#10- 34: In defence of representation
Dmitry Vilensky // In Defense of Representation
This issue of Chto Delat is a reaction to the current discussion on the necessity and potential of political and aesthetic representation. This problem, already elaborated by Plato in his time, remains the focus of debates about art and politics today. In the present situation, where anti-representational strategies dominate both within the new political movements and in politically engaged art, it seems that the entire debate is reducible to a clear and simple scheme: representation equals hierarchy and is thus bad. The corresponding antithesis is that a rejection of representation equals the absence of hierarchy and is thus a good thing.
Gene Ray // Radical Learning and Dialectical Realism: Brecht and Adorno on Representing Capitalism
First published at Historical Materialism 18.3 (2010)
What follows belongs to an ongoing project aiming to clarify some problems involved in representing capitalism by artistic means. The problems taken up are above all practical and political. How do we grasp the global social process – the total nexus of social forces, relations, processes and tendencies – in order to change it? Any attempt to find a pathway out of this global order is conditioned on getting the representation problems sorted. Assuming we understand the valorization and accumulation processes as the master logic of this system – assuming, and I do, that a critical Marxism gives us this much – then how do we find adequate cultural and artistic forms for our understanding, and how do we orient those forms toward practical struggle against a systemic enemy? How do images and fictions educate, persuade and activate others? The challenges of radical pedagogy and of reaching consensus-in-movement today are inseparable from the problems of organizing agency and counter-power from below. For if we agree that the mere existence of social misery and class struggle will not lead automatically to an emancipating system change, and that conscious agency always has to be prepared and organized strategically, then we have to grant culture – learning and the arts, and the arts of learning – an important part in any future renewal of radical leftist politics. In short, without radical learning, no revolutionary process; and at the core of radical learning is the de-reifying critical representation of social reality.
Steve Edwards // Two critiques of representation (against lamination)
A little story has developed in the circles of the political and artistic avant-garde. It is more often spoken and heard than written and read, but it constitutes the background common sense for much thinking about politics today. This assumption suggests that the critique of representation and the critique of parliamentary representation (bourgeois democracy) are equivalent and coeval. In politics (the Occupy movement, for example) this entails the rejection of any representative or spokesperson, in favour of horizontal decision-making, whereas the rejection of bourgeois formal democracy for some contemporary artists and critics suggests the necessity of an exodus from the bourgeois art world of museums, galleries and all their trimmings. Involvement in this system is imagined to be undemocratic, since it entails working in hierarchical institutions, dependence on capital (whether state or private in form) and assuming to represent, or speak for, others. Autonomy in politics is equated with autonomy in art. Followed through, the alternative would be something like direct democracy in art: soviets of artists, workers and soldiers deputies, which would certainly not be a bad thing. However, the story rests on an imaginative process that laminates distinct critiques (practices and ideas). In order to think about this composite we need to begin by examining the constituent layers.
Jodi Dean and Jason Jones // Occupy Wall Street and the Politics of Representation
September 2011 shattered the ideology of an invincible Wall Street much as September 2001 shattered the illusion of an invulnerable United States. All of a sudden and seemingly out of the blue, people outraged by the fact that “banks got bailed out” and “we got sold out” installed themselves in the financial heart of New York City. Occupying the symbol of capitalist class power, they ruptured it. The ostensible controllers of the global capitalist system, still reeling from the crash of 2008, appeared to have lost control over their own cement neighborhood. Hippies with tents and cops with barricades had turned lower Manhattan into a chaotic mess. Those seeking to combine the people’s work, debts, hopes, and futures into speculative instruments for private profit confronted a visible and actual collective counterforce. There in the power of the people where investment banks and hedge funds had already identified an enormous social surplus, a cadre of the newly active located an inexhaustible political potential. It was like a giant hole had been opened up in the steel and glass citadel of the financial class. Through it, traders, brokers, and market-makers—as well as everybody else, even the whole world—could see the possibility of something new, something more, a world without capitalism, a world where people dance, talk, live, and create in common. Wall Street was occupied—and this occupation was producing a new form of political representation.
Artemy Magun // The post-communist revolution in russia and the genesis of representative democracy
While many notions of contemporary politics stem from the early modern period or even from Middle Ages and Antiquity, the composite title of “representative democracy” was born in the end of 18th century, in the course of the American Revolution. The system of representative democracy was then theorized and instituted during the French Revolution. Interestingly, in the North America, it was A. Hamilton who first advanced the notion in 1777, same Hamilton who was later, in the “Federalist Papers,” calling to limit the democratic element of the republic. In France, E. Sieyès contributed to modifying Rousseau’s teaching and to transferring the “general will” to the level of nation’s representatives, thus making it workable and tangible. Here, the representative institution had existed within the old regime - the General Estates were convoked by the king himself, and Sieyès’ main task was to supply them with a democratic, unitary, “national” interpretation.
David Riff // “A representation which is divorced from the consciousness of those whom it represents is no representation. What I do not know, I do not worry about.”
There is something uncanny in this quote from Marx, torn out of context and pasted into a fresh document 150 years after it was written.  It’s like looking into a mirror where there should be a window. It describes the status quo of our own spectacular world: a massive accumulation of non-representations, all divorced from consciousness. But at the same time, this is a world where self-representation, implying self-consciousness, claims to be everywhere, on mobile devices, in cars, airplanes, and even on remote desert islands. Representative machines previously only available in big clunky institutions are now open for everyone’s use. Consciousness is everywhere as a potentiality. But the pressure is too great. You have to represent. You have to hand in this text. Don’t think. Write. Self-expression before self-knowledge; find the right quick phrase for a certain state of subjectivity, shot out ultra-rapid in a network of friends, where it quickly loses connection to the consciousness that supposedly created it, becoming a micro-commodity, or a firing neuron in some collective mind we do not yet fully understand. Stop complaining. Represent.