Journal #69 - Sven Lütticken - Neither Autocracy nor Automatism: Notes on Autonomy and the Aesthetic
Journal #69
January 2016
Journal #69 - January 2016

Neither Autocracy nor Automatism: Notes on Autonomy and the Aesthetic

Over the last few decades, an increasing identification of autonomy with the imperialist and colonialist autocracy of Western subjectivity has led to philosophical flirtations with the rejection of both the concept of autonomy and often that of the subject, for example in various strands of posthumanist thought, the works of Latour, and sundry object-based ontologies.1 The Enlightenment subject has been unmasked as nothing but a male bourgeois rights holder and property owner, casting large parts of his humanist entitlements into the netherworld of abject near-objecthood. Autonomy has also gotten a bad name in the field of art. In the US in particular, the association of the concept of autonomy with Clement Greenberg’s restrictive understanding of modernism has made the term seem toxic and beyond reappropriation.2 However, Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, with its dialectical account of the artwork as being both autonomous and fait social, is itself a trenchant Modernist autocritique.3

For Adorno, autonomy was as problematic and crucial a notion in art as elsewhere, for instance in education. When debating his conservative opponent Arnold Gehlen on the subject of “Freedom and Institution” on German television in 1967, Adorno defended the Dutch Provo movement—film footage of which was used to introduce the debate—as well as the budding student movement in Germany against Gehlen’s insistence that such contestations were dangerous symptoms of hubris.4 While increasingly wary of the young radicals’ anti-institutional “actionism,” Adorno was all too aware of the reactionary implications of his colleague’s institutionalism. Referencing Hegel’s notion of objective spirit, Emile Durkheim’s concept of faits sociaux and Thorstein Veblen’s understanding of institutions in terms of habits of thought, he argued that even while institutions are not purely external but rather shape our mind and our social habitus, they are still imposed by coercion and as such are alien, reified, or objectified—vergegenständlicht.

While neither Adorno nor Gehlen addressed this in the 1967 debate, the Amsterdam Provo movement was not purely a matter of youth protest. With its imaginative and “ludic” tactics, it was a form of aesthetic practice that derived its impetus to a significant extent from the provocative happenings Robert Jasper Grootveld had started staging in the centerof Amsterdam—at some remove from the “official” artistic avant-garde, yet basing himself loosely on American happenings and on Fluxus events.5 Furthermore, a crucial point of reference for Provo was Constant’s utopia of New Babylon and its vision of the unalienated life of the homo ludens, inspired by Huizinga.6 First developed under the auspices of the Situationist International, New Babylon is art that wants to become lived aesthetic praxis beyond “the autonomy of art.”

When aesthetic theory emerged around 1800, it was as an autocritique of Enlightenment and Idealist thought and its self-legislating, self-governing subject equated with an abstract notion of reason and devoid of Lebensrealität. To the extent that aesthetics became a discipline claiming autonomy for its own area of expertise (aesthetic experience), this relative autonomy consisted precisely in the problematization of autonomy, in the creation and examination of impure mixtures and intricate dialectical entanglements of freedom and determination, mind and body, subject and object.7 If the aesthetic also held out a highly ideological promise of imaginary fulfillment within alienating modern society, it also proffered a “vision of human energies as radical ends in themselves which is the implacable enemy of all dominative or instrumentalist thought.”8

Aesthetic thought wanted to become operative in the real world and transform it—as in Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man—by proposing a different assemblage of the conceptual and the sensuous, in which the latter is an equal partner rather than a kind of id that needs to be overcome by triumphant reason. If aesthetic experience has a specific autonomy, as Jacques Rancière maintains, this autonomy emerges as a practice of resistance to the autocracy of reason.9 The latter is always ready to morph into mere purposive rationality, into an automaton-like implementation of a ratio that cannot be argued with—as in the laws of the “free market,” for instance. In fact, today autonomy seems to be located anywhere except on the part of human agency, having become post-human—this is autonomy as automatism, usually presented to the populace as an objective Sachzwang, usually in the form of “saving the economy” or “saving the banks” or “saving the euro” because “there are no alternatives.” As a particular type of asset, art is part and parcel of autonomist techno-finance. What value do the old plots of the aesthetic have for theory and practice under these circumstances?

The above shows one of the models for a futuristic, anti-capitalist city titled New Babylon designed by Situationist Constant Nieuwenhuys between 1959–74.

Subjects Leaving the Factory

In the 1930s, Herbert Marcuse had reflected on a tendency in bourgeois thought that he traced from Luther to Kant and beyond: a “union of internal autonomy and external heteronomy” in which

what is internal to the person is claimed as the realm of freedom: the person as a member of the realm of Reason or of God (as “Christian,” as “thing in itself,” as intelligible being) is free. Meanwhile, the whole “external world,” the person as member of the natural realm or, as the case may be, of a world of concupiscence which has fallen away from God (as “man,” as “appearance”), becomes a place of unfreedom.10

Marcuse notes that “this thought reappears in a secularized form in Kant: man’s freedom as a rational being can only be ‘saved’ if as a sensual being he is entirely abandoned to natural necessity.”11 In this manner, “the duality [between freedom and necessity] is itself introduced into the subject. Even the subject is split into phenomenon and noumenon and the unresolved, insoluble and henceforth permanent conflict between freedom and necessity now invades its innermost structure.”12 But whose freedom? If, for Kant, the subject is only truly autonomous insofar as he or she is the subject of “practical reason,” this takes on a rather peculiar form: the subject becomes a conduit for the ethical will, which seems to be rather autonomous from the subject.13 Rather than truly being the subject of reason, the subject is subjected to a moral imperative that sounds suspiciously like internalized social consensus. Obeying a will that only appears to lay the foundations for its autonomy, the Kantian subject engages in Walter Mitty-style self-delusion.

Kant himself struggled with the split he had introduced into the world and into the subject. In his third critique, the Critique of Judgment, he proposed his notion of aesthetic judgment as a bridge between the realms he had posited, yet this particular solution has proved to be frustrating and insufficient. Starting with Friedrich Schiller in the 1790s, post-Kantian thinkers tried to push the Enlightenment’s autocritique further—in the process giving the aesthetic, as mediator between reason and senses, subject and object, or autonomy and heteronomy, an ever greater role. Then, in the 1840s, materialist philosophies of (and as) praxis moved more decisively beyond idealist system-building and a priori principles in order to “ground” thought not in an abstract, notional subject but in social, somatic, or psychological reality. Defined in Marx’s early “Theses on Feuerbach” as “human sensuous activity,” praxis is a post-idealist politicization of the aesthetic as a transformative engagement with the material and sensuous world. Later, in Capital, Marx focused on two concepts that function as reified counterparts of praxis: wage labor and commodity fetishism.14

With its account of the disjunction between sensuous appearance and underlying productive logic, the chapter on the commodity fetish is Marx’s negative aesthetics. As the product of disavowed wage labor, the commodity constitutes an alienated world of false appearances that needs to be shattered by transformative and revolutionary praxis. In characterizing the commodity as fetish, Marx polemically appropriated the term with which the Enlightenment categorized sub-aesthetic magical objects in “primitive” tribal societies in Africa.15 Like the “benighted Africans” imagined by Charles de Brosses or Hegel in their writings on “primitive” religion, the capitalist subject submitted to magical thinking when faced with the commodity’s mysterious price—seemingly determined in “social relations” with other commodities, but in fact determined by the labor time invested in its production.16 But is the artwork not a kind of third fetish, next to the religious and the commodity fetish? Noting that Marx’s critique of the illusory sensuousness of the commodity as fetish is coupled with his attack on the “illusion of the autonomy of the value-form,” which is concomitant with a reversal of subject and object, Stewart Martin argues that in his Aesthetic Theory Adorno “mobilizes the first illusion (fetishism) against the second illusion. The autonomous artwork is an emphatically fetishized commodity, which is to say that it is a sensuous fixation of abstraction, of the value-form, and not immediately abstract.”17 In art, this sensuous fixation is pushed to an extreme that betrays art’s roots in magical fetishism. The artwork is the absolute fetish.

In his early essay on Wagner, Adorno noted that the appearance of the artwork’s autonomy is possible only because of “the concealment of the labor that went into it.”18 What is true of Wagner’s phantasmagorias also applies to Adorno’s modernism: Modernist works may be more overt about their constructive logic, but the construction becomes another form of obfuscation behind which living labor disappears. This is precisely where the Italian operaists parted ways with Adorno: for Raniero Panzieri, Adorno remained fixated on the level of consumption with his focus on the artwork as autonomous aesthetic fetish.19 With his insistence on the primacy of labor and of worker’s resistance in the historical development of capitalism itself, Mario Tronti aimed at foregrounding a different autonomy, as opposed to the illusory autonomy of the commodity or that of capital.

Marx had polemically and ironically noted that “in the circulation M-C-M both the money and the commodity function only as different modes of existence of value itself,” which “is constantly changing from one form into the other, without becoming lost in this movement; it thus becomes transformed into an automatic subject.”20 The notion of the “automatic subject” of value, as constituted by the circulation of capital, has been taken up in Germany in particular by authors intent on forging a Marxian critique of value.21 However, for Tronti and other operaists it was crucial to assert that from a historical point of view there could be no real automatism here, no real autonomy of capital; any specific iteration of the M-C-M cycle has to be seen in the context of capital’s responses to forms of refusal, of workers’ autonomy.

Today, the artwork, that particular fetish, has become the model for an economy in which the commodity’s theological whims are boundless. Branded designer goods (sometimes in quasi-unique “limited editions”) behave like genuinely autonomous Baudrillardian sign fetishes, deriving their price from their manufactured qualities rather than from labor-power. Given the absurd surplus value for something like the iPhone, the autonomy of capital seems rather real. While factories in Bangladesh or China continue to produce physical goods, both their symbolic and cultural value and, significantly, their price are determined by the vanguardists of immaterial labor; by post-Fordist auto-productivists whose autos is less self-determination than self-control. In an overdesigned world, the ultimate in design may not be the design of objects but self-design.22 The autonomous subject has become primarily its own autocrat, perpetually self-managing and self-optimizing—while forever being illuminated by the dark light of data surveillance.

As self-management takes the form of perpetual decision-making, even if under intense pressure, it can revive a sense of individual subjective mastery; “the illusion of choice and autonomy is one of the foundations of this global regime of self-regulation.”23 Always busy surviving and self-optimizing, this self has no time for revolt, which can only be a waste of time and a career-killer.24 What would it mean to reintroduce the “labor point of view” in this context and to once more foreground workers’ autonomy over the autonomy of the commodity or of capital?

In line with Italian autonomia, into which operaismo morphed in the early 1970s, later movements from alterglobalism to Occupy Wall Street have insisted on autonomy not as a property of the subject, but as “collective adventure” produced by transversal connections and groupings.25 The success of autonomist theory and activism in the art world can be seen as a continuation and intensification of the aesthetic critique of the Enlightenment concept of the autonomous subject—and of its even more abstracted double, the autonomous will. If real self-determination is the right to choose one’s dependencies, then genuine autonomy would have to start from an acknowledgement of heteronomy and the need for collaboration, co-individuation, and co-creation.26

This cartoon from Autonomie is based on João Abel Manta’s “A Difficult Problem,” 1975. Here, Manta’s map of Portugal is replaced with the Gilbert Shelton character Fat Freddy.

Actionism and Krautonomy

“Actionism is regressive”: in the later part of the 1960s, Adorno not only opposed Gehlen’s conservative over-valuation of institutions, but equally rejected the Aktionismus of young radicals such as Rudi Dutschke (who in turn regarded Adorno as a Modernist mandarin who fiddled Schoenberg while Vietnam burned).27 For Dutschke, “our cultural revolution” was anchored in actions during which the participants “focus on themselves” and “develop their self-enlightenment about the meaning and purpose of the action itself.”28

In Germany and Austria, “actionism” was a code word for the neo-avant-garde and its dangerous aesthetic transgressions. In the 1950s, the term “action” had been promoted in the context of action painting by Harold Rosenberg, with the canvas allegedly becoming an “arena in which to act” for Pollock and De Kooning & Co.29], 22–23, 48–50), which was widely supposed to be based on Jackson Pollock’s practice, although Rosenberg did not mention a single artist’s name and was much closer to De Kooning. See also my History in Motion: Time in the Age of the Moving Image (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013), 223–32.] Rosenberg’s theory of the artistic act was an individualized Cold-War transposition of the Marxist philosophy of praxis he had espoused in the 1930s, in the context of Trotskyism. Praxis became a sequence of acts, of mock-heroic and existential actions. Praxis as a “sensuous human activity” that is as aesthetic as it is political becomes an individual act that can be hung in a living room. Towards the end of the 1950s, Allan Kaprow and other neo-avant-gardists argued that it was now crucial to leave painting behind and create actions (or happenings, or events) more directly and theatrically, without an object as intermediary.30

In the early 1960s the German-speaking world embraced the term Aktion mainly because it discursively enacted the “blurring of art and life” advocated by the neo-avant-garde.31 In line with the Situationists, who had advocated “new forms of action in politics and art,” the notion was applied both to more strictly artistic and to countercultural-cum-political actions. The post-Situationist group Subversive Aktion, with former SI member Dieter Kunzelmann and future student leader Rudi Dutschke—who used an entrist strategy to infiltrate the Berlin SDS—fell into the latter camp.32 What artists or “un-artists” from Allan Kaprow and George Maciunas to Jean-Jacques Lebel and the Situationists advocated were generalized and at times highly politicized forms of aesthetic praxis in which the external world is no longer purely external, confronted by a disembodied subject, but is truly “human sensuous activity.”33 For all of the valid points of institutional critique’s covertly Adornian rejection of the transgressive gestures of the neo-avant-garde, the neo-avant-garde was right in opposing the reduction of the aesthetic to institutional art. “Actionism’s” refusal to accept institutional and disciplinary limits, to respect functional differentiation, is highly relevant at the present historical juncture—which is, after all, marked by an erosion of relative autonomy in art as in academia and elsewhere.

However, “Aktionismismus” was part of a historical constellation in which the Left was on the offensive and conservative and half-heartedly de-nazified institutions provided clear targets. By the early 1970s, the remains of actionism and related strands of left-wing activism and theorizing morphed and crossbred in various ways, with Kunzelmann or his former Kommune 1 comrade Fritz Teufel embracing armed action as members of the Bewegung 2. Juni. Meanwhile, a group of members and hangers-on of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Action Theater (later Anti-Theatre) group in Munich had been instrumental in forming the Rote Armee Fraktion.34 While the RAF and the Bewegung 2. Juni attempted to impose a definitive avant-garde model via “urban guerrilla,” former SDS member Karl Heinz Roth and others looked to Italian operaism and the beginnings of autonomia for alternative models.

In 1975, Roth was one of the confounders of the periodical Autonomie, which was subtitled Materialien gegen die Fabrikgesellschaft (“Materials Against Factory Society”). In a programmatic article in the first issue with the wonderful Denglish title “Facing Reality: Organisation Kaputt,” Thomas Schmid called for a post-Leninist, post-vanguard mass movement anchored in (while transforming) daily life, tracing the transition from workers’ autonomy (operaismo) to a more general conception of an autonomy of movements and structures no longer necessarily containable within old-school conceptions of class struggle (autonomia).35 Here a dissensus at the heart of the “Krautonomie” project already began to manifest itself.36 Like Joschka Fischer (another Autonomie author), Schmid was a member of the Frankfurt “Sponti” scene and like Fischer, he already seemed keen to ditch Marxist conceptions of the working class in favor of more glamorous and less frustrating cosmopolitan micropolitics and career-friendly semiotic labor.

By contrast, Roth had presented a much more rigorous and orthodox operaist account of labor history in his 1974 book Die “andere” Arbeiterbewegung (The “Other” Workers’ Movement), which focused on the refusal of work by German “mass laborers.” In contrast to the reformist politics of the “professional” labor movement, Roth qualified their stance as “aktionistisch.”37 While complaining that the late-1960s SDS had been blind to the reality of this radical tendency among workers, focusing instead on “institutional critique,” his terminology suggests that his analytical focus was itself informed by student and APO actionism.38 On May 9, 1975, Roth was seriously wounded in a shootout between police and a member of the Bewegung 2. Juni; hence he was not a strong presence during the first issues of Autonomie. However, his brand of German operaismo filtered through in texts by authors such as Angelika Ebbinghaus (a critique of Soviet Taylorism) and Walter Güntheroth, who in the first issue delivered a critique of “Marxian orthodoxy” that revolved around the rejection of authors who assume an “autonomous movement of capital.”

Like Tronti, Roth and Güntheroth asserted the primacy of living labor and resistance, not of any automatic subject of capital. Güntheroth criticizes a Marxian orthodoxy (he mentions Jürgen Ritsert) that has reversed Marx’s materialist reversal of Hegel: this orthodoxy does not take as its starting point an analysis of historical struggles and class antagonism, but instead ontologized and autonomized capital.39 While Roth’s contention that there is no autonomous development of capital—which is always forced to respond to forms of resistance—was shared by most Autonomie authors, Roth was concerned that the increasing focus on the postindustrial sector and services was a feint that distracted from the real issue: an ever more general proletarianization.40 The rift running through Autonomie to some extent paralleled that in Italy between Tronti’s attempt to define and defend an “autonomy of the political,” which in his case involved a return to Communist Party politics, and Negri’s post-operaist or autonomist embrace of new subjectivities and precarious social formations.41 In Germany, those most keen to distance themselves from traditional worker politics would in some cases end up as firm establishment figures—with Fischer as foreign minister and Schmid working for the right-wing Springer press corporation.

An illustration in the first issue of Autonomie encapsulates this move towards post-workerism. The basis for this image is a cartoon by João Abel Manta about the Carnation Revolution in Portugal, which shows revolutionary thinkers and political leaders looking at an outline of Portugal drawn on a blackboard (Hegel is present in the form of a portrait bust). In the Autonomie version, the outline of Portugal has been replaced with Fat Freddy, a character from Gilbert Shelton’s underground comic The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.42 Absurdly, the thinkers and makers of World History now stare intently at a chubby cartoon character who here stands for the Politbohème of Spontis and Aktionisten. For Roth, this montage will perhaps have served as a warning sign: disappointed by the traditional working class and as yet lacking any new proletariat, the autonomists now substituted their own interests and activities as autonomous from any actual political project.

When Roth and a few allies founded a “new series” of Autonomie in 1979, their journal stood grimly apart from the embrace of the desires, senses, signs, and art that characterized the postmodernism of the nascent Reagan/Thatcher/Kohl era. With its yuppie collectors, this era saw a financialization of art that was the pre-internet model for today’s speculative market, in which the autonomization of capital appears to make an ontological leap from theoretical fallacy to reality.

Rancière speaks at the Maagdenhuis, Amsterdam, 2015. Photo: Nicola Zolin

From Artwork to Art-Work

In the early 1980s, theorists of postmodernism observed and often ideologized an aestheticization of daily life via commodification in what seemed like a parody of old avant-garde ambitions, problematizing or flat-out rejecting Modernist theories of art as having a largely autonomous history in which the “unsolved antagonisms of reality” are reconfigured time and again as “immanent problems of form.”43 As the greatest Modernist aesthetician, Adorno had of course acknowledged that the autonomization of art was itself a consequence of the division of labor in capitalist society.44], Composing for the Films (New York: Oxford University Press, 1947), 45–61.] However, for Adorno the faits sociaux enabling Modernist art are in the end just that; the art cannot be reduced to its heteronomous conditions. Film was part of the culture industry and needed sociological perspectives; one chapter of Adorno and Eisler’s book on film music is called “Sociological Aspects.”45 By contrast, art itself is a higher sociology; it is critical theory in the form of aesthetic objects. The fait social of modern art was ultimately articulated best on the level of the autonomous artwork, mimetically and fetishistically.

However, throughout the twentieth century a more purely sociological account of the autonomy of art, whose foundations were laid by Max Weber, gained traction.46 In his 1980 attack on postmodernism, Jürgen Habermas would rely on this Weberian model not so much to analyze as to defend modernism in art, and the “project of modernity” in general:

[Max Weber] characterized cultural modernity as the separation of the substantive reason expressed in religion and metaphysics into three autonomous spheres. They are: science, morality and art. These came to be differentiated because the unified world-views of religion and metaphysics fell apart. Since the 18th century, the problems inherited from these older world-views could be arranged so as to fall under specific aspects of validity: truth, normative rightness, authenticity, and beauty. They could then be handled as questions of knowledge, or of justice and morality, or of taste. Scientific discourse, theories of morality, jurisprudence, and the production and criticism of art could in turn be institutionalized.47

While the sprawl of the field of art and art’s progressive institutionalization and capitalization fuelled neo-avant-garde protest during the 1960s, it also made gambling on a revolutionary break with the system seem increasingly unfeasible once the impetus of 1967–68 waned. What emerged very forcefully in this situation was a sociological turn in the form of those practices that later came to be known as institutional critique. Early protagonists of institutional critique such as Broodthaers, Buren, and Haacke rejected both the Modernist object and the avant-garde event or performance—both the Modernist conviction “that an object, by its distinction from all others, can serve as a mirror for an equally singular and independent subject” and the avant-garde belief in radically transgressive gestures that in fact leave the system intact and await their own institutional recuperation.48 Andrea Fraser has registered her doubts concerning “formulations that seem to reach for a kind of pure autonomy, a kind of pure freedom, in which avant-garde practices are sometimes identified with radical political practices, such as anarchist traditions and autonomia.”49 Much like Horkheimer and Adorno’s critical theory, institutional critique is an immanent critical practice in disciplinary and institutional frameworks—a series of interventions in their dialectics of enablement and constraints, their processes of subjectivation and subjection. Spectacular transgression was swapped for patient critical labor.

Andrea Fraser has argued that “artistic autonomy” has four dimensions: aesthetic (the artwork as following its own intrinsic logic, free from instrumentalization), economic (the bourgeois, modern art market), social (the art world as a relatively autonomous field with its own protocols and criteria), and political (which Fraser identifies with freedom of speech and conscience).50 While Fraser here uses a limited notion of the aesthetic, which is identified with one particular aspect of “artistic autonomy,” her distinctions are nonetheless useful when discussing “institutionalized” modern art; the aesthetic in its more fundamental sense involves a constant questioning of art and its institutions. If various avant-gardes and neo-avant-gardes sought to destroy or at least escape from the field of art, institutional critique à la Haacke or Fraser becomes an immanent critical practice within this field. However, when both selves and institutional structures are subject to permanent redesign, the old opposition between transgressive and immanent practices loses much of its relevance.

If the term “autonomy” has any meaning in art, it is not as a label for a historical series of artworks that somehow have the property of “being autonomous.” With institutional critique, artistic autonomy came to be redefined in terms of art-work, or artistic labor that aspires to become immanent critical practice. If institutional critique was highly critical of the artwork as object, it did not necessarily side with the art object’s familiar neo-avant-garde alternative: transgressive actions that seek to escape institutional art altogether. Artistic practice became project-based, and the focus shifted from the artwork as object to artistic labor—the artistic version of the shift from Fordism to post-Fordism, from commodity-objects to “services” and “immaterial” labor.

The opposition between the (supposedly illusory) autonomy of capital and the (real) autonomy of living labor and worker’s action was always dialectical: the autonomy of capital was both ideological and a fait social. It was a socially produced and conditional autonomy that depended on the obfuscation of its own production. We have now reached the stage in which “intellectual labor becomes a part of the autonomous process of capital,” as Franco “Bifo” Berardi has put it.51], 2009) 33.] At the forefront of practices that engaged with the contradictions of art-work in the context of the transformations of the wider economy since the 1960s and ’70s was institutional critique. Andrea Fraser and Helmut Draxler’s exhibition and discussion series Services (1993–94), for instance, analyzed the service industries as a possible model for artistic project work, without disregarding the new forms of (self-)exploitation and precarization that emerge with such non-object-based work.52

However, Haacke, Buren, or Fraser’s common ground with Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology of art and his analysis of the “artistic field” and its institutions has also resulted in a fetishization of said field, and a tendency to disregard its ongoing transformation and disintegration.53 The autonomy of modern society’s differentiated fields or spheres was in fact always highly relative; as Kerstin Stakemeier has emphasized, art being “meticulously isolated as a field” and given relative autonomy was precisely how the subsumption of art under capitalism operated in modernism.54 This subsumption now being much more radical and extreme, with economic logic penetrating art more fully and the field’s splendid isolation being reduced to a mere figment, some of the avant-garde practices that were brushed aside as fatally naive by institutional critique now take on a renewed relevance. What used to be known as art and culture now having been reconceptualized as “the creative industries”; in a country such as the Netherlands the state actively encourages research on (and in the service of) said industries, with a focus on design and new media.

Both art and academia are made more immediately productive now that they are no longer seen as relatively autonomous supplements of the “real economy,” as supplements that are essential for the reproduction of the system, but that, like domestic reproductive labor, do not directly enter into the productive equation. Today they are being ideologized as the new knowledge-based and creative economy for this deindustrialized country. Ironically, it is often precisely the lingering, residual specificity of these fields that propels their integration. The art market and the academic market alike exist by virtue of unique protocols (the incommensurable value of the unique work of art; academic ranking systems) whose seemingly autonomous logic is a perfect vehicle for financialization and the imposition of neoliberal programs that result in a process of decomposition; not just of art and science, which need to be “valorized” much more directly than in the past, but also, for instance, law—which is bent or cancelled in accordance with politico-economic imperatives. What if a “field” is now a kind of scattered archipelago—an institutional, para-, and extra-institutional Balkans of conflicting ideologies and practices?

Situationist May ’68 posters from the catalog of the collection of former conservative French prime minister Dominique de Villepin, auctioned at Piette Bergé in 2013.

Liquid Inertia

The nature of institutions has changed along with that of the artwork and the subject. Even in the 1970s, corporate sponsorship and the influence of trustees became the focus of Hans Haacke’s work; the seemingly autonomous logic of capital transformed the art field from the inside. By now, the logic of capital has in turn largely merged with that of technoscience: if we pay up, we can get real-time algorithmic advice on which artists to buy and which to dump. Andrea Fraser’s sometime collaborator Helmut Draxler has eloquently critiqued the avant-garde logic of transgression, of abandoning one’s field, of becoming another, a better, a more political subject.55 But what if institutions themselves become transgressive; what if subjects are already constantly being reshaped?

In 1838, in the first young-Hegelian attempt at a theory of praxis, August von Cieszkowski identified institutions with “the conscious acts of humankind.”56 In contrast to this still idealist definition, Sartre in The Critique of Dialectical Reason famously placed institutions on the side of the practico-inert: they are the result of previous being and previous praxis, now congealed into reified structures and ossified protocols. Their movement is inert movement.57 For a conservative like Gehlen, this kind of critique is proof of the covert idealism of Marxism: it is nothing but a “materialization” of Fichte’s Ich, which cannot accept any objective reality outside of it.58 For crypto-Fichtean theories of praxis, everything needs to be dissolved into human activity—dissolved, liquidated, liquefied. Such a polemical misreading may at best be applicable to some forms of Aktionismus that Adorno opposed as much as he opposed Gehlen.

However, is the contemporary institution itself not a “financialized” version of idealism? Offices are transformed beyond recognition as workers become flex workers on flex time. Academics don’t need books anymore, hence they no longer need to have a study. The institution is less than ever a mere bureaucratic monolith whose ossified structures need to be overcome through action or praxis; in many cases, an “actionistic” managerial caste imposes “market imperatives” on those who are told to “get with the program.” What is needed in such a situation, as Gerald Raunig has suggested, are “practices that are self-critical and yet do not cling to their own involvement, their complicity, their imprisoned existence in the art field, their fixation on institution and the institution, their own being-institution.”59 In such an account of “instituent practices,” institutional critique is reinvented along autonomist lines, and vice versa.

When Rudi Dutschke coined the phrase “the long march through institutions,” he was thinking of a process in which revolutionaries undermine one institution after another from within.60 As the revolutionary impetus of the late 1960s petered out, institutional critique at times replaced avant-garde transgression with an equally problematic fetishization of immanent practice within institutions. Critique that is perfectly content with its immanence becomes a kind of higher Biedermeier. Moments of externality, of externalization, are part of the process. It is no longer a matter of choosing between anti-institutional aesthetic practice (1960s neo-avant-garde tendencies) and embedded critical practice within institutions (1970s institutional critique). By now, the complementary nature of both approaches is clear, as artistic and theoretical practice navigate institutional as well as extra-institutional contexts and interstices. Existing institutions such as museums or universities should be engaged with and worked with to the extent that this is possible and productive, without constituting the horizon.

Under neoliberalism, we constantly encounter and participate in a paradoxical liquid inertia of structures and procedures. Often—for instance at universities—workers are entangled somewhat haphazardly in restructurings and retoolings that they have not desired and have little control over. However, under specific circumstances, especially in smaller art institutions, transformation and “liquefaction” can take the form of an active and activist praxis. A case in point is the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, which enabled the project Picasso in Palestine (2011), initiated by Khaled Hourani. The museum’s apparatus was used to send a Picasso painting to Palestine, where most institutional niceties that are taken for granted elsewhere are absent; Israel has blocked and sabotaged the formation and maintenance of institutions, including that of a Palestinian state, for decades. Picasso in Palestine emphasizes and exacerbates the painting’s status as art, as a painting by Picasso that allows for certain kinds of aesthetic experience. It is precisely because bringing the artwork as object and as producer or enabler of such an experience to Palestine is so grotesquely difficult that the painting here also has different meanings and functions—an unexpected use value that enriches rather than cancels out the work’s aesthetic qualities. In the process, the work also maps the inequalities and asymmetries in today’s “globalization,” which is the continuation of imperialism and colonialism by different means—including those of international law.

Picasso in Palestine dealt with a highly specific situation, but it did so by foregrounding the various forms of curatorial, critical, artistic, legal, police, and manual labor involved—all revolving around a precious and precarious object. It was an attack on Israel’s stranglehold on Palestine, but the attack came from the inside, by foregrounding the contradictions of working in a “global” economy rife with asymmetries and inequalities between the migration of commodities and of workers, of skilled and unskilled labor, and from the periphery to center and vice versa. Picasso in Palestine takes as its point of departure a quintessential Modernist artwork, but shows its entanglement in activities that ensure its transportation, its protection, its legal status, and so on. The artwork as object becomes working, becomes labor; noun becomes verb. Many contemporary practices thus seek to revert or at least counteract the concealment of labor. But “the labor that went into the work of art” can be manifold and contradictory, and it may include the labor of guards or cleaners needed for the maintenance of the system. What has happened in the last decades is the progressive subjugation of art and of academia to an economistic logic that allows for no alterity, no other criteria.

The Situationist-dominated “Council for Maintaining the Occupations,” which was founded at the Sorbonne in May ’68, put out a poster decreeing the “End of the University.”61 By the early twenty-first century, universities and museums alike have been occupied by rather different forces. In dealing with such institutions, it may be wise to consider them already gone, already plundered and ruined. But these ruins are not the crumbling edifices known from old-master paintings. Ruination now takes the form of constant liquefaction. Workplaces literally disappear, with unworkable “flexi-work stations” at Dutch universities having the effect (and no doubt the unstated intention) of severing ties of solidarity between and among staff members and students. A situation marked by the liquefaction of institutions and by the erosion of the relative autonomy of fields presents huge problems, but also possibilities.

Workers’ disinvestment from the liquid institution can lead to ever more complete inscription in the isolating protocols of pseudo-autonomist self-management. However, at times the liquidation of old structures can in fact generate solidarization and action. In the midst of institutional turmoil, new forms of cooperation and new alliances can emerge within liquid institutions and ex-fields, but also between them. As the institution becomes networked and diffused, it intensifies its grasp on subjectivation and introduces ever greater numbers of cultural and intellectual workers into precarity.62 The factory is now truly a fabbrica diffusa, as the operaists put it. When the same “iron logic” of financialized capital as enabled by technoscience as much as by financial capital is imposed on all different fields and occupations, then is there not potentially a common ground? In art as in academia, many may no longer consider themselves to be part of the same “field” as some of their (former) peers. Does this not also create new possibilities for networks of solidarity within but also between (ex-)fields?

IBM promotes a computer program, Watson, in this video titled “What Will You Do with Watson?,” 2014 (video still). See

Are We the Robots?

In contemporary capitalism, the seeming autonomy/automatism of value production reaches new heights due to the synthesis of technology and finance.Fredric Jameson has argued that finance capital has been marked by a further autonomization vis-à-vis industrial capitalism, just as the postmodern play of “autonomized fragments” goes beyond the relative autonomy of Modernist forms. Finance capital brings into being “a play of monetary entities that need neither production (as capital does) nor consumption (as money does), which supremely, like cyberspace, can live on their own internal metabolisms and circulate without any reference to an older type of content.” This also manifests itself in “a new cultural dimension or realm that is independent from the former real world.”63

Such pronouncements on the autonomy of finance enter into a coalition with statements on the autonomization of technology. In the 1970s it was commonplace for Marxist critics of capitalist “communication” to assert that “in the universe of fetishes, the communications media appear to be endowed with autonomy, ‘a will and mind of their own,’” which was to be countered with steps “towards an autonomous cultural production” by “the popular classes.”64 Such media-operaism seems quaint now that we are dealing with a techno-economic system that is constantly spawning new products and tools that demand an instant reschooling of the subject, which has to keep up with developments to shore up its own much more precarious illusion of subjective autonomy. As Jonathan Crary has noted, “[the] idea of technological change as quasi-autonomous, driven by some process of auto-poesis of self-regulation” has become ubiquitous—and it is this process that will presumably result in the singularity.65 Technoscience merges with the apparent autonomy of finance capital to form an imposed sense of capitalist technoscience as automaton, as unstoppable juggernaut. Of course, in its very autonomization from the social, techno-financial capitalism keeps producing social problems—and ecological problems.

Recently a number of Dutch institutions poured significant funding into a new Center for Humanities and Technology (CHAT), which enables researchers to use IMB’s Watson system for research in the field of cognitive computing, network analytics, visualization, text and social analytics, search and data representation—and now, of course, the humanities, with underfunded academics bending their research agenda to come up with something, anything, that could get them a bit of cash. CHAT had an inaugural budget of €65 million—which must have come from somewhere—but now that money has been earmarked to promote a particular research agenda. The call for proposals gave researchers a full three weeks to come up with a proposal. Art historians were presented with suggestions that are patently irrelevant in relation to contemporary artistic practice: “Can we detect meaningful relationships between artworks when we do not understand the semantic labels (due to language differences), or with insufficient clues (untitled works)? Can we search for artworks on the basis of pattern recognition of e.g. color, composition, texture, rhythm?”66 Dreaming of a cut of that €65 million, some art historians started brainstorming: Should we rather focus on discourse analysis, and have Watson parse thousands of texts on the basis of keywords? Which keywords? “Autonomy” perhaps?

A humanist defense of the lone researcher against the evil machine would clearly be regressive and unhelpful. Clearly the point cannot be the resuscitation of some deliriously autocratic Enlightenment subject, let alone of some Fichtean Ich. Autonomy needs to be defined in terms of assemblages that include technological tools as well as institutions. They are pharmaka, to use Bernard Stiegler’s terminology; they are coproducers of subjectivity. But what kind of subjectivity? What is disconcerting about the Amsterdam project is how this proprietary version of cognitive computing is naturalized, and never questioned. Do we want students and staff whom it never gives any pause to be Watson’s Watson? And how, as Matteo Pasquinelli asked à propos of Watson, “do you think a form of capital that is already thinking you?”67 To open up a serious debate about these and other matters would require conceiving of the university “as a site of struggle, or education as a reason for it,” and as Sarah Amsler puts it: this is something that few academics are willing to do.68 Staff and students find it difficult to organize and undertake collective action—if they see the need for it at all. Many have been depoliticized by the perpetual need to perform, and to compete.

Amsler sees such developments as symptoms of a “deep neoliberalism” that

moves beyond daily erosions of autonomy to become a hollowing out of the relationships, ideas, and subjectivities that help maintain critical spaces from neoliberal rationality and a temporal contracting of the distance between these spaces. If we can identify how and why these processes become possible, we might also get a better grip on how critical spaces can be reclaimed or created.69

Again the question of labor rises, with ever greater urgency. During the late-1980s mock-academic panel performances by the feminist collective V-Girls, Andrea Fraser’s persona would occasionally end some demonstration of her theoretical skills with a desperately peppy “I would like to conclude by saying that I am available for immediate employment.” This message tends to be implicit in all we say and do. Like workers at Foxconn or Pegratron, most academics may be easily replaceable by the next eager candidate available for immediate employment. Self-design and self-surveillance do their job—until they don’t.

“In the information age, there is not going to be a privileged set of knowledge producers who will be allowed an autonomous space, a safe haven to explore and invent.”70 In art as in academia, what used to be a carefully maintained reserve, a research facility in which processes that could be subject to later capitalization had to be given some room to unfold, is now mined much more directly, without delays. The exception has been subjected to the rule; the seeming alternative to capitalism has become the avant-garde of capitalism. But if art’s and academia’s inscription in the automatic logic of (finance) capital entails a loss of a specific type of disciplinary autonomy, this also means that transdisciplinary endeavors that follow a non-CHAT logic have become both more necessary and more possible—which does not mean that their intrinsic contradictions and centrifugal forces are any less real.

A starting point would be precisely the ever more problematic status of work in contemporary capitalism. The “refusal of work” was a key notion in 1970s autonomism. Refusal and sabotage had long been central to the “other” workers’ movement, but in 1970s Europe, unemployment was on the rise. The system was itself increasingly refusing people work, in part precisely due to industry’s response to previous labor action, which had resulted in increasing automation as well as the relocating of production to Asia. While autonomists sought to exacerbate this crisis and push it to its tipping point (using the welfare state that was still in place), more generally the situation resulted in a life-long scramble for jobs in an economy in which every crisis seems to be followed by a techno-financial “jobless recovery.”

As the integration of semi-autonomous fields and the integration of workers into neoliberal capitalism is being pushed forward, divisions between legal and illegal, first-class and second-class citizens, workers and non-workers proliferate. In such a situation, the impetus to stay on the “right” side of these divisions is strong and often overpowering; but conditions of generalized precarity can also lead to the realization that there are no right sides. Networks emerge in which collaboration between artists, lecturers or PhD candidates, activists, and illegal immigrants may start to make more sense than the usual field-immanent activities of pursuing gallery exhibitions or grants for mega research projects. This can result in attempts to forge alliances between, for instance, artists or academics and the “illegals" who provide a surplus labor force for the informal economy. In early 2015, the protesting students at the Maagdenhuis in Amsterdam insisted on conjoining their struggle with that of rejected asylum seekers, who are not legally allowed to work and be “productive members of society.” The students did so against protest from those who thought it unwise to “cloud the issue.”

At its best, today’s autonomist practice strives for an autonomy of chosen dependencies; an autonomy that practices entanglement, that dances with heteronomy. Meaningful aesthetico-political praxis will often be slow or intermittent. In the fabbrica diffusa of contemporary capitalism, autonomy can only occur as assembly and assemblage of disparate workers and non-workers. Everything conspires against this occurring. It is time to conspire back.

×

This article is based on the introduction to the Art and Autonomy reader, to be published by Afterall later this year.

Sven Lütticken teaches art history at VU University Amsterdam, where he coordinates the Research Master's programme Visual Arts, Media and Architecture (VAMA). Sternberg Press published his book Idols of the Market: Modern Iconoclasm and the Fundamentalist Spectacle (2009) and History in Motion: Time in the Age of the Moving Image (2013).

© 2016 e-flux and the author
Journal # 69
Related
Conversations
Notes
Share
Download PDF
More
Sven Lütticken
Conversations - Neither Autocracy nor Automatism: Notes on Autonomy and the Aesthetic
Conversations
Join the Conversation

e-flux conversations is a discussion platform for e-flux readers. Click to start a discussion of the article above.

Start the Conversation
Notes - Neither Autocracy nor Automatism: Notes on Autonomy and the Aesthetic
1

For a critique of the modern subject as autocratic, in the context of a Latour- and Stengers-inspired curatorial project, see Susanne Karr, “We Have Never Been Alone: The Continuing Appeal of Animism,” Springerin

Go to Text
2

In contrast to his later critics, Greenberg himself rarely (if ever) used the term; however, his “Kantian” definition of modernism in terms of “the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence” is of course a definition of Modernist art’s autonomous self-development. Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting” (1960), in The Collected Essays and Criticism 4: Modernism With a Vengeance, 1957–1969, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1993), 85.

Go to Text
3

Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1970), trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 7.

Go to Text
4

In 1962, Grootveld witnessed an evening of “Parellele Aufführungen neuester Musik” organized by Wolf Vostell, and including contributions by Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, and Nam June Paik; the evening of events became a model for Grootveld’s happenings when Vostell attempted to perform a décollage action outside, on the street, and the police intervened. According to a report published by the weekly Haagse Post at the time, Grootveld tried to convince the remaining attendees that Amsterdam was to become a magic center. See Ludo van Halem, “Parallele Aufführungen neuester Musik. Een Fluxusconcert in kunsthandel Monet,” Jong Holland 6, no. 5 (1990): 26 (quoting from Haagse Post, October 13, 1962).

Go to Text
5

In 1962, Grootveld witnessed an evening of “Parellele Aufführungen neuester Musik” organized by Wolf Vostell, and including contributions by Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, and Nam June Paik; the evening of events became a model for Grootveld’s happenings when Vostell attempted to perform a décollage action outside, on the street, and the police intervened. According to a report published by the weekly Haagse Post at the time, Grootveld tried to convince the remaining attendees that Amsterdam was to become a magic center. See Ludo van Halem, “Parallele Aufführungen neuester Musik. Een Fluxusconcert in kunsthandel Monet,” Jong Holland 6, no. 5 (1990): 26 (quoting from Haagse Post, October 13, 1962).

Go to Text
6

Constant and New Babylon were fêted in Provo 4 (October 1965).

Go to Text
7

In this sense, any mention of “aesthetic autonomy” should come with immediate qualifications; otherwise the result will be a conceptual fetish that negates a core quality of the aesthetic itself. On “aesthetic autonomy” in relation to “artistic autonomy,” see also Aesthetic and Artistic Autonomy, ed. Owen Hulatt (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).

Go to Text
8

Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 9.

Go to Text
9

Herbert Marcuse, A Study on Authority (1936), trans. Joris de Bres (London: Verso, 2008), 7–8.

Go to Text
10

Herbert Marcuse, A Study on Authority (1936), trans. Joris de Bres (London: Verso, 2008), 7–8.

Go to Text
11

Ibid., 8.

Go to Text
12

Georg Lukács, “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat,” in History and Class Consciousness (1922), trans. Rodney Livingstone (London?: Merlin Press, 1971), 124.

Go to Text
13

Peter Osborne, “Theorem 4: Autonomy. Can It Be Part of Art and Politics at the Same Time?,” Open 23 (2012), 116–26.

Go to Text
14

On praxis and labor see also Josefine Wikström, “Practice Comes Before Labor: An Attempt to Read Performance through Marx’s Notion of Practice,” Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts 17, no. 6 (2012). DOI: 10.1080/13528165.2013.775753

Go to Text
15

The term was key to Charles de Brosses’s Enlightenment theory of “primitive” African (but implicitly also Catholic European) religion in Du culte des dieux fétiches (1760).

Go to Text
16

See, of course, the famous section on the fetishism of commodities from Capital, vol. 1 (chapter 1, section 4)

Go to Text
17

Stewart Martin, “The Absolute Artwork Meets the Absolute Commodity,” Radical Philosophy 146 (November–December 2007): 23.

Go to Text
18

Theodor W. Adorno, In Search of Wagner, trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: Verso, 2005), 72.

Go to Text
19

Raniero Panzieri, “Relazione sul neocapitalismo,” in La Ripresa del Marxismo-Leninismo in Italia (Milan: Sapere Edizioni, 1972), 212, quoted in Pier Vittorio Aurelli, The Project of Autonomy: Politics and Architecture Within and Against Capitalism (New York: Tenple Hoyne Buell Center/Princeton Architectural Press, 2008), 27.

Go to Text
20

Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1990), 255.

Go to Text
21

See for instance Das automatische Subjekt bei Marx, eds. Hans-Georg Bensch and Frank Kuhne (Lüneburg: Gesellschaftswissenschaftliches Institut Hannover 1998); in recent art theory, see Kerstin Stakemeier, for instance “Art as Capital—Art as Service—Art as Industry: Timing Art in Capitalism,” in Timing: On the Temporal Dimension of Exhibiting, eds. Beatrice von Bismarck et al. (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014), 15–38.

Go to Text
22

Hal Foster, Design and Crime and Other Diatribes (London: Verso, 2002).

Go to Text
23

Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (London: Verso, 2013), 46.

Go to Text
24

See Byung-Chul Han, Psychopolitik. Neoliberalismus und die neuen Machttechniken (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2014).

Go to Text
25

Brian Holmes, “Artistic Autonomy and the Communication Society,” Third Text 18, no. 6 (2004): 548

Go to Text
26

“Self-determination is the right to choose your dependencies”; Vivian Ziherl quoted by Jonas Staal in “To Make a World, Part II: The Art of Creating a State,” e-flux journal 60 (December 2014)

Go to Text
27

Theodor W. Adorno, “Marginalien zu Theorie und Praxis” (1969) in Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft II (Gesammelte Schriften 10.2) (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2003), 760–82 (quotation from 776). In his attacks on “actionism,” Adorno here himself uses the impoverished and undialectical notion of praxis (as antithetically opposed to “theory”) that he accuses his opponents of employing.

Go to Text
28

Rudi Dutschke, in Uwe Bergmann, Rudi Dutschke, Wolfgang Lefèvre, and Bernd Rabehl, Rebellion der Studenten oder Die neue Opposition (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1968), 63.

Go to Text
29

Rosenberg launched the term “action painting” with his 1952 essay “The American Action Painters” (in ARTnews 51, no. 8 [December 1952

Go to Text
30

Allan Kaprow, “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” ARTnews 57, no. 6 (October 1958), 24–26, 55–57.

Go to Text
31

It should also be noted that the term came with a specifically German pedigree, as Franz Pfemfert’s legendary 1911–32 magazine had been called Die Aktion. Starting out as an expressionist periodical, Die Aktion became progressively politicized during and after WWI.

Go to Text
32

On the Subversive Aktion and its links to the SI, see Aribert Reimann, Dieter Kunzelmann: Avantgardist, Protestler, Radikaler (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009), 49–122.

Go to Text
33

Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach” (1845)

Go to Text
34

On April 2, 1968 the Anti-Theatre group of Horst Söhnlein, Andreas Baader, and Thorwald Proll (alongside Gudrun Ensslin) set fire to two department stores in Frankfurt—a key moment in the formation of the RAF.

Go to Text
35

Thomas Schmid, “Facing Reality: Organisation Kaputt,” Autonomie. Materialien gegen die Fabrikgesellschaft 1 (October 1975): 16–35.

Go to Text
36

The pun “Krautonomie” can be found in the correspondence of the editorial group of the neue Folge of Autonomie, which lasted from 1979 to 1986. The archive is at the IISH in Amsterdam (ARCH02930).

Go to Text
37

Karl Heinz Roth (with Elisabeth Behrens), Die “andere” Arbeiterbewegung (Munich: Trikont, second edition, 1976), 83. See also Steve Wright, “The Historiography of the Mass Worker”

Go to Text
38

Roth, ibid., 229.

Go to Text
39

Walter Gunteroth, “Kritik der Marxorthodoxie, Autonomie 1, 46–58, esp. 39.

Go to Text
40

Karl Heinz Roth, “Nichtarbeit, Proletarisierung,” in Autonomie. Materialien gegen die Fabrikgesellchaft 5 (February 1977): 40–42.

Go to Text
41

For a defense of Tronti and critique of Negri, see Aureli, The Project of Autonomy, 39–48.

Go to Text
42

Autonomie 1, 22.

Go to Text
43

Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 7.

Go to Text
44

Hanns Eisler [and Theodor W. Adorno

Go to Text
45

Ibid. In addition to Composing for the Films, see his late essay “Transparencies on Film” (1966): “There can be no aesthetics of the cinema, not even a purely technological one, which would not include the sociology of the cinema.” Adorno here stressed the photographic and “objective” nature of film. “Transparencies on Film,” trans. Thomas Y. Levin, New German Critique 24/25 (Autumn 1981–Winter 1982): 202.

Go to Text
46

See Max Weber, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie I (1920) (Tübingen: Mohr, 1988), 536–73.

Go to Text
47

Jürgen Habermas, “Modernity—An Incomplete Project,” in The Anti-Aesthetic, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle: Bay Press, 1983), 8–9.

Go to Text
48

Holmes, “Artistic Autonomy,” 548.

Go to Text
49

Andrea Fraser, “Autonomy and Its Contradictions,” Open 23 (2012): 111.

Go to Text
50

Ibid., 107.

Go to Text
51

The quotation is from Berardi’s The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy, trans. Francesca Cadel and Guiseppina Mecchia (New York: Semiotext[e

Go to Text
52

Services originated at the Kunstraum der Universität Lüneburg and subsequently toured other art spaces.

Go to Text
53

See for instance Haacke and Fraser’s obituaries of Bourdieu in October 101 (Summer 2002): 4–11.

Go to Text
54

Stakemeier, “Art as Capital,” 21.

Go to Text
55

Helmut Draxler, lecture at “Art and Its Frames: Continuity and Change,” symposium at the Kunstraum of Leuphana University Lüneburg, June 14, 2014.

Go to Text
56

August von Cieszkowski, Prolegomena zur Historiosophie (1838) (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1981), 150.

Go to Text
57

Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique of Dialectical Reason: Volume One, trans. Alan Sheridan-Smith (1960) (London: Verso, 2004), 228–52 inter alia.

Go to Text
58

Arnold Gehlen, “Über die Geburt der Freiheit aus der Entfremdung” (1952), in Studien zur Anthropologie und Soziologie (Munich: Luchterhand, 1963), 232–46.

Go to Text
59

Gerald Raunig, “Instituent Practices,” in Art and Contemporary Critical Practice: Reinventing Institutional Critique, eds. Gerald Raunig and Gene Ray (London: MayFly, 2009), 11.

Go to Text
60

“Langer Marsch durch die Institutionen” is a well-known phrase in Germany; for Dutschke’s original use, see Manfred Kittel, Langer Marsch durch die Institutionen? Politik und Kultur in Frankfurt nach 1968 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2011), 6.

Go to Text
61

On the Council for Maintaining the Occupation, see René Viénet’s text from Enragés and Situationists in the Occupations Movement (1968) at

Go to Text
62

André Rottmann has focused on the transformation of the institution from site into network: “Networks, Techniques, Institutions: Art History in Open Circuits,” Texte zur Kunst 81 (2011), 142–44. Hito Steyerl writes about the “integration into precarity” in “The Institution of Critique” in Art and Contemporary Critical Practice, 13–19.

Go to Text
63

Fredric Jameson, “Culture and Finance Capital,” Critical Inquiry 24, no. 1 (Autumn 1997): 264, 265.

Go to Text
64

Armand Mattelart, “Communication Ideology and Class Practice” (Chile, 1971), in Communication and Class Struggle, Vol. 1: Capitalism, Imperialism, eds. Armand Mattelart and Seth Siegelaub (New York/Bagnolet: International General/IMMRC, 1979), 116. Armand Mattelart, “Introduction: For a Class and Group Analysis of Popular Communication Practices,” in Communication and Class Struggle, Vol. 2: Liberation, Socialism, eds. Armand Mattelart and Seth Siegelaub (New York/Bagnolet: International General/IMMRC, 1979), 28

Go to Text
65

Crary, 24/7, 36.

Go to Text
66

“Meaning and Perspective in the Digital Humanities: A White Paper for the Establishment of a Center for Humanities and Technologies,” eds. Sally Wyat (KNAW) and David Millen (IBM)

Go to Text
67

Matteo Pasquinelli, “Capital Thinks Too: The Idea of the Common in the Age of Machine Intelligence,” Open!, December 11, 2015

Go to Text
68

Sarah Amsler, “Beyond All Reason: Spaces of Hope in the Struggle for England’s Universities,” Representations 116 (Fall 2011): 80.

Go to Text
69

Ibid., 68.

Go to Text

For a critique of the modern subject as autocratic, in the context of a Latour- and Stengers-inspired curatorial project, see Susanne Karr, “We Have Never Been Alone: The Continuing Appeal of Animism,” Springerin

In contrast to his later critics, Greenberg himself rarely (if ever) used the term; however, his “Kantian” definition of modernism in terms of “the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence” is of course a definition of Modernist art’s autonomous self-development. Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting” (1960), in The Collected Essays and Criticism 4: Modernism With a Vengeance, 1957–1969, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1993), 85.

Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1970), trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 7.

In 1962, Grootveld witnessed an evening of “Parellele Aufführungen neuester Musik” organized by Wolf Vostell, and including contributions by Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, and Nam June Paik; the evening of events became a model for Grootveld’s happenings when Vostell attempted to perform a décollage action outside, on the street, and the police intervened. According to a report published by the weekly Haagse Post at the time, Grootveld tried to convince the remaining attendees that Amsterdam was to become a magic center. See Ludo van Halem, “Parallele Aufführungen neuester Musik. Een Fluxusconcert in kunsthandel Monet,” Jong Holland 6, no. 5 (1990): 26 (quoting from Haagse Post, October 13, 1962).

In 1962, Grootveld witnessed an evening of “Parellele Aufführungen neuester Musik” organized by Wolf Vostell, and including contributions by Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, and Nam June Paik; the evening of events became a model for Grootveld’s happenings when Vostell attempted to perform a décollage action outside, on the street, and the police intervened. According to a report published by the weekly Haagse Post at the time, Grootveld tried to convince the remaining attendees that Amsterdam was to become a magic center. See Ludo van Halem, “Parallele Aufführungen neuester Musik. Een Fluxusconcert in kunsthandel Monet,” Jong Holland 6, no. 5 (1990): 26 (quoting from Haagse Post, October 13, 1962).

Constant and New Babylon were fêted in Provo 4 (October 1965).

In this sense, any mention of “aesthetic autonomy” should come with immediate qualifications; otherwise the result will be a conceptual fetish that negates a core quality of the aesthetic itself. On “aesthetic autonomy” in relation to “artistic autonomy,” see also Aesthetic and Artistic Autonomy, ed. Owen Hulatt (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).

Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 9.

Herbert Marcuse, A Study on Authority (1936), trans. Joris de Bres (London: Verso, 2008), 7–8.

Herbert Marcuse, A Study on Authority (1936), trans. Joris de Bres (London: Verso, 2008), 7–8.

Ibid., 8.

Georg Lukács, “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat,” in History and Class Consciousness (1922), trans. Rodney Livingstone (London?: Merlin Press, 1971), 124.

Peter Osborne, “Theorem 4: Autonomy. Can It Be Part of Art and Politics at the Same Time?,” Open 23 (2012), 116–26.

On praxis and labor see also Josefine Wikström, “Practice Comes Before Labor: An Attempt to Read Performance through Marx’s Notion of Practice,” Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts 17, no. 6 (2012). DOI: 10.1080/13528165.2013.775753

The term was key to Charles de Brosses’s Enlightenment theory of “primitive” African (but implicitly also Catholic European) religion in Du culte des dieux fétiches (1760).

See, of course, the famous section on the fetishism of commodities from Capital, vol. 1 (chapter 1, section 4)

Stewart Martin, “The Absolute Artwork Meets the Absolute Commodity,” Radical Philosophy 146 (November–December 2007): 23.

Theodor W. Adorno, In Search of Wagner, trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: Verso, 2005), 72.

Raniero Panzieri, “Relazione sul neocapitalismo,” in La Ripresa del Marxismo-Leninismo in Italia (Milan: Sapere Edizioni, 1972), 212, quoted in Pier Vittorio Aurelli, The Project of Autonomy: Politics and Architecture Within and Against Capitalism (New York: Tenple Hoyne Buell Center/Princeton Architectural Press, 2008), 27.

Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1990), 255.

See for instance Das automatische Subjekt bei Marx, eds. Hans-Georg Bensch and Frank Kuhne (Lüneburg: Gesellschaftswissenschaftliches Institut Hannover 1998); in recent art theory, see Kerstin Stakemeier, for instance “Art as Capital—Art as Service—Art as Industry: Timing Art in Capitalism,” in Timing: On the Temporal Dimension of Exhibiting, eds. Beatrice von Bismarck et al. (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014), 15–38.

Hal Foster, Design and Crime and Other Diatribes (London: Verso, 2002).

Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (London: Verso, 2013), 46.

See Byung-Chul Han, Psychopolitik. Neoliberalismus und die neuen Machttechniken (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2014).

Brian Holmes, “Artistic Autonomy and the Communication Society,” Third Text 18, no. 6 (2004): 548

“Self-determination is the right to choose your dependencies”; Vivian Ziherl quoted by Jonas Staal in “To Make a World, Part II: The Art of Creating a State,” e-flux journal 60 (December 2014)

Theodor W. Adorno, “Marginalien zu Theorie und Praxis” (1969) in Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft II (Gesammelte Schriften 10.2) (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2003), 760–82 (quotation from 776). In his attacks on “actionism,” Adorno here himself uses the impoverished and undialectical notion of praxis (as antithetically opposed to “theory”) that he accuses his opponents of employing.

Rudi Dutschke, in Uwe Bergmann, Rudi Dutschke, Wolfgang Lefèvre, and Bernd Rabehl, Rebellion der Studenten oder Die neue Opposition (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1968), 63.

Rosenberg launched the term “action painting” with his 1952 essay “The American Action Painters” (in ARTnews 51, no. 8 [December 1952

Allan Kaprow, “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” ARTnews 57, no. 6 (October 1958), 24–26, 55–57.

It should also be noted that the term came with a specifically German pedigree, as Franz Pfemfert’s legendary 1911–32 magazine had been called Die Aktion. Starting out as an expressionist periodical, Die Aktion became progressively politicized during and after WWI.

On the Subversive Aktion and its links to the SI, see Aribert Reimann, Dieter Kunzelmann: Avantgardist, Protestler, Radikaler (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009), 49–122.

Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach” (1845)

On April 2, 1968 the Anti-Theatre group of Horst Söhnlein, Andreas Baader, and Thorwald Proll (alongside Gudrun Ensslin) set fire to two department stores in Frankfurt—a key moment in the formation of the RAF.

Thomas Schmid, “Facing Reality: Organisation Kaputt,” Autonomie. Materialien gegen die Fabrikgesellschaft 1 (October 1975): 16–35.

The pun “Krautonomie” can be found in the correspondence of the editorial group of the neue Folge of Autonomie, which lasted from 1979 to 1986. The archive is at the IISH in Amsterdam (ARCH02930).

Karl Heinz Roth (with Elisabeth Behrens), Die “andere” Arbeiterbewegung (Munich: Trikont, second edition, 1976), 83. See also Steve Wright, “The Historiography of the Mass Worker”

Roth, ibid., 229.

Walter Gunteroth, “Kritik der Marxorthodoxie, Autonomie 1, 46–58, esp. 39.

Karl Heinz Roth, “Nichtarbeit, Proletarisierung,” in Autonomie. Materialien gegen die Fabrikgesellchaft 5 (February 1977): 40–42.

For a defense of Tronti and critique of Negri, see Aureli, The Project of Autonomy, 39–48.

Autonomie 1, 22.

Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 7.

Hanns Eisler [and Theodor W. Adorno

Ibid. In addition to Composing for the Films, see his late essay “Transparencies on Film” (1966): “There can be no aesthetics of the cinema, not even a purely technological one, which would not include the sociology of the cinema.” Adorno here stressed the photographic and “objective” nature of film. “Transparencies on Film,” trans. Thomas Y. Levin, New German Critique 24/25 (Autumn 1981–Winter 1982): 202.

See Max Weber, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie I (1920) (Tübingen: Mohr, 1988), 536–73.

Jürgen Habermas, “Modernity—An Incomplete Project,” in The Anti-Aesthetic, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle: Bay Press, 1983), 8–9.

Holmes, “Artistic Autonomy,” 548.

Andrea Fraser, “Autonomy and Its Contradictions,” Open 23 (2012): 111.

Ibid., 107.

The quotation is from Berardi’s The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy, trans. Francesca Cadel and Guiseppina Mecchia (New York: Semiotext[e

Services originated at the Kunstraum der Universität Lüneburg and subsequently toured other art spaces.

See for instance Haacke and Fraser’s obituaries of Bourdieu in October 101 (Summer 2002): 4–11.

Stakemeier, “Art as Capital,” 21.

Helmut Draxler, lecture at “Art and Its Frames: Continuity and Change,” symposium at the Kunstraum of Leuphana University Lüneburg, June 14, 2014.

August von Cieszkowski, Prolegomena zur Historiosophie (1838) (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1981), 150.

Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique of Dialectical Reason: Volume One, trans. Alan Sheridan-Smith (1960) (London: Verso, 2004), 228–52 inter alia.

Arnold Gehlen, “Über die Geburt der Freiheit aus der Entfremdung” (1952), in Studien zur Anthropologie und Soziologie (Munich: Luchterhand, 1963), 232–46.

Gerald Raunig, “Instituent Practices,” in Art and Contemporary Critical Practice: Reinventing Institutional Critique, eds. Gerald Raunig and Gene Ray (London: MayFly, 2009), 11.

“Langer Marsch durch die Institutionen” is a well-known phrase in Germany; for Dutschke’s original use, see Manfred Kittel, Langer Marsch durch die Institutionen? Politik und Kultur in Frankfurt nach 1968 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2011), 6.

On the Council for Maintaining the Occupation, see René Viénet’s text from Enragés and Situationists in the Occupations Movement (1968) at

André Rottmann has focused on the transformation of the institution from site into network: “Networks, Techniques, Institutions: Art History in Open Circuits,” Texte zur Kunst 81 (2011), 142–44. Hito Steyerl writes about the “integration into precarity” in “The Institution of Critique” in Art and Contemporary Critical Practice, 13–19.

Fredric Jameson, “Culture and Finance Capital,” Critical Inquiry 24, no. 1 (Autumn 1997): 264, 265.

Armand Mattelart, “Communication Ideology and Class Practice” (Chile, 1971), in Communication and Class Struggle, Vol. 1: Capitalism, Imperialism, eds. Armand Mattelart and Seth Siegelaub (New York/Bagnolet: International General/IMMRC, 1979), 116. Armand Mattelart, “Introduction: For a Class and Group Analysis of Popular Communication Practices,” in Communication and Class Struggle, Vol. 2: Liberation, Socialism, eds. Armand Mattelart and Seth Siegelaub (New York/Bagnolet: International General/IMMRC, 1979), 28

Crary, 24/7, 36.

“Meaning and Perspective in the Digital Humanities: A White Paper for the Establishment of a Center for Humanities and Technologies,” eds. Sally Wyat (KNAW) and David Millen (IBM)

Matteo Pasquinelli, “Capital Thinks Too: The Idea of the Common in the Age of Machine Intelligence,” Open!, December 11, 2015

Sarah Amsler, “Beyond All Reason: Spaces of Hope in the Struggle for England’s Universities,” Representations 116 (Fall 2011): 80.

Ibid., 68.

Go to Text
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19
  • 20
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25
  • 26
  • 27
  • 28
  • 29
  • 30
  • 31
  • 32
  • 33
  • 34
  • 35
  • 36
  • 37
  • 38
  • 39
  • 40
  • 41
  • 42
  • 43
  • 44
  • 45
  • 46
  • 47
  • 48
  • 49
  • 50
  • 51
  • 52
  • 53
  • 54
  • 55
  • 56
  • 57
  • 58
  • 59
  • 60
  • 61
  • 62
  • 63
  • 64
  • 65
  • 66
  • 67
  • 68
  • 69
See All
Share - Neither Autocracy nor Automatism: Notes on Autonomy and the Aesthetic
Close
Next