The Exploding Appendix Project: An Interview with Bradley TuckJanuary 10, 2021
ARTJanuary 10, 2021
LOVE the hideous in order to find the sublime core of it.
OPEN your arms to the dilapidated, to rehabilitate them.
YOU prefer to observe the past on which your eyes are already opened.
BUT the future is only dark from the outside.
Leap into it ― and it EXPLODES with Light.
Mina Loy, Aphorisms on Futurism (1914)1
In Mina Loy’s Aphorisms on Futurism the poetic form and the manifesto form almost perfectly unite. If the manifesto brings to mind a serious political document which outlines a party or group’s future commitments and programme, the artist’s manifesto transforms this into a work of art in its own right. Channeling the Italian Futurists’ search for a courageous and ambitious future, and a mindset suited to it, Loy’s aphorisms are poetic statements that call for a new consciousness adept for the future. “LET the Universe flow into your consciousness,” she tells us “there is no limit to its capacity, nothing that it shall not recreate.” If Loy’s aphorisms are more concerned with consciousness than any particular programme, they are nonetheless concerned with the future. By definition all manifestos, at some level at least, concern the future. A manifesto lays out what one will do. Yet unlike religious prophecies and millenarian tracts, the question of agency is firmly rooted in the reader. It is tempting to contrast the manifesto to both the religious millenarian tract and the novel. The novel, emerging alongside liberal capitalism, gives us insight into the private life of the individual, and in the case of Robinson Crusoe, the individual separated and isolated. If Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe marked the rise of liberal capitalism and atomised individualism in the 18th century, the manifesto form marked the rise of the masses. Manifestos are often written in the language of ‘We,’ not ‘I’. They are not the internal jottings of an isolated individual, they are a call to arms and a call to the reader. Unlike older religious texts they do not wait for divine intervention, but rally the people to a cause. Hence Loy’s aphorisms are an attempt to demystify the future, to empower the reader with the capacity for its construction.
Nonetheless, there is something that links the prophetic religious text to the manifesto: both are concerned with the future. For the Cold War anti-communist, Norman Cohen, the Christian pursuit of the millennium, the 1000 years when Christ would return and rule the Earth, was an intellectual precursor to Nazism, Stalinism and psychedelic drug culture, albeit one “stripped of its original supernatural sanction”.2 On the one hand, egalitarian millenarianism embodied in the Taborites, Anabaptists and Thomas Müntzer was the forerunner of Communist totalitarianism. On the other hand, the ‘amoral superman’ embodied in the heresy of the free spirit, was the forerunner of Bakunin, Nietzsche and Sixties counterculture. Secular modernity, far from transcending Christian fanaticism, had revived it in secular form.
Reacting against Norman Cohen, Situationists like Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem attempted to reclaim this radical heretical tradition. Countering Norman Cohen, Guy Debord writes that “millenarianism, revolutionary class struggle speaking the language of religion for the last time, was already a modern revolutionary tendency, a tendency that lacked only the consciousness that it was a purely historical movement.”3 Like Cohen, Debord saw a link between millenarianism and the 20th century, but the emphasis was reversed. The 20th century was not the outburst of irrational millenarianism, rather millenarianism was the start of modernity.
For Raoul Vaneigem, likewise, the heretical millenarian revolt against institutional Christianity was not the forerunner of totalitarianism, but rather its resistance. For Vaneigem, “The Middle ages were, in short, Christian in the same way that the countries of Eastern Europe were communist.”4 The revolt of heretical movements was a revolt against a false Christianity that paralleled the Situationists’ struggle against consumer capitalism and Soviet bureaucratism. In this respect, Vaneigem’s The Movement of the Free Spirit introduces us to what might be described as an avant-garde of the 13th Century; a long precursor to 20th century Situationism. His long history of hereticism takes us from Amaury of Béna in the 13th century to Quintin of Tournai in the 16th. We are provided with the story of ordinary social actors who declared sin impossible, experimented with sexual libertinism, spoke numerous heresies and endured the wrath of the church. Despite Vaneigem’s thorough history of this movement, most of the original sources are not written by members of these movements. Vaneigem pieces together an account of these groups through their trials and their opponents’ venomous attacks. Movements akin to the provocative and transgressive 19th and 20th century avant-garde certainly existed in this period, but they were not able to record their own ideas. Their history was recorded by their enemies.
The birth of the printing press changed that. In a sense, the printing press was the birth of the manifesto. From the reformation to the English Revolution, the radical pamphlet provided a means for voices to be aired and recorded that previously couldn’t be. We often think of Martin Luther and his 95 theses, but in some respects, it is not Martin Luther, opponent of the pope, but defender of the princes, but Thomas Müntzer, the foul-mouthed preacher and leader of the peasants’ revolt, who is the true precursor to the radical manifesto. Or maybe it is both! On the one hand, Martin Luther’s 95 theses is formally important (the way it comprises a list of 95 short digestible statements), and performatively important (nailed to the Church door). On the other hand, Müntzer’s radicalism, his venom and panoply of insults5 grasps something of the provocative and intoxicating nature of the manifesto. Müntzer, who railed against those “donkey-cunt doctor[s] of theology”6 who “have knavishly stolen from the Bible like malicious thieves and cruel murderers”7; against “the Nero-like, ‘holy,’ most wooden pope and chamber pot at the brothel of Rome”8; and against Luther himself, who “becomes an arrogant fool and clothes himself in your holy scripture without his own name and comfort withering away at all.”9 The language of Müntzer is both polemical, provocative and carnivalesque, it suggests an assault on the notions of respectable interlocution that the later 19th century Decadent writers would embody in the rally cry “Épater la bourgeoisie”.
Moments of revolutionary upheaval saw the proliferation of the pamphlet as a radical form. If history has often been written from the perspective of monarchs and leaders, such as Charles I or Cromwell, the pamphlet gave voice to an array of people with very different ideas. Radical pamphlets, such as Gerrard Winstanley’s The True Levellers Standard Advanced10 or Abiezer Coppe’s A Fiery Flying Roll11, both written in 1649, were literary interventions in the English Revolutionary period, at once a rally-cry, a narrativization of the history of their present and an attempt to sow the seeds that would alter it. Movements such as the Diggers, who advocated communalist land reform, and the Ranters, who told of the end of sin, and celebrated drunkenness, swearing and sexual debauchery, now had a medium to provoke, challenge and rally the people.
Marx and Engles
Playfulness, performativity and political rally-cries are common in such texts, yet the manifesto as we would understand it should be situated against the struggles for democracy, suffrage, workers movements and the emergence of the mass party in the 19th and 20th century. The need to speak to the masses, rather than a small educated elite, created new demands on political writing. It is no surprise that Marx and Engel’s The Communist Manifesto has become the archetypal text of the modernist manifesto. Its rally-cry to the workers of the world, its combination of accessible political analysis and dramatic rhetoric makes it an important aesthetic, as well as political, text.
Futurism aestheticises this political shift. The deployment of lists, radical sounding demands, rally-cries and populist rhetoric are deployed in order to define a new art movement. In Marinetti’s The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism (1909) he sets out 11 demands, including “1. We sing about the love of danger, about the use of energy and recklessness as common, daily practice.”, “7. There is no longer any beauty except the struggle….”, “9.We wish to glorify war – the sole cleanser of the world – militarism, patriotism, the destructive act of the libertarian, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for women”. Finally the text ends with a rally-cry: “Standing tall on the roof of the world, yet again, we hurl our defiance at the stars!”12
Filippo Tommaso Emilio Marinetti
Marinetti’s text blurs the line between art manifesto and political manifesto, deploying aesthetic devices in the service of its ‘politics’. The fact that Marinetti would later align himself with Mussolini’s fascism could be read as being illustrative of Walter Benjamin’s point that fascism tends towards an aestheticization of politics. For Benjamin, the need to create a mass movement without changing the property system requires an aesthetic, rather than socio-economic, shift. This aestheticisation of politics emerges as an aestheticisation of war. In Marinetti, the search for an avant-garde is intimately tied up with the celebration of war, technological acceleration and masculinity. Rather than calling for the workers of the world to unite, Marinetti’s rally cry is for ultra-masculine defiance and war. Benjamin differentiates fascism from communism telling us that whilst fascism aestheticises politics, “Communism responds by politicizing art”.13 Nonetheless, what both Marinetti’s fascism and Marx and Engels’ communism share in common is an aesthetics suited to an era of mass movements.
The Dadaist manifesto could be seen as challenging the Futurist manifesto, by challenging the manifesto itself. Unlike political manifestos, artist manifestos have often been absurd, poetic, and contradictory. This is true of Italian Futurism, but it is possibly more true of Dadaist manifestos. André Breton, contrasting Futurism with Dadaism, tells us that “Futurism” was “a political movement” whilst “DADA is a state of mind. To compare them is patently either ignorant or pretentious.” He continues “Free thinking in religious matters is nothing like a church. DADA is free thinking in artistic terms.”14 Dada, as a state of mind, cannot be reduced to a manifesto and this incompatibility is often performed in the texts. They are often less about describing a programme and more about evoking a sensibility. They do not search for precise accurate language, rather they introduce something contradictory into the manifesto form. They continue to work within what is usually a highly politicised form, yet simultaneously challenge it from within. The below quotes from Aragon and Tzara stage the manifesto as antimanifesto.
“No more painters, no more writers, no more musicians, no more sculptures, no more religions, no more republicans, no more royalists, no more imperialists, no more anarchists, no more socialists, no more bolsheviks, no more proletarians, no more democrats, no more bourgeois, no more aristocrats, no more armies, no more police, no more fatherlands, enough of all these imbecilities, no more anything, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing,”
Louis Aragon, Dada manifesto (1920)15
“I write a manifesto and I want nothing, yet I say certain things, and in principle I am against manifestos, as I am against principles”
Tristan Tzara, Dada Manifesto (1918)16
Dadaism rejects the strictures of the manifesto form, all the while adopting it. It stages its contradictions in a manner quite unfitting for The Communist Manifesto, for example. Dadaist manifestos are first and foremost playful artistic creations, closer in some respects to poetry than the politically charged medium it alludes to. Maybe, precisely because Dada defines a ‘state of mind’, one simply needs to get the gist, rather than the letter of the law.
20th century avant-garde manifestos were rarely written for quiet contemplative reading. They are loud, provocative assaults on the reader. It is easy to forget that many manifestos were written to be performed, and events to launch manifestoes were a common feature of avant-garde art movements. As Roselee Goldberg notes in her discussion of 20th century performance art,
“Performance manifestos, from the Futurists to the present, have been the expression of dissidents who have attempted to find other means to evaluate art experience in everyday life. Performance has been a way of appealing directly to a large public, as well as shocking audiences into reassessing their own notions of art and its relation to culture.”17
The manifesto as an art form is a performative art. Developing in an age of emergent mass media and mass politics, the avant-garde performance manifesto made the art movement almost like a political party (sometimes, as in the case of Futurism, overtly so; with absurdity and irony in the case of Dada). Yet it was also deeply artistic in its own right. The manifesto was a multimedia art form, combining performance, typography, poetry and prose. The manifesto challenged the division of the arts, bringing new multiple mediums together to create a new provocative form.
From Franco Berardi’s Manifesto of Post-Futurism18 to Laboria Cuboniks’ The Xenofeminist Manifesto19, the manifesto is still with us. Francis Fukyama’s End of History20, which might appear to have rendered the manifesto obsolete, has been ruptured by a series of crises and upheavals that leave us asking what the future will be. The need to think through radical alternatives to the future seems pressing. These moments of radical modernism offer a wealth of inspiration for those constructing an avant-garde today. In a sense, they offer the possibility of thinking through an alternative that is never mere consumer capitalism that claims the mantle of modernity, nor austere anti-consumerism that rejects it. Critiquing both alternatives, Mark Fisher reminds us of the existence of a radical history of modernity that embraced technology in its search for an alternative. Attempting to revive this modernity for a new age, Mark Fisher calls upon us to reclaim and positivise ‘Radical chic’ and “sneers such as ‘designer socialism’ – because it is the equation of the ‘designer’ with ‘capitalist’ that has done so much to make capital appear as if it is the only possible modernity.”21
Let us reclaim what was radical in Bauhaus and Constructivist design. Let us draw from Futurism, Muralism, Dada, Surrealism and Situationism. Let us reinvent the radical chic of sixties counterculture. Let us go further than all these avant-gardists even imagined. Yet we can not simply uncritically return. If the era often designated as 1968 was a period of global upheavals from Paris to Addis Ababa, from Chicago to Tokyo, from Islamabad to Prague, from Mexico City to Belfast, often flavoured with unique combinations of student radicalism, revolutionary politics and avant-garde aesthetics, today we must wrestle with their failures and perverse successes. It is common in triumph for the victors to borrow heavily from the vanquished, to offer a version of what their opponents offered in passified form. In their analysis of workplace managerialism, Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello explore the way “capitalism transforms itself by integrating critique.”22 Exploring both the social critique and artistic critique of capitalism, Boltanski and Chiapello describe how Human Resources Management absorbs the artistic critique of capitalism that came to prominence with sixties counterculture. As they note, “it is true that because the new spirit of capitalism incorporated much of the artistic critique that flourished at the end of the 1960s, the accusations formerly levelled at capitalism out of a desire for liberation, autonomy and authenticity no longer seemed to be soundly based.”23 If once capitalist labour seemed artistically drab, alienating and inauthentic, the incorporation of the artistic critique into Human Resources means that capitalist workplaces now spend considerable energy fostering inclusion, participation and a sense of self-development. Marcuse had a tendency to add the term ‘repressive’ to a myriad of terms (repressive affluence, repressive tolerance’24), with the HR system it is tempting to go further: repressive inclusion, repressive participation, repressive flourishing, even repressive avant-gardism. As labour unions are decimated, as wages are falling, the Human Resources system offers us the freedom to be whoever one wants to be, as long as who we want to be remains a good subservient employee.
If Human Resources absorbs the artistic critique, mass media seems littered with avant-gardism. Figures such as Donald Trump, the Dadaist president with an aptitude for mass media, exemplifies the (perverse?) triumph of avant-gardist devices (absurdity, shock, provocation, etc.). If Trump and Exploding Appendix could both be seen as neo-Dadaist, then we can’t assume that ‘avant-gardism’ guarantees radicalism or subversion. Rather, it is necessary to engage in a thorough self-critique; to redefine, re-explore and reinvent the parameters of avant-gardism today. This is the task of the current volume.
THE AVANT-GARDE ART RESEARCH UNIT
1 Mina Loy, “Aphorisms on Futurism” in 100 Artists’ Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists, ed. Alex Danchev (Penguin Classics, 2011) p.63
2 Norman Cohen, The Pursuit of the Millennium (London, Granada Publishing Ltd, 1957/1970) p.286
3 Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Ken Knabb (The Bureau of Public Secrets, 2014) p.76
4 Raoul Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit, trans. Randell Cherry and Ian Patterson (Zone Books, New York, 1998) p.58
5 Alberto Toscano writes “His enemies ― Luther, the ‘godless’, the priests and princes ― were objects of a rich panopoly of insults: ‘abandoned reprobate’, ‘thin-shitters’, ‘platelickers’, ‘clownish, testicled doctors’, toadspawn’, ‘whore-riders’. As though his confirmed statements did not suffice, Melanchthon’s History even puts the following declamation in his mouth, as if to seal the accusation of fanatical desecration and false prophecy: ‘I shit on God if he does not do my bidding.’ In the image and the reality of Müntzer, scatology and eschatology are never far apart.” Alberto Toscano, ‘Preface: The Resurrection of Thomas Müntzer’ in Wu Ming presents Thomas Müntzer: Sermon to the Princes, trans. Michael G. Baylor (Verso, London, 2010) p.xi
6 Thomas Müntzer, ‘The Prague Protest’ in Wu Ming presents Thomas Müntzer: Sermon to the Princes, trans. Michael G. Baylor (Verso, London, 2010) p.2
8 Ibid, p.8/h5>
9 Thomas Müntzer, ‘Sermon to the Princes’ in Wu Ming presents Thomas Müntzer: Sermon to the Princes, trans. Michael G. Baylor (Verso. London. 2010) p.72
10 The True Levellers Standard Advanced was a manifesto for radical communalist land reform. In this text, struggles over common land are recast as a religious parable where “the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a common Treasury”, and where the hedging of land into enclosures leads to servitude and slavery. To overcome this, the communal digging of common land is presented as the alternative. They write “we have discharged our Souls in declaring the Cause of our Digging upon George-Hill in Surrey, that the Great Council and Army of Land may take notice of it”. In this context the pamphlet is demonstrative. The text is created to accompany a lived practice presenting a social alternative to the world in which it is written. See Gerrard Winstanley, ‘The True Levellers Standard Advanced’ in Tony Benn Presents Gerrard Winstanley: A Common Treasury (Verso, London, 2011) pp.3-24
11 A Fiery Flying Roll is performative in its provocation. Written as the voice of God, the text rails against the “Ministers, fat parsons, Vicars, Lecturers, &c. who (for their owne base ends, to maintaine their pride, and pompe, and to fill their own Paunches, and purses) have been the chiefs instruments of all those horrid abominations, hellish, cruel, devilish persecutions, in this nation which cry for vengeance”, p.23. It tells us “be no longer so horridly, hellishly impunently, arrogantly, wicked, as to judge what is sinne, what is not, what is evil, what is not, what blasphemy, and what is not.” p.26. Like Müntzer, Coppe’s theological allusions are awash with angry diatrabs and carnivalesque apocalyptics that overtly confront the political context risking the wrath of the censor. See Aliezer Coppe, ‘A Fiery Flying Roll’ in Albiezer Coppe, Selected Writings (Aporia Press, London, 1987)
12 F.T. Marinetti, “Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism” in 100 Artists’ Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists, ed. Alex Danchev (Penguin Classics, 2011) p.63
14 Tristan Tzara and others, “Twenty-Three Manifestos of the Dada movement (1920)” in 100 Artists’ Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists, ed. Alex Danchev (Penguin Classics, 2011) p.183
15 Ibid, p.167
16 Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto” in 100 Artists’ Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists, ed. Alex Danchev (Penguin Classics, 2011) p.137
17 RoseLee Goldberg, Performance Art: From Futurism to the present (Thames and Hudson, London, 1979/2011) p.8
20 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (Penguin, 1992/2020)
21 Mark Fisher, “Post-Capitalist Desire” in What We Are Fighting For: A Radical Collective Manifesto, ed. Federico Campagna and Emanuele Campiglio (Pluto Press, London, 2012) p.132
22 Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Gregory Elliot (Verso, London, 2005/2018) p.xvii
23 Ibid, p.418
24 For a discussion of repressive affluence see Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (Routledge, Oxon, 1964/2002). For a discussion of repressive tolerance see Herbert Marcuse, “Repressive Tolerance” in A Critique of Pure Tolerance, Robert Paul Wolff, Harrington Moore Jr, Herbert Marcuse (Becon Press, Boston, 1965)
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