April 6, 2007
New Asia: Endgame of Late Capitalism
Administrator’s note: This week’s post by Patrick Donovan weighs in on the contested nature of “late capitalist culture” as epitomized in contemporary art in the “New Asia.”
Lee Weng Choy in Authenticity, Reflexivity, and Spectacle, Or, the Rise of New Asia is not the End of the World, posits Singapore, or more broadly a "New Asia," as representing the telos, or end point, of the culture of late capitalist history. This culture is characterized by vulgar, violent, and repetitive spectacle as evidenced, for example, on Singapore television. Lee suggests, based on writings by Walter Benjamin, that this late capitalist culture views history as not progressive, but merely a montage, or juxtaposition of moments in time. Thus, apparently, late capitalist culture is essentially a juxtaposition of otherwise disconnected images and ideas without any historical sense. Citing Arthur Danto, Lee states that late capitalist culture is reflected in contemporary art, which is characterized by a radical plurality in which anything can be, and does get cited and re-sited as art. This culture, we are told, may be the avant garde of the next stage of capitalism.
But, although ostensibly about New Asia, Lee is examining late capitalist culture and contemporary art in general. He states there is a crisis in contemporary art: it is difficult or impossible for art to provide a critique of, or theorize about, a culture of radically pluralistic spectacle; it is difficult for art to avoid becoming just another juxtaposed image. Lee seems to be asking: how can contemporary art transcend this plurality?
Unfortunately, Lee does not provide an answer. And, we might question possible assumptions underlying "late" capitalism. "Late" capitalism implies a possible end of capitalism, but for all we know capitalism may continue for quite some time. Also, the "end of history" may be misleading. Obviously, history will continue. But, the characterization of contemporary art as pluralistic seems accurate and Lee may be correct that there is a yearning for the old fashioned virtues of "progress" and "unity."
Reading for 11 April: Chapter 23: Notes on Surface: Toward a Genealogy of Flatness by David Joselit.
Image: China Sample 1, M. Cameron Boyd, Copyright 2007.