In Search of the Postcapitalist Self

An issue of e-flux journal which may be of interest to many readers of Kafila.

No. 17: In Search of the Postcapitalist Self is guest-edited by Marion von Osten as her contribution to the 6th Berlin Biennale.

Summer 2010

Available online: e-flux journal no. 17: In Search of the Postcapitalist Self, guest-edited by Marion von Osten

A number of alternate, informal approaches to art and economy that arose in the Berlin of the 90s created a great deal of space and potential for rethinking relations between people, as well as possible roles for art in society. Today, however, much of this hope has since been obscured by the commercial activity and dysfunctional official art institutions most visible in the city’s art scene, and though many of the ways of living and working that were formulated in the 90s are still in practice today (not just in Berlin), many of their proponents acknowledge a feeling that the resistant, emancipatory capacities inherent to their project have since been foreclosed upon. Our interest in inviting Marion von Osten to guest-edit e-flux journal’s issue 17 had to do precisely with this widespread, prevailing sense of rapidly diminishing possibilities in the face of capitalist economy, and her extensive issue offers a broad and ambitious reformulation of how we might still rethink resistance and emancipation both within, and without capitalism—even at a time when alternate economies move ever nearer to everyday capitalist production, and vice-versa.

—Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle

The idea for this issue came about around a coffee table with Anton Vidokle. We were at a café in Berlin Mitte, a spot I wouldn’t usually choose for an appointment—a sign of unfriendly changes in the city. Upon entering I immediately became aloof, but after a minute felt ashamed for assuming such a snobbish and unfriendly Berlin attitude, and had to ask myself how I could seriously claim to be a real Berliner in the first place—after all, for the last fourteen years, I’ve commuted almost every week to teaching jobs and projects. And most of my friends and colleagues have to organize their lives around similar routines (and there is less free will in it than the category of the “mobile class” might suggest). Anyhow, moving on from these ambiguous thoughts, our conversation gave rise to some interesting afternoon dérives: the recent histories of Berlin’s leftist art collectives, and their interest in self-organization, self-publishing, electronic music, new forms of colle ctive production, gender, postcolonial, and urban theory, as well as resistance and action against the monstrous reconstruction of Berlin in the 1990s, and the history of the Berlin Biennale as a marketing strategy for the city. We also reflected on the widespread university protests in Europe and the resistance to the implementation of the EU border regime, and the need for cultural institutions to find alternate means of establishing the grounds for more lasting forms of cultural production, education, and research beyond the “Become Bologna” and “Be Creative” imperatives. How can we find the finances and collective energy to begin this work immediately, while still placed at the center of so many contradictions? Finally, my own interest in contemporary feminist economists’ engagement with new political imaginaries prompted the question of whether it would be possible to rethink contemporary and historical leftist cultural projects beyond the neoliberal horizon, and more sp ecifically in relation to postcapitalist and postidentitarian politics.

This last shift in perspective gave rise to this guest-edited issue of e-flux journal, which can be understood as the beginning of a debate that asks whether the (cultural) Left is still capable of thinking and acting beyond the analysis of overwhelming power structures or working within the neoliberal consensus model. What would such thinking beyond the existing critical parameters disclose and demand? Wouldn’t it call for spaces of negotiation and confrontation rather than of affirmation, cynicism, and flight? With the encouragement of the journal editors, I have invited artists, cultural producers, and theorists whom I know to be reflecting on these concerns, but who mostly have not articulated their thoughts publicly or alongside similar concerns; and yet, as readers will find, the authors provide few easy answers to the above questions—and conflicts resulting from alternate views and practices cannot be easily ignored. Rather than follow the exhausted mas ter narratives of capitalism and crisis, this issue of e-flux journal investigates how cultural producers are already in the process of creating and reflecting new discourses and practices in the current climate of zombie neoliberalism. And what is disclosed and what changes if cultural production can be imagined precisely from the vantage point of postcapitalist politics?

For many, it might seem that cultural producers are not the most prepared to engage with these issues, that an activist approach would be more appropriate. But isn’t the change in perspective, the intervention in common images and language, and the invention of a new ontological basis for decentering the common capitalocentric vision, already a possible ground? Wouldn’t this call for other images and assumptions than that of a totalizing capitalism, victimhood, or the division of social groups into minorities? Wouldn’t it call for forms of participation that do not remain symbolic, but would constitute new public spaces for political as well as cultural negotiation? Aren’t artists’ historical and current forms of self-organization, and interventions into the art system’s historical division of labor, signs of a détournement within the actual distribution of wealth and value, whether monetary, cultural, or symbolic? Couldn’t the emancipatory potential of aesthetic and cultural practices be enacted here?

It is no coincidence that the contributions to this issue focus not only on the constant privatization and capitalization of urban space, but also on ideas and concrete proposals of (urban) design as an aesthetic and spatial practice integrating manual and cognitive abilities, and in such a way that merits consideration through a postcapitalist lens. Taking this issue of e-flux journal as a platform for these concerns connects these debates with an international discussion, but to the extent that the issue is composed primarily of Berlin-based theorists, artists, and activists, it also asks whether the local is still relevant to these concerns. And it is likewise no coincidence that many of the contributions take the theses and proposals in Gibson-Graham’s latest book as a leitmotif for a critical reading and revaluation of existing postcapitalist projects and cultural practices.

It is customary to note that postcapitalist practices act in the shadow of mainstream discourses and events, and this collection of essays intends to contradict that point on many levels, serving rather as an attempt to initiate a similar discussion, but with a sense of immanence: although the present is constituted by postcapitalist practices (and politics as well), we still have to engage in the discourse and establish a new language, whether textual or visual, in order to make these practices apparent, articulated, and applicable. Therefore, this issue of e-flux journal will endeavor to reflect upon the presence of the political against the backdrop of contingent aesthetic, social, and economic factors. It is not a call for a telos or a proclamation of the need for a new, completely different political design that asks, “What has to be done?” Rather, the contributions to this issue seek to promote a more empirical relationship to the presence of the political—one embedded in the genealogies of ongoing social struggles and postidentitarian subjectivity—and ask instead, “What has been done already? And how do we go on?”

—Marion von Osten

The print version of e-flux journal no. 17 is available at Pro qm and bbooks in Berlin.

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