Richard Foreman, “Richard Foreman in Discussion with Jay Sanders, Paul Chan and Robert Hullot-Kentor”
Avant-garde playwright and director Richard Foreman is joined by MA program faculty members Jay Sanders and Robert Hullot-Kentor (chair) and artist Paul Chan to discuss the preparations for his upcoming play, Old Time Prostitutes.
Frances Fox Piven and Doug Henwood, “The Election Aftermath”
There is no need to claim to be able to predict the victors in the upcoming presidential and legislative elections to assert that in many ways these elections were over long before they got started. If anything, the upcoming election season is a moment to review how deeply rutted the tracks are in which American political life moves. We will ask Frances Fox Piven and Doug Henwood to help us get some perspective on this. How deeply worn are these ruts? What carved them? Are they as unalterable as they appear to be? Where is American politics happening? What are the potentials in the situation?
Frances Fox Piven is professor of political science at the CUNY graduate center. She was an important figure in the welfare rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, and has written Regulating the Poor and Poor People’s Movements. More recently she has campaigned around voter registration, highlighting the exclusion of large numbers of poor people from American democracy in Why Americans Don’t Vote and Keeping Down the Black Vote.
Doug Henwood is a New York based journalist who edits the Left Business Observer and hosts a radio show on contemporary political and economic issues, Behind the News. He is the author of The State of the USA Atlas, Wall Street and After the New Economy.
Paul Mattick and Steve Fraser, “The Economic Crisis and its Discontents”
The crisis which began in 2007, and is still working its way through American life, is more than economic. It was triggered by a shift in the way most Americans live, with an increasing number relying on credit to meet their consumption needs. It was exacerbated by changes in the American elite, from industrialists to financiers – and their influence on the political system. But its underlying cause can be found in the long term crisis tendencies of the capitalist system. And its consequences – especially as alternative visions and movements seem mysteriously inchoate or nonexistent – remain murky. Paul Mattick will help us understand some of the more fundamental shifts that have made the society and economy what they are today. Steve Fraser will reflect on parallels with previous eras of elite malfeasance and contrasts in changed conditions that shape responses and dreams of emancipation.
Steve Fraser is an associate adjunct professor at Columbia University and has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Nation, and American Prospect. His many publications include Labor will Rule: Sidney Hillman and the Rise of American Labor and Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life. Most recently he is the author of Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace.
Paul Mattick is professor of philosophy at Adelphi University. He is the author of Social Knowledge: An Essay on the Nature and Limits of Social Science, Art in Its Time: Theories and Practices of Modern Aesthetics, Eighteenth-Century Aesthetics and the Reconstruction of Art (as editor), and Business as Usual: The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism.
Martin Jay, “Chromophilia: Kandinsky, Benjamin and the Emancipation of Color”
The “emancipation of color” in modernist art involved liberation from four chromophobic tyrannies: 1) the primacy of the drawn line or distinct form, based on the values of spatial order and relational intelligibility; 2) the privileging of mimetic reproduction and the imperative to imitate faithfully the sensed colors of the external world; 3) the entrenched power of official academies with their prescribed rules for good painting; 4) the identification of color with mere surface appearances in favor of a symbolic revelation of deeper essential truths, either of the world or the psyche.
This new attitude towards color can be discerned in both the theorizing and practice of Wassily Kandinsky, the leading figure in the Blaue Reiter movement. One of his greatest champions was Walter Benjamin, for whom, however, the emancipation of color meant not only from objects and the faithful imitation of the perceived world, but also from rigid semiotic schemes that attributed essential qualities to distinct colors. Moving beyond Kandinsky’s reliance on a dubious spiritual vocabulary derived largely from theosophy, he introduced a more subtle notion, if still redemptive, of what might be called “magical nominalist” chromophilia.
Jefferson Cowie and Mark Dudzic, “The Long Shadow of the 1970s”
When Nixon said that “We are all Keynesians now” he enunciated a general feeling: the New Deal Order was here to stay. Instead, the U.S. experienced in the 1970s an economic and social crisis on the scale it faces today. Yet the 1970s was not merely a decade of crisis, it was also an epochal turning point, the beginning of what many have termed “neo-liberalism.” Politics turned sharply to the Right – with the “New Democrats” and the subsequent “Reagan Revolution.” Working class life harshened. Historical self-assurance – and even some radical hopes – evaporated in the face of “working-class blues.” Now, 40 years on, we haven’t yet found our way out of the long shadow of the 70s. Jefferson Cowie will guide us through the social and cultural shifts that displaced the white working class from the center of New Deal politics, and ushered in an era of working class decline. Mark Dudzic, as a labor and political organizer for the last 30 years, will offer some different views as to what went wrong and will reflect on his own work to turn the tide.
Jefferson Cowie teaches labor and working-class history, with research spanning a number of areas including politics, social history, and popular culture. He is the award-winning author of Capital Moves: RCA’s Seventy-Year Quest for Cheap Labor, and Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class. He is the co-author of a forthcoming book on the New Deal, The Long Exception.
Mark Dudzic serves as National Coordinator of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer. A long-time union activist, he joined the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (now part of the United Steelworkers) in 1979 when he helped to organize the precious metals refinery in Northvale, NJ where he worked as a melter/caster.
Georg Windeck, “Junk… and the ground it is built on: What’s Wrong with New York City Architecture?”
No doubt, New York City has some startling architecture. But, when examined, the quality of buildings is poor for what one might suppose a great city would present; and the city’s architecture is increasingly tawdry and shabby.
The question, then, is: Why is architecture poor in a city that has been so rich? Georg Windeck, an architect and faculty member at The Cooper Union, will discuss how New York City architecture has been fundamentally defined by the economic conditions of the ground it is built on.
Lawrence Kramer, “Hearing Music Mean”
The discussion concerns whether and how we hear works of music act in ways that are in some sense true and responsible both to their own premises and to their historical moments. We will mull over this complex question in relation to three compositions (one of them my own), their titles to remain a secret until we get to listening to them in class.
Lawrence Kramer is Distinguished Professor of English and Music at Fordham University, a composer, and the author of many books, including, most recently, Expression and Truth: On the Music of Knowledge.
Jodi Dean and Jasper Bernes, “Forms and Tactics”
In the Fall of 2011 the United States saw the first nationwide popular movement since the 1960s to confront inequalities of power and wealth. A broad outcry against government support for financial institutions and call for renewed democracy were combined in Occupy Wall Street (OWS) with unique forms of organization: a reclaiming of public space, a networked culture of communication, a revival of democratic traditions, and an experiment in communal living. These forms provoked much debate among observers, but some of the fiercest debates were among participants. Jodi Dean and Jasper Bernes both contributed to these internal debates. Dean, a regular visitor to Zucotti park, championed OWS but warned of the dangers of immediatism. Her new book The Communist Hypothesis proposes a return to the long-term strategic organization embodied in the party form. Meanwhile on the radical west wing of #Occupy, Bernes, a participant in Occupy Oakland, defended decentralized assemblies and confrontational tactics. We will ask them to explore the origins and implications of these divergent forms and tactics. Why did OWS happen when it did? Was it a harbinger of a new politics, or an expression of a traditional vision of American democracy?
Jodi Dean is Professor of Political Science and Hobarth and William Smith Colleges. She is the author of several books, including Blog Theory, The Communist Horizon, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies, Zizek’s Politics, and Solidarity of Strangers.
Jasper Bernes is a poet and writer. He has published a poetry collection, Starsdown, and has written articles for numerous journals, including Reclamations, Aufgabe, Xantippe, Jacket, The New Inquiry, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Literature Program at Duke University.
Barry C. Lynn and Moishe Postone, “Dispossession and Domination”
The experience of economic domination may be—and certainly is by most—felt as an all-encompassing structure of manipulation. Whichever way one turns, that way is blocked. Whatever one would like to plan for oneself, the situation has already made more than enough plans for what it intends to do with each of us, with how each of us is to be used or discarded with regard to purposes that are rarely our own.
This experience makes it difficult to comprehend that the powers that one encounters at every turn have long been in the midst of severing any engagement with actual social planning. Economic domination and national planning—whether with regard to infrastructure, work, innovation, housing, education, health, the financial structure, the natural environment itself—which were once unitary in corporate America, have over the past thirty years been in a process of extricating themselves from each other.
These corporations act according to one principle: that dispossession has become the fiercest form of possession. This is not the ‘dispossession of the commons’ in which capitalism originated. It is a form of capitalism that is powerful by disaggregating itself of factories; disaggregating itself of employees and even of needing to have a street address: it dominates the mechanisms of distribution and from that vantage is able to manipulate outsourced producers as well as its trapped ‘customers’.
This form of corporation does not so much use the state as its functionary, but aims to elude state control and functional collaboration with the state—even on the level of foreign policy—and instead seeks to act as an autonomous state with disregard to national boundaries. “Congressional gridlock,” the inability of congress to act and to engage the real problems of the nation, is fundamentally a function of this transformation of the corporation.
This technique of domination has penetrated every level of American life. The place of cell phones in daily life functions as a small-scale model of the same “just in time” production that opportunistically uses everyone in their range on short notice. The exact same dynamic is evident in the art world, where the rise of a curatorial mechanism is taking precedence over what anyone makes or sees. And it is this same society-wide mode of production that has made any attempt to criticize, contest or transform national life so difficult, right into our faltering ability to imagine anything other than what we already have.
In our day of discussions, Barry Lynn will help us understand the new “arbitrage corporation” and its monopoly forms, and Moishe Postone will be on hand to think with us about how his interpretation in his seminal work on Marxism gives us further insight into these social transformations.
Michael Morse, “The Shadow of the New Left, Adorno and Popular Music”
If the political shadow of the 1960s New Left still envelopes intellectual inquiry, it may be through commitment to developing an analytical critique of society. Although the Frankfurt School is routinely understood to be grandparental to this position, Theodor Adorno’s stance toward it is skewed. Both before and after Dialectic of Enlightenment, his sense of “Critical Theory” was decidedly Kantian, based in the general question of what makes mass culture possible. And his sense of analysis lay in what he termed “immanent critique”: not a litany of broad complaints against “society” as an abstraction, but direct albeit dialectical focus on the particular structures that delimit our social experience.
It was a happy accident that Adorno was a thoroughly trained musician, bringing that potential to social understanding. The result, unfolding over his career, was the realization that musical structure–the details of tonal and rhythmic configuration in particular pieces and performances–is not only a form of social structure among many, but an especially revealing and cogent instance. To this day, no other music sociologist has pursued this fundamental insight with such depth. That said, Adorno’s insight had considerable constraints. His own conjunctions of music detail analysis to his broader conception was notably unsystematic, and for many, overly tied to his active partisanship for the Schoenberg circle. But, that said, it is a mistake–our loss, not his–to subordinate his social profundity to the yoke of his perceptions.
Michael Morse will show us some of the power of Adorno’s conception in a three part discussion; first, his notion of musical structure, and related concepts such as “musical material”; second, analytic discussion of Schubert’s Moment Musical #2, as case of social time; finally, an analytic discussion of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” considering the enduring relevance of Adorno’s thought and some of the contemporary, still unexplored directions it proffers.
Michael Morse is a composer, musician, and social critic.
Georg Windeck, “Militant Housing in New York City: A Brief History from Socialist Co-ops to Punk House Squats”
The residential architecture of New York has always been shaped by the forces of real estate and is divided in financial categories ranging from “low income” tenements in the Lower East Side to “high income” luxury apartments on 5th Avenue. In this built manifestation of a speculative market economy, the location and comfort of a dwelling is contingent on the financial capacities of its inhabitant. Over the course of the 20th century, several groups of militant dwellers confronted these established principles with idealist force and “built” their own New York communities as a simultaneous architectural and social creation.
James Hansen, “Post Sandy — Too Late?”
Not long ago, social critics on the left were easily able to drive a critical wedge into capitalism’s dynamic of transmuting every surplus into scarcity by insisting on the utter, even ineluctable abundance of capitalist manufacture. A title from 1970, such as Murray Bookchin’s “Post-Scarcity Anarchism”, characterized this critical approach–capitalism’s own success was fated to making capitalism itself obsolete.
But this vision of an inexhaustible human productivity relied on the ancient image and reality of an inexhaustible nature: nature as the horn of plenty, an infinite cornucopia that manufacture needed merely to learn to tap to bring to all an abundance beyond what anyone might ever use.
This cornucopia, the vision of it, is now gone and with it the entire utopian tradition of thought. No doubt, there is less imagination today because there is less to imagine. Humanity will never again, in the entire rest of its history, exist in a stable climate. The most urgent questions have become—not how we might somehow dispose of our overwhelming productivity—but the ways in which we might limit the effects of the global catastrophes that we are already well in the midst of.
Critical Theory and the Arts has invited James Hansen to help us understand these contemporary realities. How much has the climate warmed and how much warmer can we expect it to get? What are our prospects?
Dr. James Hansen heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, a part of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He has held this position since 1981. He is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.
Joshua Freeman, “American Empire and the Contemporary Political Situation”
How did the United States shape a global empire; how did its imperial role re-shape the United States; and how do we understand the causes and reality of its decline? In his new book American Empire, Joshua Freeman, much admired for his history of New York City in Working-Class New York, describes the post-war confluence of imperial expansion, extraordinary economic growth, and the “democratic revolution” at home. Prof. Freedman will help us navigate the murky waters of American imperialism, and understand its significance for domestic political life.
Sebastian Ziedler, “Braque’s Passion”
In the fall of 2013 a seminar on the Cubism of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso will be convened at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts in Washington. In preparation for it, the participants have been asked to produce a reply to the question, “What Is Cubism?”
The fact the question should be asked at all is reason enough to give one pause, for a quarter-century ago it seemed to have been settled for good. To be sure, the answers were varying widely at the time, depending on whether one was asking a semiologist or a social historian; but everyone did indeed have an answer ready. Today, that is no longer the case. As the methodological battles of the 1980s and 1990s have faded away, so have the certainties about the work of Braque and Picasso which they used to generate. One hundred years after its inception, Cubism looks more elusive than ever before.
This talk will attempt to turn that elusiveness into a virtue by looking at the art anew and from an unfamiliar perspective. Its focus will be double. It will extract a set of theoretical terms from the art criticism of Carl Einstein, writer, friend of Braque, and co-founder of Documents magazine. These terms will then be made productive for a close visual analysis of some of the most hermetic paintings by Braque from 1911/12. The discoveries that will emerge in the process will demonstrate graphically that the longer one stares at a Cubist painting the less familiar it becomes.
Discussion after the talk might extend out to Picasso. We still refer to the Cubism of “Picasso and Braque,” as though the latter was simply the understudy of the former. Looking at a number of paintings of Guitars which Picasso made at Sorgues in 1912 can help invert that hierarchy. Picasso’s passion was certainly different from Braque’s, but it was not for that reason better than his.
Spyros Papapetros, “The Prearchitectonic Condition: Modern Architecture and Prehistory”
Can there be a world without architecture? Is there an “arche” that precedes the appearance of tectonics? Such prearchitectonic condition was envisioned by a number of architectural writers during the late 1940s, when, confronted with the ravages of World-War-II as well as specters of modern architecture’s ending, modernist architectural historians tried to answer these fundamental questions by studying the earliest traces of human creativity in prehistoric art and architecture. During the first decades after the war, historians such as Sigfried Giedion and Bruno Zevi reinterpreted a number of recently discovered prehistoric monuments, yet only to corroborate theoretical principles that were already in use by modernist critics. This presentation focuses on Giedion’s research on prehistory, parts of which date from the 1940s and leading up to his 1957 Mellon lectures on Constancy and Change in Early Art and Architecture, as well as the publication of the first volume of The Eternal Present in 1962 titled The Beginnings of Art. Emphasis is given on archival documents from Giedion’s visits to prehistoric sites, the early drafts of his manuscripts, and his correspondence with archaeologists and paleoanthropologists, such as Edmund Snow Carpenter, Abbé Lemozi, Abbé Breuil, and André Lehroi Gourhan, who later wrote a rather negative review of Giedion’s book in an anthropological journal. Following Gourhan, Giedion’s greatest strength was also his weakness, namely the quasi-photographic treatment of his material—a type of viewing which could capture surface similarities, but failed to penetrate into the fundamental discontinuities of each layer. Abstraction, transparency, simultaneity and movement were the formal principles detected by Giedion on the rock tracings of the Aurignacian and Magdalenian periods, and visually rhymed by the historian next to the works of modern artists, such as Braque, Harp, and Klee, within a process of reciprocal Gestaltung. A similar form of simultaneity applied to Giedion’s historiographic method: by juxtaposing the fossils of prehistory with the prognostications of post-histoire, Giedion invented a pre/post/erous history—not only a prehistory but also a new history—of modern architecture. The study of prehistoric origins could uncover not only causes of modernity’s present crisis, but also signs of architecture’s futures past.
OTHER 2012-2013 MA CLASS VISITORS
Melanie Gilligan, Sam Lewitt (artists), “Practices and Concerns”
Richard Birkett (curator), “Frozen Lakes” (Artists Space gallery visit)
David Salle (painter), “Open Conversation”
Mowry Baden (sculptor), “New Work on Up and Down”
Michael Smith (artist), “Media, Performance, Entertainment”
Claire Bishop (art historian), “The Situation of the Arts”
Tan Lin (poet), “Reading / Expanded Reading”
Tony Conrad (artist), “Interventionist Tactics”