Monday, March 01, 2010

philosophy art and commerce


 There is a common misconception within the myths perpetuated by capitalistic culture, which claims that art and philosophy are useless endeavors – at best, a mental exercise, at worst, an activity for criminals and dilettantes. They forget that all of the great periods in human history, leaps of progress in terms of science, mathematics, and other disciplines that produce more "tangible" results, have occurred side-by-side with paradigm shifts in the arts and philosophy. It is impossible, and irrelevant, to definitively argue which came first. Art and philosophy, without trade, commerce, and application, is sterile and masturbatory. Similarly, trade and commerce is brutish and miopic when it isn’t applied with the sensibility that comes from in-depth philosophical and artistic debate. Both are crucial to cultural evolution, but only when applied together. This misconception is one of the dangers of prevalent capitalistic myths. It is possible that this misconception has actually further divorced these two currents, rendering art into the purely theoretical, a navel-gazing reflection upon itself. This in part came about through the hands of the art world itself, in the formation of the "art world," a world of happenings where nothing happens, of canvases painted white, and music performances where nothing is performed. Which is not to say that there has been no value produced, for instance, by John Cage's 4'33", but there can be little argument that this movement has unintentionally furthered the capitalist myth that art is purely masturbatory.
    What cannot be commodified cannot be useful, cannot be meaningful. In a Capitalistic society, the qualities of what cannot be quantified are irrelevant. Max Horkheimer deals with this in The Eclipse of Reason, for example:

"...the transformation of all products of human activity into commodities was achieved only with the emergence of industrialist society. The functions once performed by objective reason, by authoritarian religion, or by metaphysics have been taken over by the reifying mechanism of the anonymous economic apparatus. It is the price paid on the market that determines the salability of merchandise and thus the productiveness of a specific kind of labor. Activities are branded as senseless or superfluous, as luxuries, unless they are useful or, as in wartime, contribute to the maintenance and safeguarding of the general conditions under which industry can flourish. Productive work, manual or intellectual, has become respectable, indeed the only accepted way of spending one's life." (pg. 40)

    However, Horkeimer attributes this to the "subjective reason" which to his thinking performed a coupe d'etat of both so-called "objective reason," on the one hand, and the mythological impulse on the other. I would instead argue that this end result, which he is quite correct about, was not arrived at through the overthrow of objective reason, but it is instead its ultimate conclusion. It is the inevitable evolution of a specific mythology heritage, which gave birth to reason, which gave birth to the nation-state, which, through many other turn-abouts, gave birth to blind industry. Zeus consumed his own father, Kronos. That is not to say that he wasn't born by him. The same could be said of Horkheimer's objective and subjective reason, as presented in the Eclipse of Reason. No return to objective reason is possible: we are living in its aftermath. At the same time, it is arguable if it existed, save as an ideal, in the first place. Instead, the alternative can only come to life through the culture, embodied in the form of new art, and new myths.

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