Wednesday, August 13, 2008

No Platform

An excellent summation and expansion of the various recent blogosphere to-and-fro on bureaucracy, neoliberalism and immaterial labour at K-Punk. Particularly sharp on the 'fetishist disavowal' of the withdrawal of state control (if not funding) from the economy, viz the familiar complaints against the nanny state which New Labour have only managed to amplify. I suppose though that my original post was wondering aloud what these terms might mean under the inevitable Tory government in 2009 or 2010, given the anti-bureaucratic rhetoric the Cameronites have been using. They will most likely accelerate rather than reverse the neutering of (the constructive rather than destructive functions of) the public sphere and the state, and in that context we should be careful when we attack bureaucracy. It's liberating to say to a health or education administrator that the 'administration' they proliferate is mere bureaucracy, but when the Tories start making the same argument we might need to change tack.

But certainly Planning as a term lacks the immediately repulsive connotations of 'bureaucrat' - and 'public utilities' or 'socialisation' (as opposed to 'nationalisation') could be work as well, for not having particular pejorative meaning - although it's perhaps a moot point whether these pejoratives even have meaning for those who can't remember (or weren't even born) during those much mythologised days of Union Barons and Bloated State Bureaucracies, which most will only know about via the morbid obsessions of the right-wing press (and of course our Labour government). Some can't even imagine a benign role for state intervention, which could most obviously be a break on, but perhaps also an opening for, a new appeal to collectivism and socialism. As the idea of public control over the economy recedes from memory, there are no pejorative past associations to hold the idea back - but there is plenty of very present and obvious evidence of the havoc its absence causes, as free market fundamentalism visibly capsizes the economy. On a similar 'what-if' note, read this intriguing contention at Ads without Products that the likes of Google are becoming a sort of 'anticipatory utility', making clear the benefits of unity over fragmentation...

Related to the above only at a major tangent, with reference to the London Underground's decline from being (at least in the period of Frank Pick, Charles Holden and Edward McKnight Kauffer) a work of art in itself to offering a 'Platform for Art', take a look at the progression in underground posters at this Guardian photoset. In the 1930s, and even for a few decades after that, the posters just were avant-garde works of art, and didn't need a border announcing THIS HERE IS ART. Over the last 15 years or so, though, they veritably scream from the rooftops when something is designed by a Proper Designer or a Fine Artist rather than some underpaid hack at 55 Broadway. One of them even has the presumptuousness to tell you that it can be bought from the Transport Museum. In a time when the fine artists of neoliberalism are largely uninterested in making actual objects - let alone 'useful' ones - their every alleged contribution to the commonweal has to be trumpeted, like in those public art projects adjacent to Blairite buildings which explain to you in great detail just what the artist is trying to do here. The aesthetes of benevolent bureaucracy were uninterested in such cant. To quote Pick, 'those who decry (modernism) underrate the attractiveness of the puzzle, underrate the urge to stretch the mind a bit more than usual...the public like something above their heads, if only it is attainable.'


Blogger Stevie said...

I wonder if you've seen this?

12:26 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

.....actually, that's pretty good, and Deller should as always be exempted from the general accusation of idiocy I fling willy-nilly at contemporary art and artists. But then, I have to admit my heart sank when I realised it wasn't one of the staff who wrote it - particularly given the quality and mordancy of unscripted tube announcements nowadays...

But still, very good, especially because it doesn't over-explain itself.

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