The Art of Disruption: Thoughts On An Abstract Life in a Concrete World

Scott McGehee (EN)

The double bind of modern life presents itself as a convergence of a radical individuation of life subsumed within totalizing social structures. That is to say, we grasp our own individual essence as autonomous and free yet we function as units within a larger system: without content, easily manipulated and without real individuality.  Indeed, it is precisely the universal imposition of a radical individuation that is itself totalizing; it is its precondition. At first glance this may sound like double speak, but if we realize that the primary function of power is to define the subject then we must ask how the subject is defined and by what or by whom? “The most efficient oppressor,” writes Terry Eagleton, “is the one who persuades his underlings to love, desire and identify with his power: and any practice of political emancipation thus involves that most difficult of all forms of liberation: freeing ourselves from ourselves.” In our functional daily life—work, commerce, exchange of every sort (civil society)–we imagine ourselves as egotistical individuals, independent atoms so to speak, each striving to attain a toehold in a competitive world where every other atom is a potential tool to be instrumentalized for our own success and, conversely, we might expect to be instrumentalized by others.  Yet, in truth, it is precisely here that we function communally in a primarily cooperative world that appears to be essentially a competitive world. This is a distorted form of communality to be sure.  By contrast, in the world of politics (political society), where we believe ourselves to be communal beings with strong identities as citizens—and any of the identities of race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, etc.–we are in fact atoms, characterless units stripped by these abstraction of any concrete (real) existence. We experience ourselves as abstractions. This dualism is one of the principle characteristics of the modern age and it is the basis of a mechanism that enables power to operate from the inside out; it enable the coal miner to identify his interests with that of a Billionaire, it enables millions to willingly give up their own freedoms as protection from fabricated fears, it enables the mid-west farmer to fear the Jew, the Muslim and immagrant.  The greatest challenge today is to avoid becoming part of the very crimes we denounce though involuntary complicity and consensus. This means, first and foremost, rejecting the dualism that tears us apart by imposing a life of abstraction onto a concrete life; this begins with a radical refusal, it begins by rejecting the discourse of power itself.  If we oppose the tyrant (Trump?) only to embrace his political opponent then we trap ourselves in the hall of mirrors, and we will be lost. Even the noblest causes are fraught with dangers of entrapment. We are all for “equal wages for equal work” I presume, but in the struggle to achieve such goals, are we not reinforcing a system of exploitation, the right to be exploited equally; does this not suggest that capitalism can be managed ethically.  I agree with Adorno on this futility; “A wrong life,” he writes, “cannot be lived rightly.” Art, I believe, can play a role in breaking the power of abstraction. Art’s point of departure is always the concrete sensual rather than the abstract conceptual.Hans-Thies Lehmann suggests some important direction that the artist might take regarding political art.

Firstly: The political can appear only indirectly in the theatre, at an oblique angle, mode oblique. And secondly: The political has an effect in the theatre if and only if it is in no way translatable or re-translatable into the logic, syntax, and terminology of the political discourse of social reality. What then follows, thirdly, is the seemingly paradoxical formula that the political of the theatre must be conceived not as a reproduction of the political, but as its interruption.  Post-Dramatic Theatre

We are beyond tweaking the system, beyond an adjustment here or a correction there; only a truly radical approach can lift the veil of self-imposed subservience.  The world is accelerating without pause and no adjustment will slow it, we are, it seems, careening towards self-destruction. Hyperbole? Maybe.

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