by Jared on Oct.29, 2011
If Art can be thought of as an impulse of expression that protests impermanence and invisibility (which would include silence) by fashioning extraneous objects out of impermanent stuff (not in its totality, mind, but as one facet of its existence), then it seems reasonable to speak of the Art of Protest. Likewise, if there is an Art of Protest, then there is a Reception of this Art.
It has been interesting, then, to note the similar receptions given to today’s proliferation(s) of Art and Protest. Some art, often noted and championed on this blog, is dismissed as “too much,” as too “artsy,” too “unrestrained.” By these, what is variously meant is that some art is too in-touch with its materials, too permeable with the world of its making, not transcendent enough, excessive. It is incautious, ill-mannered, leans back and puts its muddy feet up on your kitchen table. It is supposedly or apparently meaningless, a collection of disparate elements, unrefined. It is too ornate, too pretty, too made-up. Etc.
Its authors are too much in league with its viewers, with the masses — or else not mindful enough, too dependent on the viewer to fashion meaning — or too obvious and ironic. Bemoan the long-gone heroic auteur whose singular vision and singularly realized/universally fetishized totalistic art-object is now lost within the rush of the masses invading Art for themselves and making totems of permeability to set up all along the shamanistic inroads of the present moment. Bemoan the loss of high modernism!
Forget the bathwater, the baby is being drowned in babies. There are too many visions. Everyone is a shaman, a dream-journeyer, bringing back some insight from the hidden lands where Art’s impulse finds its source/sources the artist. This overwhelming multiplicity wars against the clumping singularities and politically useful (but only apparent and ultimately misleading) bipolarities of the ruling state of affairs, which is unable to perceive and respond adequately — more than that, is unable to continue existing should it attempt to perceive and respond! Instead, it reacts with what it has already in hand: riot lines, rubber bullets, and tear gas where none are needed.
This is the misperception or misreading of so much Art and Protest. The Group Mind, ever absorbed in preserving itself as it is or as it perceives itself to be, runs quickly to simplify anything outside itself and thereby incorporate (literally, to pull into its own body). The Group Mind (which does not actually exist except in its attempt to exist) gives a body to/makes an organ of anything it cannot understand by this attempt to simplify, despite its having reached an era when such simplifications have proven to result in largely inaccurate monstrosities.
In relation, it has been noted that the Poetry Foundation protest by CPC was partly described with simple and what appear to be self-comforting terms such as “pointless” and “sloppy” — by those, perhaps, looking to easily categorize and tabulate and regulate the protest, to give it the body of/make it the organ of just another event in the poetry world (or as if “unprofessional,” as if all actions of protest have some pre-acknowledged standard by which they are to be judged, and this one, having not measured up, deserved tossing into the dust heap of useless bodies, not an attempt to understand it).
I’ve experienced something similar in meetings where a corporate human resources executive speaks with workers and draws out various complaints and suggestions only to tabulate, categorize, and regulate them (especially the most uncomfortable ones) with carefully chosen, sterile terminology (corporate representations that are projections of the corporate body), thus cleansing the exchange of any potential for either satisfaction or mutual understanding between worker and employer, which would result in no easy situation but a messy and impossible arena of ongoing exchange.
Instead, the corporate employer and its representatives take the stance of a preexisting body, having already been there — having already defined the problem and how to fix it on its own terms. The act of obtaining “feedback” (as it is called) is more one of comfort — comfort to the executive who must keep spouting the inane half-truths of corporate policy and comfort to the worker who (maybe) imagines being heard.
This corporate-representative impulse is a type of reception — one of pacification to the end of subduing the true beginnings of protest (read: anti-union organizing and the suppression of the worker’s body). So, we see a corporate executive stance of self-preservation that, as a by-product, resists allowing workers to possess themselves, their jobs, their workplace — which, of course, would also mean allowing them to possess the fruits of their labor and the decision-making processes related to that labor, over which capitalism (by which I mean not an epithet but the accumulation of ever-greater chunks of money) claims something like the right of prima nocte.
In today’s corporation, workers are not allowed to occupy the spaces closest to them; they are outside their own containers, looking in at themselves, their own bodies/brains working for another mind. The scattered bodies of the “body politic” share a similar situation with politicians who categorize, tabulate, and subjugate/suppress/incorporate in favor of what has already been decided behind closed doors.
It heartens me, then, to see the various Occupations persisting and demanding merely to be given the space to gather and to be heard. By persisting, they demand the existence of this messy arena of ongoing exchange that has long been denied. It is exactly this messiness, the (to some) “pointless” or “ineffective” or “excessive” nature of the Occupations (it is costing too much to let unemployed workers protest, for instance), that is most desirable. By inhabiting the body of protest, they are drawing into the open the normally hidden relationships between the societal entities of corporation, finance, government, and the fractured and multiplied “rest of us.”
Awareness of these entities is normally missing from our “smooth” and “striated,” or channeled, society with its neat definitions of “public” and “private” entities (see Dean and Massumi’s The First and Last Emperors). This is the reason for the increasing importance for the Occupations to simply persist rather than make specific policy demands — to remain “pointless.” Rather than “winning” in the usual sense of a protest, the Art of the Occupation Protest is to inhabit and infect the old dead body of society via the body of protest.
To quote Lucas in his recent post, the protesters are gesturing toward “a dream without a name.” Attaching a definitive and all-inclusive demand to the action of protesting would allow for the easy dispelling of the dream without anything like its realization.