Monday, September 24, 2012

'As a stepchild of the Factory, I am certain of one thing: images can change the world. I have seen it happen. I have experienced the "Before and After," as Andy might say, so I know that images can alter the visual construction of the reality that we all inhabit. They can revise the expectations we bring to that reality and the priorities we impose upon it. I know, further, that these alterations can entail profound social and political ramifications. So even though I am an art critic now and occupationally addicted to the anxiety of change, I cannot forget that there should be more to it than that. There is change, and there is change. When change takes on the innervating aspect of Brownian agitation nothing is really changing. When the "difficulty" of the images one writes about stops being an occasion to upgrade the efficacy of one's critical practice, when this difficulty becomes rote and repetitive, no more than a demand to practice criticism as preached, there are obviously forces in play that resist change and refinement. Under these conditions, one can become a bit contemplative about the business of connecting the dots with regard to art objects that present themselves as strategized invitations to cite the talismanic theoretical texts that inspired them in the first place.

'In fact, when change stops generating anxiety by challenging one's language of value, when works of art become simple occasions for fashionable écrits morts, one cannot suppress a growing sensitivity to those aspects of contemporary image-making that do not change and, by not changing, make substantial and more anxious change less likely. For myself, I have become increasingly amazed and dismayed at the persistence of dated modernist conventions concerning the canonical status of "flatness" and the inconsequences of "beauty" in twentieth-century painting. In my view, the linguistic properties implicit in the "negativity" of illusionistic space" – its metaphorical "absence" – and the rhetorical properties latent in our largely unarticulated concept of beauty should more than outweigh whatever academic reservations might still accrue to them.

'It was, after all, the invention of illusionistic space that bestowed upon the visual language of European culture the attributes of "negativity" and "remote tense," which are generally taken to distinguish human language from the languages of animals. These properties make it possible for us to lie, to imagine convincingly in our speech, to to assert what we are denying, and to construct narrative memory by displacing the locus of our assertions into a past or a future – into a conditional or subjunctive reality. For four centuries visual culture in the West possessed these options and exploited them. Today we are content to slither through the flatland of Baudelarian modernity, trapped like cocker spaniels in the eternal, positive presentness of a terrain so visually impoverished that we cannot even lie to an effect in its language of images – nor imagine with any authority – nor even remember.'

from The Invisible Dragon by Dave Hickey

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Under JFK's administration of the so-called 'best and the brightest', a number of academics and business directors were promoted to executive power. With [Robert] McNamara as secretary of defence, technocratic management theory became the ubiquitous language for all military matters in the Pentagon during the 1960s. Guided by theoretical 'models', systems analysis, operational research, 'game theory' and numbers-driven management, McNamara's group of 'whizz kids' believed war was a rational business of projected costs, benefits and kill-rations, and that if only these could be maximized, war could be won. Although the Pentagon under McNamara put much effort into modelling, and then fighting, according to these models, the Vietnamese guerrillas refused to act as 'efficient consumers' in the Pentagon's market economy, or as the 'rational opponents' in the 'game theories' of RAND - indeed, opinion has it that this approach led to the unnecessary prolongation of the Vietnam war."

from Hollow Land by Eyal Weizman

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

"Spying and writing have always gone together. In Britain, where the modern intelligence agency was born, intellectuals moved smoothly back and forth between secret government service and the literary life, some, like journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, even spending the morning at the typewriter before consulting with MI6 after lunch. Somerset Maugham, Compton Mackenzie, Graham Greene, Ian Fleming, John Le Carré: all placed their powers of observation and divination at the disposal of the British secret state while mining their experience of intelligence work in their fiction. It was not just a case of satisfying the reading public's apparently insatiable appetite for the espionage novel. There seemed to be some basic connection between the roles of writer and spy: both were iconic, even heroic, figures in modern culture, necessarily detached from ordinary society, yet gifted – cursed, perhaps – with unique insight into the darkest realms of human existence. 'I, from very early, lived a secret life, an inward life,' Le Carré once told an interviewer. 'I seemed to go about in disguise.'

"In this respect, the spies of the CIA were no different from their British counterparts. Indeed, the 'man of letters' was, if anything, even more conspicuous a figure in the upper echelons of the American secret service than in MI6. During World War II, Norman Holmes Pearson, a noted Yale professor of literature and editor, with WH Auden, of the five-volume Viking Poets of the English Language, ran 'X-2', the London-based counterespionage branch of the Office of Strategic Services. After the war, when the OSS was resurrected as the CIA, the task of counterintelligence – protecting one's secrets from the theft by rival agencies – was inherited by another 'Yalie', James Jesus Angleton, whose obsession with hunting for 'moles' later came to verge on paranoia. A founding editor of the influential 'little magazine' Furioso and friend of Ezra Pound, Angleton (who inspired the 'complex and convoluted' character of Hugh Montague in Norman Mailer's CIA novel Harlot's Ghost) was known, among his many other code- and nicknames, as 'the Poet'. One of Angleton's several protégés in the Agency, Cord Meyer, had edited the Yale Lit and published several short stories in the Atlantic Monthly before becoming a spy. He used his position as Deputy Chief, then Chief, of the International Organisations Division to recruit to the CIA a number of young critics and poets associated with John Crowe Ransom's Kenyon Review, house organ of the New Criticism, a rigorously formalistic method of reading literary texts."

from The Mighty Wurlitzer by Hugh Wilford