Draft of a manifesto written in defense of a group of people that did not ask for my defense, using words they would not use and engaging people they ignore.

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 01/19/2010

[descending into Mobile, AL – turbulence – warming sunlight a pale stripe against a cloud tundra]

The resistance to being theorized, examined, abstracted…isn’t this a basic sort of dignity?

We are not your intellectual playthings. Perhaps you see something publishable, a critical opportunity, but we reject your representation and demand our autonomy. We might not have read your recent darlings (Rancière, Agamben, etc.), but you have not lived our lives either. We refuse to meet on your terms within your own idioms – prejudged by your theoretical dogmas.

While you wring hands over what it all means, we are trying to change the world, build relationships and communities. Are we naive? Possibly. We prefer a world of naive dreamers to cynical observers. Keep your beloved “criticality.” Hold it close to your heart and tell us what you feel. We are friends, not “colleagues” and we choose to embrace humane values and each other. We offer a different vision. Against the professional hegemony of academic intellectualism we offer – trust, love, sentiment, passion, egalitarianism and sincerity.

We won’t live our lives in “quotes” and think being thought silly is preferable to the safety (and cowardice) of the knowing wink. In short, we reject the antiseptic posturing of the theoretical class. We welcome the messiness of lived human experience – all the stuff that resists intellectual appropriation and is routinely dismissed as petty, mundane, insignificant.

We are gamblers, believing in the value of risking everything for the sake of our “foolish” dreams and schemes.

Feel free to stand aside and critique yourself into a corner, into passivity, but save your elitist judgments for your fellow bibliographic temple builders…your heartless (and gutless) intellectual fundamentalism is not welcome here.

8 Responses

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  1. Gamblers | The Friendly Anarchist said, on 01/20/2010 at 01:56

    […] idly on idle musings, I invite you to visit the Lebenskünstler blog by Randall Szott and read his “Draft of a manifesto written in defense of a group of people that did not ask for my defense,…. It’s less than 300 words long, so it fits well into this series, and if afterwards you’re […]

  2. Bryce said, on 01/20/2010 at 09:48

    Reading Peirce today and thought that perhaps this relates…

    “A person may, it is true, in the course of his studies, find reason to doubt what he began by believing; but in that case he doubts because he as a positive reason for it, and not on account of the Cartesian maxim [or critical/theoretical vogue]. Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.” from “Some Consequences of Four Incapacities” (1868)

  3. Rafael said, on 01/21/2010 at 18:23

    I haven’t been reading Pierce today (although i should do), however i have been thinking about this.

    Why do you feel that the ‘artists’, the ‘activists’, the ‘practitioners’ (the people) that your are speaking for would be so resistant to others who are developing ideas about things, ideas which are also, for all intents and purposes, as object like as anything else…

    However despondent and dejected you are about the ‘academy’ (and there are many reasons to feel like this), there are ways of working in this context which aren’t about just decontextualising quotes and ramming the round pegs of real life into the square holes of theory.

    And without trying to make it seem that anthropology is a discipline without faults (of which it has many), ethnography, with the thickness of research, with the prime aim of understanding what its like to be one of the community, to live like (you) they live, can give us the opportunity to scale the differing levels of theory and practice.

    In that way, people like Rancière and Agamben, people who yes, are definitely the darlings of the moment (but that’s hardly their fault) can be used to explain things which, although they may have not studied, can have obvious implications.

    They’re just fucking clever guys who are really thinking about interesting things! And no doubt, sometimes they need to get a dose of reality, to get out of their studies and into the mess of everyday life, but useful? I think so. Useful for understanding things.

    And that’s what its all about now. Understanding things. In whatever way. Whether through craft, through leisure, through making things, doing things, thinking things.

    And in that way we can hold our heads up high in relation to those being “theorized, analyzed” etc. Because it can be an understanding that comes about through a dialogue and co-operation. Not a classic top-down approach.

    This did get me thinking a lot though.


  4. Randall Szott said, on 01/22/2010 at 00:21

    Rafael –

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. You leave me in a bit of a quandary though…a manifesto, by its very nature, will not hold up well to a considered analysis. So to defend it requires me more to defend the authenticity of its passion rather than the rigor of its argument no?

    I will, however, answer to a few of your points:

    “there are ways of working in this context which aren’t about just decontextualising quotes and ramming the round pegs of real life into the square holes of theory.”

    Agreed, but within art there is a pernicious and all too common sort who tend to dominate the conversation. In the U.S. especially theory has become an end, not a means.

    re: Rancière and Agamben

    Well, to be clear, I have read them both. I find Agamben to be mostly useless although I have read much less of him than Rancière. And I might have to agee with what I read as faint praise that he is clever – rather than wise. As to Rancière , I must admit my severe parochialism makes me recoil from his embrace here in the U.S. What I have found useful in his work seems to have been dealt with much earlier and effectively by one of our own – John Dewey. Although enjoying a (very slight) resurgence I fear he suffers from the same bizarre bias that (as George Leonard points out) led 60s American conceptualists to look to Wittgenstein and Merleau-Ponty for ideas they could have found in the homegrown Transcendentalists. So yes, it is not Rancière’s fault that folks here can’t seem to embrace their own intellectual tradition and need to see it reflected back from across the ocean, but it is still frustrating for a provincialist like me.

    So much of what you say rings true, yet I believe that people like Bruce Wilshire, Richard Shusterman, and Robert Solomon have it right. Philosophy (which they are directly addressing, but I think art, and theory can be easily substituted) has lost its way. What used to be an endeavor into aiding the conduct of life has become a professionalized and narrow form of intellectual argumentation. All the fields I have mentioned have surely left behind the day to day concerns of average folks and sequestered themselves in the largely irrelevant “bibliographic temples” I mention in my rant…errr…manifesto.

  5. Rafael said, on 01/22/2010 at 22:26

    I just wrote a very very very long reply which I then somehow deleted.

    I am very upset. It was a good twenty minutes of my life which i will NEVER get back!

    How annoying.

    So how can i re-write that in five minutes.


    No need to defend either authenticity or rigor. They are both plain to see and i totally understand/appreciate both!

    My response was merely me trying to get out of the hole I have dug myself, and try and find away out other than stoping writing, packing my bags and going home!

    On the whole round pegs square holes things. Again, i do agree. Having not come from an art theory background but recently been foraging within it, if i read one more ‘my artists’ are better than yours” paper, i will honestly throw up. All over my laptop.

    But then there must be people doing it well, writing theory which isn’t just using the people they are writing about for there own purposes… Aren’t there? I mean i’m not a big fan of Nicolas Bourriaud, I think his constant theoretical shifts (relational aesthetics to postproduction to altermodernity) are just too swift, and too useful in keeping the same said artists within the theory. Can this all be changing so fast? It seems like nice exhibiton titles rather than strong theory (even though i do actually like a lot of his ideas truth be told)… But at least he’s working with the artists in discussion, working with them on a day to day level (so i believe).

    But then does this not make it a place of advocacy rather than giving a critical perspective. Is this not slightly unsteady ground? (A ground that is fully shaking underneath my feet).

    A slight diversion, sorry, but just got me thinking.

    Dewey. Need to go back to him. And the frustrations re: accademic obsessions with the French i understand. They (generalisation warning) just seem to know how to write what other people may be thinking in amazing ways…

    As for Wilshire, Shusterman and Solomon, i’m embarassed to say (after wikipedia’ing them) that they’re all new to me. Shusterman in particular sounds particulalry annoying in his success and obvious ridiculous intelligence. NEED to read him now. Sounds great.

    I had a final paragraph about the absolute pain i went through attenting a symposium of Radical Philosophy journal with Antonio Negri. It was the worst four hours of my life. We might as well have been philosophizing on the moon. I mean i’m not a philosopher, i’m not a philosophy student, but this was crazy. It was so out of touch with the everyday, with the world, that i really could not believe it.


    Need to run. Thanks for the new books on my reading list!

    And thanks for the interesting reply too.

  6. Randall Szott said, on 01/23/2010 at 00:24

    Don’t be embarrassed about not knowing the thinkers I cite. Few seem to know them as they are American after all and I deliberately seek out thinkers outside the usual suspects. It doesn’t surprise me at all to hear your report about the Negri event.

    As for Bourriaud, many have found him useful for describing things and for that I will give him credit. I suspect though that the swiftness you describe is more indicative of someone looking to advance their career (by also advancing the careers of certain artists) as I mention here.

    Here are some quick links of mine on:

    Solomon and Shusterman.

    This post cuts very quickly to the core of the thoughts I try to express in the manifesto.

    Could I possibly do any more self quotation?

  7. […] blogger who supports non-object-based art practices, and a chef for the US Army Corps of Engineers, published a manifesto on his blog Lebenskünstler, in mid-January. Szott defines the enemy lines—“we refuse to meet […]

  8. […] This is a much more hyperbolic approach to the same theme. […]

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