Today, I’m trying to start a serial again, hopefully something which I can sustain. Still, something non-cinematic in focus. I’m trying to address in this series what the title says: responding to liberal “hot takes” through abstracting them with dialectical materialism.
The method takes from the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist line which abstracts phenomena in social practice. Mao distinguished social practice from simply doing: that social practice can only be found if one is to contact doing within the living environment of the act. That social practice do not just involve production, but the whole sphere in which man lives and comes into contact with every relation (political, artistic, class, etc). But as a dialectical process, this do not mean that every aspect of social relations live harmonically, but, in essence, they exist independently from each other. Contradictions exist because we do not really exist for other beings or objects. Nature has always been in contradiction with other living beings. The tiger do not particularly care of our existence, but since it has its own needs and presets, it tries to devours things and beings which contradicts its own existence: you pass through its territory, it will attack you; it gets hungry, it will eat the first living thing it would smell. The same thing goes with human beings. Mao noted that the primary contradiction in the capitalist society is class interest. Which is why capitalism acts also as a devourment of energy since the owners of capital really is in contradictory existence with the labor force.
To situate specifically in the context of Philippine realities, dialectical materialism looks at the semi-feudal semicolonial configuration of capitalist ownership as base and its effect in social reality. It is within this context that the more specified configuration of Imperialism, Bureaucrat Capitalism and Feudalism are being addressed as drivers of capital.
For this first edition, I’m addressing the statement common among urban woke liberals and new age maoists alike:
The artist has a social responsibility for truth and justice
We need to place the concept of the artist in the backdrop of economic base to see whether this responsibility actually exist. In this sense, we need to distinguish the act of artistic production, or labor for that matter, from any other activities like, say, political, social, etc. As such, labor is private, at least under capitalist circumstances. In this situation, it must be assumed what artists and other working people are actually assuming in the first place: that labor and politics are autonomous from each other.
Since the act of production — most specially of anything artistic — is private, we can never really ask on any form of social responsibility on the onset, even though artists themselves gain their insights from exploiting the social realm of life. Seeking social responsibility from artists is the same as capitalist green politics seeking environmental responsibility from industrial companies: they do so not for the rehabilitation of nature, but for the assurance of the reproduction of the value-extraction process. That in the future, we can still exploit nature. In seeking social responsibility as an act of guilt-tripping, we reproduce capitalism through the reproduction of the socially responsible artist and socially conscious art, in the same manner that green politics assures further exploitation of nature (not to mention, of workers) by environmentally friendly companies.
But under capitalism, autonomy is not assured. Although, mere act of artistic production itself is not yet the site of capitalism, it gets crystallized in the act of its exchange. In the age of bureaucratic capitalism, a lot of cases in artistic production involve the artistic commodity being exchanged even before it was produced, through grants and other acts of patronship politics. It is in this sense that capital and its supporting political superstructure gets in the way of artistic autonomy. Capitalist extraction of value has always been in the form of blackmail: you don’t eat if you don’t work. Which is why, under capitalism, value is not intrinsic to an artwork. For any labor to be of value, Marx noted there should at least be a social necessity for a commodity before it can be said that the labor expended is of value. There is such a thing as useless labor: a labor expended on a thing which has no social necessity. Generically, there is a social need for art. Atomically, nobody asks for a specific artwork, of say, your feelings, your lovelife, or your sexual kinks, or even your political views. It is in this sense that art as a self-expression is valueless: no one asks for you to express yourself through your artwork, therefore, it’s useless.
But in the present context, art gains its value not on any form of actual material extraction, but through speculative means. This is where curators come in, and also publishers, critics, “influencers”, bureaucrats, museums, art markets, auction houses, workshops, artist talks, etc. But as much as the relationship is social, under bureaucrat capitalism, transactions remain private. You just can’t be a young, rising, breakthrough artist without, say, rubbing elbows with one who’s who, or at least, you can’t get the grant without tickling the interest of one possible member of the selection committee. Art in the 21st century is produced not as an expression, but as an algorithm. The value of any artwork stem from contradictory interests of multiple speculators, artists included. There are sellable artworks, and there’s a pattern for to attain sellability. Or at least, the algorithm is based on who do you want to sell your shit.
Looking at these instances of algorithmic social relations, any form of class-conscious ethics will only pass through the void of self-expression. There is a non-unitary relation between art as self-expression and political participation. Although, it is not yet antagonistic, since we’re failing to address each on their own terms. It is also through this non-antagonistic “resolution” of self-expression and political participation that political art meets its doom. Most political art succeeds artistically, that is, it is generating the value that it speculates, no matter how limited it is. We’ve never learned from the early 1900s modernists. The fact that Duchamp’s The Fountain is still valued may resonate still its poetic project (of exposing the non-sense of art’s speculative market), but like most subversions, Duchamp’s projects are political failures.
On a recent episode of Hermitix podcast, Nick Land noted on how on every attempt to construct a post-capitalist project, capital revives through every intelligent successes that these constructions are doing. He clarified that success here is still in the capitalist framework, that is, success is when value can possibly extracted from the thing being produced. The same regression can be seen on every attempt to salvage art and trying to make it work with a political content. As such, none of the agenda flows through the art-object produced. To make politics succeed artistically is a site of positive feedback which reinforces self-regenerating circuitry of capitalist production-for-profit. Land noted on how Mao’s attempt to actively suppress capitalist tendencies as one of the more viable attempts to escape this positive feedback loops.
To go further with Mao, it is also him who suggested to let go of the bourgeois “artistic moods”, which cybernetically feeds capital circuitry. On the onset, this is a war-tactical suggestion for art to be used and be made to work for struggle against imperialism. The ethics of this do not fall on any assumption of inherent function of art and artists in general, but its usability for the struggle by answering the question: for whom does one make art? This question is not used to impose guilt but as a starting point of critique. It exposes the position of the object produced and who produced it. It necessitates an escalation of non-unitary contradiction of art and politics to an antagonism. It is only in this site of antagonistic, partisan deployment that we can pose ethical questions. But not in asking for a responsible way of doing things, but for seeking accountability after the crime.