So far we’ve treated Immediatism as an aesthetic movement rather than a political one—but if the “personal is political” then certainly the aesthetic must be considered even more so. “Art for art’s sake” cannot really be said to exist at all, unless it be taken to imply that art per se functions as political power, i.e. power capable of expressing or even changing the world rather than merely describing it.
In fact art always seeks such power, whether the artist remains unconscious of the fact & believes in “pure” aesthetics, or becomes so hyper-conscious of the fact as to produce nothing but agit-prop. Consciousness in itself, as Nietzsche pointed out, plays a less significant role in life than power. No snappier proof of this could be imagined than the continued existence of an “Art World” (SoHo, 57th St., etc.) which still believes in the separate realms of political art & aesthetic art. Such failure of consciousness allows this “world” the luxury of producing art with overt political content (to satisfy their liberal customers) as well as art without such content, which merely expresses the power of the bourgeois scum & bankers who buy it for their investment portfolios.
If art did not possess & wield this power it would not be worth doing & nobody would do it. Literal art for art’s sake would produce nothing but impotence & nullity. Even the fin-de-sicle decadents who invented l‘art pour l’art used it politically:—as a weapon against bourgeois values of “utility,” “morality” & so on. The idea that art can be voided of political meaning appeals now only to those liberal cretins who wish to excuse “pornography” or other forbidden aesthetic games on the grounds that “it’s only art” & hence can change nothing. (I hate these assholes worse than Jesse Helms; at least he still believes that art has power!)
Even if an art without political content can—for the moment—be admitted to exist (altho this remains exceedingly problematic), then the political meaning of art can still be sought in the means of its production & consumption. The art of 57th St. remains bourgeois no matter how radical its content may appear, as Warhol proved by painting Che Guevara; in fact Valerie Solanis revealed herself far more radical than Warhol— by shooting him—(& perhaps even more radical than Che, that Rudolph Valentino of Red Fascism).
In fact we’re not terribly concerned with the content of Immediatist art. Immediatism remains for us more game than “movement” ; as such, the game might result in Brechtian didacticism or Poetic Terrorism, but it might equally well leave behind no content at all (as in a banquet), or else one with no obvious political message (such as a quilt). The radical quality of Immediatism expresses itself rather in its mode of production & consumption.
That is, it is produced by a group of friends either for itself alone or for a larger circle of friends; it is not produced for sale, nor is it sold, nor (ideally) is it allowed to slip out of the control of its producers in any way. If it is meant for consumption outside the circle then it must be made in such a way as to remain impervious to coöptation & commodification. For example, if one of our quilts escaped us & ended up sold as “art” to some capitalist or museum, we should consider it a disaster. Quilts must remain in our hands or be given to those who will appreciate them & keep them. As for our agitprop, it must resist commodification by its very form;—we don’t want our posters sold twenty years later as “art,” like Mayakovsky (or Brecht, for that matter). The best Immediatist agitprop will leave no trace at all, except in the souls of those who are changed by it.
Let us repeat here that participation in Immediatism does not preclude the production/consumption of art in other ways by the individuals making up the group. We are not ideologues, & this is not Jonestown. This is a game, not a movement; it has rules of play, but no laws. Immediatism would love it if everyone were an artist, but our goal is not mass conversion. The game’s pay-off lies in its ability to escape the paradoxes & contradictions of the commercial art world (including literature, etc.), in which all liberatory gestures seem to end up as mere representations & hence betrayals of themselves. We offer the chance for art which is immediately present by virtue of the fact that it can exist only in our presence. Some of us may still write novels or paint pictures, either to “make a living” or to seek out ways to redeem these forms from recuperation. But Immediatism sidesteps both these problems. Thus it is “privileged,” like all games.
But we cannot for this reason alone call it involuted, turned in on itself, closed, hermetic, elitist, art for art’s sake. In Immediatism art is produced & consumed in a certain way, & this modus operandi is already “political” in a very specific sense. In order to grasp this sense, however, we must first explore “involution” more closely.
It’s become a truism to say that society no longer expresses a consensus (whether reactionary or liberatory), but that a false consensus is expressed for society; let’s call this false consensus “ the Totality.” The Totality is produced thru mediation & alienation, which attempt to subsume or absorb all creative energies for the Totality. Mayakovsky killed himself when he realized this; perhaps we’re made of sterner stuff, perhaps not. But for the sake of argument, let us assume that suicide is not a “solution.”
The Totality isolates individuals & renders them powerless by offering only illusory modes of social expression, modes which seem to promise liberation or self-fulfillment but in fact end by producing yet more mediation & alienation. This complex can be viewed clearly at the level of “commodity fetishism,” in which the most rebellious or avant-garde forms in art can be turned into fodder for PBS or MTV or ads for jeans or perfume.
On a subtler level, however, the Totality can absorb & re-direct any power whatsoever simply by re-contextualizing & re-presenting it. For instance, the liberatory power of a painting can be neutralized or even absorbed simply by placing it in the context of a gallery or museum, where it will automatically become a mere representation of liberatory power. The insurrectionary gesture of a madman or criminal is not negated only by locking up the perpetrator, but even more by allowing the gesture to be represented—by a psychiatrist or by some brainless Kop-show on channel 5 or even by a coffee-table book on Art Brut. This has been called “Spectacular recuperation”; however, the Totality can go even farther than this simply by simulating that which it formerly sought to recuperate. That is, the artist & madman are no longer necessary even as sources of appropriation or “mechanical reproduction,” as Benjamin called it. Simulation cannot reproduce the faint reflection of “aura” which Benjamin allowed even to commodity-trash, its “utopian trace.” Simulation cannot in fact reproduce or produce anything except desolation & misery. But since the Totality thrives on our misery, simulation suits its purpose quite admirably.
All these effects can be tracked most obviously & crudely in the area generally called “the Media” (altho we contend that mediation has a much wider range than even the term broad-cast could ever describe or indicate). The role of the Media in the recent Nintendo War—in fact the Media’s one-to-one identification with that war—provides a perfect & exemplary scenario. All over America millions of people possessed at least enough “enlightenment” to condemn this hideous parody of morality enforced by that murderous crack-dealing spy in the White House. The Media however produced (i.e. simulated) the impression that virtually no opposition to Bush’s war existed or could exist ; that (to quote Bush) “there is no Peace Movement.” And in fact there was no Peace Movement—only millions of people whose desire for peace had been negated by the Totality, wiped out, “disappeared ” like victims of Peruvian death squads; people separated from each other by the brutal alienation of TV, news management, infotainment & sheer disinformation; people made to feel isolated, alienated, weird, queer, wrong, finally no n-existent; people without voices; people without power.
This process of fragmentation has reached near-universal completion in our society, at least in the area of social discourse. Each person engages in a “relation of involution” with the spectacular simulation of Media. That is, our “relation” with Media is essentially empty & illusory, so that even when we seem to reach out & perceive reality in Media, we are in fact merely driven back in upon ourselves, alienated, isolated, & impotent. America is full to overflowing with people who feel that no matter what they say or do, no difference will be made; that no one is listening; that there is no one to listen. This feeling is the triumph of the Media. “They” speak, you listen—& therefore turn in upon yourself in a spiral of loneliness, distraction, depression, & spiritual death.
This process affects not only individuals but also such groups as still exist outside the Consensus Matrix of nuke-family, school, church, job, army, political party, etc. Each group of artists or peace activists or whatever is also made to feel that no contact with other groups is possible. Each “life-style” group buys the simulation of rivalry & enmity with other such groups of consumers. Each class & race is assured of its ungulfable existential alienation from all other classes & races (as in Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous).
The concept of “networking” began as a revolutionary strategy to bypass & overcome the Totality by setting up horizontal connections (unmediated by authority) among individuals & groups. In the 1980s we discovered that networking could also be mediated & in fact had to be mediated—by telephone, computers, the post office, etc.—& thus was doomed to fail us in our struggle against alienation. Communication technology may still prove to offer useful tools in this struggle, but by now it has become clear that CommTech is not a goal in itself. And in fact our distrust of seemingly “democratic” tech like PCs & phones increase with every revolutionary failure to hold control of the means of production. Frankly we do not wish to be forced to make up our minds whether or not any new tech will be or must be either liberatory or counter-liberatory. “After the revolution” such questions would answer themselves in the context of a “politics of desire.” For the time being, however, we have discovered (not invented) Immediatism as a means of direct production & presentation of creative, liberatory & ludic energies, carried out without recourse to mediation of any mechanistic or alienated structures whatsoever…or at least so we hope.
In other words, whether or not any given technology or form of mediation can be used to overcome the Totality, we have decided to play a game that uses no such tech & hence does not need to question it—at least, not within the borders of the game. We reserve our challenge, our question, for the total Totality, not for any one “issue” with which it seeks to distract us.
And this brings us back to the “political form” of Immediatism. Face-to-face, body-to-body, breath-to breath (literally a conspiracy)—the game of Immediatism simply cannot be played on any level accessible to the false Consensus. It does not represent “everyday life”—it cannot BE other than “everyday life,” although it positions itself for the penetration of the marvelous,” for the illumination of the real by the wonderful. Like a secret society, the networking it does must be slow (infinitely more slow than the “pure speed” of CommTech, media & war), & it must be corporeal rather than abstract, fleshless, mediated by machine or by authority or by simulation.
In this sense we say that Immediatism is a picnic (a con-viviality) but is not easy—that it is most natural for free spirits but that it is dangerous. Content has nothing to do with it. The sheer existence of Immediatism is already an insurrection.