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The Turn of Art: The Avant-Garde and Power

Krzysztof Ziarek
Talk of machines, technologies, capabilities, costs, markets, infrastructures, offers no guidance and is inadequate and irrelevant to the development of our inner lives. This is why art today, traditionally the articulation and expression of the why side of life, is now so important and so vital, even though it remains confused and inconsistent in its response to the new demands and responsibilities placed on it in this time of transition. Bill Viola, Between How and Why

t the turn of the new millennium, almost a hundred years after the modernist explosion and the great promise of the avantgarde, art appears to have lost whatever meager vestiges of force and importance it still might have held in the increasingly technological culture of the twentieth century. This crisis in aesthetics, which began in the nineteenth century, has been exacerbated by the rapid growth of mass culture with its corollaries, the entertainment industry, commercialization, and rapid development of new information technologies. In the process, art has become increasingly marginalized, as contemporary reality has come to be determined by technoscience and various technologies of power, while the aesthetic plays at best a secondary role, as it is most often reduced to a tool in cultural, ideological, and identity wars. What underlies this sense of the powerlessness, even irrelevance of contemporary art is the determination, rmly embedded in the fabric of modern society, that reality is elsewhere, as one might say, and that its centers of power are digital technology, economic globalization, and increasing commodication. With the rapid advances of informational technologies and the internet, even cultural and aesthetic changes and innovations seem to lie more in the domains of the informational and the virtual than the aesthetic. Thus, what was experienced at the beginning of the last century as the crisis of aesthetics has apparently resolved itself into the problematic contained within technology, which has incorporated the advances of modernist aesthetics into itself,

New Literary History, 2002, 33: 89107


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transformed them, and often dulled and popularized these new techniques for the sake of prot. With the annexation of modernist aesthetics by advertizing and popular culture, aesthetic issues have come to be disclosed, as the commercial collages of Web pages make amply evident, as essentially technological issues, that is, as a matter of advancing informational technologies and their increasing ability to translate reality and experience into data, codes, and programs. The problem at the turn of the millennium is, therefore, less that the radical aesthetics of the avant-garde has become cheapened and popularized but, rather, that the aesthetic itself has become exposed as intrinsically technologicala situation, which, ironically, may be taken to represented precisely the fulllment of some avant-garde dreams, especially those of Marinetti and Picabia. With those intensifying social and cultural changes in view, it seems almost inevitable that art would continue to lose its social and cultural status and nd itself even further marginalized in relation to technoscientic, consumer-oriented, and entertainment-driven society. It is, therefore, not surprising that aesthetics at the beginning of the new millennium is dominated by visions of the end and exhaustion, and that, as a reaction, many critics, most recently Richard Shusterman in his Performing Live: Aesthetic Alternatives for the Ends of Art,1 turn toward areas marginal to traditional aestheticspopular music, lm, mass mediain search of vitality and signicance. Taking an overall view, contemporary theoretical approaches to art can be roughly divided into three categories: (1) scenarios of arts death and exhaustion, (2) attempts to revive the old terms of the beautiful and the sublime in order to dene the essence of art, (3) conceptions that put art on the back burner and concentrate on the instances of subversiveness and aesthetic import in popular culture and mass forms of entertainment. Though often quite different in their assessment of contemporary art, these views, whether trying to refurbish classical aesthetic terminology or shifting aesthetic concerns and critical legitimacy to popular culture, all but conrm the end of art, confessing the apparent absence of critical force in contemporary art. However, such judgments tend to overlook the critical implications for rethinking the role of contemporary art of the conjunction between art and power diagnosed in similarly radical, though quite different, critiques of aesthetics in Adorno and Heidegger. Heideggers and Adornos engagement with art in the context of technologization and its modern forms of power make possible a thorough reworking of aesthetic categories which still continue to dominate discussions of art and enable a different, post-aesthetic understanding of arts social signicance.

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The single most important insight arising from their critiques concerns arts relation to power and hinges on how one reads the current diagnosis of the powerlessness of art in contemporary society: does one take it to mean that art is without force, barely important, and, thus, hardly worth the effort in the global culture of the twenty-rst century, or that perhaps a signicant and unexamined truth addresses itself to us in the idea of arts powerlessness? The sufx less is almost always taken for granted as signifying the absence of power, reective of the notion that, when compared with social, political, or even physical forces, artworks lack any effective power to change or affect reality. Inuenced and, in fact, shaped by it, they remain essentially unable to play by the rules of the governing economy of power. In short, art is without power, which, in the world dened by exponentially increasing techno-power on the macroglobal and microgenetic scale, means that it is progressively drained of force and signicance. Yet when we take the notion of the powerlessness of art not as an all-too-obvious product of contemporary technocratic society but as a question posed to us and our culture, then the possibility of a different understanding opens itself up. A different understanding not only of art but also, and perhaps more importantly, of power. When attached to art, the less in the adjective powerless does not necessarily mean lack of power but, instead, indicates a trace of a release, an economy or constellation of forces that unfold otherwise than power. In this view, the powerlessness of art is not a negative judgment rendered on artworks but a provocative indication that art works otherwise than power: though, like everything else it is produced and regulated within the power-driven economy of modern being, art can become disencumbered, freed of power. This ability to let go of power, to transform relations and allow forces to unfold beyond power, constitutes the force of contemporary art. Both Adornos notion of arts negativity and Heideggers idea of poiesis \ register something of this insufciently examined transformative turn in art, this change in the momentum or the vector of power, which takes us beyond not only the currently existing forms of power but, as I will argue later, beyond the very idea of being as power. It would be hard to deny that modern reality is increasingly characterized by the intensifying play of power. Recent developments in globalization as well as in informational and genetic technologies testify to the unprecedented reach of power on both the macro and microscopic scales. Already in the late 1930s, Heidegger described modern reality as a self-driven intensication of power, whose sole aim is to spread the domain of power and increase its magnitude. Later Foucault, through his readings of Nietzsches will to power and Heideggers lectures on


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Nietzsche, diagnosed and analyzed the various forms and technologies which the modern reach of biopower produces. Power here refers to the various exible operations of producing, manipulating, and (re)programming, in which entities and relations come to be constituted into the modern world, whose standards of reality and importance are determined with a view toward efciency and calculability. It is computability, relaying, and programming that appear to be the effective measures of what it means to be in contemporary culture, all specications of an increased uidity and extension of modern power. Since contemporary forms of power are increasingly info-technical in their modes of operation, the force of art as I understand it here lies in its ability to interrogate the technicity of modern power, to call into question its increasing exibility and reach. As Bill Viola suggests, contemporary art nds itself in a transitional stage, no longer capable or willing to play the old aesthetic and cultural roles assigned to it and yet uncertain, even confused, about its place in the techno-world of the twenty-rst century. For me, though, this transitionality is more than an indication of a period of change in aesthetic categories, as it points to the transformative character of art, to the possibility of a transition into a different, power-free modality of force relations which takes place in art. The disorientation to which Viola points indeed signals the central dilemma facing art today: is art part and parcel of the continuing technological acceleration of modern culture, an aesthetic branch of technopower, as it were, or does it mark the possibility of a critical turn, even transformation, in the play of the powers that be? To analyze the connection between the decisive change in aesthetic categories initiated in different ways by Heidegger and Adorno and the problematic of the transformation in power, I approach the work of art as a forceeld, to paraphrase Adorno.2 To see the relevance of art in contemporary society we need to understand what art does in terms of a certain force-work, for instance as a redisposition of forces which art draws from society into a form of relationality that eschews powerboth the forms which modern power takes and its unrelenting, intensifying drive. This notion of contemporary art as force-work highlights the dynamic, effectuating momentum of arts work over and against the notion of artworks as objects and/or commodities. It also revises the parameters within which arts relation to the outside world as well as its effect on receivers needs to be conceived. What the force-work unfolded by art occasions in the world around it and in its viewers cannot be explained in terms of affect, perception, judgment, production, or manipulation. As a force-work, art can no longer be conceived as an object, but, instead, understood, after Heidegger, as an event, a dynamic, force-ful redisposition of relations inscribed in it through the socio-cultural

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determination of artistic production. A signicant aspect of rethinking the work of art as an event is a radical critique of the logic of production and the modalities of power that both regulate it and increase their magnitude as a result of it. The creation of an artwork, while it inscribes both the forces and the relations of production that regulate its social context, not only exceeds but also revises the very modality of transactions between forces that form relations into the paradigm of production. Heideggers critique of the productionist metaphysics underlying modern technicity makes a suggestive distinction between making/ producing (machen) and letting/releasing (lassen) as two fundamentally different ways of disposing relations. The modality of machen eventuates in the forming, producing, and manipulation of relations and objects (Machenschaft) into the terms of an ever intensifying power (Macht). By contrast, lassen refers to an active releasement from power, to such a transformation in the very mode of relating that disallows the formation into power, that is, into the exible matrix of making, producing, and manipulating that constitute the forms of modern being. In different terms but in similar spirit, Adorno claims that art, deploying the forms of domination constitutive of modern society, turns this domination against itself and opens the possibility of freedom.

The widespread consensus holds that the historical avant-gardes did not live up to their promise and failed to transform the cultural and social scene. As the analyses of Adorno or Raymond Williams show, instead of the revolution which the avant-garde intended to perform within the social domain, the avant-garde aesthetics becomes with time incorporated into the mass commodication characteristic of late capitalism, which effectively closes the gap between aisthesis, or sensory experience, and use value.3 At the bottom of this assimilation of the avant-garde for the purposes of the intensication of commodity culture, as is already evident in Adornos thought, is a certain technologization and instrumentalization which structure modern experience and everyday life. As a result of these processes, the distance between aesthetics and technicity disappears, and the aesthetic relationality intrinsic to art becomes translated into the dynamics of commodication and remapped into forms of relation characteristic of consumer society, which it initially attempted to call into question. This collapse of aisthesis into commodication is the reason why Adorno insists on the autonomy of artthe point which is misunderstood by Williams and many of Adornos critics. Adornos conception of arts qualied autonomy from


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social forces does not isolate art from society but tries to maintain in art a critical distance to the social formations of power. At stake in the autonomy of art is the possibility of a matrix of relationality that would be different from modern technicity, that would not collapse into commodication, and thus would retain the force of a transformative praxis even in the midst of the global mobilization of experience into technically produced information. But what is also clear from this scenario is the need to rethink art beyond aesthetics, because aisthesis has not only been incorporated into consumer culture but also patterned into the very matrix of commodication, which effectively gives shape and value to contemporary experience. It is along these lines of rethinking the relation between art, aisthesis, and power that I propose to rearticulate the signicance of the avantgarde. The impact of avant-garde art has been identied primarily with its shock value, but with time such disruptions have been subsumed by the shock-like aesthetics of popular culture, which, especially with the advent of new electronic media, has become the standard of what might be called the electronic paradigm of representation: multiple frames, mobile and constantly alternating advertizing images, collage-like electronic surfaces, new, sometimes unexpected but always multiple, hyperlinks. In such an electronic environment, dislocation, newness, freedom of the unexpected become paradoxically transformed into the obverse side of a global network of connections and relays, and come to be used as the negatively energized engine of expansion and ever nuanced marketability. It is no wonder then that the avant-garde, on the one hand, and telecommunications and popular culture, on the other, appear, in fact, as Williams suggests in The Politics of Modernism, as the two faces of the same modernism.4 While much of what Williams concludes about the intrinsic relationship between avant-garde aesthetics and mass culture describes well the internal development of modernism, his rather dismissive evaluation of this once liberating Modernism tends to relegate its radical art to a phenomenon of merely historical importance without much relevance for contemporary life. My position, by contrast, is that we have not yet sufciently addressed the problematic of freedom and the critique of power as it has been redened in the avant-garde artworks. It is true that many critics and thinkers considered at length what was liberating in avant-garde art in relation to cultural, literary, and political ideologies and systems. However, the problem, or I should say, the opportunity, lies elsewhere. For me the question of the avant-garde cannot be limited to how liberating its forces were and how modern capital and technology successfully managed to incorporate the most radical aesthetic and cultural displacements for their own benet. Rather, we need to

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consider how the avant-gardeand I employ the term loosely, to refer both to the early-twentieth-century avant-gardes and to the continuing avant-garde impulse in contemporary art and poetryundermines the historically conditioned notion of freedom and rewrites its practice. To put it simply, the avant-garde does not just, in conformity with the liberal notion of individual freedoms and rights, attack the absence of freedom in the bourgeois society but tries to change, amidst the galvanizing technological developments of twentieth-century culture, the very notion of what it means to be free. My argument is that the truly radical avant-garde impulse is not reducible to resistance or revolutionary overthrow of particular forms of power and their replacement with new oneswhether democratic or, worse, totalitarian, either socialist or fascist as was the case with the remnants of Russian and Italian Futurism. Rather, the avant-garde should be thought in terms of the notion of freedom in the middle voice which constitutes a forceful challenge to the very idea of power and power oriented modalities of being. In this essay, I examine three issues in terms of which such an understanding of freedom and critique of power can be developed: the turn of technology against itself, a disclosure of an alternative mode of relations, and the concept of art as a force-work. Understood in a post-Foucauldian fashion, power denotes the whole array of modern productive technologies of power based on articulation and normalization. Power is, therefore, not a what but, rather, a how: a modality or disposition which determines what is in a productive manner and gives it its momentum. Seen this way, power circulates through all aspects of being and modes of relation in the specic sense that everything that is, things, events, experiences, comes to be what it is through an accelerating mobilization of its being toward increase of power. Even production and self-creation come to serve this escalation of power as the dening momentum of modernity. In other words, power here signies a complex and shifting interlace of articulation, production, and mobilization, whose exible circuits absorb even forms of resistance and challenge to power structures, and rearticulate them as sites of further magnication of power. In this distinctive sense, modern power produces itself as a certain technology, whose uid organization reects the intensication of power itself. Clearly there is a pronounced tendency in certain avant-garde quarters toward such an intensication of being as a form of power, visible in particular in Italian Futurism, where being becomes expressly technicist in just this sense of mobilization. At the same time, however, there is also a different current in the avant-garde, whether in Dadaism or Gertrude Steins writings, which takes us toward another sense of intensity: incalculability, disarticulation, and release from power-oriented, technological production toward


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freedom. I read this current of the avant-garde as a turn within technicity, an arena where the technological determination of being in modernity comes sharply into view, becomes rapidly intensied but also, in the midst of this mobilization, begins to turn against itself. Side by side with diverse political entanglements of the avant-garde isms and their fascination with power, what discloses itself in their artworks and proclamations, for instance amidst the non-sequiturs and contradictions of Tristan Tzaras manifestoes, are forms of relationality which I call here dis-powered or power-free. Dis-powered does not refer to a utopian existence but to a turn within technicity toward relations which remain incalculable and unworkable, and which disarticulate the very paradigm of production as the formative force of modernity. In this context, the disarticulacy of power describes an active sense of relating between forces, an event beyond not only domination but also the production paradigm of power. Power-free occurrence signies therefore neither powerlessness nor obliviousness to forms of power but an exit from the technological and production paradigms that determine the history of being. It is quite difcult to think the power-free, and the difculty of understanding such a release from power is exacerbated by the very nature of the operations of power. In Die Geschichte des Seyns 5 from 1939 40, Heidegger describes two decisive parameters of power: rst, it lies in the essence of power to determine its opposite or alternative only as powerlessness; second, the limit of power is that it cannot conceive anything beyond itself, that is, it sees everything in terms of either the presence or the absence of power. In this manner, power not only belongs to the very movement of articulation but constitutes the direction of all relations, deciding them as either power-ful or powerless. In other words, within metaphysics and technicity, no other vector of being or articulation is possible but power. Even freedom comes to be thought in terms of power or as a form of empowerment, that is, as having the right/power to be free from domination and oppression. Heideggers position, therefore, is that what is truly transformative, is not a counterpower but only an alternative mode of occurring which, in another recently published text, the 193839 Besinnung, he calls machtlos,6 the term which I render here as dispowered or powerfree. The dispowered refers to a release from mobilization and making, that is, to a certain letting be, which does not, however, mean indifference or passivity but signies a redisposition of forces, in which they receive a different, no longer power-directed momentum. Perhaps this turn can be illustrated by reference to two German verbs machen and lassen, which are at the core of Heideggers late thought. Machen means to make or to produce, and it is related to the German word for power, Macht.

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Heideggers writings from the late 1930s demonstrate that the link between machen and Macht reects an intrinsic connection between the various modern forms of production and the increasing saturation of being with power. Lassen, on the other hand, refers to letting or allowing, understood, however, in an active, transformative sense, for instance as accomplishing something by actively letting it come to be rather than by producing or mobilizing it. Those two faces of force signied by machen and lassen reect the turn from the concept of the agent/subject of production to the notion of force as receptivity. However, since such receptivity is conceived beyond the production paradigm, it is not only beyond the subject-object opposition, but also beyond the difference between activity and passivity: force as receptivity lets be in the middle voice. Thus, power-free in my argument does not refer to absence of power but to a different, funky (to engage proleptically Amiri Baraka here), rhythm of the middle voice, that is, to the occurrence of the in-between of agency and passivity, which takes place neither as subject nor object, action nor inaction, but as a different, dis-powered disposition of relations. In Aesthetic Theory, Adorno too keeps gesturing toward the possibility of a different, non-productionist and violence-free notion of action gured in arts form: The critique exercised a priori by art is that of action as a cryptogram of domination. According to its sheer form, praxis tends toward that which, in terms of its own logic, it should abolish; violence is immanent to it and is maintained in its sublimations, whereas artworks, even the most aggressive, stand for non-violence (AT 241). Both action and production, the cornerstones of social praxis, reect in their operations the secret and deeply ingrained patterns of domination and violence subtending modern instrumental rationality. Thus, any counteraction, if still exercised within the paradigms of power, simply rechannels domination without changing its overall principle of mastery. What is needed instead, is a radical rethinking of action apart from the notion of production and control, perhaps on the order of Heideggers notion of power-free letting as a radical critique of subjectivity, domination, and action. Reinterpreting Heideggers term machtlos in the context of the avantgarde, we can say that it indicates a postaesthetic modality of relation which is power-free but not force-free. Such relationality is conceived dynamically, as an event, whose force is precisely the disarticulation of power and the transformation of what is by releasing it from the forms of relation, exchange, or production which participate in the global intensication of power. This idea of the turning of technicity against itself carries with it a deeper critique of the paradigms of production and consumption. Even as technicity becomes the modern culmination


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of the metaphysics of production, it also points to the limit of this paradigm, showing that production is no longer emancipatory but serves, in its contemporary maniacal and empty drive toward global proportions, the further intensication of power. The liberatory avant-garde impulse does not end with the historical disappearance of the rst or even the second wave of the avant-gardes but continues to press its point in both some contemporary art and critical thought. In fact, since the liberating potential of avant-garde art is intrinsically linked to technicity and its regulatory powers, it keeps intensifying or radicalizing itself with the corresponding increase in the spread and power of contemporary and future electronic technology. Therefore, I would say that the time of the avant-garde is now, and that perhaps the avant-garde will be even more current in the future, which promises the quickening expansion of technology far beyond even the present state, in which, as Peter Sloterdijk argued in Eurotaoismus, being had already become identied with acceleration itself.7 Future here is meant in a double sense: as the historical future but also as the futurity which marks the now, illustrating the freeing horizon of the temporal non-coincidence of the present with itself beyond the utopian idea of a redeemed future. What I call here the avant-garde is understood then as the art of the future in the specic sense in which it highlights the freeing and transformative vector of futurity, futurity which alters the dynamic matrix of power relations constitutive of the present. The future in the avant-garde is not a moment of utopia but a disarticulation of power in the present. I have thus sketched out the terrain and the terms on which we need to address the problem of the force of art at the turn of the new millennium. These termsaesthetics, technology, power, freedomare not new but their conguration changes substantially within the optics opened up by avant-garde art. Aesthetics is no longer thought either in terms of sensibility, pleasure, subjective expression, or the twin logics of production and consumption, but, instead, as an event which transforms relationality beyond the terms of power. If technopower describes the matrix of relationality which remains characteristic of modernity, then poiesis \ is an event in which the vector of technicity changes from power to freedom. Adorno describes this turn when he claims that art mobilizes technique [Technik] in an opposite direction than does domination (AT 54). As the transformative relation between techne \ and poiesis \ , freedom is a matter of continuous and critical turning of technicity against itself. Within this turn, the poietic is not a simple opposite of technicity but, rather, a way of disarticulating technicity from within, not an escape but a transformation. This turning is also not a dialectical reversal or negation but, rather, a fold which marks an

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opening of a beyond to technicity within the technological organization of power. Thus, this beyond or otherwise is neither posttechnological nor outside the reach of technology but constitutes a certain outside within, whose force consists in manifesting the poietic modality of relating within the technic paradigm of modernity. Such a transformative shift is at work, for instance, in Karl-Heinz Stockhausens Helikopter Quartett, one of the latest instances in which the work of art undertakes a certain reformulation of technology into a musical composition.8 What is interesting about Stockhausens rather unusual quartet, with the use of four helicopters in which the separated quartet members play their respective parts, is that it does not use the sound of the helicopter blades as background sound/music or as musical material that becomes incorporated and rewoven into the string composition. In other words, the Helikopter Quartett is not another repetition in the well-known mantra of the aestheticization of technology/experience but, instead, a kind of a reverse of what has been happening with aestheticss gradual incorporation and disappearance into technicity. The Helikopter Quartett incorporates the sound of the four helicopters as it comes into the cabins in which the members of the Arditti quartet play. It literally works with the technological sound, or the sound of technology, beginning to draw out its melody, to bring out and rework the musical structure imbedded in the technological noise. The notes played by the musicians pick on the technological noise, reshape it, and turn it into notes, disclosing a musical, aesthetic structure at work in technology. Drawing out a poietic techne \ from the byproduct of technological progress, noise, the complex play between the helicopter and the quartet sounds opens up a beyond within the technological techne \, a poietic techne \, rephrasing and remodulating the technic relationality into a poietic relationality of an artwork. I want to argue that what depends on this turn is the mode or the valency of relation, and, more specically, the question of whether such relationality has the momentum of power. I therefore reformulate Heideggers question about technology in the following way: do relations in the technological age take, necessarily as it seems, the form of power relations and thus participate in the continuing intensication of beings manifestation as power, or do they point to a turn in technicity toward a different disposition of relations, which withdraws from the productionist logic of power and does not contribute to its increase? The key though undeveloped element in Heideggers reection on technicity is the idea of a fold or turn within techne \ itself. Heideggers notion of technicity does not refer to what we know as technology, such as instruments or technological means of production but to a mode of revealing which discloses what is as intrinsically calculable and available


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as resource. When beings come to be disclosed as resources, natural, mineral, human, or otherwise, it means that they are constituted in their very essence in terms of power, that is, as inherently manipulable, subject to calculation, reworking, and numerication. Technicity makes it possible to categorize experience and relations in terms of efciency, commodication, and exchange. Characterized by the tendency toward equalization of differences, exchangeability, and convertibility, technicitys most recent incarnation is the informational age, with its increasing capability to digitize and turn being into a global, continuously modiable, data bank. In our reection on the present state of technicity, we need to change some of the terms that Adorno and Heidegger used to diagnose it in their work: calculability has become computability; manipulability or instrumentality is now programmability; enframing has turned into formatting, main-framing, and internetting; while resource and standing-reserve have become data banks. Finally, technicity itself has become digitality, disclosing the contemporary world as the unstable, global ow of information. If technicity refers in Heidegger to such a coming into being which discloses beings as intrinsically subject to calculation and ordering, digitality goes deeper, as it were, revealing the essence of what is as digitizable in its structure, transferable into the realm of the virtual and open to reprogramming. For all their truth, the ecstatic invocations of the new world, freedom, and prosperity in the computer age have to be taken with a grain of salt. It is undeniably true that electronic media, the Internet, and cyberspace have given us unprecedented freedom of access to information, new channels of expression, ease of contact and exchange. Yet this fresh freedom is bound, Adorno would probably like to say, dialectically, with unprecedented scope and exercise of power. While the cyber age has introduced a certain sense of uidity, multiplicity, and beroptic speed into daily reality, it has also, and in a clearly unprecedented way, disclosed being as manipulable and programmable in essence. There seems to be nothing on this earth, or elsewhere, whose informational code, whether genetic or virtual, could not be cracked open and reprogrammed. With the digital age, the control, the reach, and saturation of power has simultaneously extended to global proportions, penetrated to the microscopic level of genetic codes, and produced a new cyberspace mirror of reality. The freedoms which we enjoy via the cyberspace are predicated on the ability to organize and digitize, in other words to convert experience, materiality, and being into a digital format. While there are clearly multiple forms of power, both restrictive or negative and creative, the fundamental conduit which renders modern being into increasingly intensifying power, power which belongs to no one and yet powers everything and everyone, could be

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described as digital. Since to be means today to be disclosable as, in essence, information, in other words a code, this inherently digital disposition of being, its inclination to become convertible into digitized information and its systemic manipulability, produces modern being as saturated by power on microscopic levels. In the end, we no longer have a Platonic essence but a modern, informational one: our being becomes reducible to electronic impulses, data, and digital inscriptions. What is not convertible into information and mobilizable for the sake of power appears, therefore, as somehow decient, undenable and lacking in being. This is why art, in spite of the controversies that erupt here and there, strikes us, especially the computer generation, as more and more unreal or as ideology. Against such reduction of art to ideology, I propose to think art as a possibility of turn in technicity, to argue that art is real as a transformative event in which the technical relationality comes to reect upon itself and calls itself into question. This way of rethinking the relation between art and techne \ emerges in The Question Concerning Technology, where Heidegger indicates that the possibility of a turning in technicity depends upon a rethinking of the modern art beyond aesthetics and the notion of production: There was a time when it was not technicity alone that bore the name techne \. Once the revealing that brings forth truth into the splendor of radiant appearance was also called techne \. There was a time when the bringing-forth of the true into the beautiful was called techne \. The poiesis \ of the ne arts was also called techne \.9 Techne \ thus is the ambiguous play of two faces: a technical techne \ and a poietic techne \. If for Heidegger technicity is a mode of revealing that challenges forth (Herausfordern), calculates, orders, and organizes being into resource, poiesis \ , by contrast, is a transformative event which changes relations into an unproductive modality of letting be. Like technicity, art too disposes relations but, as Adorno remarks with a radically different result: Through the domination of the dominating, art revises the domination of nature to the core. In contrast to the semblance of inevitability that characterizes these forms in empirical reality, arts control over them and their relation to materials makes their arbitrariness in the empirical world evident. As a musical composition compresses time, and as a painting folds spaces into one another, so the possibility is concretized that the world could be other than it is (AT 138). Following the patterns of domination at work in technicity, art takes over the relations between forces in society and transposes them into its own aesthetic force eld. But this transposition changes the vector of relations between forces, away from domination, commodication, or exchange of information. To explain the signicance of this turn within technicity and the role


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art can play in it, I propose to redene the work of art as a force-work.10 The term force-work brings the two notionsforce and worktogether to focus attention on the act or event of redisposing forces which constitutes the critical dimension of modern art. What can make modern art still count as art, that is, possess a specic autonomy and a signicance beyond that of one cultural sector among many, is the forcework, which gures arts transformative capabilities. Force-work can be described in a preliminary fashion as a redisposition of forces into a constellation alternative to the technopolitical conditions of arts production. As a eld, the work of art is a multidimensional space-time event, where forces come to be transformed through the force of poiesis \ . Poiesis \ is what makes art: it is a kind of force or bearing, activated specically by artworks. This poietic force remains, as Adorno and Heidegger each in his own way explain, an enigma, ungraspable and illegible within the discourses, whether aesthetic, scientic, or cultural, which this artistic force itself transforms in the process of inscribing them in the work. When worldly and social forces enter the space of art, they come under the bearing of poiesis \ which recongures and redisposes them. As such a force eld, an artwork becomes an interface between the external, social world, and the historically and materially circumscribed artistic dimension of the work, staging repeatedly the very transformative event, the synapse between art and reality, which allows art to remain autonomous precisely for the sake of critiquing and revising the real. Such force-work can be thought as an alternative disposition of forces, which, breaking open the radical historicity of experience, ruptures and displaces the relations of power that regulate social commerce. This transformative push or force of the force-work cannot be explained merely, as Adornos Aesthetic Theory indicates, in terms of the radicality of formal experimentation or as a thematized resistance to dominant power formations or ideologies. Rather, it has to be considered in terms of the unfolding of force relations, which, as Adorno suggests, like the invisible innitesimal forces in physics, operate as a second world of relations underneath not only the social and the political but also the aesthetic phenomena.

To illustrate what I mean by force-work and its relation to the problem of power and technicity, I will offer some remarks on two rather different works of art: Barakas most recent collection Funk Lore and Violas video installation entitled The Crossing. My comments will have to be conned to points about the limitation of the production paradigm

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for thinking about modern art and power and about the transformative turn of technicity initiated in art. As Paul Gilroy argues, presenting the Black Atlantic as the counterculture to modernity, the production paradigm, the idea of social self-creation through labor, cannot serve as the universal model of emancipation, because it cannot address the modes of liberation at work in the struggles of slavery and racial difference. Critiquing production as inherently tied to enslavement and power, Gilroy identies instead poiesis \ and poetics, and in particular music, as the alternative paradigm for liberated forms of relations.11 Coming up against its limit, technicity shows in the same gesture the limit of the idea of production and discloses the possibility of a reversal into a poietic paradigm, a paradigm intimately related to art but conceived as a critique of aesthetics, that is, as a non or postaesthetic matrix of relationality. Amiri Baraka expounds a similar position in his most recent collection of poems, Funk Lore, where he is ercely critical of the metaphysics of production (and exploitation), which informs contemporary forms of capitalism and mass culture, and points instead to an alternative mode of being imaged in the funky rhythm of jazz. The jazz rhythm, a characteristic aesthetic icon of an Afro-American liberation, is both the condition of the eventual freedom from the legacy of slavery and racism, and thus the condition of the liberated AfricanAmerican voice, and the possibility of a turn within the very paradigm of modernity. Poems like JA ZZ : (The Say What?), Art Against Art Not and J. said, Our whole universe is generated by a rhythm develop the poetic forms of jazz rhythm as an instantiation of a different universe between the lines, as it were, of the bloody and violent world of capitalism, class inequality, and racism. The jazz rhythm of the universe is the rhythm brought into the open by art, a poietic rhythm, which Baraka opposes to the efciency rhythm of modern technicity: to capital, big business, international corporations, and so on: The Universe / is the rhythm / there is no on looker, no outside / no other than the real, the universe / is rhythm, and whatever is only is as / swinging.12 This different universe is what Baraka refers to as the body of is (61), the story of being as shaped by the rhythm of interrelations based on freedom and letting be, a universe that has disappeared under the pressures of the power-oriented forms of life. Through music and poetic language, Baraka draws this universe out through the cracks in the edice of global production, which has determined relations of modernity in terms of production and exploitation. One moment raging against political and economic inequality and multinational corporations, Baraka dramatically changes his tonality in the next, amplifying a different tune about relations released from the dualisms of power, which are barely audible in the rapidly intensifying pace of


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technological modernity. Literally jazzing up being, Funk Lore tries to inect the rhythm of modernity: from the self-organizing rhythms and globalized ows of power to the snake-like, exible, jazzy rhythm whose force lies in instantiating the very disarticulacy of power: The snake was music the visible thought / the answer, as the Sea crawls in waves / the waves of is story . . . (60). Perhaps this kind of turn in modernity is what Adorno, in spite of his dislike of jazz, tries to get at when he asserts that social and political forces that contribute to and, in fact, often determine the production of art become inverted or transformed in the artwork, a transformation which, Adorno believes, opens up reality in a manner that remains inaccessible outside art.13 Art becomes socially meaningful precisely when it breaks with the aesthetic and political functions that society establishes for it, when it inverts or reworks the power formations which regulate society and which society wants to stamp or project onto art. What art inaugurates is a different forcework, a different disposition of forces, which means that the forces that operate in society in a technological or instrumental, over-rationalized manner, as Adorno would put it, become nontechnological. They are the same forces, yet their modality of unfolding is different in art, which means that the relations they produce become disposed into a different mode of revealing, and, as a result, the world unfolds otherwise. Arts autonomy manifests itself in this otherwise of its force-work. It is in terms of such a turn in technicity that I would like to propose here, by way of closing, a few observations on Bill Violas remarkable video installation entitled The Crossing.14 My question here is whether the crossing in Violas installation represents a transformation or a turn within the same. In the video, the two elements, re and water, are portrayed as at the same time destructive and transforming: the re consumes or puries, the water drowns or cleanses. In both cases, the crossing has to do with a disappearance of the subject enacted by the male gure which vanishes into the ames and the cascading water. It is of crucial import to my argument that Violas The Crossing hinges upon this ambiguity between annihilation and transformation. It manifests, in a way, the double valency of force I discussed earlier, the ease with which forces can take the form of power and violence or enable release and freedom. This metamorphosing of force depends on how it comes to be disposed, on what kind of relationality it draws out; in other words, on whether the force-work becomes disposed artistically or in terms of power. Violas The Crossing draws out relations in terms of stillness: between the dark background and the gure advancing in slow motion, the raised hands in relation to the rest of the body and the unilluminated background, or the bodys stillness in relation to the ames and water

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which engulf it. But this stillness, underscored by the slow motion photography in The Crossing and articulated through the contrast with the moving body and the motion of ames and water, is not mute. The aim, in Marjorie Perloffs words, is to slow down the viewers attention and witness what has always already been there but never quite seen.15 As a result, what has always already been there begins to articulate itself to our eyes and ears; it speaks precisely in the sense in which Heidegger invests language with the ability to speak. Language speaks not so much in words as between words, through a form of relationality that opens the space for and disposes words. Beyond signication, words, and images, it is the force-work, the key in which relations unfold and become disposed, that speaks in Violas work. For Viola, video art looks for an image that is not an image and makes us dwell within what does not enter the scope of visibility: the temporality of experience. The slow motion in Viola thus tells time, or, says temporality itself, which, irreducible to calculation and measurement, comes into focus, at it were, in the blurred movements of the body. Though itself programmed, the sequenced running of The Crossing repeatedly communicates the importance of the turn in the increasingly programmable experience, of the irreducibility of being to a programming or informational code. Using the latest technology to manipulate time, to dominate it, as Adorno would say, Viola turns this artistic disposition of forces against technicity, specically against the foreshortening of the irreducibly futural projection of temporality to processable and programmable information. Against the backdrop of measurement and digital manipulation, The Crossing opens up experience into its transformative futurity, the futurity which marks the present and expands its here beyond the linear dimension of presence. Employing digital technology as a counter to technicity, Violas art makes visible a fold within technicity between its increasingly power-ful deployment of calculative/digital relations and its power-free poetic sculpturing of experience. In the approach I am proposing, arts force is its ability to bring us face to face with the power at work in technicity. This power operates beyond the obvious power of the new technologies, as it constitutes the very momentum of how the complex of relations forming modernity develops and becomes an intricate and differentiated matter of power. Arts importance in this context lies in its work on the possibility of the turn within technicity and power. The force-work characteristic of art shows the other face of techne \, marked in the modern technicity as the possibility of a different future. Modern techne \ reveals its face as manipulative technicity, which unfolds the world in terms of a programmable and manipulable network of relations, a kind of global computer


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matrix. Manifesting itself in the form of multiplying informational relays and the increasing reach of digital technology, technicity discloses the essence of being as an informational code, thus intensifying the global sense of power. Art, on the other hand, shows technicity its other, ethical face as a revealing that could let be and enable relations to unfold as free from power. Perhaps the critical difference here is between the in essence manipulative and programming character of modern technicity and the enabling techne \ or force-work of art. The power of art, the transformative force of its rupture, lies in opening up a nexus of power-free relations. Differently put, what becomes transformed in art is power itself, which becomes changed into what perhaps no longer can be even referred to as power, since the force-work at stake in art is a kind of force but one which does not contribute to the intensication of power. Letting be, it undermines the power formation of relations in the modern world, changes its momentum and opens up a certain otherwise to power. My suggestion here is that this turn or change marks the avant-garde vector of art. University of Notre Dame
NOTES 1 Richard Shusterman, Performing Live: Aesthetic Alternatives for the Ends of Art (Ithaca, 2000). 2 Every work is a force eld . . . .; Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, tr. Robert HullotKentor (Minneapolis, 1997), p. 206; hereafter cited in text as AT. 3 See Tony Pinkneys introduction to Raymond Williams, The Politics of Modernism: Against the New Conformists (London, 1989), p. 19. 4 Thus the very conditions which had provoked a genuine modernist art became the conditions which steadily homogenized even its startling images and diluted its deep forms, until they could be made available as a universally distributed popular culture. The two faces of this modernism could literally not recognize each other, until a very late stage; The Politics of Modernism, p. 131. 5 Martin Heidegger, Die Geschichte des Seyns, Gesamtausgabe vol. 69 (Frankfurt am Main, 1998). 6 Martin Heidegger, Besinnung, Gesamtausgabe vol. 66 (Frankfurt am Main, 1997), pp. 18796. 7 Peter Sloterdijk, Eurotaoismus: Zur Kritik der politischen Kinetik (Frankfurt, 1989). 8 Karlheinz Stockhausen, Helikopter Quartett, Arditti String Quartet, 1999. 9 Martin Heidegger, Question Concerning Technology, Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell (New York, 1993), p. 339. 10 In thinking force here, I follow the line that extends from Nietzsche to Heidegger and Foucault, and see force in ontological terms as the push (German stossen) of unfolding or coming into being. This sense of force borrows from Heideggers redening of physis as the force of happening, the emergence of what comes to be. In such a differential event, beings come to be what they are through and by virtue of a sheaf of relations which decide their being. In other words, the force is inherently differential and mediatory: it

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instantiates not simply what is but the relatedness through which what is comes to be. Contrasted with the notions of a stasis or an atemporal essentia, being as force describes the very temporality of happening, in which occurrence has the structure of an event extended into the coming future and, therefore, irreducible to any particular instant of the now. As an event of unfolding or revealing, force does not have an identity or a presence of its own, for its being consists in merely bringing into being. The being of force, then, is not an identiable force or a being, since force never is in the manner in which one predicates existence of things, phenomena, or events. At best, we could say that it is the force of occurring, the actuation which marks the emergence of anything that exists. Thought this way, force constitutes the material event of all relationality. But this materiality, as the eld where all relations become inscribed, the site from which force lines unfold, has the tissue of a language, one that works before and beyond the order of signication. It is a language in the specic sense of constituting the temporalization of force lines, their disposition, which fashions the script for all relations. It bespeaks the ways in which forces materialize, in which relations are formed into history, articulated into social formations. This language tissue of relations has its model in Heideggers notion of saying (Sage) that exceeds language. The actuation of such an event forms a wordless language that reads through all relations. It is a fold or spasm which institutes (the opposition of) materiality and language, and enfolds all relationality. As such, it also marks the limit of what is commonly understood as materiality and language. This limit, however, is internal: it indicates not the point where language or materiality cease but the disposition or the modality according to which they unfold and become related to each other. 11 Artistic expression, expanded beyond recognition from the grudging gifts offered by the masters as a token substitute for freedom from bondage, therefore becomes the means toward both individual self-fashioning and communal liberation. Poiesis and poetics begin to coexist in novel formsautobiographical writing, special and uniquely creative ways of manipulating spoken language, and, above all, music. Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, Mass., 1993), p. 40. 12 Amiri Baraka, Funk Lore (Los Angeles, 1996), p. 9; hereafter cited in text. 13 Art, however, is social not only because of its mode of production . . . nor simply because of the social derivation of its thematic material. Much more importantly, art becomes social by its opposition to society, and it occupies this position only as autonomous art. By crystallizing in itself as something unique in itself, rather than complying with existing social norms and qualifying as socially useful, it criticizes society by merely existing, for which puritans of all stripes condemn it (Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 22526). 14 The sound video installation is briey described in Bill Viola, ed. David A. Ross and Peter Sellars (Paris, 1997): two channels of color video projections from opposite sides of large dark gallery onto two large back-to-back screens suspended from ceiling and mounted to oor; four channels of amplied stereo sound, four speakers. 15 Marjorie Perloff, Poetry On and Off the Page: Essays for Emergent Occasions (Evanston, Ill., 1998), p. 319.