Subject: ON CAPITALIST REALISM AS A STYLE AND A WAY OF LIFE.
8 June 2012
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
Humankind has been entrapped by dogmas of all kinds, and today it is depressing to watch the growing rigidity of people you used to know who are now caught in the tightening trap of capitalist realism. The rules of the game of seeking private profits in a domain of artificial scarcity have been learned to perfection after decades of conditioned behavior through repetitive action. And playing this game, it must be admitted, does strange things to the body and the soul of an individual.
“Art,” writes Ernst Fischer in his book, The Necessity of Art, a Marxist Apporach, “is necessary in order that man should be able to recognize and change the world. But art is also necessary by virtue of the magic inherent in it.”(p.14) These two fundamental functions of art have not changed since the early Stone Age, but in contemporary society we are faced with a significantly different environment. Fischer cites Bertolt Brecht to describe what the late capitalist environment represents and what effect it has on us :
Both feeling and reason degenerated in the age of capitalism when that age was drawing towards its end, and entered into a bad, unproductive conflict with each other. But the rising new class and those who fight on its side are concerned with feeling and reason engaged in productive conflict. Our feelings impel us towards the maximum effort of reasoning, and our reason purifies our feelings.(p.10)
Dostoevsky, in his book, The Brothers Karamazov (chapter 5), captures this degenerate feeling of obsequious obedience in the disturbing scene of the love/hate relationship between Spanish peasants and the Grand Inquisitor :
The Grand Inquisitor
Fashions come and go and the forces of conformity exist like the law of inertia, perpetuating trends that go on and on, seemingly with a life of their own, so remote is the initial force which set them in motion, the original reasons for their appearance. The traditional concepts and categories of the mechanical positivist sciences are illsuited to capture the dynamics of these interrelationships, which when reduced to cause and effect are immediately falsified. Any true understanding must come, instead, from quick glances at reciprocal relationships existent in the mind-numbing routines upon which we embark each hour of each day of our lives. We were not made for this, and it will surely destroy us.
A system of completely new relationships between one species and the entire rest of the world came about through the use of tools. In the working process, the natural relationship of cause and effect was, as it were, reversed; the anticipated, foreseen effect became, as ‘purpose’, the legislator of the working process. That relationship between events which, as the problem of ‘finality’ or ‘final cause’, has driven many philosophers to distraction, was developed as a specially human characteristic. But what is the problem?(p.17)
Fischer quotes Marx to formulate “the problem’ :
The labor process ends in the creation of something which, when the process began, already existed n the worker’s imagination, already existed in an ideal form. What happens is not merely that the worker brings about a change of form in natural objects; at the same time, in the nature that exists apart from himself, he realizes his own purposes, the purpose which gives the law to his activities, the purpose to which he has to subordinate his own will.
Then, Fischer elaborates on this definition of work, as an activity which pertains to a wholly developed, wholly human stage of evolution: “Action determined by purpose –and from this the birth of mind, the birth of consciousness as the prime creation of man –was the outcome of a long and laborious process. Conscious existence means conscious action.”(p.17)
The true function of art, then, is not one of imitation, simply to reproduce the visible; but rather to render visible that which is not seen.
According to one art historian, Michelangelo Buonarrotti (1475-1564), sculptor, painter, architect and poet, was “the personification of the artistic spirit, driven by its own demands rather than by others.”
His overriding genius was recognized by all. . . . If one were to try to confine such an expansive genius into one simple description, it must be his dominating creative strength. Everything that he did carries an authority that goes beyond his subject or his age. For him neither Classical Humanism nor devout Christianity inspired art –all his actions were drawn from an almost overwhelming life-force. (Trewin Copplestone, 1982, pp.201-202)
At the time of the Renaissance, the role of the artist changed from that of “a craftsman laborer working as a paid employee” to that of “a cultured and cultivated member of society courted and revered.” Eventually religious and aristocratic patronage gave way to bourgeois patronage, and artists increasingly began to examine their society and express deeply felt criticisms through their productions.
Such acceptance of the artist depended on the security of wealth and privilege of patronage however it may have been gained. The artist was permitted to criticize or to fawn without threat to the established order.
But in the Romantic period of the early 19th century there was a widening rift between the sensitive artist and the new society. The momentous trauma of the Revolution in France had changed more than the nature of government. It had altered the world to something to which the masters of society had given little attention –the numerical power of the general populace. All kings sat a little less securely on their thrones after the Revolution, the aristocracy looked at their servants and employers of labor looked at their workers with a new caution. To add to the religious reformation there were those who discerned the imperative need for social reform; they did not have far to look for many intolerable tyrannies. Slavery, child labor and virtual serfdom for the new industrial workers. The Industrial Revolution had provided cheaper goods and in doing so had drawn workers on th4e land into the dark and growing cities in housing and living conditions that were known to be scandalous –but then great fortunes were being made and until the Revolution it was assumed that the role of the workers was, if complaining, to work. The social reformers set about ameliorating the horrific conditions.
The artists felt keenly the situation and responded by identifying in their art the human implications of what was happening and realized too that there was a new audience of their work –the despised proletariat. Of course the process took time and its real arrival is signaled by the bourgeois art of the Impressionists.
However this anticipates events and the first division is well characterized by the attitudes of the artist-poet William Blake. Blake perceived at the early stage what the 19th century gradually discovered: that the Industrial Revolution forced upon men monotonous tasks that destroyed bodies and brains. Blake’s contrast between ‘dark satanic mills’ and ‘England’s green and pleasant land’ is unbearably poignant. (Trewin Copplestone, op. cit., p. 297)
Our continued study of the social histories of art and science points to the fact that changes in style, like changes in scientific paradigms, occur when contradictions can no longer be ignored; the solving of problems produces new norms which become the hallmark of an era. Possibly, we are facing such a shift in aesthetics and in scientific thought.
In the 5 items below, CEIMSA readers will rediscover the violent tradition in which we are immersed and the terrible toll this violence has taken on the emotional and intellectual capacities of our species. According to Marx, it was the role of the Victorian working class to change all this, but whatever will be the agent of change, it would appear that fundamental change must soon occur. . . .
Item A., from Council for the National Interest Foundation, is a memorial for the victims of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, June 8, 1967.
Item B., sent to us by Reader Supported News, is an article first published in the New York Times by Paul Krugman on “The Austerity Agenda.”
Item C., is the Democracy Now! preview of the award-winning film documentary on Israeli imperialist violence, “Five Broken Cameras.”
Item D., from Reader Supported News, is an article by Joseph E. Stiglitz, first published in Vanity Fair, on “The One-Percent’s Problem.”
Item E., from ZNet, is a video talk by Tariq Ali on “The Rotten Heart of Europe.”
And finally, we offer CEIMSA readers access to an important video documentary of the sea change we are experiencing in the banker-lead financial crisis for which we are politely asked to voluntarily sacrifice our lives and our well-being.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKpxPo-lInk (English subtitles)
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xik4kh_debtocracy-international-version_shortfilms (sous-titré en français)
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Université Stendhal Grenoble 3
from Council for the National Interest Foundation :
Date: 1 June 2012
Subject: Memorial for the victims of the USS Liberty.
I hope you'll display posters this month about the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty.
from Reader Supported News :
Date: 5 June 2012
The austerity drive in Britain isn't really about debt and deficits at all; it's about using deficit panic as an excuse to dismantle social programs. And this is, of course, exactly the same thing that has been happening in America.
The Austerity Agenda
from Democracy Now! :
Date: 7 June 2012
Subject: New documentary film on Israeli imperialist violence.
The award-winning new documentary, "Five Broken Cameras," tells the story of a Palestinian farmer who got a video camera to record his son’s childhood, but ended up documenting the growth of the resistance movement to the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank village of Bil’in. The film shows the nonviolent tactics used by residents of Bil’in as they join with international and Israeli activists to protest the wall’s construction and confront Israeli soldiers. We speak with the film’s directors, Emad Burnat, a Palestinian, and Guy Davidi, an Israeli.
Five Broken Cameras: Home Videos Evolve into Stirring Film on Palestinian Resistance to Israeli Wall
from Reader Supported News :
Date: 3 June 2012
Subject: The One-Percent Will Feel the Effects of Inequality.
Why won't America's 1 percent - such as the six Walmart heirs, whose wealth equals that of the entire bottom 30 percent - be a bit more ... selfish? As the widening financial divide cripples the U.S. economy, even those at the top will pay a steep price.
The 1 Percent's Problem
by Joseph E. Stiglitz
from ZNet :
Date: 3 June 2012
Subject: The Rotten Heart of Europe.
Tariq Ali's keynote lecture on the state of Europe presented at the annual Subversive Forum, the theme of which this year was "The future of Europe", held in Zagreb, Croatia, May 13-19, 2012. He explains the evolution of the European Union and its role, and touches on the crisis in Greece.
The Rotten Heart of Europe