File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0107, message 119

Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2001 19:59:36 -0500
Subject: Re: Popmart Levinas

Matthew and all,

Thanks for your interesting comments.  I'm no Marxist (although I do
think Marx is still very relevant to the current situation) so I can't
give you precise economic analysis, but I share your feelings.

The current time period does not seem to be a propitious one for the
arts, at least in America. I also recognize that artists today often
need to make a devil's bargain and admire how much innovation and
paralogy some have been able to accomplish even under these current

In presenting their concept of empire, Negri and Hardt have renewed a
theme that is rich in historical resonance.  I an struck by the some of
the analogies that can be made between the pax Romana and the current
pax America, both of which take the form of a militaristic hegemony.

In the Aeneid, Virgil has Anchises, the father of Aeneas, make the
following prophecy:

"For other people will, I do not doubt, 
still cast their bronze to breathe with softer features, 
or draw out of marble living lines, plead causes better, 
trace the ways of heaven with wands 
and tell the rising constellations; 
but yours will be the rulership of nations, 
remember, Roman, these will be your arts: 
to teach the ways of peace to those who you conquer.
to spare defeated people, tame the proud."  
(Mandelbaum trans.)

The historical fate of Rome was that it was remembered principally for
its engineering feats and development of the law rather than its arts. 
It seems America is destined to play a similar role.  However, it
remains an interesting pastime to ask what is taking place during this
contemporary time period that history will remember and deem

I would argue that there currently appear to be two trends that seem at
the very least to be strong contenders. One is the development of the
internet. The other is the trend towards globalization.  What this also
implies, however, is that this is not a particularly artistic age,
unless one were to argue that these achievements are our art.

These twin developments are ironic for America in a numbers of ways.  In
the first place, America wants to lay claim to both of these as its own
singular achievements. It also deems itself the winner of cold war and
therefore the heir apparent to hegemony in the world today. 

However, the reality is that America has acted only as a kind of midwife
to the developments. Already they have superceded America and emanate
from a centerless place which remains beyond its full control. Of
course, America is attempting desperately to reverse this situation,
through its missile defense and various other strategies, but it is
ultimately doomed to failure because the logic of these developments
call for new forms of association which America cannot provide.  It
already seems too provincial and strangely out of touch with the new
realities to regulate what is actually going on.

The second aspect relates to future artistic development. What the
internet and global society portend is the possibility of new
Renaissance when these infrastructures are firmly in place and a more
just global society emerges. Then, one can envision these new
technologies being applied in more aesthetic ways to create whole
environments based on the principle of play rather the work. This also
signals that the current aura of the artist as individual craftsman or
genius might be superceded by more communal and less gender specific
forms. Here again, it seems that the current period is merely laying the
foundation. It engineers what others will transform and use for strange
new creations.    

I'm not sure how Lyotard would see these developments in terms of the
mordernism/postmodernism axis.  I agree he equivocated about this in his
later works such as the essay "Rewriting Modernity" in "The Inhuman" to
which Steve alluded. There is a strong tendency for him to see
postmodernism as a mode rather than a historical epoch.  I also see him
as different from other postmodern theorists for this reason as well,
and the fact that he is far more political.  However, to echo the theme
of "The Posthuman" if the internet and globalism are related to the
forms of complexifiation of which Lyotard spoke and these could emerge
in a context of greater justice where "the information is free" what
kind of epoch does this portend?


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