Seeing it Hole

By Brian Whitener

A new book tracks art’s attempts to map capitalism

While many of us are conscious that the last forty years have witnessed the most important restructuring of global capitalism since WWII, important questions remain. We know that commodities flow through global logistical chains and people, without papers and with them, across borders. Our daily bread is made of headlines about environmental catastrophe and degradation, as capitalism follows its unrelenting path of expansion and exploitation. We may know there has been an enormous reconfiguration of the capitalist apparatus—which has led to talk of capitalism’s increasing complexity, to the fragmentation of classes, and to a questioning of our ability to understand our subjective relation to the totality of these global processes. But is it possible that capitalism is now or perhaps has always been “too complex” to know? Is it possible that capitalism and thus our relation to it is fundamentally beyond our ability to grasp? What do we actually know about capitalism and our multiple, contradictory positions within it?

These are the provocative and pressing questions that underlie Alberto Toscano and Jeff Kinkle’s Cartographies of the Absolute, which examines various attempts across the twentieth century by artists and intellectuals to produce cartographies or maps of capitalism—maps which could serve to show us where we are located, to guide us to capital’s weak points, and to indicate current and future dynamics . Their answer to these questions is a qualified “no”—that mapping capitalism is necessary if we ever to understand our position in it, but that as a system “without a command and control center” there is no “one” authoritative map. That is, capitalism as a system riddled with contradictions and aporia requires cartographies that refuse to smooth out, flatten, and resolve the same.

Cartographies of the Absolute is a timely, and critical, return to the notion of cognitive mapping, one of the more suggestive (and underdeveloped) ideas of the prolific Marxist literary critic Fredric Jameson. Their short book is positioned in the context of an “inflationary boom” (their term) of works that seek to map or produce cartographies of capitalism: films such as Capitalism: A Love Story and Darwin’s Nightmare, literary theorist Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees, and the current interest in the work of artists like Marc Lombardi and Trevor Paglen. Through an examination of various contemporary, as well as historical, works (the majority of which are from the United States or UK) they test the limits and potential of our ability to produce cognitive maps that could both reveal the outlines of capital, its contradictions, and our singular and collective positions within it.

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City of Brotherly Love

By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

HBO’s Looking is an advertisement for a gentrified San Francisco masquerading as a portrait of contemporary gay life

About a decade ago, I was standing outside a San Francisco bar shortly after closing when I found out that around the corner a Hollywood film crew was shooting the movie adaptation of Rent. Sure enough, a block notorious for poverty and desperation had been commandeered by at least three different kinds of cops: SFPD officers, private security, and actors playing the NYPD. There was fake snow on the ground and rainbow feather boas wrapped around parking meters. Black women dressed as stereotypical hookers peered out of an NYPD car while the cameras faced a crowd of actors looking clueless in the middle of the street (presumably these were New Yorkers).

Of course it made sense that the $40 million film production of the blockbuster AIDSploitation musical about artists, activists, junkies, and queers dancing and dying in a mythical downtown New York at the dawn of the 1990s would decide to film scenes in San Francisco to evoke New York City realness. I’d always considered Rent a grotesque charade, an opinion cemented when I read Sarah Schulman’sStagestruck: Theater, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America. Schulman exposes how Rent stole the plot of her 1990 novel People in Trouble, repositioned straight people as the heroes of the AIDS crisis, and raked in billions. But when a friend later called with free tickets to a preview screening at the theater across the street from my apartment, I gave in. I went to Rent to watch for San Francisco in the background.

When I watched the season one premiere of HBO’s Looking, about a group of gay men searching for sex and sensibility in current-day San Francisco, it was with a similar goal: I was looking for glimpses of the city that had formed me. I didn’t hold out hope that a Hollywood product would show me anything I recognized beyond a consumer gay culture satisfied with glossy representations as a sign of progress. But I wondered what Looking would show me about the image of a gentrified San Francisco, framed for mass-market consumer appeal through a gay lens.

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It’s easy for us to relate to portraits. Where landscapes or still lifes can’t cause us to wonder what they’re thinking, we look at a portrait and our minds run wild imagining what the sitter might be pondering.

We wonder who the person in the picture really was and what they felt. I personally began to wonder about portraits as a convention in art and art history. What really is the portrait’s purpose? Portraits normally communicate next to nothing about the sitter — really, we come away understanding more about the artist, and the decisions he or she has made in portraying the sitter, than the person being depicted. So what really are portraits for? Through my interference — by eliminating visual clarity in most cases — I’m primarily trying to engage the viewer in an internal dialogue about one’s projections and one’s reception of art and images in general, and potentially even how we receive other people.

—  Chad Wys, interviewing with Rebecca Bates at The New Inquiry (01/21/14)

But what I am trying to emphasize here is how production in social media is often sold to users of these platforms as self-expressive creativity, as self-discovery, as an elaboration of the self even, but it is really a narrowing of the self to the reductive, defensive aim of getting recognition, reassurance of one’s own existence, that one belongs. That kind of “creativity” may crowd out the more antisocial kind that may entail reclusion, social disappearance, indifference to reputation and social capital, to being someone in particular in a network. Self-invention in social media that is perpetually in search of “feedback” is really just the production of communication, which gives value not to the self but to the network that gets to carry more data (and store it, and sell it).

Manifesto of the Committee to Abolish Outer Space

By Sam Kriss

There’s nothing there already.

We have been lied to, subjected to a cruel and chilly lie, one so vast and total it’s no longer fully perceivable but has turned into the unseen substrate of everyday life. It’s a political lie. They told us that outer space is beautiful.

They showed us nebulae, big pink and blue clouds draped in braids of purple stars, always resolving themselves at the pace of cosmic infinity into genital forms, cocks and cunts light years wide. They superimposed puddle-thin quotes over these pictures, so that the galaxies could speak to you in the depths of your loneliness, whispering from across a trackless infinity that you’re so much better than everyone else, because you fucking love science. The words are lies, the colors are lies, the nebulae are lies. These images are collated and pigmented by computers; they’re not a scene you could ever see out the porthole of your spaceship. Space isn’t even ugly; it isn’t anything. It’s a dead black void scattered with a few grey rocks, and they crash into each other according to a precise mathematical senselessness until all that’s left is dust.

Schopenhauer said that we live in the worst of all possible worlds. As ever, he thought he was being far more pessimistic than he actually was. If things were any worse than they are, he wrote, the universe would be impossible; it would collapse into a state of total emptiness and decay. In his cheery sun-soaked self-delusion he didn’t seem to consider that the world is not possible and never was, that this fall into nothing has already happened.

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TAKARA TOMY ARTS :: Nickelodeon TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES ; ニンジャタートルズTrading Figures peek i (( 2014 )) [[ Courtesy of Hobby Search, via TNI ]] on Flickr.

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TMNT: Jay Cochran - 2014.02.10
“Shown below are new images for the TakaraTomy ARTS Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Trading Figures. These figures stand about 5 centimeters/2” tall and feature a good amount of articulation. All four Turtles will see release and include their signature weapons. Look for them to be released in May 2014 for 300 yen each.”

It’s a measure of capitalism’s continued success and expansion that more and more people feel confident in describing themselves as creative, as artists. The neoliberalist turn hinges precisely on this, that more and more people can imagine themselves artists — in part because ordinary consumption has become a mode of personal expression, in part because capital has placed various forms of audience-building media at nearly every nonimpoverished individual’s disposal, in part because every scrap of one’s life gets turned to account as reputation, as human capital. We get an audience for our creative autonomy in action, a scenario which depends on (is subsumed by) the apparatus of communicative capitalism. If we are being “creative” without an audience, it no longer registers as an expression of autonomy; social media has crowded out the space in which an individual could be content to create without spectators. Now that is simply a failure of nerve, not independence — it’s too easy to circulate one’s gestures of creativity to rest easy in obscurity.

Terrible things have been done to the animals: most of them are wiped out and gone for good; some are slaughtered by the millions, mulched up and turned into nuggets; a few still sulk in the dark old woods and the deep old oceans, hunger-crazed and desperate. We’ve also turned them into metaphors. Children are taught: the fox is cunning, if a person is cunning she’s like a fox; the weasel is cowardly, if a person is cowardly he’s like a weasel. But if you look long enough at the face of a wild animal it all falls apart. Whatever wild animals are, they are not like humans. They don’t think like we do, or feel, or fuck. We might talk about instinct in an animal, sexual desire, social ambition, parental bond, but we have no idea what the experience of any of this could actually be like for a chimpanzee, let alone a spider. Animals are weird and brutal, and the face of a wild animal has a distant and inconceivable seriousness, something that a mere human could fall into forever without ever hitting the ground.
—  Sam Kriss, “All the Wild Animals