children. Now that’s something very typical of my relationship to this country. It is extremely difficult to speak about all of this in the right way. It was far from being a concentration camp. The conditions were dramatic, but not as dramatic as was often claimed. And I was there and I saw it all, and it was all so complicated and went far beyond my means! When they told me things, it would sometimes take me two or three days to understand it all, complicated names of places or tribes, numbers of lost cattle, and other lost commodities, and I was totally overcome by it all; in this respect any help was good, and photography was really a way of trying to come to terms with the shock of this devastating reality. There was a place there, very nearby, called Kerkera, a vast place that they had built up right in the middle of a swampy plain that people could not cultivate as they did not have any plows or work animals that would have been strong enough. So they settled people there, two or three thousand of them; it was vast, and this kind of suburb without a city was really tragic. I did the most crazy thing in my life there: a consumer study styled on the INSEE, the French National Institute for Statistics. A consumer study is a very time-consuming affair. You turn up with your questionnaire and you ask people, “What did you buy yesterday?” Candles, bread, carrots. . . . They list everything and put a cross next to yes or no. They come again two days later, three times altogether. It was a vast task to organize and conduct such a study in such a difficult situationeven if I was not alone, there were three or four of us. This whole study did not lead to any special results except for the fact that this population, which seemed to be totally destroyed, homogenized, leveled, and reduced to the lowest level of poverty, displayed a normal distributionthere were all the differences that you find in a normal population, a normal distribution.

F.S. Listening to you, I get the impression that you were not pursuing a specific project but rather that you were going in various directions and that you wanted to go through the whole spectrum of sociology in a very short period.

P.B. Yes, but what could we have done differently? What do you do when faced with such an overwhelming, oppressive reality? Of course there was a risk of being overwhelmed by it all and of creating a completely mad chronicle trying to recount everything. One of the great mistakes I made was not to keep a diary. I had all these separate scraps, everything was totally chaoticit was all just very difficult, we had little time, and it was very exhausting.

F.S. A specifi c question: Although you did not keep a diary, I am fairly sure you could locate everything very quickly and very reliably if you were to look at the photos, and if you saw the little girl sitting on the ground you could definitely say, “Oh yes, that was here or there,” couldnt you? So the photos are memory aids, that are very. . . .

P.B. Yes, I can definitely say that was in Orleansville, that was in Cheraia. . . .

F.S. So these memory aids are very important, and you would have to see whether, based upon them. . . .

P.B. I should have done that . . . but I just didn’t have the energy for it. We worked from six in the morning until three in the morning; it was simply unthinkable. Sayad was the only one who stuck it out; the others were totally shattered; it really was a tough time.

F.S. To come back to the question of the perspective: The focus is on emotional aspects, and then there is the rift that is very important to you, a rift between a world about to disappear, with its familiar forms, and a new world that is becoming established very quickly. That is to say, the non simultaneity of the objects. What structures the sociological perspective in your book Travail et travailleurs en Algerie seems to be the vast difference between time structures and economic structures, and one might say that the same leitmotifs can be found in your photos, i.e., in the photographic perspective of the social world. . . .

P.B. There is a photo that is very typical of this that I used for the cover of Travail et travailleurs en Algerie. It’s a picture of farm workers on the Mitidja plain near Algiers. They are working in line, spraying sulfate that is being pumped through a hose linking them to a machine transporting the sulfate. Five or six of them are moving forward, perhaps more. The picture is a very good portrayal of the circumstances of these people and, at the same time, you see the industrialization of farm work on these big colonial farms that, compared to the French farming industry, were very advanced. I spoke briefly with some of these people, who earned a pittance as farm workers and who worked their own little plot of land on the edge of the big estates. . . .

F.S. In view of what you have said about the way you conceived and took these photos, I wonder what might be an adequate form of reception and presentation. The important thing is to create a link to your ethnological research and the books about your beginnings, when you were analyzing the same subject that we see in your photos. Although it would seem appropriate to link up these two aspects, at the same time I would be a bit chary of doing so, as this would, at first glance, appear to be an even more spontaneous and simplifying approach than simply looking for descriptions of situations in the texts, stories that remind us of what the photos depict.

P.B. It is perfectly natural to link the content of my research and my photos. One of the things that interested me most in Algeria, for example, is what I called the “economy of poverty” or the “economy of slums.” Normally, the slums were perceived (not only by racist, but also by naive observers) as something dirty, ugly, disorderly, thrown together, etc., whereas, in truth, it is a place for a very complex life, for a real economy with an inherent logic, where you see a great deal of resourcefulness, an economy that at least offers a lot of people a minimum with which to survive and, above all, for social survivali.e., to escape the shame for a self-respecting man of doing nothing and contributing nothing to his family’s livelihood. I took a lot of photos on this subject, photos of all the hawkers and street vendors, and I was really amazed at the resourcefulness and energy in these unusual buildings, that were reminiscent of shop windows or a shop; or this motley collection of displays on the ground (which also interested me from an aesthetic point of view, as it was a very baroque scene); the pharmacists I interviewed, who were selling almost all sources of traditional magic, whose names I wrote down, aphrodisiacs, etc.

There were also very picturesque butcher’s shops (those three big, triangular wooden stands with cuts of meat hanging on them)a typical subject for a photographer in search of picturesque, exotic scenes. I myself always had hypotheses about the organization of space on my mind: There is a layout plan of the village with a certain structure, a structure of a house; and I also discovered that the distribution of graves in the cemetery corresponded roughly to the layout of the village based on clans. And I wondered, “Will I find the same structure in the markets?” That reminds me of a photo I took in a cemetery: a Cassoulet tin filled with water on an anonymous grave. On the seventh day after someone has died, you have to bring water to their grave in order to capture the female soul; in this case it was a Cassoulet tin that had previously contained a taboo product: pork.

F.S. When you returned to France, you very soon began your research on photography. How did you arrive at that idea? Was it someone else who gave you the idea?

P.B. I do not remember exactly, and I would not want to tell you any nonsense. But I do know that it was connected with the fact that Raymond Aron appointed me director of the general secretariat of a research center that he had just founded. I was not particularly self-confident in those days and I thought that it would be a good thing to get another source of income; in case I was not very successful, then it would not be that bad if. . . . So I signed a contract with Kodak. Photography is a subject that I was very interested in. Of course, what I had in mind was the fact that photography is the only practice with an artistic dimension that is accessible to everyone, and at the same time it is the only cultural asset that everyone consumes. I wanted to take this indirect approach to arrive at a general aesthetic theory. It was both a very modest and very ambitious undertaking. People tend to say that photos of the common people are terrible, etc., and at first I wanted to understand why that was; I wanted to try and do justice to the fact, for example, that these pictures are usually taken face on, that they depict relationships between peoplethese things that gave the whole thing a certain necessity, that also had the effect of rehabilitation. What I then did was to analyze a collection of photos, the collection of my childhood friend Jean not. I took one photo after another, totally soaked them up, and I think I found a great deal of things in this shoe box.

F.S. But as you said, you already observed professional photographers when you were taking photos in Algeria, and you said to yourself, “I wouldnt have taken that photo” or, “I would have done it differently,” or sometimes, “I would have done it exactly the same way.” So there was already a reflectivity in your dealing with photography, a kind of beginning, a point of departure for reflection. . . .

P.B. Yes, that’s right. But if the professional photographers did sometimes take photos that I would have liked to have taken too, photos of the strangest things, they also did a lot of things I would not have done, things that just looked painterly. I thinkapart from occasional flukesit was not easy for them to take an unconventional view of this society, a view that was not exclusively picturesque by design: a weaver at work, women coming home from the well.

One of my “most typical” photos is of a veiled woman on a mopedit is a photo they could have taken as well. That is the “easiest” aspect of what I wanted to understand. There is an anecdote that sums up my experience in this country very well (a strange country in which I had a constant sense of tragedyI was very scared, at night in my dreams as welland yet I saw a lot of funny things too that made me laugh or smile); it is a story that expresses this dual, contradictory and ambivalent experience very well, an experience that I always found very hard to express or convey here in Franceindeed, it was even difficult in Algeria with the bourgeois Algerian town-dwellers; I am thinking about a young student from an important family of the Koulouchlis who took part in our studies of the urban milieu (she wrote to me just recently), and who could not conceal a certain feeling of fear mixed with disgust in view of the people who would often touch me in a rather ridiculous, pitiful attempt to stage or underline their poverty and misfortune. (That is why I liked the way men like Mouloud Farraoun would look when he was telling me of his disputes with schoolchildren’s parents, or the way Abdel-malek Sayad would often look at the people we met with amusement and yet slightly touched). But to get back to my story; I was just driving out of a parking space one day, when along came a young veiled woman who saw me hesitate to drive my car out, and she turned round and said to me under her veil: “Well then, darling, are you going to knock me down?!”

F.S. You know, that reminds me a bit of a comment by Gunther Grass that you will no doubt remember. He said, “Sociology is too serious.” But that’s not true! Not at all! He just didnt understand that it would have been out of place to work with humor in view of The Weight of the World .

P.B. In Le Deracinement , too, which is very similar to The Weight of the World in many respects, there is little room for this amusing side of things. Incidentally, if I were to look for a literary model with which to express such terrible experiences to the point of their humorous aspects, I would rather think of Arno Schmidt. I often regret not having kept a diary. I devoted myself fully to my “duty” as a researcher and witness, and I did my best to pass on these extraordinary andsadly!universal experiences with the resources available to me, experiences that are always linked to flight and wars of liberation. Also, I was not satisfied to bear witness to it all in the manner of a good reporter; rather, I wanted to work out the logic and transhistorical effects of these sweeping compulsory resettlements of the population. And then there is the censorship of academic decency according to which there are many things that you would not even think of talking about. And thirty years ago I probably would not have been able to tell you what I am telling you at the moment, or I would have said it but not in the same way as I dare to say it today.

F.S. You can afford to today. Your work exists, and now you can go back into the past and uncover things that were previously hidden.

P.B. Being worried about having to be sufficiently serious and scientific induced me to withdraw myself to a great extent with regard to the literary side of my work. I censored a lot of things. I think that during the early days of the Centre de Sociologie Europeenne there was a tacit exhortationif not an explicit ruleto delete everything that was philosophical or literary. You had to respect the tacit rules of the group. Anything else seemed to be inappropriate, narcissistic, self-satisfied. Today I often regret that I was not able to retain the useful traces of this experience. I did experience a lot of things that put me apart from my intellectual contemporaries. I got older a lot faster. . . . Yes, it’s true, I should try to look at the photos one day and dictate all my thoughts on tape.

F.S. Before we finish, I would like to ask you a personal question: In your opinion, what role does your experience in Algeria play in the context of social self-analysis, which you outlined in your last course at the College de France?

P.B. Yvette Delsaut wrote a text about me in which she very rightly says that Algeria is what allowed me to accept myself. With the same perspective of understanding of the ethnologist with which I regarded Algeria, I could also view myself, the people from my home, my parents, my father’s and my mother’s pronunciation, reappropriating it all in a totally undramatic mannerfor this is one of the greatest problems of uprooted intellectuals when all that remains to them is the choice between populism and, on the contrary, shame induced by class racism. I encountered these people, who are very much akin to the Kabylians and with whom I spent my youth, from the perspective of understanding that is mandatory for ethnology, defining it as a discipline.

Photography, that I first began doing in Algeria and then in Bearn, definitely contributed a great deal to this conversion of my perspective that required a genuine change of my senseswhich is no exaggeration. Photography, you see, is a manifestation of the distance of the observer, who collects his data and is always aware that he is collecting data (which is not always easy in such familiar situations as balls), but at the same time photography also assumes the complete proximity of the familiar, of attention, and a sensitivity with regard to even the least perceptible of details, details that the observer can only understand and interpret thanks to his familiarity (and do we not say that someone who behaves well is “attentive”?), a sensitivity for the infinitely small detail of an act that even the most attentive of ethnologists generally fails to notice. But photography is equally interwoven with the relationship that I have had to my subject at any particular time, and not for a moment did I forget that my subject is people, human beings whom I have encountered from a perspective thatat the risk of sounding ridiculousI would refer to as caring, often touched.

That is the reason I never stopped conducting interviews and observations (I always started my research with them, no matter what the subject), which broke with the routines of bureaucratic sociology (which I see embodied by Lazarsfeld and the Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia University, who introduced Taylorism into research), a sociology that only has access to its interviewees through intermediary interviewers and that, unlike even the most cautious ethnologist, has no opportunity to see the interviewees or their immediate environment. The photos, which you can look at again and again at leisure, like sound recordings that you can listen to again and again (not to mention videos), allow you to discover details that escaped you at first glance or that you cannot examine at depth during an interview for reasons of discretion (during the studies for The Weight of the World , for example, the furnishings of the metalworker of Longwy or of his Algerian neighbor).

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