New Age Maoist Aesthetics

A trend seems to be happening among young, urban activists and allies: they get easily fascinated and responsive of positive representation of politics, rebels and activists on any platform, especially on popular capitalist art. Cultural representation seems to be the name of the game. What is formerly subversive has now become a default setting. Cultural representation is easy and, in the era of neoliberal multiplicity, profitable. In fact, contemporary cultural products tend to capitalize into notions of diversity and multiplicity (rhizomes, anyone?), only to the point that what is represented is not the marginalized being presented in contrast and as alternative against the status quo, but the marginalized performing (for) the status quo. A kind of trickle-up effect: productions representing the oppressed are revaluated and appreciated with ruling class criterion and are being produced for the expropriation of value by the ruling class.

Representation is comfort food. Representation made the privileged from marginalized origins feel empowered. As for people from privileged origins being newly organized on political movements, positive representation of protesters, activists and rebels is hoped to bring about a reinforcing effect. But the effect is floating, since the source of reinforcement is merely imaginary. Of course, I’m not saying that efforts for organizing the petit bourgeois and the middle class stops with this, other organizational activities are being done, of course. I’m not addressing organizing here. I’m addressing the aesthetic appreciation caused by these practices.

It seems like the form of appreciation of what I call as New Age Maoism only get from Mao’s assessment of art his response to the 2nd problem, extol or expose, but without its element in class analysis. What makes it “New Age” came from a certain mystical disappearance of the other aspects of Mao’s problematics in art. Most specially disappeared are the more important problems: the problem of class-stand and the problem of Marxist scholarship. New Age Maoism happens when organized petty bourgeois tend to extract a comfortable portion of Maoist thought compatible or tolerable for their class origins. A complete reversal of the requirement of transformation in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism which seeks for the person to delve into the difficult task of criticism and self-criticism: of self-consciousness of one’s own class origins and of contradictions and antagonisms.

New Age Maoism is a Maoism devoid of any antagonism. It’s an impotent version of Maoism. It does not enable weaponization, that is, as a mode of aesthetics, New Age Maoism do not fulfill the task of art and literature to “fit well into the whole revolutionary machine” since such mode of appreciation do not abstract the work to contribute to the struggle. If it does so, only for aesthetic appreciation.

New Ageism abhors contradictions. New Age encorporated to Maoism demolishes the most significant aspect of its theoretical line, which is the acknowledgement of contradictions and intensifying them to the level of struggle. It exchanges acknowledging and dismantling antagonisms for “conflict resolution” and harmonious existence between antagonistic class interests (most of the time, benefiting the exploiting classes).

As aesthetics, New Age Maoists are overwhelmed with representations of many kinds. Influence of liberal intersectional politics makes a good trap for New Age Maoists. With the overabundance of representation in popular cultural products, the attention given by New Age Maoists contribute not with the cause of the struggle, but to the validation of the products and its audience. Jonathan Beller noted on how before the turn of the 21st century, paying attention became a source of capital’s extraction of surplus value. In the age of communicative capitalism, paying attention and giving reactions to images contribute to the capitalist expropriation of value.

New Age Maoists celebrates the image. But in the overabundance of representation, these images of representation floats around with other images of funny cats, Wojack Memes, feel good quotations and other poor images widely exchanged and further compressed for faster transmission and value extraction. The celebration of the image denies class struggle. It exchanges the actual participation to political struggle for the representation of activism or politics; actual revolutionary thinking for a revolution in thought.

Not that New Age Maoism doesn’t have a problem. In itself, it depends on the unity of petty bourgeois class standing and revolutionary aesthetics. This is resolved through the dismissal or unthinking of the revolutionary in the revolutionary aesthetics, and only consider its aesthetic side. Or worse, a consideration of revolution but only in aesthetics. It seeks to salvage cultural products, especially what we call political art – regardless of the political economic rubric of its production – solely based on its representation of politics. It is not that salvaging and extolling revolutionary elements in a work is not important, the problem is that, to salvage is the first impulse of a New Age Maoist. More importantly, and more dangerously, New Age Maoism forgets the conditions on how art, literature and newer forms of representation like film are produced under capitalism.

The danger of forgetting the conditions of production in exchange of extolling representation is in the blindness of the forces of exploitation which lies on the production of the images being celebrated. Greatest recent case is the extolling of the film Heneral Luna (2015) produced by corporate-bourgeois comprador studio, TBA, owned by Fernando Ortigas and Eduardo Rocha. The titular general, extravagantly performed, is seemingly anti-American. But the film isn’t just about him. It does not really uphold an anti-imperialist stance. But the images of extravagant and violent hero sold better, and as intended. New Age Maoism do not contradict marketing: it effectively affirms it and re-interpellates the activist to being a consumer.

This “forgetting” seems to be an unconscious act. And the fact that it is unconscious bears more danger. It reflects a lack in theoretical and practical understanding of modes of production, most probably due to a lack also of a practical application in the understanding of things. Marxist-Leninist-Maoist analysis is admittedly an uncomfortable thing to do as it involves actual intellectual – and to some extent, manual – labor contrary to the comforting thoughts given by petit bourgeois essentialism. For the analysis of mode of production be not-prioritized and be shelved into forgetting even in the analysis of seemingly trivial objects (like art, literature and film) poses a danger of repeating the ruling class discourse. People from the urban movement defending Quark Henares’ statement on “film and music as modes of self-expression” – assuming a political autonomy in the production of cultural products under capitalism – missed the point of a Maoist critique of art. Universalizing statements from the ruling class and their stalwarts like Henares bears no universal position on truth just yet on the function of things: what art, literary and film production mean now are still to be determined by the outcome of the protracted people’s war.

Symptoms point to possible remedies. Since the dismissal is unconscious, a conscious – if not, self-conscious – attempt towards further abstraction and theorization of the analysis cultural products in the theoretical line of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism needs to be revitalized. An insistence of a theoretical practice (praxeology) is needed. Admittedly, with the demands of the time piling up among organizers and activists – with the deepening crises of accelerated global capitalism, intensified anti-people campaigns of the reactionary government – a day’s work seem to be lacking to address another point of a problem. But in this mess of chaos that a correction and realignment in thought of the theoretical line is needed. Positive activities are happening though, in the recent educational discussion festivals organized by different sectors: seems like the necessity for addressing the problems in the theoretical line are being resolved. What needs to be done is to resolve – again, addressing Mao’s 4th problem in the Talks at the Yenan Forum – the study of theories of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism for more effective and intensified aesthetic-critical interventions.

This remedy being suggested is also a prevention for further aesthetic opportunistic use of the revolution and revolutionary aspects of the people’s culture for the benefit of one’s petty bourgeois desire and art. Mao’s intervention on art and literature seeks the reverse, and rightly so: for art to be of use for the people and the people’s struggle. And for that to happen, it necessarily places art not in the final instance, but art is reduced into a tool as it bears almost the same liberalistic potential as the violence of a gun. Not in the expense of choosing between the two, but using both cultural and political struggles as means to further the agenda of the people.

Much as the cultural and political struggles are both of equal significance, so is the determination and analysis not just of form and content in art and literature, but also what enables their production. Such a task tend to convert an analysis to criticism. Mere aesthetic appreciation is impotent and useless, criticism sets analysis in motion. But it is a criticism not to further liberal agenda for art. It is a criticism which carries a “struggle on two fronts”: it demands a resolution between politics and art, not in the sense of representation or a “mixing” of it. Dialectical resolution demands a struggle in-process and not just mere unification. Dialectical resolution demands for art and politics to be raised antagonistically within the form and content of both art production and criticism. And these cannot be done through a simple salvaging of “progressive” content from reactionary sources. The task is to break form, content and political economy: the practices of producing the form, the practices of producing what is being said in the form, and what enable the production of these. As Mao places it: “The criterion for judging subjective intention or motive is social practice and its effect.”

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