If there’s something profoundly wrong with Heidegger’s thesis that art is an expression of a world, it is that art opens us on to worlds beyond our own lived artworld. If there’s a reason for the persistent animosity towards art throughout history, then this is because art interrupts. Art can open us to worlds not only of others who live very different lives than many of us (Toni Morrison, for example), but also to nonhuman worlds unlike ours at all. Art can allude to the world of dogs, quantum particles, colors, shapes, different places in history, the life of insects, etc. Far from confirming and expressing the worldhood of our world, art perpetually challenges that familiar life-world and calls it into question. This is the reason that every reactionary social order has called for careful regulation of art or that it be banished altogether. As a genuine entity that acts on our life-worlds, art is dangerous.
This is a super great post - and touches on an itch I’ve had since Barthel’s piece on Pussy Riot & the ineffectiveness of Protest Songs. He calls, rightfully I think, to the general inability of song lyrics to have a causal relationship to political action. It relates to what DeLanda calls Motives and Reasons. Political song writers have a motive - they want their political lyrics to mean something. Yet to actually see if the lyrics have any political salience - any causal relationship to material political relationships is hard to establish. So when a political event takes place we are left with looking for reasons -“why did this happen?” rather than”what did people want to happen?”. Yet the motives - the lyrical element of songs - is cast somewhat aside, as he says:
Art makes its points through style, not scholarship, and it’s ridiculous to expect it to do anything else.
So in this case, style has more causal relationships to contemporary political relationships. This could very well be true. Maybe the lyrics are what DeLanda would consider to be “redundant” - in that you can insert them and then take them out of the assemblage at-will, and the assemblage remains much the same. But, I wonder, would “Fuck the Police” actually have the same affect as “Tuck the Police (’s shirt in)”. I’m not so sure. But, as Mike would point out, it’s the style of NWA that’s more powerful than the lyrics of the song. Hip Hop’s style was always counter cultural, so it’s that, much like the style of Riot Grrl, that’s powerful. This is likely why Zizek said in a letter to Nadya Tolokonnikova that “From my own past in Slovenia, I am well aware of how Punk Performances are much more effective than liberal-humanitarian protests”. The end point to this line of thinking is actually something you are likely already familiar with: the medium is the message.
Yet as Bryant says above, to get back to original post by Bryant, is that art is dangerous as it opens us up to new worlds, alternatives. It offers us a way out. If the lyrics - the content really is redundant, why does China bother banning websites and censoring films from having time travel. Either they are truly mistaken about how art works (they believe that motives are always causal) or they understand that content isn’t as redundant as we might think. These other worlds, presented through the content, even if we hardly ever see the direct political fallout of the lyrics,are central to how art operates, to how it disrupts actually existing worlds with alternative ones. If this is the case we should find ways of tracing the content of art to material causality, and make sense of these weird assemblages, these machines that craft new worlds with each confrontation.
This blog contains thoughts on electronic, experimental, emerging media art & design. It will be of interest to students and professionals in digital and electronic media. It began activity 2010 03 22. It was originally created for the Intro to eMAD class at the University of Denver, and was named for that class. It was renamed on 2011 02 19.