Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Ryan, K.
Violence, Space, and the Political
An Aesthetics of Existence? Walking the Talk of Symbolic Violence…
Oral Presentation
Optional Fields
The paper takes up a position at the activist pole of a spectrum of practices that cross between aesthetics and politics within the field of socially-engaged art – a position that makes it possible for Yates McKee to claim that Occupy Wall Street (OWS) ‘took the avant-garde dialectic of art and life to a new level of intensity’ (2016). If OWS can indeed be read as a living work of art, then it might be argued, from Foucault (2011), that politics is (again, for this is an iterative process) entering into a generative relation with art as an ‘aesthetics of existence’. Here Foucault is proposing that modern art reactivates a ‘cynical mode of being’ (askēsis) that originates in the ancient Hellenic world, and which operates through a register of ‘refusal and aggression to culture, social norms, values and aesthetic canons’. This is not to suggest the unbroken line of a tradition linking past to present, but rather a context-specific practice characterised by a certain anti-Platonism – a refusal to countenance Truth (eternal Idea/Form) beyond the truth of a life that closes the gap between logos and bios. In lay terms, to embody the cynical attitude is to walk the talk of symbolic violence; it is to live as Diogenes lived: out in the open, in public, through a willingness to offend without fear of shame or embarrassment, subverting the power of doxa by engaging in forms of impropriety and trespass, thereby performing a critical social function. In short, cynical askēsis re-emerges through what Foucault presents as the ‘anti-cultural function’ of modern art: ‘The consensus of culture has to be opposed by the courage of art in its barbaric truth’ (2011: 189). There is however a serious drawback if this is embraced uncritically, which returns to McKee’s characterisation of OWS: the danger of avant-gardism…
Publication Themes