The Arbitrary Shape of Prices to Come

CRITICISM:

Police mentalities will always strive to impose correct readings, to align intentions with outcomes, and couple imaginary causes with putative effects, but we always have a choice. In a poorly regulated, cosmopolitan society like our own, the discourse surrounding cultural objects is at once freely contingent and counter-entropic. It neither hardens into dogma nor decays into chaos as it disperses. It creates new images and makes new images out of old ones, with new constituencies around them. It is a discourse of experiential consequences, not disembodied causes. Thus, the sheer magnitude of social experience and organizational energy generated in the wake of a single painting by Velazquez so far outweighs and overrides the effort and intention that went into its creation as to make nature pale and angels weep.

—–

From Anthony IIes and Marina Vishmidt’s “Work, Work Your Thoughts, and Therein See a Siege” in Communization and its Discontents: Contestation, Critique, and Contemporary Struggles

The figure of the Incidental Person denotes a transformation common to both art and labor as social forms. As the artist becomes a template for a generic subjectivity adaptable to all forms of authority and abstraction, work becomes a form lacking identity or outcome. It is the apotheosis of the romantic figure of the artist: “Art is now the absolute freedom that seeks its end and its foundation in itself, and does not need, substantially, any content, because it can only measure itself against the vertigo caused by its own abyss.” This is the generic subjectivity of the artist, key to Western liberal discourse since the Enlightenment, whether as civic model or as exception that proves the law of capitalist social relations, and it has less relation to the negativity of labor-power than to the negativity of the ever-mutating form of value. Contra to the thesis that the dissolution of the borders between art and productive labor (or art and politics) heralds emancipation, this may be read instead as an index of the real subsumption of generic human capacities into the self-valorization process of a capital which is no longer sure about where value comes from or how to capture it; a process as self-referential and totalizing as the expanded field of art.

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