Critical Theory and Critical Art Theory

in (11.07.2007)

We thought we had a critical art theory, but do we?

'The first result on the agenda of the theory that urges the transformation of the social totality is an intensification of the struggle to which it is bound.'
- Max Horkheimer, 'Traditional and Critical Theory'

'The critical theory of the spectacle is only true if it joins the practical stream of negation within society.'
- Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

In his classic 1937 essay for the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, Max Horkheimer analyzed the differences between critical and traditional theory.[1] As a mode of critical reflection and social research oriented toward radical transformation, critical theory since then has developed in divergent streams that today form a complex tradition of its own. With deep sources in the traditions of philosophy and science, in Rationalism and Enlightenment critiques of religion and arbitrary power, critical theory looks back above all to the writings of Karl Marx. For many today, critical theory is synonymous with the work of the Frankfurt Institute: critical theory becomes 'Critical Theory.'

As indispensable as Frankfurt theory was and no doubt remains, this reduction of critical theory to a single stream can only be an impoverishment. After all, Frankfurt theory is just one part of that larger stream sometimes called Marxist humanism, which also includes numerous dissident tendencies within organized Marxism; for these, Rosa Luxemburg is a key early landmark and inspiration. Any comprehensive view of critical theory would also have to encompass autonomist theoretical traditions, from Councilism to the Situationist International to radical forms of feminism to post-Operaism. It would also have to include other radical streams more renegade and difficult to categorize; one of the most important of these flows from the writings of Georges Bataille. To think critical theory as a complex tradition of radical thought encourages comparative study and reminds us that the relations between divergent streams remain largely unmapped. And it counters the temptation to view any single stream as the be and end all of critical theory, for it can sometimes be seen that the deficiencies of one stream are made up for by another stream working on similar problems. In no area of theoretical inquiry is the inadequacy of Frankfurt theory more pronounced than in critical reflection on art and culture - precisely that area in which the Frankfurt School is usually thought to have made some of its strongest contributions.

All forms of critical theory share a radical rejection of the world as it now exists - the given social reality, the world that happens to be the case. Critical theory rejects _the given_ and at the same time looks beyond it. The close critique of existing reality digs out those unrealized possibilities that lead radically beyond this reality, in the direction of emancipation. The force of this beyond distinguishes critical theory from _affirmative_ (non-critical) theory as well as from liberal (non-radical) theory. The Frankfurt theorists developed a powerful dialectical critique of art and culture under capitalism. But today it becomes clear that they failed to look beyond the _given art_. Their claims on behalf of work- or opus-based modernism led them to defend of a conception of autonomous art sanctioned and privileged by the capitalist art system. This position blinded them to artistic and cultural practices that rejected this dominant conception and moved beyond it. In this respect, Frankfurt art theory appears insufficiently critical.

Not all streams of critical theory accepted this limit to reflection on art. Situationist critical theory insisted on the necessity of breaking with the institutionalized conventions of modernist art and developed criteria for differentiating radical artistic avant-gardes from the movements of artistic modernism. Today, as the institutions of the capitalist art system are in the process of colonizing and absorbing tactical media and other Situationist-inspired cultural practices, and as respected 'critical' voices respond to market-driven pluralism by falling back to the old Frankfurt defenses of modernism, it is necessary to return to this problem and to clarify the conditions of a _critical_ art theory.

Traditional and Critical Theory

Insofar as they are grounded in rational criteria for establishing truth and producing knowledge for guiding practice, all forms of theory share a fundamental commitment to the human capacity for reason. And this commitment to reason is at least implicitly grounded in a prior commitment to human emancipation. In common with the traditions of philosophy and science with which it remains involved, theory is a practice of reason aiming - or at least claiming to aim, if pressed to justify itself - at human emancipation. However, critical theory sets itself apart from traditional or affirmative theory by its commitment to radical social transformation as the necessary condition of human emancipation.

All forms of critical reason and reflection have measured the world as it is against the world as it could be. This drive of reason beyond the given must be controlled consciously by reason itself: claims about possible worlds have to be grounded and argued from demonstrable human capacities and potentialities. Marx's great contribution to this critical tradition is to have shown by a rigorous analysis of exploitation that the blockages to an emancipatory actualization of human possibilities are social and material, and not merely political. Overcoming them necessarily entails a revolutionary passage from capitalist to a classless society. Beginning with Marx, critical theory grasps truth as a social force-field and a historical process of radical social and material transformation; all forms of critical theory ultimately are aimed at the real overcoming of all obstacles still blocking a passage beyond capitalism.

Traditional theory sees its task narrowly as the production of knowledge in a form that is neutral with respect to social conflict. Accordingly, it enforces a strict separation of facts and values. Critical theory, in contrast, has understood that in a class society constituted by relations of domination, pure knowledge is an illusion. Overall, theoretical neutrality necessarily aligns itself with the established powers of existing society, for these are the main beneficiaries of the knowledge it produces. Unlike traditional theory, which remains blind to the affirmative functions that implicate it, critical theory includes a reflection on its own position in society and on the social functions of the modes and institutions of reason. Theory that criticizes existing conditions but does not clearly orient itself toward radical social transformation should not be called critical theory. Liberal theory, to give it its name, is defined by the limits it places on critique: the social totality is not its object. It is not necessary for liberal theory to explicitly endorse a liberal reality; non-radical criticism of the given is liberal by default.[2] Liberal theory sheds the naïveté of affirmative traditional theory but at the end of the day is necessarily incompatible with the revolutionary horizon of radical critical theory.[3]

Although critical theory has been powerfully influenced by the breakthroughs of Marxist thought, it is not identical or reducible to the dogmas of orthodox 'Marxism.' In an 1843 letter to Ruge for the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, the young Marx famously called for the 'relentless critique of all that exists - relentless in that it will shrink neither from its own discoveries nor from conflict with the powers that be.'[4] This intransigence of critical theory, which has never been expressed better, compels it to turn its critical operations not just on the given but also on the forces opposed to the given. Progress toward emancipation requires a continuous self-critique from within the revolutionary process. Neither the works of Marx nor the forms of struggle those works have inspired can be spared from the ordeals of critical scrutiny. Economics is certainly at the roots of domination. But as we now know all too well, even if exploitation is the dominant form of domination, it is not the only form. Emancipation demands that every form of domination be critiqued and dissolved, even if this entails an interminable negation of power as such. Revolutionary parties and the states of 'really existing socialism' may have (had) their official theorists, but any theory that submits its truths to the approval of any established authority ceases to be critical. This kind of collaboration can only be a 'suicide of thought,' as Maurice Blanchot vividly put it.[5] Only by this intransigent refusal of all servility - this vigilant watch over the autonomy of its negativity - does critical theory contribute to the movement for emancipation. In other words, it can go without saying that critical theory is anti-capitalist, but with respect to established anti-capitalist forces and orthodoxies, critical theory as intransigent self-criticism can only take the form of dissent or an internal opposition.

Toward a Critical _Art_ Theory

Critical theory rejects the given world and looks beyond it. In reflection on art, too, we need to distinguish between uncritical, or affirmative, theory and a _critical_ theory that rejects the _given_ art and looks beyond it. Critical art theory cannot limit itself to the reception and interpretation of art, as that now exists under capitalism. Because it will recognize that art as it is currently institutionalized and practiced - business as usual in the current 'art world' - is in the deepest and most unavoidable sense 'art under capitalism,' art under the domination of capitalism, critical art theory will rather be oriented toward a clear break or rupture with the art that capitalism has brought to dominance.

Critical art theory's first task is to understand how the given art supports the given order. It must expose and analyze art's actual social functions under capitalism. What is it doing, this whole sphere of activity called art? Any critical theory of art must begin by grasping that the activity of art in its current forms is contradictory. The 'art world' is the site of an enormous mobilization of creativity and inventiveness, channeled into the production, reception, and circulation of artworks. The art institutions practice various kinds of direction over this production as a whole, but this direction is not usually _directly_ coercive. Certainly the art market exerts pressures of selection that no artist can ignore, if she or he hopes to make a career. But individual artists are _relatively_ free to make the art they choose, according to their own conceptions. It may not sell or make them famous, but they are free to do their thing. Art, then, has not relinquished its historical claim to autonomy within capitalist society, and today the operations of this relative autonomy remain empirically observable.

On the other hand, a critical theorist is bound to see that art as whole is a stabilizing factor in social life. The existence of an art seemingly produced freely and in great abundance is a credit to the given order. Art remains a jewel in power's crown, and the richer, more splendid and exuberant art is, the more it affirms the social status quo.[6] The material reality of capitalist society may be a war of all against all, but in art the utopian impulses that are blocked from actualization in everyday life find an orderly social outlet. The art institutions organize a great variety of activities and agents into a complex systemic unity; the capitalist art system functions as a sub-system of the capitalist world system. Without doubt, some of these activities and artistic products are openly critical and politically committed. But taken as a whole, the art system is affirmative[7], in the sense that it converts the totality of art works and artistic practices - the sum of what flows through these circuits of production and reception - into 'symbolic legitimation' (to borrow Pierre Bourdieu's apt expression for it[8]) of class society. It does so by simultaneously encouraging art's autonomous impulses and politically neutralizing what those impulses produce.

Frankfurt Modernism

The Frankfurt theorists pioneered and elaborated this dialectical understanding of art. Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno have shown us how art under capitalism can, at the very same time, be both relatively autonomous and instrumentalized into a support for existing society. Every work of art, in Adorno's famous formulation, is both autonomous and a social fact.(AT, 16/5) In the autonomous aspect of art's 'double character,' the Frankfurt theorists saw an equivalent to the intransigence of critical theory.[9] Free autonomous creation is a form of that reach for an un-alienated humanity described luminously by the young Marx. As such, it always contains a force of resistance to the powers that be, albeit a very fragile one.

Their attempts to rescue and protect this autonomous aspect led the Frankfurt theorists to an absolute investment in the forms of artistic modernism. For them, and above all for Adorno, the modernist artwork or opus was a sensuous manifestation of truth as a social process straining toward human emancipation. The modernist work - and to be sure, what is meant here are the masterworks, the zenith of advanced formal experimentation - is an 'enactment of antagonisms,' an unreconciled synthesis of 'un-unifiable, non-identical elements that grind away at each other.'(AT, 262/176, 263/176) A force-field of elements that are both artistic and social, the artwork indirectly or even unconsciously reproduces the conflicts, blockages and revolutionary aspirations of alienated everyday life.[10] They saw this practice of autonomy threatened from two directions. First, from the increasing encroachments of capitalist rationality into the sphere of culture - processes to which Horkheimer and Adorno famously gave the name 'culture industry.'(DE, 128-76/94-136) Second, from political instrumentalization by the Communist Parties and other established powers claiming to be anti-capitalist.

It was in response to his perceptions of this second threat that Adorno issued his notorious condemnation of politicized art.[11] Ostensibly responding to Jean-Paul Sartre's 1947 call for a littérature engagée, Adorno's position in fact had already been formed by the interwar context: the liquidation of the artistic avant-gardes in the USSR under Stalin and the Comintern's adoption of socialist realism as the official and only acceptable form of anti-capitalist art.[12] Art that subordinates itself to the direction of a Party was for Adorno a betrayal of art's force of resistance. He took the position that art cannot instrumentalize itself on the basis of political commitments without undermining the autonomy on which it depends and thereby undoing itself as art. Autonomous (modernist) art is political, but only indirectly and only by restricting itself to the practice of its proper autonomy. In short, art must bear its contradiction and not attempt to overcome it. As the culture industry expanded and consolidated its hold over everyday consciousness and, indeed, as struggles of national liberation and urban uprisings politicized campuses over the course of the 1960s, Adorno responded by hardening his position.

There can be little doubt that the given artistic autonomy is threatened by the two tendencies Adorno pointed to. But there is little doubt either that his conception of the problem forecloses its possible solution. Culture industry and official socialist realism were not the only alternatives to the production of autonomist artworks. But Adorno in effect couldn't see these other alternatives because he had no category for them. The most convincing of these alternatives constituted itself by terminating its ties of dependency on the art institutions, abandoning the production of traditional art objects, and relocating its practices to the streets and public spaces. The formation of the Situationist International (SI) in 1957 was an announcement that this alternative had reached a basic theoretical and practical coherence.[13] Adorno remained blind to it as he continued to polish the Aesthetic Theory until his death in 1969. So did his heir, Peter Bürger, who would publish Theory of the Avant-Garde in 1974.

Toward a Different Autonomy

With both Adorno and Bürger, the problem can be traced to a theoretically unjustified overinvestment in the work-form of modernist art. Bürger basically rewrites the history of the artistic avant-gardes as the development of the work-as-force-field so dear to Adorno. For Adorno the avant-garde _is_ modernist art, identity pure and simple. Bürger makes an important advance beyond this identification by grasping that the 'historical' avant-gardes had repudiated artistic autonomy in their efforts to re-link art and life - and that their specificity is to be located in this repudiation. But although Bürger works hard to differentiate his analysis from Adorno's, he returns to the fold, so to speak, by judging this avant-garde attack on the institution of autonomous art to be failure, a 'false supersession' (falsche Aufhebung) of art into life.[14] The only successful result was an unintended one: after the historical avant-gardes, the organic, harmonized work of traditional art gives way to the (non-organic, allegorical) work as a fragmented unity of disarticulated elements that refuses the semblance of reconciliation. In other words, art cannot repudiate its autonomy, but it can go on endlessly repudiating its own traditions, so long as it does so in the form of modernist works.[15]

This pronouncement of failure and 'false supersession' is far too hasty. I will return to this point later. Here I want to question this investment in the institutionalized autonomy of art by contrasting it to the autonomy constituted through a conscious break with institutionalized art. The Situationist alternative to art under capitalism was a more advanced and theoretically conscious breakout than the often partial and hesitant revolts of the early avant-gardes. (It's true that the rupture with institutionalized art was not accomplished as a single, sudden coupure; it was rather a critical process of progressive detachment carried out over the course of the late 1950s and early 1960s and which culminated in the SI's internal prohibition on the pursuit of an art career by any of its members.) Situationist practice was radically politicized, but is not reducible to a simple or total instrumentalization. We can agree with Adorno that artists who paint what the Party says to paint have given up their autonomy; as apologists for the Central Committee's monopoly on autonomy, they are no more than instruments for producing compromised works. But the SI was a group founded on the principle of autonomy - an autonomy not restricted as privilege or specialization, but one that is radicalized through a revolutionary process openly aiming to extend autonomy to all.[16] In its own group process, the SI accepted nothing less than a continuous demonstration of autonomy by its members, who were expected to contribute as full participants in a collective practice.[17] This process didn't always unfold smoothly (what process does?). But the much-criticized exclusions carried out by the group by and large reflect the painful attainment of theoretical coherence and are hardly proof of a lack of autonomy. 'Instrumentalization' is the wrong category for a conscious and freely self-generating (ie, autonomous) practice.

Moreover, the Situationists were even more hostile than Adorno to official Communist parties and would-be vanguards.[18] Their experiments in collective autonomy were far removed - and openly critical of - the servility of party militants.[19] Alienation can't be overcome, as they put it, 'by means of alienated forms of struggle.'(SoS, §122, 120/89) Their critical processing of revolutionary theory and practice was plainly much deeper than Adorno's - and was lived, as it must be, as a real urgency.[20] They carried out an autonomous appropriation of critical theory, developed in a close dialectic with their own radical cultural practices and innovations. As a result, true enough, they ceased to produce modernist artworks. But they never claimed to have gone on with modernism; they claimed rather to have surpassed this dominant conception of art.[21] My point is that Situationist practice - however you categorize or evaluate it - was certainly no less autonomous than the institutionalized production of modernist artworks favored by Adorno. If anything, it was far more autonomous and intransigently critical. In comparison to Situationist practice, which continues to function as a real factor of resistance and emancipation, Adorno's claims for Kafka and Beckett seem laughably inflated.

On the Supersession[22] of Art

Situationist art theory, then, does not suffer from the categorical and conceptual impasses that led Frankfurt art theory to draw the wagons around the modernist artwork. For the Situationists, art could no longer be about the production of objects for exhibition and passive spectatorship. Given the decomposition of contemporary culture - and in passing let's at least note that there is much overlap in the analyses of culture industry and the theory of spectacular society - attempts to maintain or rejuvenate modernism are a losing and illusory enterprise. With regard to the content and meaning of early avant-garde practice, the critical art theory developed by the SI in the late 1950s and early 60s and concisely summarized by Guy Debord in The Society of the Spectacle in 1967 is basically consistent with Bürger's later theorization. But the two theories diverge irreconcilably in their interpretation of the consequences.

The rise of capitalism - the reduction of everything and everyone to commodity status and exchange value - was the material condition for the relative autonomy of culture; the bourgeois revolution was the political last act of a material process that had pulverized traditional bases of authority and released art from its old function of ritual unification. For the Situationists, as art became conscious of itself as a distinct sphere of activity in the new order, it logically began to press for the autonomy of its sphere. But self-consciousness also brought awareness of the impotence of this autonomy _as separation_ and its new function as a support of bourgeois power. The avant-gardes of the early twentieth century responded with a practical demand that separation be abolished and autonomy be generalized through revolution. This far Bürger is in agreement. But for him, the defeat of the revolutionary attempt to abolish capitalism makes the avant-garde breakout a failure that must be re-inscribed in the work-form of art, while for the Situationists this defeat is only one moment in a struggle that continues. For the SI, the logic of art - necessarily first _for_ and then _against_ autonomous separation - remains unchanged, and art can make its peace with separation only by deceiving itself. Resigned returns to institutionalized art and to the empty, repetitive formalist experiments of work-based modernism can only represent a process of decomposition: the 'end of the history of culture.'(SoS, §184, 180/131)

In political terms, there are at this point just two antagonistic options: either to be enlisted in culture's affirmative function ('to justify a society with no justification'[SoS, §194, 188/138]) or to press forward with the revolutionary process. The institutions will organize the prolongation of art 'as a dead thing for spectacular contemplation.'(SoS, §184, 180/131-2, translation modified) The radical alternative is the supersession (dépassement; that is, Aufhebung) of art. The first aligns itself with the defense of class power; the second, with the radical critique of society. Surpassing art means removing it from institutional management and transforming it into a practice for expanding life here and now, for overcoming passivity and separation, in short for 'revolutionizing everyday life.' There are of course possibilities for modest critical practices within the art institutions, but these can always be managed and kept within tolerable limits. Maximum pressure on the given develops from a refusal of the art system as a whole, openly linked to a refusal of the social totality. The history of the real avant-gardes, then, is not the history of modernism, but the attainment of consciousness about the stakes and the need for this overcoming.

The defect of Bürger's theorization can be located in his historical judgment on the early avant-gardes, because this judgment becomes a categorical foreclosure or blindness. For Bürger, the conclusion that the early avant-gardes failed in their attempts to supersede art follows necessarily from the obvious fact that the institution of art continues: there can be no dialectical overcoming without the negating moment of an abolition.[23] Art is not abolished; therefore, no supersession. This leads Bürger to declare that the early avant-gardes are now to be seen as 'historical.' Henceforth, attempts to repeat the project of overcoming art can only be repetitions of failure; such attempts by the 'neo-avant-garde,' as Bürger now names it, only serve to consolidate the institutionalization of the historical avant-gardes _as art_.[24] Marcel Duchamp's gesture of signing a urinal or bottle drier was a failed attack on the category of individual production, but repetitions of this gesture merely institutionalized the ready-made as a legitimate art object.[25]

The problem here is that Bürger restricts his analysis to _artworks_ and to gestures that conform to this category. That he comes close to perceiving that this may be a problem is hinted in those places where he uses the term 'manifestation' to refer to avant-garde practice.[26] But soon it is clear that all forms of practice will in the end either be reduced to that category or else not recognized at all: 'The efforts to supersede art become artistic manifestations (Veranstaltungen) that, independently of their producers' intentions, take on the character of works.'(TAG, 80/58) Bürger's limited examples show that what he has in mind by 'manifestation' are gestures that already fit the work-form, such as Duchamp's ready-mades or Surrealist automatic poems - or at most provocations performed before an audience at organized artistic events (Veranstaltungen).

Happenings and Situations

Bürger is aware of the 'happening' form developed by Allan Kaprow and his collaborators beginning in 1958.[27] But he classes happenings as no more than a neo-avant-garde repetition of Dadaist manifestations, evidence that repeating historical provocations no longer has protest value.[28] He concludes that art today

'can either resign itself to its autonomy status or organize events (Veranstaltungen) to break through that status; however, it cannot simply deny its autonomy status or suppose it has the possibility of direct effectiveness without at the same time betraying art's claim to truth (Wahrheitsanspruch).'(TAG, 78/57, translation modified)

Art's 'claim to truth,' however, turns out to be a normative description of autonomy status itself. Following Adorno, Bürger accepts that it is only art's limited exemption from the instrumental reason dominating everyday life that enables it to recognize and articulate the truth - 'truth' here being understood not as a correspondence between reality and its representation but as an implicit critico-utopian evaluation of reality. Truth is not conformity to the given, but is rather the negative force of resistance generated by the mere existence of artworks that, obeying no logic but their own, refuse integration.[29] Bürger's argument here merely endorses Adorno's. What it really says is: art can't give up its autonomy status without ceasing to be art. And the implication is that if art does manage to directly produce political and social effects, it thereby ceases to be art and is no longer his - Bürger's - concern.

But Bürger cannot escape the problem in this way. He has already argued that the aim to produce direct effects (ie, the transformation of art into a practice of life, a Lebenspraxis) is precisely what constitutes the avant-garde. So he cannot now give his theorization of the avant-garde permission to ignore the avant-gardes when they do attain their aim. He also attempts to elude the same problem with a variation on the argument. Pulp fiction - in other words, the non-autonomous products of the culture industry - are what you get when you aim at a supersession of art into life.[30] By 1974, there were serious counterexamples for Bürger's argument; the SI even went so far as to spell everything out for him in its own books and theorizations. In this case the blindness is devastating, for the gap between contemporary avant-garde practice and the theory that purports to explain why it is no longer possible invalidates Bürger's work.

This would be the case only if the SI accomplished successful supersessions of art without collapsing into culture industry. The collapse hypothesis is easily dispensed with, since the SI did not indulge in commodity production.[31] But putting Bürger's theory to the test at least helps us to see that any evaluation of Situationist supersessions must take into account the fact that the SI cut its ties to the art institutions and repudiated the work-form of modernist art. For the same cannot be said of Bürger's 'neo-avant-garde.' Bürger's examples - he briefly discusses Andy Warhol and reproduces images of works by Warhol and Daniel Spoerri (TAG 85/61, 83/62 and 79/58) - are artists who submit artworks to the institutions for reception. He is thinking, then, of Pop and Nouveau Réalisme, two fully institutionalized forms of post-1945 art. Even the case of Kaprow, who is not named but can be inferred from Bürger's use of the term 'happening,' doesn't disturb this commitment to the institutions. Kaprow wanted to investigate or blur the borders between art and life, but he did so under the gaze, as it were, of the institutions, to which he remained dependent.[32] It is in this sense that every happening does indeed, as Bürger claims, take on the character of a work. At most, the happening-form achieved an expansion of the dominant concept of art, but not its negation. Ditto, in this respect, for the case of Fluxus. The subsequent appearance of the new medium or genre of 'performance art' confirms the institutional acceptance (and neutralization) of this direction.

The differences between the happening and the situation are decisive here. As an experimental event that never seriously put its autonomy status in question, the happening staged interactions or exchanges of roles between artist and audience - but in safe, more or less controlled conditions, and ultimately for institutional reception. Only when - as in the Living Theater in exile and also perhaps in Jean-Jacques Lebel's notorious 'Festivals of Free Expression' in the mid-1960s - happening-like events joined a radically politicized poetics to the sacrifice of institutional reception (and its implicit appeal for institutional approval) did they begin to become something potentially more threatening to the institution of art. On the other hand, the staging of personal risk or even physical danger through the elimination of the conventions that put limits on audience participation, as in Yoko Ono's 'Cut Pieces' of 1964-5 or Marina Abramovic's 'Rhythm 0' (1974), are extremes of performance art that are indeed subject to the dialectic of repetition and the recuperation of protest pointed to by Bürger.

In contrast, a situation - a constructed moment of de-alienated life that activates the social question - does not depend on the dominant conception of art or its institutions to generate its meaning and effects. The Situationists themselves, who continued to criticize contemporary art in the pages of their journal, in 1963 published an incisive discussion of the happening-form and differentiated it from the practice of the SI:

'The happening is an isolated attempt to construct a situation _on the basis of poverty_ (material poverty, poverty of human contact, poverty inherited from the artistic spectacle, poverty of the specific philosophy driven to 'ideologize' the reality of these moments). The situations that the SI has defined, on the other hand, can only be constructed on the basis of material and spiritual richness. Which is another way of saying that an outline for the construction of situations must be the game, the serious game, of the revolutionary avant-garde, and cannot exist for those who resign themselves on certain points to political passivity, metaphysical despair, or even the pure and experienced absence of artistic creativity.'[33]

Situations activate a revolutionary process, then, but do so by developing social and political efficacy within the found context of material everyday life, rather than through a displacement of everyday elements and encounters into the context of institutionalized art. In this sense, situations are indeed 'direct' by Bürger's criteria.[34] The so-called 'Strasbourg Scandal' of 1966, to be discussed in chapter three, is an example of a successful situation that contributed directly to a process of radicalization culminating, in May and June of 1968, in a wildcat general strike of nine million workers throughout France. There moreover is little danger of misrecognizing this kind of event or misconstruing it to be an artwork or happening. The conclusion seems inescapable that the SI renewed - and not merely repeated to no effect - the avant-garde project of overcoming art by turning it into a revolutionary practice of life.

It follows that what Bürger has named the 'neo-avant-garde' in order to dismiss it is not avant-garde at all. Those who, like the SI, renewed the avant-garde project were categorically excluded from the analysis. When the repudiation of institutionalized art and the work-form are given their due weight as criteria, then it becomes clear that the avant-garde project of radicalizing artistic autonomy by generalizing it into a social principle is a logic inherent or latent in the capitalist art system. It will be valid to activate this logic - and to actualize it by developing it in the form of practices - just as long as the capitalist art system continues to be organized around an operative principle of relative autonomy. In other words, it will always be valid for artistic agents to reconstitute the avant-garde project through a politicized break with the dominant institutionalized art. True, actualizations of the avant-garde logic cannot be mere repetitions. Each time, they must invent practical forms grounded in and appropriate to the contemporary social reality that is their context. But because this logic amounts to a radical and irreparable break with institutionalized art, there is little risk that such a protest will be reabsorbed through yet another expansion of the dominant concept of art. The SI showed that art could be surpassed in this way in the very period in which, according to Bürger, only impotent repetitions are possible.

Art, History and the Revolutionary Process

To use a different language, the avant-garde logic is a renewable vector of supersession. It puts the impulses of autonomous art into practical contact with the historical forces of radical social change. It turns art into a force contributing to an ongoing revolutionary process. In doing so it ceases to correspond to the dominant conception of art. By de-linking art from its institutionally managed affirmative functions, it transforms it into a social force. In short, this logic is a vector of exit or breakout. Not to a _pure outside_, to be sure; not to an outside of full and already attained autonomy or freedom. But, yes, to a _practical outside_, beyond institutional dependency and enforcements, an outside in which a generalizing and non-specialist autonomy can be claimed and fought for.[35]

For all his careful historicizations, rigorous construction of categories, and methodological self-reflectivity - all admirable virtues of critical theory - Bürger fails to do justice to the object of his analysis. In the 1980 postscript to the second German edition of Theory of the Avant-Garde, we begin to see why. It appears that Bürger's blindness to the SI and its achievements was at least in part a motivated one. Not that this predisposition had attained full consciousness in 1980; after all, he doesn't correct it. But we begin to see. If the new edition of the book contains no changes, Bürger tells us, 'it is primarily because it reflects a historical constellation of problems that emerged after the events of May 1968 and the failure of the student movement in the early seventies.' A constellation of problems, but conspicuously not the constellation the SI had brought to the very storm's eye of May. Bürger goes on:

'I shall not succumb to the temptation here to criticize the hopes of those who believed at the time (without a social basis) that they could build directly on the revolutionary experiences of Russian futurism, for example. There is all the less cause for doing so since the hopes of those who, like myself, believed in the possibility of 'more democracy' in all spheres of social life went unfulfilled.'(TAG, 134/95)

Ah, so. Alles klar. The ghosts of Adorno speak and have more to say. Critical theory itself once again proves the impossibility of a neutral analysis.

One last point regarding the overcoming or supersession of art. Bürger, as we've seen, applies an all-or-nothing test to determine that no supersession has taken place. The actual experience of the SI suggests that such a criterion misses the dialectical point: supersession is a process, not a steady state to be reached once and for all, completely or not at all.[36] The Situationists did not imagine that art could be _fully_ overcome within existing society. They learned their dialectics from the young Marx, and above all from the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. Their call for the 'realization of art' is a confirmation of Marx's insight that, against Hegel, the realization of philosophy would be nothing other or less than social revolution.[37] The Situationists were not philistines. Their hostility to institutionalized modernism was not at all a repudiation of the impulses and experiences of art; it was simply the repudiation of their systematic separation from everyday life and the social effects of this separation. The surpassing of art is a double movement - one that is not, however, a double game. The negation of the separation - modernist artistic autonomy - had to be accompanied by the positive invention of radical practices: détournement (a radically politicized form of appropriating existing artifacts or elements), the dérive or urban drift (a method for cultivating radical sensibility), the construction of situations, and an ongoing practice of critical theory. Within existing society, these can be no more than partial overcomings. The dialectic of surpassing art is nothing other than the revolutionary process itself, a process that continues to unfold through its partial defeats. It follows that no full surpassing of art under capitalism is possible until capitalism itself has been surpassed.

But if these overcomings are partial, they are not for that dismissible, à la Bürger, as pseudo-overcomings or mere failure. The SI pursued the practical and theoretical elaboration of a new category, the situation. They demonstrated that experiments of radicalized practice beyond the control of the art institutions can, by their force of example and the intensity of their passions, contribute to a revolutionary process. Situations can be constructed. They might even, as the members of the SI hoped, function as detonators of real social explosions. By giving voice to a generalized refusal of the given social totality and by merging with the struggle for a humanized world, art runs the risk of dissolving its own identity as a separate and distinct activity. But as we've seen, the Situationists embraced this risk. In their view, what art loses when it loses its separate identity, it more than gains back in the moments of everyday life it can reclaim for humanity and a humanizing autonomy. Until the end of 'prehistory,' such attempts at breakout can be no more than anticipatory moments in an ongoing process of emancipation - but moments that are not lost and cannot be assimilated into neutralizing hymns to modernism or pseudo-theories of the avant-garde.

The Situationist project will strike some as romantic and voluntaristic - in short, hopelessly naïve. Someone will be sure to recite the lines from The Eighteenth Brumaire at this point: 'Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please.'[38] Granted. But I am also too aware of the extreme epistemological difficulties standing in the way of full and 'correct' assessments of 'objective conditions,' assessments that would be the 'scientific' basis for action (or even for definitive pronouncements about the presence or absence of an alleged 'social basis.') How do we know what we think we know about social conditions? On what are the criteria for such assessments after all grounded? How does one gauge the current state of consciousness or willingness to act of this or that social group? How does one know for sure if the time is ripe? What can any group of people do, after all? All this only ever emerges clearly after the fact. Strategy is never a practice of certainty, and when closed formations loosen up and begin to move, they can move very, very quickly. The forces that make history are not all quantifiable in any case; they will always exceed the calculus of those who imagine otherwise. Revolutionary situations have rarely, if ever, been predicted in advance, and the near revolution in France in 1968 should have been impossible. For a long time now, struggle has seemed improbable, and everything improbable is assumed to be impossible until it takes place - and thereby assumes the reality of a slap in the face. So I at least am unwilling to dismiss the Situationist project out of hand from this direction. A healthy respect for the openness of history and the real problems of assessing conditions is not uncritical. It remains true, that only the dominated classes acting together have the power to abolish domination. The role of cultural avant-gardes is not to make the revolution by themselves, but to contribute autonomously to this process of comprehensive emancipation.

Critical Art Theory Now

We are now in a position to specify the conditions for a critical art theory today. It is not enough to criticize the given art; it is also necessarily to make a radical break with it. This, the Frankfurt theorists were unwilling or unable to do. From this perspective, the Situationists appear as the authors of the first critical art theory worthy of the tradition of radical thought. The breakthrough of this theory can be located in the radicalization of the category of autonomy, the renunciation of the work-form in favor of a shift to practice, and the new category of situation. It is no surprise that today the SI continues to enrich and inspire contestational cultural practices such as tactical media. The SI's open and unmistakable opposition to institutionalized art and the system it serves has so far mostly blocked and derailed continuing attempts by the art institutions to absorb and neutralize it. The same is not necessarily true of tactical media, however. Theorizations of tactical practices have never matched the radical intransigence of Situationist critical theory. Some foundational tactical theories are not even sure about the need to be anti-capitalist. It isn't surprising, then, that some tactical media groups seem to be responding positively to gestures of institutional seduction, for which there are always compelling rationalizations. However that plays out, the SI will continue to be a standing repudiation to critical new guards today who would prescribe us more modernism for our contemporary headaches (Benjamin Buchloh, Rosalind Krauss and other art historians at the journal October, as well as their diligent protégés, such as artist-theorist Andrea Fraser) - this time, uggg, in the paradox-pill of institutionalized institutional critique.

There's also a lesson about theory itself to be drawn from the current confusions. Critical theory is an unfinished process, not an accomplished corpus that can be consulted for the answers to everything. No stream of it should be treated as if it and it alone is the last word and source of all truth. Each stream did what we must do now: formulate our problems and questions and work on them. Critical theory as a whole remains ongoing. It is up to us to keep this process moving in the direction of emancipation. This would mean, to begin with, finding our way through the reigning misconceptions about what critical theory is and regaining lucidity about what makes it different from affirmative and liberal theory. Many have responded to this confusion - this indiscriminate pluralism of theories - by denigrating theory as such. This would be a bad mistake. A practice without critical theory is doomed to be less than fully conscious. An art practice without a critical art theory is doomed to be driven far and wide, back and forth, by the churning, cyclical dictates of market and fashion - or else to get stuck in the illusions of modernism or, at best, of a tame 'relational aesthetics.' Tactical media has a contestational practice, but so far it still lacks a critical theory equal to its impulse. This can't come from the outside. It has to be generated from the autonomous appropriation of critical theory by the practitioners of tactical media themselves. A critical re-immersion in Situationist theory would be a fruitful start. Such an immersion would at least expose the inadequacies of liberal and neo-liberal refusals of radical strategy with which tactical media theory as it now exists is woefully entangled.

Another theoretical task of the moment is a fuller critical articulation of Situationist theory with the current forms of the autonomist stream to which it belongs. It is still not clear, for example, how far the analyses of so-called post-Fordism constellated around the names Antonio Negri, Paolo Virno, Maurizio Lazzarato and others update or displace the Situationist critique of spectacular society, or what the implications may be for practices looking back to Situationist critical art theory. Among those working at or near this intersection, Brian Holmes has gone far in setting a standard for the needed articulation, not least because his ongoing reflections have not conceded the radical (and global) aims that constitute critical theory in its difference from all the theories of accommodation. This task can't be avoided: capitalism is a powerful, dynamic and destructive system that has gone through numerous mutations since Marx first analyzed the logic of exploitation. It may be that these mutations have altered little or nothing in capital's logic of logics, but this cannot be assumed dogmatically. Tactical media has a vital interest, to put it delicately, in how this problematic is posed and resolved.


[1] The essay, 'Traditionelle und kritische Theorie,' was revised for book publication in Max Horkheimer, Kritische Theorie (Frankfurt/Main: Fischer, 1968); in English, unfortunately in a poor translation, as 'Traditional and Critical Theory' in Horkheimer, Critical Theory: Selected Essays, trans. Matthew J. O'Connell et al. (New York: Continuum, 2002).

[2] Radical rejections of the given from the right, insofar as they make final appeal to an authority other than human reason (God, nation, homeland, race, fear itself), fall back behind the level of theory. The pre-theoretical will not be addressed here.

[3] This is not to deny that there are important political distinctions among positions within the liberal spectrum, but is merely to insist that some fundamental categorical oppositions (here: radical/liberal) remain politically salient and indispensable. Seeking to avoid the reductions of traditional political categories and organizational models, some sophisticated and influential forms of post-1968 French theory - so-called post-structuralism - deliberately play a double game tending to obscure the distinction between liberal and radical critical theory. In recent years it has become increasingly clear that this ambiguity or programmatic equivocation - expressing in some cases, it is true, a hypercritical and fastidious discretion - facilitates their enlistment by (or neutralizing assimilation to) the ideologies of neo-liberal globalization. Any critical appropriation of these theories now will have to confront this functional reality. Furthermore, it will be obvious that I do not follow the cruder 'postmodern' reflex that assumes the invalidity of all binary oppositions or indeed of all dialectical forms of critical cognition.

[4] Karl Marx, Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton (New York: Vintage, 1975), p. 207, translation modified: 'If the construction of the future and its completion for all time is not for us, still there's no doubt about what we do have to accomplish today: I mean _the relentless critique of all that exists_ (die rücksichtslose Kritik alles Bestehenden, Marx's emphasis), relentless in that it will shrink neither from its own discoveries (Resultaten) nor from conflict with the powers that be.'

[5] The phrase comes from Blanchot's lucid meditation in response to Henri Lefebvre's autobiographical text La Somme et le reste (1959). Maurice Blanchot, Friendship, trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), pp. 84. Lefebvre was a member of the French Communist Party (PCF) from 1928 until 1958, when he was expelled for criticizing the PCF leadership's refusal to de-Stalinize the party. I do not cite Blanchot here in order to condemn Lefebvre or assert a preference; the little love lost between the two men shouldn't deter us now from acknowledging the moments of lucidity in both, or appreciating the rigors of Blanchot's 'friendship.'

[6] On this point, the eloquence of Walter Benjamin's formulations in thesis VII of 'On the Concept of History' (1940) remain unsurpassed. Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte,' in Illuminationen, Ausgewählte Schriften I, ed. Siegfried Unseld (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1977); in English in Selected Writings, volume 4, 1938-1940, eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings and trans. Edmund Jephcott (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2003), pp. 391-2.

[7] The usage of 'affirmative' in this context was established by Herbert Marcuse's classic 1937 critique of bourgeois cultural autonomy, 'Über den affirmativen Charakter der Kultur,' in Schriften 3: Aufsätze aus der Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung 1934-1941 (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1979); in English as 'The Affirmative Character of Culture,' in Negations: Essays in Critical Theory, trans. Jeremy Shapiro (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968)

[8] Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, trans. Randal Johnson (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993), p. 128.

[9] As Susan Buck-Morss points out, in the case of Adorno, it seems to have been the other way around: his conception of critical theory was shaped by his experience of modernist art and music. Buck-Morss, The origins of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and the Frankfurt Institute (New York: Free Press, 1977).

[10] See Theodor W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie [1970] in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 7, ed. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1986), pp. 262-96 and 334-87; in English as Aesthetic Theory, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), pp. 176-99 and 225-61. Hereafter cited as AT.

[11] 'Engagement' in Adorno, Noten zur Literatur (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1974); in English as 'Commitment' in Adorno, Notes to Literature, volume 2, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992). See also AT, 365-8/246-8.

[12] See the debates and exchanges collected in Ernst Bloch, Georg Lukács, et al., Aesthetics and Politics, trans. Ronald Taylor (London: Verso, 1977).

[13] See Guy Debord, 'Rapport sur la construction des situations et sur les conditions de l'organisation et de l'action de la tendance situationniste internationale' [1957], in the facsimile reprint of all twelve issues of the SI journal, Internationale situationniste, ed. Patrick Mosconi (Paris: Arthème Fayard, 1997); in English as 'Report on the Construction of Situations and on the Terms of Organization and Action of the International Situationist Tendency,' trans. Tom McDonough, in McDonough, ed., Guy Debord and the Situationist International: Texts and Documents (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT press, 2002), p. 29-50. Translations of this and most other Situationist texts can be found online at .

[14] Peter Bürger, Theorie der Avantgarde, 2nd edition (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1980), pp. 72-3; in English as Theory of the Avant-Garde, trans. Michael Shaw (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), pp. 53-4, translation modified: 'The avant-garde intended the supersession (Aufhebung) of autonomous art by leading art over into a practice of life (Lebenspraxis). This has not taken place and presumably cannot take place within bourgeois society unless it be in the form of a false supersession (falschen Aufhebung) of autonomous art.' This work is hereafter cited as TAG.

[15] TAG, 98/72: 'Paradoxically, the avant-gardiste intention to destroy art as an institution is thus realized in the work of art itself. The intention to revolutionize life by returning art to its praxis turns into a revolutionizing of art.'

[16] In this the SI is clearly looking back to the early writings of Karl Marx, to the vision of 'true communism' as the free development of human possibilities sketched in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and to the dissolution of the division of labor indicated in The German Ideology. In the autonomist tradition of critical theory, the notion of a generalized or socialized autonomy is grounded in various ways. See, for example, the section 'Autonomy and Alienation' in Cornelius Castoriadis, 'Marxism and Revolutionary Theory,' a five-part essay published in 1964-5 in Socialisme ou Barbarie with which the members of the SI would have been familiar. The Castoriadis Reader, ed. David Ames Curtis (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), pp. 177-95.

[17] This becomes clear to anyone who takes the time to work through the many texts on group practice and organizational form published in the twelve issues of the SI's journal. These articles document the process and the critical processing of a collective reach for autonomy. See, for example, the notice to those wanting to join the SI, 'Situationist International: Anti-Public Relations Service,' Internationale situationniste 8 (January 1963), p. 59.

[18] I distinguish, as the SI did, between political vanguards on the Leninist model and artistic avant-gardes.

[19] This hostility to vanguardism as an attempt to monopolize the right to autonomy is legible across the whole body of Situationist writing. For a critique of the militant, see Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (London: Rebel Press, 2003), pp. 107-16, 131-50.

[20] This processing is summarized in Guy Debord, La Société du Spectacle [1967] (Paris: Gallimard, 1992); in English as The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone, 1994), part IV, 'The Proletariat as Subject and Representation.' Hereafter cited as SoS.

[21] See SoS, part VIII, 'Negation and Consumption in the Cultural Sphere.'

[22] In general, I have chosen to translate Hegel's Aufhebung (and its cognates) with the term 'supersession.' I sometimes substitute the terms 'overcoming' or 'surpassing.' But all three terms will always, and only, be used as renderings or invocations of Aufhebung. All three imply a dialectical movement of transformation that both negates some aspects and preserves other aspects of the thing in question; the movement can thus be said to have 'negative' and 'positive' moments. In the first, the thing is exposed to an encounter with otherness (Anderssein) that dissolves its self-unity; in the second, it 'returns to itself' enriched, transformed, superseded. My understanding of the form of this process comes from its unfolding in The Phenomenology of Spirit, especially Hegel's distinction between abstract and dialectical negation at the end of §188 of the famous Master-Slave dialectic. My understanding of Marx's materialist dialectic and Adorno's 'negative dialectic' are also grounded in the baseline of these passages from the Phenomenology.

[23] TAG, 77-8/56-7: '[I]t is a historical fact that the avant-garde movements did not put an end to the production of works of art, and that the social institution that is art proved resistant to the avant-gardiste attack.' Or again (78/57, translation modified): 'Since the attack of the historical avant-garde movements on art as an institution has foundered - that is, art has not been transformed into a practice of life - the institution of art continues to exist as something set apart from the practice of life.'

[24] TAG 71/53: 'Since now the protest of the historical avant-garde against art as institution is accepted as art, the gesture of protest of the neo-avant-garde becomes inauthentic.' And (80/58): 'In a changed context, the resumption of avant-gardiste intentions with the means of avant-gardism can no longer even have the limited effectiveness the historical avant-gardes achieved....To formulate more pointedly: the neo-avant-garde institutionalizes the _avant-garde as art_ and thus negates genuinely avant-garde intentions.'

[25] TAG, 71/52: 'It is obvious that this kind of provocation cannot be repeated indefinitely....Once the signed bottle drier has been accepted as an object that deserves a place in a museum, the provocation no longer provokes; it turns into its opposite. If an artist today signs a stove pipe and exhibits it, that artist certainly does not denounce the art market but adapts to it.'

[26] TAG, 68-9/50: 'Instead of speaking of the avant-gardiste work (Werk), we will speak of avant-gardiste manifestation (Manifestation). A Dadaist manifestation does not have work character but is nonetheless an authentic manifestation of the artistic avant-garde.'

[27] He uses the English term once, in the lines cited in note 28, below. Bürger's translator, Michael Shaw, goes too far in sometimes projectively translating Veranstaltung (referring to any organized artistic event) with Kaprow's term, thereby reducing a more general category to a very specific and historically restricted form of performative action.

[28] TAG, 79/57: Even today, of course, attempts are made to continue the tradition of the avant-garde movements (that this concept can be put on paper without being a conspicuous oxymoron shows again that the avant-garde has become historical). But these attempts, such as the ?happenings,' for example, which could be called neo-avant-guardiste, can no longer attain the protest value of Dadaist manifestations (Veranstaltungen), even though they may be prepared and executed more perfectly than the former.'

[29] AT, 348/234: 'Only insofar as spirit, in its most advanced form, survives and perseveres is any opposition to the total domination of the social totality possible.'

[30] TAG, 73/54, translation modified: 'Pulp fiction and commodity aesthetics prove that such a false supersession (falsche Aufhebung) exists....In late capitalist society, intentions of the historical avant-garde are being realized but the result has been the opposite of what was intended.'

[31] It is true that in the early 1960s Situationist Michèle Bernstein wrote two 'potboilers,' reportedly to raise money for the group. If so, these expedients, which were never claimed as products of the SI, tell us nothing about the status of the SI project itself - nothing more in any case than that in capitalist society the bills must be paid one way or another. More interestingly, these two novels seem to be sophisticated in ways that surpass the genre of pulp fiction. Both have been described as romans à clef based on the radical adventures of Bernstein, Guy Debord, and their lovers and comrades. According to Greil Marcus, Tous les chevaux du roi (1960) is a détournement (or politicized alteration) of Cholderlos de Laclos's Les Liaisons dangereuses; according to Debord's biographer, Andrew Hussey, it was a détournement of Marcel Carnet's 1942 film Les Visiteurs. The second, La Nuit (1961), is a parody of the Nouveau Roman. In any case, the false supersession thesis can't be established on this basis. Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1989), pp. 422-4; Andrew Hussey, The Game of War: The Life and Death of Guy Debord (London: Pimlico, 2002), pp. 182-2.

[32] See Allan Kaprow, Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life, ed. Jeff Kelley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993)

[33] Situationist International, 'L'Avant-Garde de la Presence,' Internationale situationniste 8 (January 1963), p. 20; 'Editorial Notes: The Avant-Garde of Presence,' trans. John Shepley, in McDonough, ed., Guy Debord and the Situationist International, op cit., p. 147. The SI is rejecting even (or especially) the models of Lebel and the living Theater, which are still too close to the specialized forms of theater and experimental art.

[34] Of course nothing is purely spontaneous or unmediated, in art or life. All meaning is mediated by language, history, and social categories, but this is a different issue. Here, we are concerned with the decisive mediating presence or absence of the institution of art.

[35] Without plunging all the way into the abyss of fruitless debates about the validity/invalidity of the opposition 'inside/outside,' I only note here that the privileging of some notion of 'immanence' over 'transcendence,' which characterizes much post-1968 theory, from Gilles Deleuze to Antonio Negri, has often tended to obscure the real operative borders that constitute contestational practice. Granted, there is no pure outside, fully and utterly different from a similarly pure inside. But what then follows? The deconstructive gesture that analyzes binary oppositions doesn't get rid of them, after all. The trick is not to hypostatize either opposed category into a static object of fetishization. Negative dialectics (that is, dialectics as a critical method) confirms what most people already know: it makes a difference whether or not (and how far) one is dependent upon established institutional power. In other words, after all the deconstructive caveats have been duly registered, there remains indeed a practical, operative outside to the dominant institutions of the capitalist art system.

[36] This I take it is the point of Marx and Engel's lines: 'Communism is for us not a _state of affairs_ which is to be established, an _ideal_ to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the _real_ movement which abolishes the present state of things.' Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, third edition (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976), p. 57.

[37] For Hegel, the end of art was to become philosophy; for Marx, the end of philosophy was to become revolution. The Situationists drew the conclusions and closed this circuit.

[38] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New York: International Publishers, 1963), p. 15.