Symposium: The subject of art criticism’s universalism

Installation documentation from Roxy Farhat’s Still Interested in This Image at Skånes Konstförening (2020), featuring the Make Again Again Again (2020).

Installation documentation from Roxy Farhat’s Still Interested in This Image at Skånes Konstförening (2020), featuring the Make Again Again Again (2020). Photo: Lena Bergendahl 

Through an archaeology of the constitution of the critical subject we have tried to set an analysis of the historical development and present crisis of art criticism in motion, with a view to the possible abolition of the art critical subject as part of the new cycle of protests that have swept the world since 2010.

What seems clear to us is that the subject of art criticism acts in and beyond the context of art. Understanding this subject beyond its presumed ‘post-critical’ or ‘post-aesthetic’ faith, we interpret the practice of art criticism as part and parcel of a euro-modernist paradigm that seems capable of reinventing itself no matter what kind of crisis it confronts.

As part of this history, we investigate the opening that the crisis of this paradigm and its forms of subjectivity also enable. Can the universalist pretensions of aesthetic judgment be derailed in such a manner that it becomes possible to envision a universality not based on an initial political break between the subject of judgment and those it excludes (geopolitically or otherwise)? And what, then, would such universalism imply? We wish to examine the paradox that the critical subject seems essential for both critical discussion and also the abolition of the very performance of this form of subjectivity. What would it mean, instead of realizing the promise of the art critical subject, to abandon it? Is something like an abolition of art criticism possible, and what would it look like?

These are some of the questions we, the organizers of the seminar,* have been discussing for the last year, and this seminar is the second public iteration of this ongoing conversation. We have invited five brilliant thinkers, Marie Louise Krog, David Lloyd, Fumi Okiji, Kerstin Stakemeier and Marcello Tarì, who have in each their own way contributed to the critical analysis of the present misery and its possible overcoming. 

*Mikkel Bolt, James Day, Frida Sandström and Fredrik Svensk




Marie-Louise Krogh: ”Discipline of the Subject: On Kant’s Conception of the Educability of the Human Races”

While Kant as a figure arguably constitutes the most well-mined reference for writings on moral and political universalisms, the ascendance of scholarship that in the past 30 years has brought into focus considerations of his equally ground-breaking but much more troubling role in the constitution of a scientific discourse on race, has raised a number of questions as to the relationship between these two aspects of his authorship. My intervention into these debates foregrounds the importance of education and educability to Kant’s philosophy of history by adding to the typical intertextual framework for readings of Immanuel Kant's three essays on the concept of race – namely his lectures physical geography and pragmatic anthropology – a set of reflections found in the lectures on pedagogy. The concept of humankind is central to Kant’s conception of universal history; however, while the whole of the species is here at issue, one of its parts is placed at the spearhead of progression in the development of moral predispositions. As such, the question of an educative relation that cuts across the whole of the species forcefully imposes itself. This, I will argue, is the assumption that must be both interrogated and critiqued, if we are to fully assess how the commonly perceived contradiction between universalism and racism might, in fact, cover over a racist universalism. 

Marie Louise Krogh recently completed a Ph.D. at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University London, with the thesis Temporalities and Territories: The Geopolitical Imaginary of German Philosophies of History. She is a founding member of the London Historiography of Philosophy Working Group and works on philosophies of history as well as the relations between the histories of philosophy and those of colonialism in German and French traditions.

Fumi Okiji: “The standard / statement on revolutionary action //  Rausch in the “nonway””

“A statement on revolution need not be a revolutionary statement.” Jared Sexton in a recapitulation of the afropessimist prohibition on political strategy. “Revolutionary praxis is tough talk.”

The “organization of pessimism” (Naville) is not “pragmatic calculation” (Breton) but, rather, borrowing from Walter Benjamin on surrealism, to be understood as absolute disdain for “moral metaphor,” as vigilance against political expediency, and as the upkeep of our recalcitrant “nonway” (Terada).

The standard is intoxication; is a call just beyond the hearing threshold; is the melding and welding of (sonic) material and the brilliance to which this material is indexed; is fascination’s rumble either side of felicitous flash; is our accidental stumble upon one another.

In this talk I strain toward a demonstration, but will begrudgingly settle for a short series of underdrawings, of the (jazz) standard as constitutive inhabitation of a surreal sphere of sociality, set apart from the political reality of (hoped for) impasse and revolution. Rei Terada’s recent exploration of the “order of politicality” (Robinson), and Benjamin’s second manifesto surrealists help me introduce the standard as coincidence of poethical statement and action. The talk contributes to an open-ended rehearsal of “black aesthetic sociality” (Harris). 

Fumi Okiji is Assistant Professor of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. Okiji is the author of Jazz as Critique: Adorno and Black Expression Revisited (Stanford University Press, 2018). Her work crosses music, critical theory and black radical thought.

Marcello Tarì: ”Communism of the Spirit. Destituent power as Spiritual power.” 

In this presentation, after a brief reminder of the beginnings of my research on destituent power, the discourse points toward what we can call the destitution of the Western paradigm which, for the most part, means the destitution of the paradigm of Greek thought. It can be said that almost all Western philosophy that shapes Western politics, to this day, is haunted from that paradigm who it cannot leave, and perhaps constitutively cannot do so. In this perspective, spirituality represents an alternative to philosophy. So, I would to say something about Foucault’s theory of political spirituality and, then, passing through a critique of the concept of belief in Deleuze, I would like to discuss some issues with respect to the "theological turn" that has taken place in recent years in radical thought, of how much of the destituent power is rooted in the Gospels, to conclude on what we can call a communism of the spirit.

Marcello Tarì is an Italian independent researcher of contemporary movements and ideas and a translator. He is author of essays and books, including Autonomie! Italie, les années 1970 (La Fabrique, 2011) and Non esiste la rivoluzione infelice (Derive Approdi, 2017), both translated in different languages.