dr: 01:54:23 Hey Lyosha! Busy?
ap: 01:55:06 Nothing special – Watching Futurama, to be honest. And you?
dr: 01:55:10 Re-reading all kinds of stuff on our subject in old ‘October,’ but then I started reading Virgil’s Georgics about the bees.
ap: 01:57:25 That’s a noble way of spending your time – Why bees? Are there some special avant-garde bees?
dr: 01:59:15 You said once “Avant-garde. Yes. And?” It’s the same question as “Why Brecht?” Why write? Why drink coffee? And what about Virgil’s bees? Are they really so different from Mayakovsky’s “Flying Proletariat”? And what sets us apart from them?
ap: 02:21:29 The world of Mayakovsky’s ‘Flying Proletariat’ seems much more cheerful than Virgil’s kingdom of the bees. And much better than the world of Futurama. But skype is awful. A friend of mine is calling from Venice. He can see that I’m online.
dr: 02:21:43 Skype is a panopticum! Freedom, democracy, and Bentham!
ap: 01:39:04 Did you know that Virgil belonged to the circle of innovators around Maecaenas? They were supposed to solidify Octavian/Augustus cultural hegemony. I cant help but remember the theme of lets say Stalin and his relationship to the artistic innovators
Blah-blah-blah. Everything is like everything else
dr: 01:46:09 I guess youre allergic to bees. But ok, if you like, thats fine. Lets begin from the beginning. All directions of committed art in modernity (and not even only the modernisms) claimed the term, and we are now repeating this gesture. Lukacs, famously, too, in his Realism in the Balance (1937). Marxism, he says, has never denied the anticipatory function of ideology. What, then, is the avant-garde? Everyone who has claimed the term? Ideology’s anticipatory function, when it becomes conscious of itself, in whatever garbled form? If thats the case, then Virgil, too, can claim it. Even as an innovator who was supposed to praise the new hegemon, his ideologized texts continues ruptures and rifts that afford the entrance of the new, to use Adornian rhetoric. Every time has its moments of anticipation. And the new works retroactively to reveal these. Seen in this historical dialectic, the term avant-garde loses its contours completely.
ap: 01:55:17 Excuse me for the banality, but I still think the avant-garde is connected to the epoch of revolution, including an aesthetic revolution that can discard traditions, just as political revolution discards the traditional formation of society. For your Virgil, the revolution was unthinkable. He lived against a completely different intellectual and political horizon. And his bees, as you remember from the Georgics, are all for king and country.
What I find most interesting in the avant-garde is the notion of experiment. In his Aesthetic Theory Adorno maintains that there are two meanings to this term.
First, it is a practical and scientific experiment as a test to verify a hypothesis, with a clear goal in mind. Second, it is pure experimentation in art, where the author does not know what the results will be, and in which his authorial subjectivity is simply erased by the experiment itself. Today, it seems that the entire sphere of the experiment has gone off into technology, into the creative approach to business and so on. But in politics or in social life, that hasnt really happened. Quite on the contrary, today, both power or the state, and the counterpower that resists them, seem largely unwilling to enter into an experimental mode.
So, maybe all the talk of the avant-garde’s assimilation by contemporary society is fantasy, if you look at it from the point of view of harsh reality? Maybe the media and the applied arts appropriated and commercialized the avant-gardes devices, but their underlying behaviors and forms of life have not changed at all. The life of the majority is still an oppressive routine. And mobility and flexibility is the privilege of a thin stratum of megalopolitan creative workers That makes it important to talk about the spirit of the avant-garde, a certain experiment-experience (in Russian, its the same word) that can continue to develop even if the avant-garde is institutionalized, reified, or even defeated
dr: 01:55:42 Yes, but you exclude Virgil from this aesthetic experience. Or no?
ap: 02:02:51 Throw Virgil overboard from the steamboat of modernity! Barbarism is very important to the avant-garde. Thats a Roman topic too: classics like Virgil and anonymous barbarians. In his lectures, Foucault notes that the European discourse of modernity opposes the barbarian and the savage. The savage creates civilization, while the barbarian destroys it. The rhetoric of the avant-garde is full of these themes. Barbarism isnt the same thing as savagery.
dr: 02:05:11 You want to destroy the whole world and build it anew?
ap: 02:05:57 In any case, I wouldn’t want to keep the monstrous social forms that we inhabit. If we live in reactionary times, which is something weve talked about a lot, weve been thrown back into a time before the avant-garde. The avant-garde stayed ahead.
dr: 02:07:53 Ain’t that the truth. But for me, barbarism is no good as a political program. I want to live in a world where the spirit of Virgil one line a day is a privilege that anyone can enjoy if he or she wants to. Life under communism should be sweet as honey, but without turning us into bees or flying proletarians.
ap: 02:09:03 And Marx will be our Virgil, our psychopomp
dr: 02:11:04 Remember what Agamben showed us when we visited him in Venice during the biennial? His favorite graffiti, right before he took us for ginger ice cream: “There is no Virgil to guide us through this hell.”
ap: 02:19:22 Since you mention Giorgio, there is one thing I should add. It seems to me that few people have talked about this in relation to the avant-garde. I mean its connection to biopolitics. We can be sure that experiments especially in the sense of life-experiments rest upon biopolitical conceptions. The avant-garde wanted to change, transform life, to sublate art to life. This process can be thought of as an experiment with an open ending. Politically, it is probably more productive to look at the avant-garde like this, and not as an expression of the vanguard party model. My question would be whether the avant-garde is totally in the mainstream of biopolitics, or if there was something that resisted it? How, for example, can you separate the culture of the 1920s, with its dream of transforming life through the force of art, from the logic of the capture of life itself? These questions dont just play into the hands of a superficial critique of the Soviet experiment. Not at all. Quite the opposite: if we could answer them, we might be able to create the conditions for a renewal of political and cultural experiments. For now, we could say that the avant-garde was negative, while biopower defines itself as positivity. But that still sounds too abstract
dr: 02:41:15 I think my whole thing with Virgil is about constructing a way to imagine communism not only as rupture anyone familiar with the historical avant-garde has made that experience but as continuity, which is inherent to art, despite all the failures
As for ruptures, they cannot be repeated
ap: 02:43:46 Fidelity to reality also seems important, no matter how you define the real. Experiments can be inappropriate to the conditions; they can be fake and phony. But any new classicisms are even more of a fraud.
dr: 02:44:55 To insist upon the historical avant-garde today is also a form of classicism.
ap: 02:46:58 To assert an all-encompassing classicism today is both phoney and trite. You can read Virgil, study the Venetian school, and so on, but that will be little more than what Schiller called aesthetic education.
dr: 03:07:21 Youre going to have a hard time convincing me. Ive always had a clear sense of just how ambivalent the avant-garde was with regard to the historical legacy. Think of Peter Weiss novel The Aesthetics of Resistance. It starts with a 50-page description of three proletarian activists, discussing the Pergamon altar. The classics become a kind of potentiality accumulator, diffracted through the inner prism of the need to make (in praxis, and not only thought) a better world. To young people under Hitler, communists in hiding, it is a great source of comfort to know that this catastrophic situation is the NORM, that violence and power have always generated a heroic-emancipatory response and that their dialectic can be seen in each myth, as a violence that is eternal and eternally changing…Antiquity becomes an interiorization that helps to think a contuinity of communism into a future that people have been dreaming of for centuries. That’s one of the most important things about this “avant-garde.”
ap: 03:21:19 I think this myth is dangerously close to the figure of power, which eternally give rise to resistance. And that until the end of time. If there is no rupture in this bad eternity, there will be no communism! Under the cover of continuity, we must discern all the ideology, which as Althusser put it is actually this eternity! The avant-garde only looks like classicism when it becomes a commodity and a museum exhibit, with Giotto and Veronese in the neighboring hall. This is why Im talking about the spirit of the avant-garde, its experience-experiment, as opposed to the objectified canon of art. Because both Giotto and Malevich are cultural commodities today. This equates the one to the other and creates the illusion of an uninterrupted continuum of art. And what you say about the classics is nothing but a psychological interiorization of commodity fetishism To negate the Giotto-commodity was the avant-gardes performative gesture Youre just turning this gesture around in favor of Giotto. So the classics are also an exclusive notion, a repressive canon
dr: 03:24:29 Whom have I excluded? I just think that if you start to ask: “What should we actualize?” you shouldn’t make the mistake of throwing almost everything away, just to confirm some radical identity…
ap:03:27:05 But whose identity do the classics confirm? Isnt this an authoritarian personality, if you understand that as the willingness to submit to authority? In fact, the classics are fascism. The notion of classics functions as an ideology that interpolates its subject
dr: 03:27:45 Your irony is no longer melancholic, but nauseating.
ap: 03:28:20 Thanks. It’s only a joke. I’m provoking you. Greetings from the corpse of the avant-garde
dr: 03:29:23 We must get beyond such farces. For me, fidelity does not end with Seattle or 1917.
ap: 03:39:50 Ok, so seriously, no one is excluding Virgil. Leave Virgil for himself or for everyone else. Hes a reality, a part of history that you cant do anything about. You cant get rid of him anyway. So go ahead and cultivate your fidelity to Virgil. Im more interested in the ideology that takes shape around this historical reality. The main thing is to watch out for the ideological vapors that this fidelity exudes So, anyway, what do you think? Does art after the avant-garde still anticipates and promises anything at all?
dr: 03:40:33 Of course. All those old dreams. You can even find it in contemporary art or architecture. But these anticipations become more and more complicated and elusive. But they are still possible, I should think.
dr: 04:48:16 I think we’ve ignored one important thing, and that is the experimental reality of what we’ve been doing.Using a neoliberal, thoroughly biopolitical transcript toy, we’ve been performing a farcical, exhausting dance…
ap: 04:48:23 A Greek choir in skype
dr: 04:48:59 It’s been an experiment to no ends. We are, of course, indirectly fueling skype’s capitalization and later our text will be converted to symbolic capital
ap: 04:49:46 I was thinking the same thing
dr: 04:51:25 And here’s where things get really scary. If you start to think about a tool like this as an instant reification device. Virgil wrote a line a day. What about us?
ap: 04:52:03 Yes but Virgil has also been digitized by now.
dr: 04:53:21 But at the same time, all this digitization might be just one step closer to what communism will be.
ap: 04:54:28 To digitized communism? What really makes me suspicious is when people draw dividends from Marx’s symbolic capital in this digitized space.
dr: 04:57:02 Wait. The sun is rising. It’s time to go to sleep.
ap: 04:57:11 I’m turning myself off.
dr: 04:57:16 Good night!
ap: 04:57:20 Talk to you soon.