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civilization / barbarism

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New one over at Long Sunday, simply citing this from a T.J. Clark interview in the Brooklyn Rail

Rail: Right at the start of the book, in the Preface, you say a few words about the difference between what you’re doing in Afflicted Powers and The Sight of Death and ‘the alternative currently on offer in so much of the Left academy.’ It’s pretty clear that you haven’t much sympathy for what passes these days as Left art history. Why not?

Clark: I think it’s stuck with an out-of-date sense of the issues. As if it mattered any longer—as if it had any present political point—to prove for the umpteenth time that what we poor suckers had imagined was a difficult and double-edged picture of the human condition was really, hey presto!, just another instrument of ruling-class oppression… Here’s Bruegel for you—provider of sneering moralistic services for a bunch of bourgeois Puritans. Where does one start with this? Maybe by looking back at the canonical quote from Walter Benjamin, and reminding oneself of what it did and did not say. It did not say that “There is no document of civilization which is not really, when you look at its origins and function, a document of barbarism.” It said: “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” This is a dialectical thought, not an anti-canonical put-down. The work of art is a document of civilization and of barbarism. The job of the materialist is to think the two identities—the two kinds of belonging to history—together. Not to reduce one to the other. A materialist will presumably be interested in what it was, in the sets of possibilities offered by a specific medium, a specific practice, that opened the space in which a jolly denunciation of peasant foolishness became something else.

(via 3quarks)

Written by adswithoutproducts

November 8, 2006 at 11:28 pm

Posted in aesthetics, benjamin

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