Posts Tagged ‘David Graeber’

IMHO by far the best analysis of what has happened. Eventually people get fed up of being dictated to, told how to live, how much they are allowed to work and earn. That all the bad things are their own fault, and how we must worship bankers, politicians, journalists and the globalisers. The PLP haven’t noticed this, but there again nor have the Tories, nor the LibDems. The only political party that has is the SNP.

Even the pathetic nonsense of Corbyn being the ONLY person in the entire universe responsible for 52% of people voting Brexit shames journalists and his detractors alike.
He gave an adult argument – the EU is not perfect by any means, but on the whole it is better to be in than out.
My God, we can’t have a politician considering that the electorate is made up of adults! They must be told what to think! – (via the BBC of course!)

The PLP cannot understand why people in their own party are demanding a voice!
Where the fuck have they been?

Officially, the great and the good talk of “empowering” people. But it’s always the “kind of” empowering that doesn’t involve “politics”.

Funny that?

The movement that backed the Labour leader challenges MPs and journalists alike – because it’s about grassroots democracy

As the rolling catastrophe of what’s already being called the “chicken coup” against the Labour leadership winds down, pretty much all the commentary has focused on the personal qualities, real or imagined, of the principal players.

Yet such an approach misses out on almost everything that’s really at stake here. The real battle is not over the personality of one man, or even a couple of hundred politicians. If the opposition to Jeremy Corbyn for the past nine months has been so fierce, and so bitter, it is because his existence as head of a major political party is an assault on the very notion that politics should be primarily about the personal qualities of politicians. It’s an attempt to change the rules of the game, and those who object most violently to the Labour leadership are precisely those who would lose the most personal power were it to be successful: sitting politicians and political commentators.

If you talk to Corbyn’s most ardent supporters, it’s not the man himself but the project of democratising the party that really sets their eyes alight. The Labour party, they emphasise, was founded not by politicians but by a social movement. Over the past century it has gradually become like all the other political parties – personality (and of course, money) based, but the Corbyn project is first and foremost to make the party a voice for social movements once again, dedicated to popular democracy (as trades unions themselves once were). This is the immediate aim. The ultimate aim is the democratisation not just of the party but of local government, workplaces, society itself.

Occupy Wall Street marchers in 2011
 ‘I’ve spent much of the last two decades working in movements aimed at creating new forms of bottom-up democracy, from the Global Justice Movement to Occupy Wall Street [2011].’ Photograph: Frank Franklin II/AP

I should emphasise that I am myself very much an outside observer here – but one uniquely positioned, perhaps, to understand what the Corbynistas are trying to do. I’ve spent much of the past two decades working in movements aimed at creating new forms of bottom-up democracy, from the Global Justice Movement to Occupy Wall Street. It was our strong conviction that real, direct democracy, could never be created inside the structures of government. One had to open up a space outside. The Corbynistas are trying to prove us wrong. Will they be successful? I have absolutely no idea. But I cannot help find it a fascinating historical experiment. The spearhead of the democratisation movement is Momentum, which now boasts 130 chapters across the UK. In the mainstream press it usually gets attention only when some local activist is accused of “bullying” or “abuse” against their MP – or worse, suggests the possibility that an MP who systematically defies the views of membership might face deselection.

The real concern is not any justified fear among the Labour establishment of bullying and intimidation – the idea that the weak would bully the strong is absurd. It is that they fear being made truly accountable to those they represent. They also say that while so far they have been forced to concentrate on internal party politics, the object is to move from a politics of accountability to one of participation: to create forms of popular education and decision-making that allow community groups and local assemblies made up of citizens of all political stripes to make key decisions affecting their lives.

There have already been local experiments: in Thanet, the council recently carried out an exercise in “participatory economic planning” – devolving budgetary and strategic decisions to the community at large – which shadow chancellor John McDonnell has hailed as a potential model for the nation. There is talk of giving consultative assemblies real decision-making powers, of “banks of radical ideas” to which anyone can propose policy initiatives and, especially in the wake of the coup, a major call to democratise the internal workings of the party itself. It may all seem mad. Perhaps it is. But more than 100,000 new Labour members are already, to one degree or another, committed to the project.

If nothing else, understanding this makes it much easier to understand the splits in the party after the recent rebellion within the shadow cabinet. Even the language used by each side reflects basically different conceptions of what politics is about.
For Corbyn’s opponents, the key word is always “leadership” and the ability of an effective leader to “deliver” certain key constituencies.
For Corbyn’s supporters “leadership” in this sense is a profoundly anti-democratic concept. It assumes that the role of a representative is not to represent, not to listen, but to tell people what to do.

For Corbynistas, in contrast, the fact that he is in no sense a rabble rouser, that he doesn’t seem to particularly want to be prime minister, but is nonetheless willing to pursue the goal for the sake of the movement, is precisely his highest qualification. While one side effectively accuses him of refusing to play the demagogue during the Brexit debate, for the other, his insistence on treating the public as responsible adults was the quintessence of the “new kind of politics” they wished to see.

What all this suggests is the possibility that the remarkable hostility to Corbyn displayed by even the left-of-centre media is not due to the fact they don’t understand what the movement that placed him in charge of the Labour party is ultimately about, but because, on some level, they actually do.

After all, insofar as politics is a game of personalities, of scandals, foibles and acts of “leadership”, political journalists are not just the referees – in a real sense they are the field on which the game is played.

Democratisation would turn them into reporters once again, in much the same way as it would turn politicians into representatives. In either case, it would mark a dramatic decline in personal power and influence. It would mark an equally dramatic rise in power for unions, constituent councils, and local activists – the very people who have rallied to Corbyn’s support.

The Bank of England’s dose of honesty throws the theoretical basis for austerity out the window

Retweeted from the Guardian:

Back in the 1930s, Henry Ford is supposed to have remarked that it was a good thing that most Americans didn’t know how banking really works, because if they did, “there’d be a revolution before tomorrow morning”.
Last week, something remarkable happened. The Bank of England let the cat out of the bag. In a paper called “Money Creation in the Modern Economy”, co-authored by three economists from the Bank’s Monetary Analysis Directorate, they stated outright that most common assumptions of how banking works are simply wrong, and that the kind of populist, heterodox positions more ordinarily associated with groups such as Occupy Wall Street are correct. In doing so, they have effectively thrown the entire theoretical basis for austerity out of the window.
To get a sense of how radical the Bank’s new position is, consider the conventional view, which continues to be the basis of all respectable debate on public policy. People put their money in banks. Banks then lend that money out at interest – either to consumers, or to entrepreneurs willing to invest it in some profitable enterprise. True, the fractional reserve system does allow banks to lend out considerably more than they hold in reserve, and true, if savings don’t suffice, private banks can seek to borrow more from the central bank.
The central bank can print as much money as it wishes. But it is also careful not to print too much. In fact, we are often told this is why independent central banks exist in the first place. If governments could print money themselves, they would surely put out too much of it, and the resulting inflation would throw the economy into chaos. Institutions such as the Bank of England or US Federal Reserve were created to carefully regulate the money supply to prevent inflation. This is why they are forbidden to directly fund the government, say, by buying treasury bonds, but instead fund private economic activity that the government merely taxes.
It’s this understanding that allows us to continue to talk about money as if it were a limited resource like bauxite or petroleum, to say “there’s just not enough money” to fund social programmes, to speak of the immorality of government debt or of public spending “crowding out” the private sector. What the Bank of England admitted this week is that none of this is really true. To quote from its own initial summary: “Rather than banks receiving deposits when households save and then lending them out, bank lending creates deposits” … “In normal times, the central bank does not fix the amount of money in circulation, nor is central bank money ‘multiplied up’ into more loans and deposits.”
In other words, everything we know is not just wrong – it’s backwards. When banks make loans, they create money. This is because money is really just an IOU. The role of the central bank is to preside over a legal order that effectively grants banks the exclusive right to create IOUs of a certain kind, ones that the government will recognise as legal tender by its willingness to accept them in payment of taxes. There’s really no limit on how much banks could create, provided they can find someone willing to borrow it. They will never get caught short, for the simple reason that borrowers do not, generally speaking, take the cash and put it under their mattresses; ultimately, any money a bank loans out will just end up back in some bank again. So for the banking system as a whole, every loan just becomes another deposit. What’s more, insofar as banks do need to acquire funds from the central bank, they can borrow as much as they like; all the latter really does is set the rate of interest, the cost of money, not its quantity. Since the beginning of the recession, the US and British central banks have reduced that cost to almost nothing. In fact, with “quantitative easing” they’ve been effectively pumping as much money as they can into the banks, without producing any inflationary effects.
What this means is that the real limit on the amount of money in circulation is not how much the central bank is willing to lend, but how much government, firms, and ordinary citizens, are willing to borrow. Government spending is the main driver in all this (and the paper does admit, if you read it carefully, that the central bank does fund the government after all). So there’s no question of public spending “crowding out” private investment. It’s exactly the opposite.
Why did the Bank of England suddenly admit all this? Well, one reason is because it’s obviously true. The Bank’s job is to actually run the system, and of late, the system has not been running especially well. It’s possible that it decided that maintaining the fantasy-land version of economics that has proved so convenient to the rich is simply a luxury it can no longer afford.
But politically, this is taking an enormous risk. Just consider what might happen if mortgage holders realised the money the bank lent them is not, really, the life savings of some thrifty pensioner, but something the bank just whisked into existence through its possession of a magic wand which we, the public, handed over to it.
Historically, the Bank of England has tended to be a bellwether, staking out seeming radical positions that ultimately become new orthodoxies. If that’s what’s happening here, we might soon be in a position to learn if Henry Ford was right.

“I found myself turning into an idiot!”:

David Graeber explains the life-sapping reality of bureaucratic life

The activist-academic and Occupy Wall Street champion tells Salon about his new book on the bureaucratic state
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“I found myself turning into an idiot!”: David Graeber explains the life-sapping reality of bureaucratic life
David Graeber (Credit: AP/Michelle Mcloughlin)
David Graeber, a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, is a man who wears many hats. He’s an academic, of course — and a respected one at that. But he’s also an author, an activist and political anarchist. But his most unique attribute may be this: He’s an honest-to-God public intellectual in an era when such figures are few and far between.
Graeber proved as much with “Debt: The First 5000 Years,” his ambitious tour de force overview of the role debt has played throughout the history of civilization and into the present day. And while it may be the case that, in the years since “Debt” was first released, Graeber has come to be best-known for his role within the Occupy Wall Street movement, he is still, fundamentally, a writer and a thinker who tries to grapple with some of life’s biggest and most unwieldy ideas. On that score, his latest release, “The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy,” stands as proof.

Recently, Salon spoke with Graeber over the phone to discuss the book and his views on the bureaucratic phenomenon. Our conversation also touches on why Graeber thinks it was a mistake for the left to abandon a more thorough critique of bureaucracy, how bureaucracy can be a response to a deep-seated, psychological need, and why it is that it so often makes us both act and feel, well, “stupid.” This interview has been edited for clarity and length and can be found below.

What was it that made you want to devote so much time to writing about bureaucracy?

I’d actually written a couple of these essays beforehand, but I realized that bureaucracy was sort of a theme that kept popping up in all sorts of different things that I was working on … Also there wasn’t a very interesting existing literature on it. Part of it comes from my academic work and my political work — both constantly bumping into themes of bureaucracy, and not having a book like that that I could read. (You often write books you would have liked to have been able to read.)

The more time went on, the more I realized [bureaucracy] was also politically important. The fact that the discourse of the way we talk about bureaucracy, the political issue of bureaucracy, used to be a big left-wing issue back in the ’60s, and now it’s sort of been abandoned to the right — I think the political consequences of that have been disastrous.

How so?

Because, in a way, the left began against bureaucratization of life. It’s about freedom. The mainstream left, which is barely left at all at this point in traditional terms … has really embraced a combination of market and bureaucracy, an equal synthesis of the worst aspects of capitalism and the worst aspects of bureaucracy.

Nobody really likes it. It’s this kind of constant compromise in principles, which creates this [policy] mish-mash that basically nobody would come up with or promote as a program in itself. The very fact that people vote for these guys — Blair, Obama, etc. — at all just shows the enduring power of the appeal of leftist ideas. And because it’s a horrible program, the right-wing grabs all the popular rebellion votes.

So in terms of mixing the bureaucratic and the capitalist in a way that gets you the worst of both, the high-profile policy that came to my mind most immediately was the Affordable Care Act. Is that a good example?

Yeah, pretty much. You can’t tell if it’s public or private; and it’s partly government regulated profit-taking, forcing you into a profit-making enterprise [whether you like it] or not. And it creates completely unnecessarily complicated layers of bureaucracy.

This brings to mind a concept you call “the Iron Law of Liberalism.” Mind telling me a bit more about that and its significance?

There was this liberal fantasy in the 19th century that government would dissolve away and be replaced by contractual market relationships; that government itself is just a feudal holdover that would eventually wither away. In fact, exactly the opposite happened. [Government has] kept growing and growing with more and more bureaucrats. The more free-market we get, the more bureaucrats we end up with, too.

So I kind of looked around for a counter-example: Is there an example of a place where they did market reforms and it didn’t increase the total number of bureaucrats … I couldn’t find any. It always goes up. It went up under Reagan.

The idea that free-market policies create bureaucracies is pretty counterintuitive, at least for most Americans. So why is it the case that laissez-faire policy creates bureaucracy?

Part of the reason is because in fact what we call the market is not really the market.

First of all, we have this idea that the market is a thing that just happens. This is the debate in the 19th century: market relations creeped up within feudalism and then it overthrew [feudalism]. So gradually the market is just the natural expression of human freedom; and since it regulates itself, it will gradually displace everything else and bring about a free society. Libertarians still think this.

In fact, if you look at what actually happens historically, this is just not true. Self-regulating markets were basically created with government intervention. It was a political project. Certain assumptions of how these things work just aren’t true. People don’t do wage labor if they have any choice, historically, for example. So in order to get a docile labor force, you have to create police and [a] large apparatus to ensure that the people you kick off the land actually will get the kinds of jobs you want them to … this is the very beginning of creating a market.

Basically, we assume that market relations are natural, but you need a huge institutional structure to make people behave the way that economists say they are “supposed” to behave. So, for example, think about the way the consumer market works. The market is supposed to work on grounds of pure competition. Nobody has moral ties to each other other than to obey the rules. But, on the other hand, people are supposed to do anything they can to get as much as possible off the other guy — but won’t simply steal the stuff or shoot the person.

Historically, that’s just silly; if you don’t care at all about a guy, you might as well steal his stuff. In fact, they’re encouraging people to act essentially how most human societies, historically, treated their enemies — but to still never resort to violence, trickery or theft. Obviously that’s not going to happen. You can only do that if you set up a very strictly enforced police force. That’s just one example.

Stipulating that the bureaucratic state inexorably grows in response to free-market policy, why should it bother us? It’s annoying, sure; but are there costs bigger than that?

I really think that bureaucracy is a way of crushing the human imagination. It also makes people stupid. And that was the thing that really impressed me about my first major encounter with bureaucracy — I found myself turning into an idiot! I was filling out the form wrong, I was making the obvious mistake that anybody with any degree of intelligence wouldn’t do, and constantly being told: “But you did it wrong!” And that experience of wandering around and feeling like an idiot and incompetent in life, is the necessary clunkiness of living under a bureaucratic regime.

You also write in here, though, that there is a kind of appeal to bureaucracy, at least in the abstract. What do you mean when you say that?

Because it’s like a machine; you don’t have to worry about other people, you don’t have to do all that work of interpretive labor … you just press a button and things will appear. You can just go to the store and give them your money, and you don’t have to explain why you want this or why you need it. That’s a total separation of means and ends.

And on a deeper level … there’s this dream of a world where you actually know what the rules are, and that has a deep appeal. And this is why I called the book what I did. The phrase “Utopia of Rules” actually applied, when I first coined it, to games. Why do we enjoy games? Well, one reason we enjoy games is because it’s one of the only situations we ever experience in life, perhaps the only experience, where we know exactly what the rules are.

There’s always rules [in life], but usually they’re not spelled out; everyone has a slightly different idea of what they are, there’s all these ambiguities, it’s sort of complicated and then people break them all the time anyway. Life is this endless game of trying to figure out what the rules are and nobody quite understands. Then, [with bureaucracy], you create this imaginary situation, totally bounded in time and space, where everybody knows exactly what the rules are, people actually do follow the rules, and even people who follow the rules can win — which is very unusual in real life.

So there’s two fantasies or freedoms you can imagine: one based on play and one based on games. Play is like pure creativity; in fact, it sort of generates rules. It’s like the ultimate power. But pure creativity is scary on a certain level. On the other hand, pure rule-bound game is a stifle and boring. So there’s a kind of constant tension between those two principles that seems to play in every aspect of human existence. Bureaucracy is seizing on one of those impulses and riding it as far as it can go.




Transkategorial (adj) | instances of fuzzy categories | there are so many mediums to use now. How do I choose how I engage?

I’ve been getting increasingly interested in collaborations with artists and activists – and what really interests me is the growing interest in collaborative practices in relation to contemporary art and politics. I’d like to start investigating fuzzy categories.

Even if I can never change things. Maybe I can offer a resistance?


George Henry Lewes (1817 – 1878), (author of The Life of Goethe) said:

Philosophy and Art both render the invisible visible by imagination.

Martin Heidegger  (1889 – 1976).

The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking.

Noam Chomsky (1928)

Modern industrial civilization has developed within a certain system of convenient myths. The driving force of modern industrial civilization has been individual material gain, which is accepted as legitimate, even praiseworthy, on the grounds that private vices yield public benefits, in the classic formulation.

Now, it has long been understood, very well, that a society that is based on this principle will destroy itself in time. It can only persist, with whatever suffering and injustice that it entails, as long as it is possible to pretend that the destructive forces that humans create are limited, that the world is an infinite resource, and that the world is an infinite garbage can.

At this stage of history either one of two things is possible.
Either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community interests, guided by values of solidarity, sympathy and concern for others,
or alternatively there will be no destiny for anyone to control.

As long as some specialized class is in a position of authority, it is going to set policy in the special interests that it serves. But the conditions of survival, let alone justice, require rational social planning in the interests of the community as a whole, and by now that means the global community.

The question is whether privileged elite should dominate mass communication and should use this power as they tell us they must — namely to impose necessary illusions, to manipulate and deceive the stupid majority and remove them from the public arena.

The question in brief, is whether democracy and freedom are values to be preserved or threats to be avoided.

In this possibly terminal phase of human existence, democracy and freedom are more than values to be treasured; they may well be essential to survival.

The most effective way to restrict democracy is the transfer of decision-making from the public arena to unaccountable institutions: kings and princes, priestly castes, military juntas, party dictatorships, or modern corporations (the arche?).

John Dewey (1859 – 1952)

In an imperfect society (and no society is perfect)… fine art will be an escape from, or an adventitious decoration of, the main activities of living. But in a better ordered society than that in which we live, an infinitely greater happiness than is now the case would attend all modes of production. We live in a world in which there is an immense amount of organisation, but it is an external organization, not one of the ordering of a growing experience, one that involves, moreover, the whole of the live creature, toward a fulfilling conclusion.

Works of art that are not remote from common life, that are widely enjoyed in a community, are signs of a unified collective life. But they are also marvellous aids in the creation of such a life. 

The reconciling of the material of experience in the act of expression is not an isolated event confined to the artist and to a person here and there who happens to enjoy the work. In the degree in which art exercises its office, it is also a remaking of the experience of the community in the direction of greater order and unity. – Art as Experience, (London: Allen & Unwin, 1934) pp. 80–81.

‘‘Art has been,” according to Dewey (Art as Experience, p. 348), ‘‘the means of keeping alive the sense of purposes that outrun evidence and of meanings that transcend indurated habit.”8 In presenting a subject matter as a focus for thought and emotional attitude, distinctively fused to the imaginative exploration of material, art provides the evidence of things not seen. – (invisible?)

Contemporary philosopher Simon Critchley (in his book Infinitely Demanding) proposes a notion of post anarchist politics as resistance to state power on behalf of an ethical Call.

In a combination of Levinas, Badiou, and Lacan, Critchley deploys the notion of the subject as constituted by its recognition in an unconditional ethical Call engendered by the experience of injustice and wrongs.

– The subject emerges as a reaction to the traumatic encounter of the helpless suffering Other (Neighbor), which is why it is constitutively decentred not autonomous, but split by the ethical call,

“a subject defined by the experience of an internalized demand that it can never meet, a demand that exceeds it, an infinite demand“.

Things which do not exist yet – Simon Critchley

This is the whole point – logic of the event – to focus on those things which do not yet exist in order to bring to nothing the things that are.
The question here is simple: how are we to behave?
This is the infinite demand of art – to be in such a condition so that those things which do not yet exist might be brought about.

And that the things which are brought about are not finite.

The infinite demand is not a finite demand. It is not a demand that can be met. On the contrary.

It is like the work of love in Kierkegaard. In Kierkegaard (Works of Love) is the emphasis on the rigour of the commandment of love, on the nature of belief/faith, ‘be it done for you, as you believed’, refusal of the certainty and security of faith, faith is something that one must win at each moment, and not in some external way, emphasis on inequality (the speck in the other’s eye, the log in mine), then from 351 it gets really good: you have nothing to do with what others do to you, inwardness, this is reality, 352 infinite love, need for solitude, ‘everything you say and do to other human beings God simply repeats; he repeats it with the intensification of infinity.’ Inwardness again. ‘Here in the noise of life he perhaps does not discern God’s or the eternal’s repetition of the uttered word’.7 Need for resonance and repetition, 353, it is not just a question of sitting in sickness unto death and listening for the repetition of the eternal. No, but we need the rigor of inwardness in relation to love…


Adamson Hoebel (1906 – 1993) Regents Professor Emeritus of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, describes culture –

as an integrated system of learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society and which are not a result of biological inheritance.[3]
Distinctions are currently made between the physical artifacts created by a society, its so-called material culture, and everything else,[4] the intangibles such as language, customs, etc. that are the main referent of the term “culture”.
Culture is central to the way we view, experience, and engage with all aspects of our lives and the world around us.
Thus, even our definitions of culture are shaped by the historical, political, social, and cultural contexts in which we live.[5]—Consumed cult.










Mark McGowan, ARTIST TAXI DRIVER Curates – CULTURE IS NOT YOUR FRIEND: – The Elites want to control the Avant garde. The largest buyer of art in London is married to an Israeli arms dealer. Art is on it’s ARSE.




David Graeber​ and Brian Eno​ in conversation 2014 – On The Phenomena of Bullshit Jobs and Bullshit education plus a long Q&A. Excellent stuff!



The 2014 Longplayer Conversation between Brian Eno and David Graeber took place 7pm, Tuesday 7 October 2014 at the Royal Geographical Society, London SW7.

Audience Q&A

Artangel invited members of the audience to ask Eno and Graeber questions after the event via email or social media. A selected number of those are answered below.

Q. Brian, I was interested to hear your criticisms of the current pressure on art, students to produce theoretically-informed personal statements alongside their artistic practice. If students quote French (or whatever) theory in a merely token manner in response to a bureaucratic requirement then this is surely wrong. But theory is frequently taught in art schools in an attempt to help students see what you have elsewhere called ‘the, bigger picture’: how, that is, their art practice relates to the broader culture. You referred in the Longplayer discussion to how artists were expected to be inarticulate but they will in many cases remain that way if they are not introduced to (sometimes difficult) critical ideas.

Rather than needing more and more A-Levels to get into art school today, the opposite is becoming the case: as long as potential students can pay the required fees, then their intellectual (or other) abilities are not questioned when they apply for a place at art school. I know of one major London institution in which management have instructed teaching staff to dispense with interviewing candidates or looking at their work prior to offering them a place on the course – the only thing that matters is their ability to pay the fees. This might look like – but is definitely not – democratic access to education. You mentioned the government’s obsession with getting ‘everyone’ into university: this is more about making profits for ‘educational’ institutions than producing an educated nation, echoing the example you gave about philosophy pupils being told not to question anything, just to read the books and pick up the certificate at the end.

A related problem is that being an artist is now seen as a ‘proper’ job.This ‘professionalising’ of art attracts (mostly) young people who hope to benefit economically from having a degree. In fact the general, radicalism of the 1960s, which contributed greatly to the critically, playful ambience of the art schools when they were still worthy of that name has been historically distorted and commodified. How does one teach and defend art as something worthwhile in its own right in an increasingly corporatised culture, one in which art students themselves accept and even want institutional validation? How does one encourage a model of the artist as critically and culturally aware, without reducing ideas to mere jargon as in the examples you cited from your time as an external examiner? Where and how does culture renew and extend itself if the (arguably) fantastic places that art schools used to be have been restructured around business, money, and competition rather than collaboration and critique?

Sorry for such a long question. Thanks for your time in considering these remarks.
– from Peter Suchin, by email.

A. (Brian Eno) As you could probably tell, this is a bit of an obsession for me. Art schools have been forced into a position where they feel they have to justify their existence by proving that art is a ‘real’ academic subject – not just a bunch of people enjoying themselves being intuitive and wasting taxpayers’ money. Aside from the resentment that governments seem to feel that people might enjoy themselves (shouldn’t real education be difficult and arduous?) there is a sense that artists aren’t really that useful anyway, so the whole idea of art schools is that they are a ‘luxury’ that we could probably do without. This disdain has unfortunately transmitted through to the colleges, which now feel obligated to prove to someone that every artist is a fully fledged degree standard philosopher. A similar pressure comes from the art world itself, which revels in obscurantism and expects students to do the same – to speak and think in the language of critics.

I don’t have anything against artists who base their work in concepts – I’m in fact one of those artists – but I object to people being made to think that you’re not a real contemporary artist unless you can do that. One of the effects of that prejudice is that it filters out so many interesting people. It’s doubtful that Picasso or Matisse or Rauschenberg would have made it into a modern-day art school. And part of the dynamic of art schools – as I said in the talk – was the fact that it was a very unusual mixture of people from all sorts of academic and non-academic backgrounds, that mixing was good for everyone.

About fees.
Yes you’re absolutely right. Because of the incessant cuts of the last few years, the selection process is inevitably skewed more and more towards high fee-paying students – which means foreign students. It’s nice that there are foreign students but it’s not nice when you get the feeling that their acceptance in the school was predicated on the fact that they can pay three times as much as British ones.

So the issue is really what you’ve identified: how do you convince governments that art schools are a net ‘good’ for society and not just a fancy add-on? Well, there are very good arguments but there’s only one likely to convince the market-fundamentalists who currently run things: and that’s the economic one. It’s not the first argument I’d choose to make, but it’s probably the one that would have the best chance of acceptance. A few years ago I did some research into the economic value of art schools. I included in my calculations not only the most obvious people – the big selling artists – but all the peripheral people who passed through art schools or benefitted from the sense of creative freedom and experimentation that the art schools have inspired here: fashion designers, pop musicians, graphic designers, product developers, comedians and so on. They make up the backbone of whatever it is that is ‘cool’ about Britain. After all, we’re a small country without much in the way of exports…we’re not the huge manufacturing centre we once were. But we earn a lot from exporting our cultural products.

You might think that invoking the economic argument is playing into the hands of the enemy. But as I said, it’s a real argument and at least it’s quantifiable – and quantifiability seems to be the Holy Grail right now.


Q. Would love to hear any thoughts you might have on how we can create more “non-bullshit jobs”.
– from @joe_shreeve, via Twitter

A. (Brian Eno) Give people more time to invent them! Reduce working hours all round and people will start finding ways of filling their ‘spare’ time – and some of those ways they find will turn out to be of real value to themselves and to other people too. Most people don’t want to sit in a sofa all day watching daytime TV: people like doing things that are useful or fun or joyful or exciting – if they’re ever given the chance.

A. (David Graeber) I totally agree with Brian on this one. I always use the example of prisons.
Even in minimum security prisons where people are fairly comfortable, they use work as a reward: if you don’t behave, we’ll take away your work privileges.

If there was ever proof that people don’t want to just be fed and sheltered and sit around all day that’s it (especially when you consider these aren’t a collection of the most public-spirited people in the world.)
The question is, what system is likely to come up with a better idea of what you have to contribute to the world: the “market”, or letting everyone decide for themselves.
You might say the latter might lead to a lot of people spending their lives on silly or useless projects, but at least they’re almost certain to be more interesting silly or useless projects than all those bullshit jobs the market has produced.


Q. Hello, I enjoyed the conversation, but I would have liked for the ideas of virtualisation and Dunbar’s number in relation to structures ofrepresentation to have been explored a bit further than ‘in my day the, Internet was much better because it was personal’. Is there a way that we can make a globally connected world function as a small scale collective society does? Given that we are not going to turn our backs on social networks any time soon is there any way we can account for the isolation that the virtual world creates and the lack of personal accountability that appears to go along with this? Is it simply a case of copying every tweet one posts to one’s mum?* Are any of the current model social networks useful forums for societal change, given that they have essentially commoditised friendship? Finally, given that the middle classes are entirely risk averse, how does one ever convince them that a mediocre status quo is less favourable than an unknowable and unquantifiable alternative? 

*or other arbiter of personal responsibility.

– from Edric Brown, by email.

A. (Brian Eno) Good question. Sorry if I sounded a bit old-fogeyish there with my ‘in my day’ but the point I was trying to make was that anonymity destroys the important social constraints of honour and shame. If nobody knows who you are you can act like an arsehole and get away with it. If people do know who you are you’re inclined to think a bit more about your reputation, and that’s a constraint which filters out the worst excesses. Of course it doesn’t constrain everyone – some people revel in their arseholeness – but generally I think it produces better results. And of course we shouldn’t assume that every ‘advance’ in social media technology is automatically a real advance in civilisation. Twitter, for example, has produced decidedly mixed results.

The ‘mediocre status quo’ issue is a real one. I think it’s natural that people will default to security in the absence of any real chance at freedom if that chance seems to carry a high enough risk. And we have a lot of societal mechanisms that are designed to convince them that the risk is high: governments count on them. This is what I meant by ‘manufacturing insecurity’. Every government knows that the best way to win an election is to ramp up the insecurity so that people decide to stick with the devil they know rather than risk an alternative. Also governments know they can limit freedoms by creating an atmosphere of threat – people give their permission. I don’t claim that this always is some kind of global plot, but just a natural response that powerful people have learnt works.

As for ‘scaling up’, well I suppose that’s what federalism means. Smaller groups represent themselves as ‘individuals’ in larger collections of similar group/individuals. We can work out federalisation between countries – the EU and the UN are examples – so why not with entities that don’t call themselves nations but nonetheless have an identity? Dunbar’s number could still apply, but now used to count up the number of entities rather than the number of individuals. The UN has recently exceeded Dunbar’s number…I predict an imminent split into two or three or four subgroupings.

A. (David Graeber)

I wonder about this scale question.
I think it’s probably true for certain very intimate or intense forms of interaction. But I think there are ways to get us working on a much larger scale with more diffuse and scattered networks, and with many of them at the same time.

In my vision of utopia, everyone would be guaranteed in their basic needs, and then decide for themselves what forms of higher value they wish to pursue, but there’d be an infinite variety of those: you’d be in a spiritual group, a chess club, a local neighbourhood group, a society that makes and repairs antique blimps, and so forth ad infinitum…

The overlapping and criss-crossing of loyalties would ensure a kind of overall cohesion that would make conflict almost impossible. There are some precedents for this you know. Think of certain parts of East Africa, at least traditionally. Most people knew half a dozen languages. There was one language you might use at home, another when dealing with politics, another language for commerce, another for your craft perhaps, since crafts were organised into guilds and secret societies… Or perhaps another language or two just for such secret societies. When speaking each, you’d know and be in ongoing contact with a different collection of people.

Humans are capable of living in more complicated ways than we think!


Q. So, when you guys were talking about Capitalism: now the system is not oppressive anymore, instead I think it is kind of seductive (everything is smart, stable, pretty), it controls freedom and it seems to me like we are stuck in this. So, I was wondering: why do you think the resistance dies so soon? What would you suggest to do? I mean, as a regular citizen, as society…do you think a ‘mental-revolution’ can happen?
– Berenice Zambran, by email

A. (David Graeber)

Well, I certainly don’t think that the system is no longer oppressive!

In fact poverty, fear, insecurity, among the population even of the richest countries appears to be increasing, and we have the first generation seeing the prospect of doing substantially less well than their parents did.

To be honest I think the system is increasingly held together mainly by cynicism. That is: no one really believes the official line, that the system is fair, that those who work hard and play by the rules will be rewarded, that the rich are rich and the poor are poor because in some sense they deserve it.

They are all saying to themselves, “obviously it’s a con, I know that, I’ve figured it out, but the problem is, all those other people, they’re sheep, they’re idiots, they actually believe this nonsense.”

So in fact you have an ideology no one believes but everyone thinks everyone else does.

So the first thing we have to do in order to break the spell is stop imagining everyone else is naive and stupid.

The second is to unshackle our imaginations again.

Eno has a long history with Longplayer, forming part of the think tank that helped Finer develop the original project and writing the first Longplayer Letter to Nassim Nicholas Taleb last year.

Graeber is currently Professor of Anthopology at the London School for Economics. He is an activist who has worked extensively with the Global Justice Movement and Occupy Wall Street. Graeber is also the author of a number of books including Debt: The First 5,000 Years and has written articles for The Guardian, Al Jazeera andHarpers.

After a decade of Longplayer Conversations devised and presented by Artangel, from 2015 onwards this annual fixture will become part of the ongoing programme of The Longplayer Trust.


Adjective: seeking or intended to subvert an established system or institution.
Synonyms: disruptive, troublemaking, inflammatory, rabble-rousing; seditious, revolutionary, treasonous, mutinous, rebellious, renegade, unpatriotic, dissident, insubordinate, underground, undermining, discrediting, destructive…

 Veronese and the Inquisition Paolo Caliari “Veronese” (Verona, 1528 – 1588) was one of the greatest painters ever, But he was also a hero of artistic freedom. Veronese was the Ai Weiwei of his time, a brave man who stood up to authority – and won. He was hauled up before the Inquisition and accused of disrespect for Christianity. Veronese’s painting The Feast in the House of Levi can be seen today in the Accademia Galleries in Venice. It is full of jokes, gaudy jesters, drinkers and fashionable people – oh, and Christ is there too, somewhere in the carnival crowd.

Who’s the vandal:

Ai Weiwei or the man who smashed his Han urn?

An attack on the Chinese artist’s installation in Miami has been condemned as an act of vandalism. Why is smashing art only acceptable if an acclaimed global artist does it?
A “protest” at a Miami art museum raises some questions about what exactly art is, now. A man called Maximo Caminero has smashed an artwork by Ai Weiwei, one of the most famous artists of this century and a hero to many for his defiance of the Chinese state.
Caminero’s proclaimed motive – that the Perez Museum in Miami should be showing local, not global, art – is pretty daft (I didn’t know they had Ukip in Florida!?), but he has accidentally punched a massive hole in the logic of contemporary art… For the “vase” that was smashed is actually a Han dynasty urn that Ai Weiwei “appropriated” for his own art by painting on it. The Han era in China was contemporary with the Roman Empire in the west. In other words, this is a major antiquity made by a Chinese artisan roughly 2,000 years ago. But that’s not why the urn is valued at $1m or why its destruction is world news. No – it’s because it was part of an installation by Ai Weiwei. It is the Ai Weiwei artwork, not the Han dynasty object, that is being mourned. Perhaps it is not really an antique at all. If it’s a fake,and therefore subversive, that makes the entire installation more likeable. If it’s not a fake, then surely Ai Weiwei, and not Caminero, is the vandal who ruined a whole bunch of antiquities by painting them whimsical pastel colours?

In the exhibition Ai Weiwei: According to What?, at which the vase was smashed, an array of repainted “Han urns” are shown in front of a sequence of black-and-white photographs of the artist smashing one. This artwork is called Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995) and for me it is Ai Weiwei’s most provocative gesture. I feel highly provoked. It shows the artist letting go of an elegant object made with intelligence, imagination and love more than 2,000 years ago and letting it smash to bits on the ground. There is no apparent doubt about the authenticity of the Han artefacts Ai Weiwei uses in his art. He bought a batch of them in the 1990s and started by painting them before creating his photographed performance Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn in 1995. What does his attack on Han art mean? I could see it as a devastating satire on the modern world’s alienation from the past. Ever since the Chinese Revolution began in the early 20th century, political and economic ruptures have cut off China from its ancient culture. Is Ai Weiwei parodying that? Or is he mocking western art-lovers who think all Chinese art is ancient? Ai Weiwei certainly does capture the industrial world’s disconnection from making, our loss of crafts and even of basic respect for them. But he also embodies these cynical attitudes as he smashes that lovely old vase. He seems to invite further violence to art – even his own. This is not the first time an Ai Weiwei appropriation of a Han urn has been smashed. In 2012, art collector Uli Sigg was filmed smashing an urn in emulation of Ai Weiwei – except the one he smashed was one of Ai Weiwei’s most famous works, Coca Cola Urn. Since Uli Sigg owned it, he was free to do so. So – smashing art is interesting if an acclaimed global artist does it, and even if an art collector does it. But the guy who walks into a museum and smashes it is a vandal?

Ai Weiwei

S.A.C.R.E.D, 2013

Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D., 2013, Installation at Chiesa di Sant’Antonin, Venice as part of Disposition organised by Zuecca Projects and the Lisson Gallery.

Walking into a church in Venice and finding six large black crate-like boxes would be a fairly odd regardless but add couple of dozen other art lovers into the equation, wandering around the space and climbing on little black boxes to peer intently into the crates is a distinctly strange and somewhat unsettling experience. Like most churches in Venice, Chiesa di Sant’Antonin, a fourth century building extensively reworked in the Baroque style in the mid seventeenth century, has a rather ornate interior. The austere black boxes that dominate the floor of the space are an incongruous sight; once one gets beyond the immediate visual confusion, the context raises some interesting questions. S.A.C.R.E.D. is one half of Ai Weiwei’s exhibition Disposition, this installation tells a personal story. It was his investigations into the Sichuan earthquake – the subject matter of Straight – that set Ai Weiwei at odds with the Chinese government; S.A.C.R.E.D. tells the story of what happened to the artist when he was arrested without warning in 2011 and held for 81 days under suspicion of ‘economic crimes’.  On his release, Ai indicated that he was not permitted to talk to the media – including Twitter – so telling the story of his detention seems a risky strategy. To anyone who has read Barnaby Martin’s book Hanging Man: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei or seen Howard Brenton’s play The Arrest of Ai Weiwei, staged at the Hampstead Theatre in London 2013, this is a familiar story, indeed the staging of Brenton’s play bore a close relationship with Ai’s own installation, nonetheless there is something shocking about the experience of peering in to the fibreglass dioramas that inhabit the iron boxes and watching the guards watching the artist.  Ai is watched at all times by two guards. They watch him sleep, shower and shit; they watch him eat, they pace the cell alongside him as he exercises. The only time the guards are absent is when Ai is being questioned; then he is with his interrogator and a notetaker. The relentlessness of the scenes played out in these replicas of his cell is both powerful and draining but there’s an air of absurdity about the dioramas and the use of fibreglass that lightens the mood; it is never less than clear that we are looking at models – and here the larger than life artist is smaller than life-size.  There are a of layers to peel back. Firstly there’s the voyeuristic fascination with watching and with examining every awful detail of the cell and its unpleasantly grubby toilet. The solidity of the cast iron boxes is all the more awe-inspiring in contrast with the flimsy appearance of the patched up interior space; in a way there are parallels here with the idea of human vulnerability in the face of the powerful machines of state. If Straight is Ai making a stand, using his position as a major international artist to speak out on behalf of others in his country whose voices will never travel, then S.A.C.R.E.D. is him facing the consequences of his actions. Given his profile, Ai’s detention was never going to see him disappear without trace – his arrest was inevitably major news around the world – but the threat was very, very real and his experience of those 81 days can have been nothing less than terrifying. In that respect, S.A.C.R.E.D. is perhaps Ai’s nightmares made solid. – Ann Jones, Permalink

ai-weiwei-s-a-c-r-e-d-2013-installation ai-weiwei-sacred-2013-exercise ai-weiwei-sacred-2013-questioning   Ai’s latest exhibition runs until April 2015 and he has taken his work to ALCATRAZ prison, I wrote about it here.

Dictators in fridges:

Eugenio Merino

Spanish artist Eugenio Merino (b: 1975, Madrid) has stuffed mannequins of totalitarian leaders into chiller cabinets. It’s just what we need in this age of burgeoning nationalism. Eugenio Merino – creator of Always Franco, and others – is being taken to court, accused of damaging the honour of the late Spanish dictator. ALWAYS SHAMELESS:

Always Bush, 2014. Eugenio Merino.

It seems incredible that General Franco is still oppressing artists in Spain from beyond the grave. The dictator who rose to power by defeating Spain’s Republic in the 1930s civil war and ruled until his death in 1975 might seem to be a forgotten nightmare in today’s democratic Spain – but an artist has succeeded in provoking a foundation that preserves his memory into taking some distinctly intolerant legal steps. Eugenio Merino is being taken to court – for the second time – for works he has made using the image of the authoritarian ruler. His work Punching Franco is a lifelike head of Franco designed to be used as a punchbag; the Franco Foundation says it is “demeaning”. He has also been sued for his work Always Franco, a lifelike figure of Franco inside a fridge. He has now extended this out to create a whole series of dictators in Coca-Cola branded fridges.

Jake and Dinos Chapman:

Insult to Injury | Goya prints

Over the years, and weaned on a diet of the former YBA’s pickled animals and unmade beds, the British public has become remarkably difficult to shock. Could that be why Jake and Dinos Chapman, bought a collection of Goya’s most celebrated prints – and set about systematically defacing them? In a work entitled Insult to Injury (2003), the brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman managed to raise the hackles of art historians by violating something much more sacred to the art world than even the human body – another work of art. chapmans-great-deeds-against-the-dead-from-insult-to-injury-2003 The Chapman brothers’ first translation of Goya’s prints was the work The Disasters of War, an installation of small-scale sculptures of each of the etchings. Though here there is the relentlessness of multiple gruesome scenes, the work lacks the overwhelming impact of Great Deeds Against the Dead, an impact that comes from the human scale of the figures. The Chapman brothers of course, couldn’t stop there. Reworking Goya’s images of destruction wasn’t enough so they set about intervening with the actual images. Having bought a copy of the Goya portfolio and worked on top of the images, giving the figures cartoon-like clown and animal heads. There’s no doubt that this is a controversial work. The prints were made after Goya’s death, though they were made directly from his plates and the set was in mint condition so of considerable significance. Prints are, of course, a reproducible medium, so the set wasn’t unique but it was, nonetheless, important. The Chapmans have described their act as ‘rectifying‘ the etchings though others have, inevitably, described it an act of vandalism. The question remains: why have the Chapmans gone to all this trouble? As far as I can tell, there is no rhyme or reason to their interventions – aggressors and victims receive equal, indiscriminate attention.  There is no  pattern in the choice of figures to have been disfigured.

Mark McGowan:

The Artist Taxi Driver

 {Published on Oct 27, 2014} With over forty two thousand subscribers (of which I am one) and well over eleven million views to his Youtube channel and over forty thousand Twitter followers, Mark McGowan (b: 1964, London) is a street artist, performance artist and prominent public protester who goes by the artist name Chunky Mark and more recently The Artist Taxi Driver. By profession, McGowan is a London taxi driver and visiting University speaker and Art tutor. McGowan is known internationally for his performance art including shock art, street art and installation art, and as a stuntman, internet personality, video blogger, social commentator, social critic, satirist, political activist, peace activist, and an anti-establishment, anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-monarchist and anti-power elite protester. McGowan entered the mainstream news in the early 2000s for his unconventional, satirical, sometimes comedic / ironic, and often absurdist approach to public protest and demonstration. “Chunky Mark” conducted hundreds of performances in the UK and dozens around the world, stirring up some international attention, further debate on “what Art really is”, controversy; and both support and mockery alike from intellectuals, the art world, private corporations, the police, the military, the tabloids and the public.  Most often McGowan has not applied for police permission beforehand. McGowan abandoned the Chunky Mark persona in late 2010 and fully adopted the “Artist Taxi Driver” persona for his YouTube web blog on, where he daily films himself (most often) alone in his taxi between fares, wearing dark sunglasses, and in which he rants passionately and emotionally about the news and issues of the day. Since March 2013, the Artist Taxi Driver through his YouTube and crowd funding he has/or is in the process of making documentary films. The first entitled This Is Not A Recession, It’s A Robbery, then The War Machine (2014) and currently in production Westmonster The Movie. McGowan is critical of the British royal family, is a Republican, and claims he has never voted since “all politicians are the same” and the developed world has become “kleptocratic” rather than democratic. McGowan is a licensed Hackney carriage driver around Inner London and the Square Mile, which he refers to as the “the City of London, the City of Corruption”. In the past McGowan has worked with the Scottish Arts Council, the University of Central England in Birmingham, and spoken on the issues of public art and how it can relate to protest at the Royal Academy of Arts. Although he’s shunned by the professional art world McGowan is renowned for bold protest performances such as Artist Eats Fox (2004) for which he slow-roasted and ate a fox in order to demonstrate his objection to, “the public’s fixation with a government ban on fox hunting and society’s misplaced priorities.” On other occasions he’s devoured a swan and ​a corgi to protest against the behaviour of the Royal Family. (Specifically, an incident in 2007 in which Prince Philip – allegedly – watched one of his mates beat up a fox with a flagpole on his Sandringham Estate.) McGowan is a strict vegetarian and has said these performances were extremely difficult for him personal on a deeply personal level.

“I turned to performance art because I found it a much more accessible medium to deliver what I was trying to express,” he ​told the BBC in 2003. “The way to engage in art is to bring it into the street, which is what I’m doing – not by putting it in the White Cube or the National Gallery.”

His most recent press interviews were with The Guardian here and online with journalist Dawn foster here.

Neue Sachlichkeit kunst

The New Objectivity

(neue Sachlichkeit kunst) The New Objectivity was an art movement in the German Empire of the interwar period. It found it’s expression in different art forms such as painting, visual art and at the same time in the new medium of film. The term The New Objectivity was coined in 1925 by Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub, for a highly acclaimed exhibition downstream of expressionist art in the Kunsthalle Mannheim. The time frame of the New Objectivity is commonly associated with that of the Weimar Republic equated: 1918 to 1933. {Gustav Hartlaub, ‘‘Introduction to ‘New Objectivity’: German Painting since Expressionism’’ (first published in German 1925), pp. 491–3 from Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg (eds.), The Weimar Republic Sourcebook. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. 1994 by The Regents of the University of California.} It began immediately after the First World War with the themes of many artists devoted to socially critical visual themes and ended in 1933 with the takeover of the Nazis and the subsequent Gleichschaltung of the media. The New Objectivity is usually divided into three separate streams: the realism (Verismus), classicism and the Magic Realism. Methodologically, they involve a range, and sometimes a combination, of Marxist, feminist, structuralist, psychoanalytical, and other theoretical procedures.


In Verism the New Objectivity is designed as a political art, dealing  critically with the Weimar Republic and with the socialist and communist solidarity goals. The most important representatives of the New Objectivity were Otto Dix , August Wilhelm Dressler , Birkle ,Christian Schad , George Grosz , Conrad Felix Müller , Bernhard Kretzschmar , Georg Schrimpf , Karl HubbuchWilhelm Schnarrenberger , Rudolf Schlichter , Eberhard Schlotter and Karl Rossing . The Verists developed one of the most well-known topoi of New Objectivity in the form of provocative representations, often to the grotesquely exaggerated, using the old masters techniques. The Verists – one wants to speak of the ‘‘left-wing’’ – tear the objective from the world of contemporary facts and projects current experience in its tempo with a fevered temperature. {Note: a form of Verism was adopted in the opposite political direction, with the development of some artists toward National Socialism. Examples included; Sergius Pauser in Austria and Ernst Nepo.} Of all the artists of this movement, the polemic graphic art of George Grosz (Ger. 1893-1959) is best suited to the theme of subversive. From the age of 23 (1916), Grosz became involved in the political upheavals in his country and in December 1918, he became a member of the Communist Party. George Grosz and Otto Dix (Ger. 1891 – 1969), illuminated a chamber of horrors in which the whole of Germany found itself after the 1914-18 War and the inscriptions of shabby stupidity and demagogic vulgarity that underpinned on the Republic. By 1933 the power of the Nazi regime increased and George Grosz’ name was most frequently mentioned as an enemy of German Culture. From 1933 on, however, Grosz had abandoned the political motifs that had previously characterized his drawings. He escaped Germany for the United States, where he eventually settled.

“Berlin, February 5, 1919. Called on the painter George Grosz this morning… He said he would like to become the ‘German Hogarth’ – to be deliberately concrete and moralistic in his work. He wants to preach to the world, improve it, reform it…” – the diary of Count Harry Kesler.

George Grosz pillars of society - Stützen der Gesellschaft

Pillars of society – Stützen der Gesellschaft

George Grosz while painting; Pillars of society - Stützen der Gesellschaft

George Grosz while painting; Pillars of society – Stützen der Gesellschaft



List of References

Aisenberg, Beatrice, : Grosz’s Political Position: False Commitment, False Testimony. dissertation, Jerusalem University, 1998. Backett 1976: J. Backett, The Twenties in Berlin, London 1976. Benson 1987: T.Q. Benson, “Mysticism, Materialism and the Machine in Berlin Dada”, Art Journal, 46:1 (1987), 46-55. Catalogue Käthe Kollwitz, Drawings, Litographies, Prints and Sculptures, Museum Israel, 1971. Catalogo Goya y el espîritu de la Ilustracion, Madrid, 1988. Grosz 1972: G. Grosz, The Face of the Ruling Class, Frankfurt 1972. Grosz 1974: G. Grosz, A Little Yes and a Big No: The Autobiography of George Grosz, London 1974. Hess 1974: H. Hess, George Grosz, London 1974. Lejeune 1953: R. Lejeune, Honoré Daumier, Lausane 1953. Lewis 1971: B. I. Lewis, George Grosz, Art and Politics in the Weimar Republic, Madison 1971. McCloskey 1997: B. McCloskey, Grosz and the Communist Party Art and the Radicalism in Crisis 1918 to 1936, New Jersey 1997. Richard 1979: L. Richard, Del expresionism al nazismo – arte y cultura desde Guillermo II hasta la Republica de Weimar, Barcelona 1979 (from D’une apocalypse à ses productions intelectueles aux années vingt, Paris 1976). Schneede 1985:U. M. Schneede, George Grosz – The Artist in his Society, New York 1985. Townson 1995: D. Townson, Dictionary of Modern History 1789-1945, London 1995. Willet 1978: L. Willet, Art and Politics in the Weimar Period -The New Sobriety 1917-1933, New York 1978. George Grosz’s friend and Dada comrade-in-arms was John Heartfield. On March 15, 1920, during a confrontation with the army, 50 workers died and 150 were injured. Several shots entered the Zwinger Gallery, damaging a Rubens (Batsheba). The artist Oscar Kokoshka, professor at the Academy of Dresden, published an article in over forty newspapers asking for gunfire to be kept away from the gallery. Grosz and Heartfield attacked Kokoshka for defending holy possessions and for his reactionary conception of art.

Lewis 1971: 94. In their article, Grosz and Heartfield argued: ‘with pleasure bullets flying into galleries and palaces and into Rubens masterworks, instead of into the houses of the poor in workers’ districts’, McCloskey 1997: 65.

In another article published in November 1920 and entitled Concerning My New Pictures, Grosz urged artists to show political commitment in order to promote ART AS A WEAPON for the defense of the workers. In this text, Grosz expresses the opinion that art is secondary compared to the class struggle, and demands that artists express their own personal stance on this question, and define whether they are on the side of the exploiters or of the masses. {Lewis 1971: 97}


Everybody knows something about Dada and Surrealism. Dada, established in 1916 and over by the early 1920s, was an international artistic phenomenon which sought to overturn traditional bourgeois notions of art. It was defiantly anti-art. More than anything, its participants, figures such as Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, Kurt Schwitters, and Raoul Hausmann, countered their love of paradox and subversion to the insanities of a world-gone-mad, as World War raged and Europe tore itself apart. Dada is seen as iconoclastic and confrontational, Dada revelled in the chaos and the fragmentation of modern life. Art historians have found it convenient to generalise about Dada ‘paving the way’ for Surrealism, but that was only really the case in one of Dada’s locations, Paris. Both Dada and Surrealist attitudes ranged many topics from irrationalism to sexuality, before focusing closely on politics. More than anything else, Dada and Surrealism were ‘avant-garde’ movements. Broadly speaking, art in the 19th century was synonymous with bourgeois individualism. By the early 20th century, several key art movements – such as Futurism in Italy, Constructivism in Russia or De Stijl in Holland, as well as Dada and Surrealism – were contesting any separation between art and the contingent experience of the modern world. Their reasons for doing so were inflected in different ways by politics – Constructivists, for instance, were responding directly to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia while Futurism was responding alongside of Fascism in Italy – but they tended to share the belief that modern art needed to forge a new relationship with its audience, producing uncompromising new forms to run parallel to shifts in social experience.   TEXT_dada


Defaced Mona Lisa reproduction, by artist Marcel Duchamp “L.H.O.O.Q (She’s got a hot arse)”

For the cultural theorist Peter Bürger, writing in the 1970s, the mission of the early 20th-century European avant-garde thus consisted in undermining the idea of art’s ‘autonomy’ (‘art for art’s sake’) in favour of a new merging of art into what he calls the ‘praxis of life’. BBC Interview with Marcel Duchamp 1968

I tried to to be away from it (DaDa), to keep apart from the group,  the group expression, the group activity of it, I always wanted to make a personal contribution to it. Why? I don’t know, it’s a form of individualism if nothing else? – Marcel Duchamp, 1968.

Situationist International

William S. Burroughs: cut ups

 Disobedient Objects Tools of protest: Disobedient Objects, the V&A’s subversive new show Some of the most powerful exhibits are the simplest ones – things that engage with the more theatrical side of a demonstration and show how the balance of power on the street can be swung with just a bit of mischievous wit.

The ‘inflatable cobblestone’, designed by the Eclectic Electric Collective to outwit authorities at street protests. Photograph: V&A V&A/PR


Rafael Montañez Ortiz (b. 1934) who was born in the United States and is of Puerto Rican descent, was an innovator in the destruction art movement of the 1960s.  He was a member of several artist-activists groups that opposed the Vietnam War and fought to end racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination in the United States.


In his manifesto, Rafael Montañez Ortiz,  discusses the concept of destruction as a new mode of creating art. He validates employing “destruction art” as an appropriate methodology, given the history of war that plagued the twentieth century. Ortiz compares destruction art to sacrificial rituals, thus claiming that destruction art is cathartic because it forces both artists and audiences to purge their violent impulses, and confront their fears of death.

Destructivism A Manifesto

It was Ortiz who conceived and founded in 1969 El Museo del Barrio in New York City.

Greg Sholette:

Dark Matter

Sholette’s ‘Dark Matter’, provides a useful collectivising term for those artists who produce the art world from below. ‘Dark Matter’ refers to all the human creativity that is excluded from the mainstream art world. The book is an interweaving of political contexts, theory, accounts of radical art activity and considerations of the archive, mainly in a US context and loosely related to Sholette’s involvement in a series of political manoeuvres within the radical underground of New York in the 1980s & 1990s.

Links to Greg Sholette’s strata of dark matter:

Candida Television:

Journal of Aesthetics and Protest: 6+:

Howling Mob Society

Critical Spatial Practice:


Center for Tactical Magic:

Yomango!: and

The Yes Men:

Critical Art Ensemble

Target Autonopop:

Temporary Services: including their wonderful Public Phenomenon Archive see also

 Creative Destruction and Art

I think there is a necessary consequence of the human urge to create great art and that is the urge to imitate it, modify it, distort it, and generally degrade it, if not completely destroy it. Douglas Gordon’s 2007 exhibition “Self Portrait of You & Me” series of portraits of celebrities with faces deformed as if by an explosive blast which seem to echo Bruce Conner’s “A Movie,” a 1958 montage of car crashes, nukes and nudes.

Douglas Gordon’s 2007 exhibition “Self Portrait of You & Me”, Warhol’s Marilyn.

Ori Gersht’s “Big Bang I” from 2006, a mesmerising slow-motion video of a flower vase shattering. Gersht also recreates famous still life paintings using real object then films and photographs the things exploding. Self-righteousness seems to justify any act of destruction. In 2001 the Afghan Taliban dynamited the Buddhas in Bamiyan, calling them idols of the infidels. In a Byzantine art exhibition now at the National Gallery of Art classical statues were vandalized in the fourth century by Christians who “improved” Greek and Roman art with incised crucifixes. Christians too lopped of the penises of many a Greco-Roman and later Italian Renaissance statues were “improved” with the addition of leaves. Suffragette Mary Richardson, in 1914 took a meat cleaver to Diego Velázquez’s “Rokeby Venus” at the National Gallery in London (to protest the imprisonment Emmeline Pankhurst, “the most beautiful character in modern history,” Richardson thought it right to destroy “the most beautiful woman in mythological history.”) Tony Shafrazi spray painted “KILL LIES ALL” on “Guernica” in 1974, when Pablo Picasso’s mural was still at MoMA (Shafrazi claimed his actions were an anti-Vietnam War protest and an attempt “to bring the art absolutely up to date” and “give it life.”).

STRIKE! magazine, SPG, David Graeber

Where activism meets art

January 2nd, 2015 London Underground.

 Anarchist Metapolitics & Tactical Frivolity – Simon Critchley

It seems to me that the great virtue of contemporary anarchist practice is its spectacular, creative and imaginative disturbance of the state. Contemporary anarchists have created a new language of civil disobedience that combines street-theatre, festival, performance art and what might be described as forms of non-violent warfare . Recalling the argument of the previous chapter, what one sees in groups like Ya Basta! and Rebel Clown Army is carnivalesque humour deployed as a political strategy. David Graeber describes some of these phenomena with great wit:

Ya Basta! for example is famous for its tute bianche or whiteoveralls tactics: men and women dressed in elaborate forms ofpadding, ranging from foam armour to inner tubes to rubber ducky floatation devices, helmets and chemical proof white jumpsuits (their British cousins are well-clad WOMBLES [white overalls building libertarian effective struggles, s.c.] ). As this mock army pushes its way through police barricades, all the while protecting each other against inj ury or arrest, the ridiculous gear seems t o reduce human beings to cartoon characters – misshapen, ungainly, foolish, large, indestructible. The effect is only increased when lines of costumed figures attack police with balloons and water pistols or, like the ‘Pink Bloc’ at Prague and elsewhere, dress as fairies and tickle them with feather dusters. At the American Party Conventions, Billionaires for Bush dressed in high-camp tuxedos and evening gowns and tried to press wads of fake money into the cops’ pockets, thanking them for repressing dissent. These comical tactics hide a serious critical political intent: they exemplify the effective forging of horizontal chains of equivalence or collective will formation across diverse and otherwise conflicting protest groups. Deploying a politics of subversion, contemporary anarchist practice exercises a satirical pressure on the state in order to show that other forms of life are possible.

Picking up on thoughts about humour, it is the exposed, self-ridiculing and selfundermining character of these forms of protest that I find most compelling as opposed to the pious humorlessness of most forms of vanguardist active nihilism and some forms of contemporary protest (I name no names). Groups like the Pink Bloc or Billionaires for Bush ( a culture jamming political street theater organisation) are performing their powerlessness in the face of power in a profoundly powerful way – Tactical Frivolity!

Politically, humour is a powerless power that uses its position of weakness to expose those in power through forms of self-aware ridicule. This is why the strategy of non-violent warfare is so important. Of course, history is habitually written by the people with the guns and sticks and one cannot expect to defeat them with mocking satire and feather dusters. Yet, as the history of ultra-leftist active nihilism eloquently shows, one is lost the moment one picks up the guns and sticks. Anarchic political resistance should not seek to mimic and mirror the Arche violent sovereignty it opposes. It is rather a question of the cultivation of a pacifist activism that deploys techniques of non-violent warfare or what we might even call ‘tactical frivolity‘.

David Graeber offers a useful distinction between Marxism and anarchism:

Marxism is typically a theoretical or analytical discourse about revolutionary strategy, whereas anarchism can be understood as an ethical discourse about revolutionary practice.

It is this emphasis on ethics as a binding factor in political practice that interests me, as opposed to the silence or hostility to ethics that one finds in Marx’s work and in many Marxist (Gramsci is an obvious exception) and post-Marxist thinkers.

 Joseph Beuys

in the same way that Ai Weiwei uses everyday objects (to make political points)

Hamilton Finlay – Propaganda for the wood elves Propaganda for the Wood Elves 1981;

Propaganda for the wood elves

Photograph 8 1/4 × 5 13/16 (210 × 148) Made in collaboration with Harvey Dwight from a photograph set up and taken in Finlay’s garden at Little Sparta. In conversation with the compiler the artist described the image as ‘an enigmatic emblem. Visual paradox is one mode of an emblem’, adding that it referred to traditional German tree-worship and the violence of nature.

Luis Buñuel, 1953

The Brute

Buñuel is famous for the bookending sections of his career: his Surrealist experiments in the late ‘20s to early ‘30s and his sublimely twisted art films of the ‘60s-‘70s. But between he found himself in Mexico making subtly wicked satires within the mainstream. A lesson in sublimated perversity!
Synopsis: A tough young man who helps evict poor people from their houses finds himself falling in love with a girl who lives with her father in a building about to be demolished.

Peter Kennard (1949)

Walter Benjamin 1990

Walter Benjamin, 1990.

Medium – Photograph, black and white, on paper, Dimensions – 172 x 319 mm

Peter Kennard The Kissinger Mind 1979

Medium – Photographs on paper and ink on card; Dimensions – 365 x 310 mm

Peter Kennard born 1949 Title – Apartheid South Africa Date – 1974 Medium – Photographs, gelatin silver print, on paper and gouache Dimensions – 250 x 210 mm


In this collection of essays David Graeber explores a wide ranging set of topics including politilcal strategy, global trade, debt, imagination. violence, aesthetics, alienation, and creativity. Written in the wake of the anti·globalisation movement and rise of the war on terror, these essays survey the political landscape for signs of hope in unexpected places.

At a moment when the old assumption about politics and power have been irrefutably broken the only real choice is to begin again: to create a new language. A new common sense, about what people basically are and what it is reasonable for them to expect from the world and from each other.

Graeber draws from the realms or politics, art and the imagination to start this conversation and to suggest that the task might not be nearly so daunting as we’d imagined.

The essence of neoliberalism, Graeber suggests, is its systematisation of depression, its exclusion of all alternatives to an obviously catastrophic system.

David Graeber is an anarchist, an anthropologist. and member of the Industrial Workers of the World. He teaches anthropology at Goldsmiths. This collection first came out in Greek, with the title Κίνημα, βία,τέχνη και επανάσταση (Movement, Violence, Art and Revolution. Athens: Black Pepper Press, 2009).

So what is the unifying theme?

It’s helpful, perhaps, to consider the context in which these essays were originally written. All of these essays were composed between 2004 and 2010. Between roughly 1998 and 2002, the advent of the global justice movement had given all of us a sudden sense of almost endless possibility.
The wake of 9/11 threw everything into disarray. For many it was impossible to maintain the sense of enthusiasm that had kept us so alive in the years before; many burned out, gave up, emigrated, bickered, killed themselves, applied to graduate school, or withdrew into various other sorts of morbid desperation.

At first, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, it seemed that we were looking at a repeat of something rather like World War I: the period from roughly 1880 to 1914 was after all quite similar to the decade and a piece that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall: a time where wars between major powers seemed to be a thing of the past, where the dominant powers embraced an ethos of free trade and free markets, of frenetic capital accumulation, but at the same time, an age of the rapid rise of global anticapitalist movements, accompanied by an ethos of revolutionary internationalism in which the anarchist movement seemed to define the vital center of the radical left. The rulers of the world ultimately panicked, and reacted by initiating a near-century of world war, allowing appeals to nationalism, state security, racism and jingoism of every kind of tear those (to it) terrifying alliances apart.

It struck me, after 9/11, that they were trying the same trick again; it was as if, faced with even the prospect of an effective anti capitalist movement emerging globally, they immediately pulled out the biggest gun they had – a declaration of permanent global war mobilization – despite the fact that the enemy they had chosen, rag-tag band of Islamists who had, effectively, got extraordinarily lucky, pulling off one of the first mad terrorist schemes in history that had actually worked, and were clearly never going to repeat the performance – could not possibly provide an adequate long-term excuse. It was never going to work. Yet somehow, the American public had passed a referendum on the project. What’s more, I watched in dismay how every attempt to revive an international spirit resistance – around the G8, then G20, the Climate Conferences – seemed to flounder, or at least, reach a series of limited tactic victories that always seemed to hold out the promise of translating into a new burst of energy and of longer-term movement building (“finally,” we kept telling each other, “we’re over the hump!”), but which, in reality, never really did.  In part, it was  because the level of repression – or more precisely, what the police and other security forces felt they could get away with in dealing with us – had dramatically increased. But that was by no means all of it. To the contrary, it was the enemy’s very disorganisation that was our worst foil…

…in retrospect, it’s easier to see what was happening. Those bigwigs assembling at their various summits were probably more aware than we were that the entire system – based on a very old-fashioned alliance of military and financial power typical of the latter days of capitalist empires – was being held together with tape and string. They were less concerned to save the system, than to ensure that there remained no plausible alternative in anyone’s mind so that, when the moment of collapse did come, they would be the only one’s offering solutions…

These essays then are the product of a confused interregnum. It was a time when it was very difficult to find signs of hope.

If there is a single theme in this collection of essays, then, it is that they all start out from some aspect of the period that seems particularly bleak, depressing, what appeared to be some failure, stumbling block, countervailing force, foolishness of the global anti capitalist movement, and to try to recuperate something, some hidden aspect we usually don’t notice, some angle from which the same apparently desolate landscape might look entirely different.  This is most obvious perhaps in the first three essays, all of which concern the lessons to be learned from the global justice movement.

The essay, The Shock of Victory, ends by posing a much a larger question, as Turbulence magazine was to phrase it in a special issue a year or two later, “What would it mean to win?

Largely it is a comment on the extraordinary historical effectiveness of movements based on direct action and direct democracy, and the curious fact that our enemies (as their panic reactions seem to indicate) seem to recognise the potential effectiveness of such movements, the threat they pose to global power relations, much more than those active in the movements themselves do.

Neoliberal capitalism is that form that is utterly obsessed with ensuring that it seems that, as Margaret Thatcher so famously declared in the 1980s, “there is no alternative.” In other words, it has largely given up on any serious effort to argue that the current economic order is actually a good order, just, reasonable, that it will ever prove capable of creating a world in which most human beings feel prosperous, safe, and free to spend any significant portion of their life pursuing those things they consider genuinely important. Rather, it is a terrible system, in which even the very richest countries cannot guarantee access to such basic needs as health and education to the majority of their citizens, it works badly, but no other system could possibly work at all.

The great mobilisations of Seattle, Prague, Genoa, or the constant direct actions in places like Greece, Chiapas or South Korea, have effectively operated bytaking all the familiar stages of revolution and simply turning the traditional order on its head. Understanding the full implications of this shift, in turn, demands some major work in re-imagination what terms like violence, alienation, “realism” itself actually mean.


* “why do so many working class people vote in a manner that seems diametrically opposed to their own class interests, that ordinary common sense might afford?” – David Graeber, Army of Altruists.

I think this is the question Robert Tressell was trying to figure out 101 years ago in The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists? Graeber identifies the Neo-Con constant identification with “soldiers” (Support Our Troops) – individuals who have, over the years, been reduced to  high tech mercenaries enforcing of a global regime of financial capital – as a method of subverting class boundaries. A mixture of propaganda and simulacra.

Graeber says:

Well, I managed to answer the question to my own satisfaction anyway. The application of theory was indeed able to reveal things that would not otherwise have been obvious. What it mainly revealed was that one of the most insidious of the “hidden injuries of class” in North American society was the denial of the right to do good, to be noble, to pursue any form of value other than money – or, at least, to do it and to gain any financial security or rewards for having done. The passionate hatred of the “liberal elite” among right-wing populists came down, in practice, to the utterly justified resentment towards a class that had sequestered, for its own children, every opportunity to pursue love, truth, beauty, honour, decency, and to be afforded the means to exist while doing so. The endless identification with soldiers (“support our troops!) – that is, with individuals who have, over the years, been reduced to little more than high tech mercenaries enforcing of a global regime of financial capital – lay in the fact that these are almost the only individuals of working class origin in the US who have figured out a way to get paid for pursuing some kind of higher ideal, or at least being able to imagine that’s what they’re doing. Obviously most would prefer to pursue higher ideals in way that did not involve the risk of having their legs blown off.

The sense of rage, in fact, stems above all from the knowledge that all such jobs are taken by children of the rich. It’s a strangely ambivalent picture, and one that, at this moment of revival of right-wing populism, we might do well to consider once again.

“The experience of bureaucratic incompetence, confusion, and its
ability to cause otherwise intelligent people to behave outright foolishly,
 opens up a series of questions about the nature of power or,
 more specifically, structural violence.
 The unique qualities of violence as a form of action means that
 human relations ultimately founded on violence create lopsided
 structures of the imagination, where the responsibility to do the
 interpretive labor required to allow the powerful to operate oblivious
 to much of what is going on around them, falls on the powerless,
 who thus tend to empathize with the powerful far more than the
 powerful do with them.
 The bureaucratic imposition of simple categorical schemes on the
 world is a way of managing the fundamental stupidity of such situations.
 In the hands of social theorists, such simplified schemas can be sources
 of insight; when enforced through structures of coercion, they tend to
 have precisely the opposite effect.”
 This essay is an exploration of certain areas of human life that have tended
 to make anthropologists uncomfortable: those areas of starkness, simplicity,
 obliviousness, and outright stupidity in our lives made possible by violence.
 * By “violence” here, I am NOT referring to the kind of occasional,
 spectacular acts of violence that we tend to think of first when the word is
 invoked, but again, the boring, humdrum, yet omnipresent forms of
 structural violence that define the very conditions of our existence,
 the subtle or not-so-subtle threats of physical force that
 lie behind everything from enforcing rules about where one is allowed
 to sit or stand or eat or drink in parks or other public places,
 to the threats or physical intimidations or attacks that underpin the
 enforcement of tacit gender norms.
 Let us call these areas of violent simplification.
 They affect us in almost every aspect of our lives.”

— dead zones of the imagination, David Graeber, Professor of Anthropology.
Anarchist author/philosopher.