Michael H Goldhaber on Wed, 23 Jul 2008 18:42:55 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover


I read your whole piece with interest, but I disagree with its two of  
its stated or inherent premises.

First, art does not have to justify itself by offering a different way  
to live or to coexist. To put it most simply art justifies life; it is  
why we are here, or it can be.

Second, while a visit to South Korea or any other host to our hundreds  
of bases can show what empire is like and what it does to its targets,  
to find the sources of the outlook that backs these bases, we  have to  
look at American political life. A simple economic justification in  
terms of empire would be hard to demonstrate: China and India, which  
never had American bases, are far more important to us economically  
than countries that do have them. Likewise, Vietnam, which succeeded  
in throwing out our bases seems to be on a trajectory not terribly  
different from S. Korea or China. Nor is "cultural imperialism"  
strongly correlated with where the bases are. "Pirated" videos and  
music spread our culture far more effectively than does military  
occupation. Indian and Chinese immigrants with degrees in medicine,  
science or engineering increasingly fill occupational niches that  
Americans  do not enter in enough strength, for whatever reason.

So what does cause continued imperialism? For one thing, America's  
inward looking. Our politics is mostly localist and parochial, and yet  
politicians end up making decisions to sustain foreign involvements on  
the basis of little knowledge. It is always safer to view the outside  
world as menacing rather than benign. It is always safer to refer to  
the US as the greatest country and to assume that the world needs our  
armies and weapons rather than not.A pointless patriotism helps hold  
this disparate country together, much as India is partially held  
together by such means. And, as in the case of the British empire,  
what keeps ours going is mostly habit ? a bad habit, but hard to  
change ? perhaps addiction would be the better word.

If the US is so inward looking, doesn't reporting such as yours from  
South Korea help create balance? Very little, I suspect. The internal  
"patriotic" reading would only be that some Koreans are "ingrates,"  
who "don't know what's good for them," which implies they need our  
protection despite themselves. While "ingratitude" might be taken as a  
reason to leave, in practice it only seems to reinvigorate the myth of  
the necessity of staying, much as the American causalities so far in  
Iraq become, for the right at least, a reason not to leave. The  
possible difference there, as it was in Vietnam, and even in the  
Korean war, is really the threat of future casualties, but if these  
can be diminished, so will the pressure to pull out.

This imperialism can only be changed, I think, if it either becomes  
unaffordable or if a really different US self-conception can take  
hold, for instance of our being simply one country that ought to be  
striving to live cooperatively with the rest of the world. I think we  
should take heart that the Iraq war has proved so unpopular despite no  
draft and despite the US death toll being far below Vietnam levels. I  
think a new "Iraq syndrome" will sharply reduce the tendencies towards  
such active military adventures for another generation. But  
dismantling the existing network of bases is another story. To give up  
the addiction to military spending and the idea that the military  
offers a good career for certain young people will be less rather than  
more easy if the US monetary economy keeps declining. The only hope I  
see is the rise of an utterly new sense of who we are. That , of  
course, will be intensely resisted.


On Jul 22, 2008, at 2:57 PM, Brian Holmes wrote:

>50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,
>Or, let's find a completely new art criticism
>For most of the twentieth century, art was judged with respect to the
>previously existing state of the medium. What mattered was the kind of
>rupture it made, the unexpected formal or semiotic elements that it
>brought into play, the way it displaced the conventions of the genre  or
>the tradition. The prize at the end of the evaluative process was a
>different sense of what art could be, a new realm of possibility for  the
>aesthetic. Let's take it as axiomatic that all that has changed,
>The backdrop against which art stands out now is a particular state of
>society. What an installation, a performance, a concept or a mediated
>representation can do with its formal, affective and semiotic means is to
>mark out a possible or effective shift with respect to the laws,  the
>customs, the measures, the mores, the technical and organizational devices
>that define how we must behave and how we can relate to each other at a
>given time and in a given place. What you look for in art  is a different
>way to live, a fresh chance at coexistence. Anything  less is just the
>seduction of novelty - the hedonism of insignificance.
>If that's the case (if the axiom really holds), then a number of
>fascinating questions arise - for the artist, of course, but also for the
>critic. Where the critic is concerned, one good question is this: How do
>you address yourself to artists or publics or potential peers across the
>dividing lines that separate entire societies? How do you evaluate what
>counts as a positive or at least a promising change in  the existing
>balance of a foreign culture?

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