Thursday, July 3, 2008

Alain Badiou's "Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art"

Instead of selectively quoting Alain Badiou, as I had a couple days ago, here is his fifteen theses on art and its relationship to empire. As I wrote a couple days ago, I have deep reservations about the logical leaps he makes, even as I recognize my own longstanding attempts to think about resistance and resistance poetry. There, indeed, is a consonance between his theoretical articulation and what language poets have sought to accomplish...

Alain Badiou -
Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art
1. Art is not the sublime descent of the infinite into the finite abjection of the body and sexuality. It is the production of an infinite subjective series through the finite means of a material subtraction.

2. Art cannot merely be the expression of a particularity (be it ethnic or personal). Art is the impersonal production of a truth that is addressed to everyone.

3. Art is the process of a truth, and this truth is always the truth of the sensible or sensual, the sensible as sensible. This means: the transformation of the sensible into a happening of the Idea.

4. There is necessarily a plurality of arts, and however we may imagine the ways in which the arts might intersect there is no imaginable way of totalizing this plurality.

5. Every art develops from an impure form, and the progressive purification of this impurity shapes the history both of a particular artistic truth and of its exhaustion.

6. The subject of an artistic truth is the set of the works which compose it.

7. This composition is an infinite configuration, which, in our own contemporary artistic context, is a generic totality.

8. The real of art is ideal impurity conceived through the immanent process of its purification. In other words, the raw material of art is determined by the contingent inception of a form. Art is the secondary formalization of the advent of a hitherto formless form.

9. The only maxim of contemporary art is not to be imperial. This also means: it does not have to be democratic, if democracy implies conformity with the imperial idea of political liberty.

10. Non-imperial art is necessarily abstract art, in this sense: it abstracts itself from all particularity, and formalizes this gesture of abstraction.

11. The abstraction of non-imperial art is not concerned with any particular public or audience. Non-imperial art is related to a kind of aristocratic-proletarian ethic: Alone, it does what it says, without distinguishing between kinds of people.

12. Non-imperial art must be as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star.

13. Today art can only be made from the starting point of that which, as far as Empire is concerned, doesn't exist. Through its abstraction, art renders this inexistence visible. This is what governs the formal principle of every art : the effort to render visible to everyone that which for Empire (and so by extension for everyone, though from a different point of view), doesn't exist.

14. Since it is sure of its ability to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the laws governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, Empire no longer censures anything. All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate and to enjoy. We should become the pitiless censors of ourselves.

15. It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognizes as existent.


Chaerephon said...

Very interesting -- thanks for posting this. I haven't translated Greek in many years ("O Ajax, my master, there is no greater evil for human beings than necessary fate" is a painful reminder of the clunky way I remember doing it), but I always like reading about new approaches to the craft. I'm not sure I like the bald anachronisms (guns/aircraft), but overall I think loosening up the language helps make it readable for modern audiences, which is at least part of the point.

Chaerephon said...

Oh, and:

Happy birthday!
Happy birthday!
Be happy!

Chaerephon said...

Hey these wound up on the wrong post. Dang them internets!

Kaz Maslanka said...

Badiou's idea seems to be another example of someone trying to force the aesthetic of mathematics upon the phenomena of art. I see them as two completely different things.


Barry Schwabsky said...

There are many inspiring aspects to Badiou's text, but with respect to his notion of abstraction, I think Swann was closer to the truth in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower:"What music shows, to me at any rate, is nothing like 'The Will-in-Itself' or 'The Synthesis of the Infinite,' but something like the palm house at the Zoo in the Bois de Boulogne,with old Verdurin in his frock coat."