Ben Davis on Neoliberalism Without End

Ben Davis, The Age of Semi-Post-Postmodernism, artnet Magazine

We are at the beginning -- not the end -- of a long period of global economic restructuring that will be very painful. The brutality of massive budget cuts has only begun to be felt. According to whose interests this restructuring will be done is not yet set, and what new paradigm will emerge from the chaos is anyone’s guess. Partly, it depends on what we actually do now.

If art and art theory are to play a positive role in this process, they need to ditch the platitudes of "my art is my activism" and "my theory is my practice." Moving beyond "postmodernism" has to mean a shift away from the myopia and cynicism that has characterized our recent past, if it is to mean anything at all.

Comment about Davis's essay by Hypothete at Paddy's:

“Unless and until such a shift occurs, simply giving up the term [postmodernism] or changing it out for a new one is not going to do much good. Swapping word games for a meaningful relationship to political reality was part of the problem in the first place.”

Although I disagree with a lot of what Davis has to say, this is where he hits the nail on the head. As long as we keep referring to ourselves as within the historical narrative, we will remain in the historical narrative. It’s over, we’re not on a track like Modernism suggested, and it’s still playing into those ideas to be ‘postmodern.’

“Harvey was talking about economic theory, but you could say the same about art theory: If the art world continues to recycle the same old anti-historic academic bullshit and chirpy gossip then it is going to continue to be a place of intellectual irrelevance and triviality that no one takes seriously besides the people who inhabit it.”

I would argue the opposite: the art world continues to recycle the same academic historical tropes in an attempt to seem relevant to a culture that doesn’t care or work the same way any more. As far as I know, no one’s complaining that contemporary artists are being too down-to-earth.

My two cents (cross-posted to Paddy's):

For an article appearing on “artnet” Davis’ analysis reads like “printnet,” circa 1995. He doesn’t mention the internet once, or any of the social or artistic changes brought about by techno-culture. He is thus the perfect critic for the current art world, still talking about storefront installations and such. For some reason the art critic’s association AICA included him in their recent panel on new media. Paddy was on the panel and from her description, Davis didn’t have much to say. “Techno-culture” may not in fact have rocked the ongoing neoliberal nightmare he describes in his essay, but many positive and interesting changes have occurred. It may be artists have drifted away from “his” art world and he’s wondering where all the energy went.

Update: My comment drew the usual sharp reaction from Paddy's old-left commentariat, who are very worried about this internet thingy upsetting their gigs (i.e., complaining how the world never changes).