Monday, September 9, 2013

Utopian turtletops

Asking, “How radical was the avant-garde?” can be a convenient way to erase the commitments of serious artists across generations of engagement — just as asking “What happened to the utopian dream?” promotes a false sense that modern art was somehow on the path to bring it about. Collective regret, disappointment, fall from faith, and shaken belief are all merited in our time. The difficulty of imagining a world in which artists effect a utopian transformation still has to be reconciled, however, with the reality of what art does that is transformational — which is to contribute to a collective discourse through imaginative work that reconfigures our understanding of what we imagine the real to be. This may be merely a rehash of Louis Althusser, linked to an earnest belief in the romantic ideology, but the alternatives are fairly unsavory: give in to unqualified entrepreneurialism, live mourning an idealized past, or play an endless game of theoretically formulated deferral as if it were not possible to derive any specific insight from actual works. 

-- Johanna Drucker, "Shut Up and Listen to the Artists!", Los Angeles Review of Books