4 Quetions
4 Responses to 4 Questions for 4 publications
‘Our Day Will Come,’ University of Tasmania, Hobart
2011
Question 1: What is a School?

Anti-school

At its most radical, psychoanalysis is odd in that it is an exchange for which the person paying, the analysand, receives nothing. Her money is not exchanged for knowledge, techniques, tips, answers nor anything else. It is in this sense that psychoanalysis is a process without compensation. Why? Here, the purpose of psychoanalysis is not to provide a model of fair exchange or just compensation. On the contrary, it is the logic of exchange and compensation which is precisely the problem to be overcome: the analysand suffers, in her life, from the search for recompense and guarantees. Thus the analyst is not there to boost the confidence of the analysand; the analyst should be neither expert nor authority because it is in the shadow of expertise and authority that the analysand suffers. The analyst is thus in a strange position: she is there to interrupt the analysand’s speech, to try to make manifest for the analysand that which is taken for granted in what she says and does. At the end of the process of analysis the analysand does not get answers to her questions but is cured of the debilitating grip her questions have over her. In other words, the analysand does not learn something new but unlearns something old.

It is, then, no wonder that schools for psychoanalysis are problematic: whatever psychoanalysis has to teach, it is not knowledge. Rather than acquiring facts, the analysand has what she knows negated: it is precisely in her unexamined everyday habits that her unhappiness reproduces itself. Inasmuch as psychoanalysis is concerned with unconscious thought, conscious thought becomes a hindrance. The time of psychoanalysis is the slow process of coming to the realisation that what is obvious for the analysand, what is taken for granted, is false. And whilst the analyst can be taught about psychic structures, processes and so on, on the one hand, and about not being an authority, on the other, what she cannot be taught in advance is how to respond to a specific analysand with a specific history and discourse.

What has this to do with art education? Art education has a similar problem to psychoanalysis when it comes to teaching facts and techniques. Art is not a set of skills and knowledge. But if it is difficult to teach art, this is not because of the old-fashioned idea that art is a ‘natural talent’ or any other romantic nonsense of this sort. Rather, the trouble for the artist, as for the analysand, is that unarticulated assumptions are embedded in her everyday, practical habits. It is my contention that the art student, as the analysand, is hamstrung by what is taken for granted: her assumptions about what art is and what it is to be an artist. In such circumstances learning is a process of unraveling or undoing: the negation of a set of expectations which are themselves the negation of alternatives.

Question 2: What is Autonomy?

There is Always an Alternative

In the original film version of the Manchurian Candidate, Senator John Yerkes Iselin is a U.S. senator prone to denouncing Communists in the Defence Department. Each time he gives a speech, he claims that the Defence Department has been infiltrated by a precise number of Communists: however, each time he does this, the precise number he gives is different. The Senator, it turns out, is a puppet controlled by his wife. In one scene he complains to her about how difficult it is to remember a different number each time: "I mean, the way you keep changing the figures on me all the time. It makes me look like some kind of a nut, like an idiot." She replies by holding up a newspaper: “Who are they writing about all over this country and what are they saying? Are they saying: 'Are there any Communists in the Defence Department?' No, of course not, they're saying: 'How many Communists are there in the Defence Department?'”

This is how ideology works: not by inculcating the wrong answers but by promoting the wrong questions. As Marx says in the German Ideology: “not only in their answers but also in their questions there was a mystification.” Thus, not only is ideology not directly persuasive, it doesn’t give a hoot what you think. Ideology is cynical. Here, Senator Iselin, as the voice of ideology, looks “like an idiot.” But despite this, or rather because of this, ideology gains a commitment to its underlying assumptions – or the world of the possible. Ideology breeds cynicism: it wants to rob you of the belief that an alternative is possible. It is thus that by proposing the wrong questions ideology offers a choice but one which is not what it seems: in accepting either option you have accepted the grounds upon which the choice is offered. And beyond this, it is to precipitate the cynical acceptance that things cannot be otherwise and the subsequent resigned withdrawal into individual interiority. This is the real drive of ideology.

In what circumstances does the question “what is autonomy?” become a pressing and interesting question? What assumptions does the question presuppose? In particular, what does it take for granted about the nature of art? It is my contention that art is made in a specific artistic conjuncture, which can be thought of as an array of diverse forces (historical, social, economic, aesthetic, etc.). Particular forces may be reinforcing or conflictual but in a society and culture characterised by division and conflict, overall our artistic conjuncture will be one of fracture and antagonism. In such circumstances, artistic agency will always be indexed to the conflict and contradictions inherent to art as such. Thus to act, in art, is to take sides: agency cannot exist independently of the conjuncture out of which it is born and upon which it acts. From a radical perspective, what is at stake here is not the autonomy of art but the transformation of art: not the protection of art but its negation.

Question 3: What is Remoteness?

The Excluded

Cut the cake into 8 pieces using 3 straight cuts.

The slight of hand of the puzzle lies in calling the volume to be divided ‘a cake’ because cakes are usually divided with vertical cuts only. The point is, things can be divided in more than one way and habit and expectation can occlude alternatives.

Identity politics is the politics of liberal democracy in that it seeks to represent each and every already existing identity within its ambit: this logic of representation involves no challenge to the basic coordinates of liberal democracy itself. Social division is conceived as a series of vertical cuts: divisions which can be overcome through tolerance and representation, however marginal, peripheral or remote the excluded may seem to be.

From a radical perspective, however, the divisions which count are horizontal ones: the fractures and contradictions which run throughout society. For Marxists, for example, the proletariat is in a special position because it is created by such a horizontal division. Hope resides in the proletariat not because its members are particularly virtuous, or have other empirical qualities, but because of its structural position: the proletariat is at once the source of wealth under capitalism and that element which is excluded from capitalist society. The proletariat does not exist first and is then oppressed (as with oppressed minorities, etc.) but is created out of the capitalist process of the extraction of surplus value. Remoteness is having nothing to loose but your chains.

Question 4: What is Usefulness?

On Use Value.

In his analysis of the commodity form, Marx makes a fundamental distinction between use-value and exchange-value. A commodity must satisfy some need or desire in order for anyone to want to buy it. This is its use value. But as far as political economy is concerned, what this use might be and how the commodity might be satisfying, are irrelevant. What concerns political economy is exchange-value: the value of one commodity against another. And as Marx shows, what determines exchange value is the amount of average labour power that has gone into the overall production of the commodity.

Art is not (usually) a commodity. If we follow Marx’ analysis of commodities within capitalism, the commodity is not simply something which is sold. Rather, capitalist production is a process: first, capital is exchanged for labour-power; second, the labour-power is employed to produce commodities and in so doing adds value, surplus value, to the initial capital; and third, the value of the commodities produced is realised in a further act of exchange (selling them for money). In this (capitalist) scheme of things, the commodity is not so much a thing in itself as the carrier of value: a form which capital takes in the production of surplus value. Art is rarely commissioned by a capitalist in order to be sold for profit (which is what would make it a capitalist commodity). This is not, however, to say that it is free from the divisions of a divided society. Art may not be commodified, in the strict sense, but this does not mean that we can simply concentrate on its use value. In a world distorted by the circulation of capital, the usefulness of art will remain opaque. In this situation, art is no use as an example of anything, especially uselessness.