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Crowdfunding My Rejected AICA Congress Paper

Post #1899 • September 3, 2021, 9:16 AM

The theme of this year's AICA Congress, hosted by AICA Turkey but taking place online, is The Intellectual Aftermath.

The 20th century was the century of boundless promise, whereas the 21st century is becoming a century of collapse. Humanity’s increasingly desperate efforts over the last century to control both nature and “the other” have backfired. While political discourse has become gradually harsher, the redistribution of wealth has grown more obscenely disproportionate. In today’s polarized world, those who follow the mainstream ideologies tend towards fanaticism, and the political abstentionist minority continues to dwindle. Economic structures have become debilitated, our faith in systems has been shaken, and the cold egocentric gaze has turned back on itself. Now the relentless march of globalization is faltering, and climate disasters and epidemics follow one another in quick succession. The Y2K bug that threatens all digital systems, the subprime mortgage crisis which brought the United States to the brink of collapse, Britain’s departure from the European Union, North Korea's nuclear weapons program, and Australia's vast forest fires with the wholesale destruction of wildlife and the latest Covid-19 pandemic that has spread worldwide from Wuhan, in China, are but few of the events since the beginning of the millennium that have profound global impacts.

And so on. I hesitate to make too much of the verbal infelicities here, as this is the expected Mandarin style, and the authors' English is infinitely better than my nonexistent Turkish. But still, I was initially prompted to think, "Yes! Down with all this obscene redistribution of wealth." Alas, they probably just meant distribution. That much was clear by the time they likened Brexit to the subprime mortgage crisis.

Nevertheless:

Our aim in this congress is to evaluate the concept we have outlined above and to explore its social and political ramifications by asking a number of questions, such as: How will the present crises completely reshape our lives? Will humanity manage to repair its structures, or will it have to rebuild them all over again? What role will art theory, practice, and criticism play, from the political, economic, social, psychological, or cultural perspective, in helping us to understand the intellectual aftermath and in shaping the current process of change? Will art and culture be able to become independent of economic criteria and ideologies, if they are to be key elements in a new kind of socio-political discourse? Or is it the inevitable destiny of art and its consumers to be consumed and destroyed by the system?

I have some thoughts about this, so I submitted an abstract for consideration, titled "Art After Liberalism." It read:

In the aftermath of the pandemic and political unrest of 2020, a wide swath of thinkers are proposing that the liberal order – the regime of individual rights, markets, tolerance, and reason – has reached its end. They predict (in many cases, recommend) its replacement by a postliberal order characterized by collective responsibility, planned economies, rigorous enforcement of mores, and appeals to emotion. Advocates for postliberalism come in both progressive and reactionary flavors, drawing to varying degrees from nationalist, globalist, socialist, neoliberal, populist, or identitarian justifications as needed, in combinations that defy a simple left-right taxonomy.

Art has survived, even thrived in illiberal milieux throughout its long history. Art criticism has not – it is entirely the product of the liberal order. This paper proposes that the postliberal order, whatever form it takes, will also be postcritical, and explores the ensuing implications for art and its analysis.

Earlier this week I heard back from the Congress Organizing Committee: "Unfortunately, the averge of the scores given by the referees was not sufficient for your paper to be accepted at the congress. We hope that this result will increase your determination to continue your scientific work and look forward to your new contributions in the future." I know, this isn't great, but I can barely pronounce the country's prime minister's name correctly. (Apparently "AIR-oh-won" is sort of close. Yes, the "d" and the "g" are, not silent, exactly, but not hard consonants either.)

This outcome was unsurprising. We're talking about the agents of Institutional Postmodernism, after all, and the old adage about how you shouldn't dish it out if you can't take it is a foreign idea when it comes to most art critics. As I rap on my forthcoming album:

Musically I'm soothing like I'm playing you a waltz
What Godzilla did to Tokyo I did to Jerry Saltz

Which is true, and in the course of doing so I said that art criticism is dead. I don't know why a conference of art critics would want to hear that message.

So who does? Maybe you. Going beyond the abstract, my concept is that we're in the midst of a competition between three visions of illiberalism. One is technocratic-globalist, typified by Brussels. One is technocratic-nationalist, typified by Beijing. One is anti-technocratic-nationalist, typified by Budapest. These visions are anatagonistic but not so much as to start a hot war. They may instead be content to carve up the world into their respective spheres of uncontested dominance and bicker at the edges. Here in America, the government, the institutions, and the blue counties are Brussels. Big Tech, Hollywood, and the megacorporations are Beijing. The red counties are Budapest. This is bigger than art, but art, as the embodied aspiration of human freedom and flourishing (and not the handmaiden of Brussels Illiberalism; see, for instance, your local contemporary museum, probably) will be worth considering in its connection to each of these orders, as the relationship will indicate much about life in general under them.

If this sounds like a compelling idea, please navigate to the project's page at Indiegogo and hit me. Even modest gifts garner an invitation to my presentation of this paper on Zoom, shortly before the AICA Congress, which takes place during Thanksgiving, which prompts a turkey/Turkey/bunch of turkeys joke that I'm going to let pass uncracked.

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