Cloudburst Bundle: Item 3
…for most of its several centuries’ run, modernism’s taproot in romantic ideology drew heavily on the notion of opposition and critique. Whether flaunting disregard for bourgeois conventions, or upending the tables of polite discourse, or slapping the face of public taste, the artistic attachment to posing a critique has been one of the hallmarks of the long legacy of romanticism up through the avant-garde and beyond. Attachment to some notion of politics as a task for poetics, rooted in the notion of critique, is premised on the idea that artistic identity had a privileged role in the culture. Artists were other, somehow apart, the watchdogs, the agents provocateurs, the self-styled shamans, outsiders, whistleblowers, or keepers of the flame of moral conscience in a fallen world. Metaphors of salvation and redemption aside (and with them, all whiff of theology), the sense that the artist’s role was linked to critique has come to be a feature of the contemporary scene. We can read the writings of the modern philosophers, aestheticians, the passionate advocates of social change, radical epistemological defamiliarizers and imaginative visionaries. All are premised on the same principle of utopian reform.
But as the theoretical precepts of complex systems begin to come online (in literal as well as metaphoric senses), the status of critique changes. If authorship and its myths of agency dissolve in a situation where writing is aggregated, made, constructed, processed so that poetics emerge out of the mass of discourse rather than being other from it, then the grounds of distinction on which the figure of the author gained purchase fall away as well. We become authorettes, components of an authorial stream, bits of the larger code tide. Critique was dependent on apart-ness and distinction, relied on the configured condition of identity to sustain its premises—the outside otherness, a contrived stance at best, but a much-cherished one, was the requirement for such a practice, rooted in what look now like very mechanical distinctions of self and other, subject and object, self and world, perceiving consciousness and a priori phenomena.
From “Beyond Conceptualisms: Poetics after Critique and the End of the Individual Voice” by Johanna Drucker published in The Poetry Project Newsletter, April/May 2012.