The Perils of Radical Subjectivity




"The Struggle" against domination has therefore splintered into micro-struggles extending on so many different planes that there is no need, and in any case no way, to link them all up on a macro-systemic level.

So one cultivates "radical" subjectivity through practices that methodologically refuse the big picture ("bad" totality).

With audible relief, one relinquishes, as naiveté or will-to-power, the ambition to destroy the structures of exploitation.

Having been a student in the mid-1990s, I can vividly recall how attractive and obvious these ideas seemed. For me and for the artists I knew and worked with then, they appeared more radical and empowering than anything else on offer. It would take some more years of critical work and experience to emerge on the other side of them. Some never did.

The fact is, this reductionist soup is a vulgarization of Foucault-Deleuze-Guattari-Lyotard-Derrida-Baudrillard that represses, precisely, the commitments of these critical theorists. About the real histories and practical contexts in which they struggled, in some cases militantly, one remains sublimely uninformed. Taken out of context and run together into a concoction sloppily called "post-modernism," these distinct bodies of theory and practice are cooked down to some purported basis of post-political ironic relativism.

It follows that, obviously, the old avant-gardes are laughable relics, utterly and irredeemably passé and uncool. Predictably, this kind of thing is often transmitted, in the form of (an) attitude, to students who haven't yet learned or read enough to make minimally critical choices about it and who, as result, will never immerse themselves in avant-garde histories. (Why bother?)

Again, I'm not suggesting that students and artists should slavishly be repeating these histories. The point is that in order to receive and repurpose them, it is necessary to first go through the trouble of learning them.

[Gene Ray]
Art Schools Burning and Other Songs of Love and War, Chap. IV, para. 1-2
Full text here




In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. 

As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

[Harold Pinter]
Nobel Lecture, 'Art, Truth & Politics'





orange/GREEN replaces the certainties of BLUE truth and ORANGE tried-and-true-experience with relativism. With so many equally good possibilities, maybe none is invariably best. Perhaps everyone is right in her/his own way, one time or another.

It is this amorphous, context-sensitive aspect of GREEN which so disturbs clear-cut BLUE and impatient ORANGE - situational ethics, cultural relativism, and Outcome-Based Education (no grades, nobody fails), for example.

[Don Edward Beck & Christopher C. Cowan]
Spiral Dynamics, p.263




This conception in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as ‘the Tao'. 

Some of the accounts of it which I have quoted will seem, perhaps, to many of you merely quaint or even magical. But what is common to them all is something we cannot neglect. It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. 

Those who know the Tao can hold that to call children delightful or old men venerable is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own parental or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not. 

I myself do not enjoy the society of small children: because I speak from within the Tao I recognize this as a defect in myself - just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind.

[C.S. Lewis]
‘The Abolition of Man’, Selected Books, p. 405



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