April 27, 2006

Interpellation as Metonymy

As I half-seriously wrote to Tyler Green, in response to his over-zealous attempts at “defining” Dada on his "Modern Art Notes" (http://www.artsjournal.com/man/), “To say that Dada is art about World War I is like saying minimalism is art about cubes.” The tendency of retrospective critiques of art history is to construct “realities” or theories about the “style” or “movement” in question that are generally based on an over-abundance of individual viewpoint, conjecture, “academicism,” innuendo and half-recollected auto-biographical anecdote.

In our reading of Laura Kipnis’s "Repossessing Popular Culture" this week, she paraphrased Peter Burger’s Theory of the Avant-Garde, in which he goes to great pains to split the origins of Modernism into two oppositional components. On one hand were the original aestheticists, who developed an art of “purity,” where form was the “supreme” content, an art that possessed “autonomy from the concerns of everyday life.” Rising up against this were the “original” avant-gardists, with their brilliant use of “shock” and contestatory manifestoes, seeking to return art to an engagement with the people, to “rebel against the enforced social impotence of art determined by institutional status.”

This break was precipitated by more than war. Marcel Duchamp first exhibited his bicycle wheel as a “readymade” in 1913, before the start of World War I. This simple act of “choice,” Duchamp’s answer to the dreaded “retinal” images of aestheticism, would gain strength through the 20th Century with its engagement of the intellectual realms of “context,” commodity and the institutionalization of art. The Dadaists had implored Duchamp to join them (he lived in Munich for awhile) but he steadfastly refused – always the iconoclast – preferring instead to carve his own niche in the tumultuous “history” of “modernist” art.

But it is the “avant garde” dance with “mass culture” that interests me here. By “taking” the imagery of advertisements and posters, to make a “collage” of existing newspaper and magazine texts, the Cubists and Dadaists created an art that “arrested” the attention of both prole and bourgeois. Raoul Vaneigem, who admits his Dada influences, extends Louis Althusser’s idea of interpellation into a condemnation of this “address” of advertisements that provide individuals the “universal images” with which to “recognize themselves,” effectively becoming “actors” in the “spectacle.” It is this “address” that the original avant-gardists had anticipated and manipulated so well, imbuing their art with an absolute immediacy and recognition that did provide a “social” engagement.

I am proposing that it is this idea of an interpellative address that has become the defining metonymic factor in post-conceptualism. If the “part is made to stand for the whole,” then that element, or part, benefits from the “arresting” confrontation of advertisement. To enable “the subjects” to better “recognize themselves,” this appropriation of a commodified image or object allows the artist to engage the “whole” (avant-gardist “social” potency of politicization) with metonymy (Richard Serra’s “Stop Bush” drawing, Carolee Schneemann’s World Trade Center “jumpers.”)


craig P. Webb said...

So this means Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Ferdinand is not the Father of DaDa. Next thing you're going to tell me is that he didn't even start the War!
; )

Craig P. Webb said...
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Chris Rywalt said...

Neurological Art? I'd like to hear more. Sounds like something harking back to Crowley.

josh said...
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Chris Rywalt said...

Is MyWhatever interpellation? I think it grew out of Websites which, in the mid-1990s, were looking for new domain names (a lot of the easy ones had been taken) and hit on how customizable they were. I don't recall the My revolution as being started in a top-down fashion. Companies like Coca-Cola are only just now getting on the bandwagon, probably due to the success of MySpace.com, which makes the whole My phenomenon sound "new," "fresh," and "exciting."

Perhaps this doesn't disqualify it from being interpellation. But it seems to me that companies, in their advertising, are often as enslaved as those being advertised to.

M. Cameron Boyd said...

Not long after publishing my original post on Interpellation as Metonymy on April 27, I discovered Walter Robinson’s “Weekend Update” on ArtNet (http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/reviews/robinson/robinson4-27-06.asp) where, in the course of a brief review of Ceal Floyer’s “balloon” installation at 303, he says this:
Projected onto the balloon was a small square of light -- a cartoon highlight on a real object, a mute thing made into a symbol of festivity and clearly interpellated into a representational order, just like Louis Althusser talked about in Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.

If there is a “trend” occurring here, I think we need to establish our definitions, at least if we intend to draw distinctions between Situationist critique and art theory. Althusser’s conception of interpellation is related to the idea of the “subject” being "recognized" by the "address" of the “state apparatus,” either through direct contact or, subliminally, through advertising, and this "recognition" being mistaken for "identity." Does this mean that all advertising is “state-controlled?” That would depend on your propensity for paranoia, but the idea I am interested in is that this “cloak” of socio-political address is easily mis-used in the interests of an avant gardist intention. So does Floyer’s “balloon” address us as “subjects,” interpellating our identity through our relationship to the “state?” I think not, and I respectfully venture that Mr. Robinson has also abused this concept of interpellation in the interest of adopting an edgy, political viewpoint of plainly weak and derivative work.

What we are speaking of here then is art that uses the “confrontation of advertising,” which has little to do with “vanity” web sites like MySpace, in order to construct the "misrecognition" of identities for the “subjects.” The quaint folky-ism of a mega-corporation like Coca-Cola infiltrating the idea of personalized webspace reveals their insidious drift to consciousness entrapment, not coincidentally showing us that the enslavement Coke, Inc. worships is their enslavement to the dollar.

Chris Rywalt said...

Of course Coca-Cola Inc. is enslaved to the dollar. But they're also enslaved to the culture at large. As much as Coke has a hand in shaping that culture -- promulgating images of Santa Claus drinking Coke and so forth -- Coke is also, like the dragon's tail, whipped back and forth by that culture.

The idea of advertising as interpellation requires that advertising -- that corporations -- be infallible. Coke only wishes that were so! In fact, advertising is not as easy as pushing a "Buy Coke" button on someone's forehead. Ads do seem to work, on some people some of the time. But the science is nowhere near exact.

What this does is change the view of advertising: Advertising is not a machine for controlling people, it's an attempt at creating a machine for controlling people. And it's imperfect at best. This puts the corporation at the mercy of its own machine: The machine's results are unpredictable, so Coke must unceasingly change the input parameters, increasing the scope of the parameters (appealing to different demographics, researching customer preferences, and so forth), in an attempt to get the machine to work properly. The more Coke -- or any corporation, or the government -- aims for omniscient, the more clear it becomes that it cannot help but fall short; and thus the organization becomes, ultimately, paranoid, and subject to magical thinking.

The reason interpellation works at the level of the policeman shouting "Hey you!" is the policeman's immediate physical power. This is connected to mammalian politics and pack hierarchy and is hard-wired into the brain of homo sapiens; it's not something any government can control, although they do take advantage of it.

I agree that Floyer's understanding of interpellation appears flawed.

M. Cameron Boyd said...

NOTE: CPW's 2:50 pm comment above was removed by MCB with Craig's approval.