Another Response to "Affinity"

Michael Manning gives Brad Troemel's essay "From Clubs to Affinity: The Decentralization of Art on the Internet" a thorough rebuttal and fact-check on his blog. Manning's conclusion:

The historical narrative you portray: 90’s utopia disrupted by a web 2.0 capitalist regime, which paved the way for a group of elitist artists seeking institutional recognition via surf clubs, and which was finally brought down by the populist Tumblr using Internet artist, is in the end simply inaccurate, and overly dramatized.

Troemel's essay follows a familiar pattern of art world writing. Tell a story of how a particular kind of art changes or evolves, quote some interesting, semi-related theory from a Frankfurt School philosopher, and then draw analogies between the art and the philosophy. The reader comes to feel that the art changes must be important and learns some theory in the process. In "Clubs to Affinity" the philosophy is Jurgen Habermas' notion of an evolving "public sphere," which Troemel grafts into the story of "art on the internet since the mid-'90s." Yet he gets many parts of the art narrative wrong, as Manning notes, making the graft awkward and unconvincing.

An important part of a public sphere, surely, is the open exchange of ideas and information. Yet when Manning submitted his essay as a comment to the 491 online magazine, the comment "experienced 'problems' when submitted and was for whatever reason not able to be posted," according to Manning. Yet a comment supporting Troemel's essay was approved. I asked the editor of 491, Bret Schneider, about this. My comment has been awaiting moderation since yesterday (see note* below).

It may be that arguments such as this one from Manning are just too strong for 491:

The minimal shift in platform from a WordPress (surf clubs) to a Tumblr (web 2.0 decentralized artists) most importantly did not replace or make obsolete the collective site or format of the surf club. Joint Tumblrs and collective curatorial exercises perpetuate the hierarchy that the surf clubs 'created' unintentionally. These types of Tumblrs similar to surf clubs are exclusive and have received institutional recognition (which to be clear I find acceptable, exclusivity doesn’t bother me all that much). The essay assumes that by giving everyone a Tumblr that they will each carry the same clout and the democratic process of peer 2 peer social interactions (likes and reblogs) will determine the success of work. The downside of this platform is describe[d] as users that become [quoting Troemel] "hollow shells waiting for Facebook comments, Tumblr reblogs, and promotional Tweets to provide the substance of [their] being" which hypocritically seems to epitomize the type of elitism mistakenly ascribed to surf clubs.

*Here is my comment to Schneider; if he publishes it and/or replies I will do an update.

Update: After Manning posted his comment on his own blog and the response was noted on a couple of sites, his original submission appeared on 491 in mangled form (no hyperlinks, text missing, font inexplicably switches to italic halfway through). My comment asking where the post went was never approved.

Update 2: The mangled version was taken down and the comment now consists of a link to Manning's post on his own blog.

Update 3: My comment appeared a few days after Manning's.