Olivier Nourisson. Anti-Erklärung. Café Lassa, Vienna, December 18, 2014.


In the Winter and early Spring of 1968 the streets of Paris were curiously crowded with young people looking for something to pass the time:  there was music in the cafés at night and people in the squares and streets, talking, waiting.  After May the State took over the task of providing the young, bored and angry with something suitably stupid and infantilizing to keep them talking and waiting forever, eine "unbestimmte, aufgelöste, hin und her geworfene Masse," if you'll pardon my Marx. Revolution was in the air; the historic task of the Culture Industry was to make sure it stayed there:

Es wurde ein Köder nötig, der sich an alle ohne Ansehen ihrer Privatmeinung richtete, und der seinen Wert darin hatte, die Neugier an die Stelle der Politik zu setzen… Ihr Teil im besten Fall der Genuß sein konnte, doch nie die Herrschaft.

[It was necessary to have a lure which was directed at all regardless of their private opinion and which served to replace politics with curiosity… their share could at best be enjoyment, but never power…]

The Théâtre National Populaire, one of France's largest experiments in populist culture, was turned over to Jack Lang, the soon-to-be Minister of Culture under the Socialists; my friends reported back on the repeated sessions of "sharing" and "feeling" engineered by the new director. It's what the French call "baba-cool:" a combination of cool and Poppa, paternalistic and  hip. Baba-cool became the official cultural policy of the French Republic.

As it had been a hundred years earlier, socio-political life was displaced into aesthetic categories: that was the lesson taken from the Situationnistes, the flâneurs of the new-old century. In a  massive phenomenological regression, the culture of hip turned to the glorification of aesthetic subjectivism. The walls of Metro stations were covered with poetry, as if rational thought was something from which one needed to be diverted. Streets and squares started to sound like those endless, meaningless discussions in the courtyard of the Lycée: celebrations of the self, self-celebrations of the opacity of social life.



Daß darüber Kunst nicht ihrerseits gesellschaftlich gleichgültig […] werde, hängt davon ab, in welchem Maß ihre Konstruktionen und Montagen zugleich Demontagen sind, zerstörend die Elemente der Realität in sich empfangen, die sie aus Freiheit zu einem Anderen zusammenfügen… Dann duldet [die Kunst] ohne daß sie von politischen Praktikern die diesen genehme Aussage sich zumuten ließe, keinen Zweifel, worauf sie hinausmöchte.

[Whether art becomes politically relevant or indifferent... depend on the extent to which art's constructions and montages are at the same time de-montages, i.e. dismantlements that appropriate elements of reality by destroying them, thus freely shaping them into something else… Art that succeeds in doing this has a prerogative: it may dismiss the question posed by political practitioners as to what it is up to and what its "message" is.]

By that measure Nourisson hasn't really grasped what he himself is about; or else he's grasped it all too well: the title of his presentation, Anti-Erklärung, was borrowed from Adorno's own critique of the type of activity Nourisson practices while claiming not to practice it. Nourisson followed this up with an endorsement of Social-Democracy that must have left his audience at loss since Social-Democracy is not exactly an irrelevancy in Vienna. This was followed up by the old Baldessari line that, since aesthetic pleasure is somehow bourgeois, the appropriate political stance is "anti-aesthetic," meaning the refusal of that sensual pleasure which "is revolutionist from the direct sense of personal worth." Fair enough; but since Adorno was invoked by Nourisson himself it's also fair to ask whether Nourisson (or Baldessari, or Vito Acconci for that matter) "appropriate elements of reality by destroying them," or merely recycle them in the service of the Hegemon. In Nourisson nothing is dismantled, merely parodied: here Olivier and his friends build a boat in order to invade an art gallery island; there Olivier builds a cabin which transforms people's screams of mock agony into some strange gargled, and amusing sound—Projektenmachinerei… die um so wunderthätiger und uberraschender wirken [soll], je weniger sie einen rationellen Grund [hat]. [Marx again: "The more miraculous and surprising… the machinery of their projects… the less rational its foundation."]

It wasn't quite clear if the message got across to the audience, since Nourisson spoke mostly French and the audience spoke mostly German with more than a touch of English in-between. Then again, it wasn't quite clear if the audience was ready to be confused in the way Nourisson expected, since a number of participants had a better grasp of the theoretical issues and their ramifications in practice: they disorder these things better in France.

— Wöfflin Jack.

February 3, 2015.




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