John Rajchman

  • John Rajchman on Vilém Flusser’s “Curies’ Children”

    WHAT IS—and has been—the relation of artists and philosophers to media, media theory, and media studies? The column that Vilém Flusser (1920–1991) contributed to Artforum from 1986 through 1992, titled “Curies’ Children,” offers something of a case study. For after his untimely death, Flusser’s reputation grew in Germany, then in America, to the point where he has recently been acclaimed as “perhaps our greatest media philosopher.”

    At the time of his Artforum writings, however, Flusser was barely known. Nor had he yet been constituted as a media philosopher. What attracted editor Ingrid Sischy


    Were the ’80s the postmodern decade? The word abounded. Buildings and clothes were designed in its name. Philosophers angrily disputed its significance; critical battle lines were drawn. Great period chars were plotted like Chinese menus. But two decades after the excitement, what does po-mo look like today?

    Consider the critical trajectories of Fredric Jameson and Jean Baudrillard. Both were prominent figures, quite different from one another, though each had a background in the Marxist criticism of the '30s. Writing from California, Jameson imagined the whole new era was summed up in the

  • the best books of the year

    Linda Nochlin

    Two books very different in approach and subject matter stand out this year: Richard Meyer’s Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art (Oxford University Press) and Georges Didi-Huberman’s L’Image survivante: Histoire de l’art et temps des fantômes selon Aby Warburg (Editions de Minuit). Meyer deftly combines a close reading of individual works and intelligent social and political synthesis. Outlaw Representation not only sheds light on such important figures as Paul Cadmus, Andy Warhol, and Robert Mapplethorpe but demonstrates the remarkable

  • Michel Foucault’s aesthetics

    WHAT EXACTLY IS MEANT by Michel Foucault’s “aesthetics”? The ideas of sex and power we now associate with the philosopher and historian seem to exist in an entirely different register from what he found in the arts. And yet in a certain way this paradox in our relation to his thought is already present in his own work, his own aesthetics.

    The recent publication of Volume Two of Foucault’s collected writings confronts us with just such questions. Much of his writings about the arts are contained in essays, reviews, interviews, lectures—a whole body of journalism that accompanied his work as

  • Jean-François Lyotard

    THE PARADOXICAL TITLE GIVEN to Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Artforum essay of 1982, “presenting the unpresentable,” might retrospectively name an art and an ethic peculiar to this philosopher/critic/aesthetician who died of complications from leukemia in April at the age of seventy-three; it might characterize a long philosophical activity, without method or doctrine, carried on in many places and in many ways. For his was a singular intelligence—mobile, generous, light—that had navigated all the debates and divisions of his time. He was a man of “peregrinations” (as he called them), through many


    What is global? What is political? These are two questions the curators of Documenta X thought we should ask, and thought should be asked in relation to one another. Enlisted as part of this endeavor (both in an interview in Documenta X: The Book and as a speaker in the “100 Guests, 100 Days” events) was Etienne Balibar, distinguished professor of philosophy at Paris-X University, who first became known in the mid ’60s through his collaborative efforts with Louis Althusser.
    In his consideration of these questions occasioned by the works on view at Documenta, Balibar makes several observations. First there is a notion of temps mort, or “dead time,” a historical moment of the sort in which new, imperceptible, unpredictable things may happen (rather like the time that Benjamin Buchloh, in his contribution to Documenta X: The Book, sees in James Coleman’s work but finds lacking in Jeff Wall’s photographic return to “the painting of modern life”). For Balibar this temps mort is a time of “translation” that cuts across the unities of culture and asks us to complicate the notion of “fictive ethnicity” through which the very idea of a culture has been tied to the nation-state. Through this rethinking comes a first connection to the global: we need to rethink the universal-particular opposition, and in place of cultural differences look at the violence of irreconcilable ways of “civilizing.” Such are the issues Balibar thinks are presented, for example, by the “new ethnicities” that have grown up in our “global cities.”
    But there is also another sense of “global,” another kind of globalization discourse. It is not an anthropological discourse about identity and culture, but one of corporations, governments, and journalists. It concerns not only circulation (e.g., “glocal” marketing strategies) but also production—work and work space and the sorts of skills required to “compete” (e.g., Silicon Alley). In this discourse “globalization” has come to refer to a model of development or modernization, which one must adopt on pain of losing out, and which, politically speaking, translates as a (new) crisis in the management of the welfare state—or in what Balibar prefers to call the “national social state.” For a basic concern in his work has been to rethink politics after the notion of the national social state. He thinks we need to reconceive “citizenship” (which has traditionally been defined in terms of the nation-state) and “the cosmopolitan” (which, e.g., in its Kantian mode stays within the national horizon), as well as the geopolitical borders that the nation-state has drawn at once within and without us, overdetermined first by colonialism and then by cold war. Thus, one might speak today of an “omnipolitan” condition that cuts across the old European world of “the great nations,” a condition that, along with new patterns of immigration and human-rights politics, calls for new styles of thinking and intervention.
    Between the anthropological and corporativist senses of “the global,” there are no doubt many connections, some of which have begun to surface in art and art talk. For example, there is the biotechnopia often promoted by enthusiasts of the new technologies and typified by Wired which combines with-it theories of complexity and free-market corporativism in a “digital revolution.” Balibar takes another tack. In both the culturalist and economist debates, his problem is to conceive the political in new ways. He thinks we need to invent a new kind of politics, different from (though linked to) the politics of “enlightenment” and of “social transformation”; the questions of “civility” and “civilization” that he sees in the violence and the translation in the work at Documenta X form part of his attempt to articulate this politics. The global and the political thus come to be connected in a particular way. It is a matter of a reinvention of politics—one might say, of the time of that reinvention.
    —John Rajchman


    A GOAL OF THIS YEAR’S installment of Documenta, alongside the attempt to cast a “retrospective” glance over twenty years of contemporary art, was to outline some reflections on art’s relationship with the processes referred to today as “globalization”: not just the impulses and constraints of the market, but also the more or less conflictual encounters between cultures and symbolic systems of communication. When I was interviewed by Catherine David and Jean-François Chevrier before the exhibition opened, I tried to pose the question of a “civilization of globalization,” conceived


    ONCE THERE WAS AN “AVANT-GARDE.” It started in Europe, and came to the United States; some say it got “stolen.” But today we need new formations, new geographies, new styles of thinking, different from those of the avant-garde group with its popes and manifestos, even from the more “acephalous” group that attracted Georges Bataille. We need to think of “the city” in new ways, hence of how artists or thinkers fit into it—we need a new urbanism. Perhaps that’s the project Paul Virilio has been pursuing now over many years, through many passages and trajectories, as an author/critic as well as the

  • John Rajchman talks with Rem Koolhaas

    REM KOOLHAAS IS THE DUTCH architect who came to the U.S. in the ’70s to find in Manhattan an unwritten manifesto—part Surrealist, part rationalist—for a metropolitan “culture of congestion.” His Delirious New York, of 1978, sounded a new note in architecture, urbanism, and the manner in which they might be related to one another. It was at odds with urban planning and “renewal,” out of sync with both a European “contextualism” and an Asian “critical regionalism.” Yet it would lead Koolhaas to what many now recognize as some of the most significant architecture to have emerged in the last

  • The Lightness of Theory

    The question is how light or heavy we are—the problem of our “specific gravity.”

    —Friedrich Nietzsche, 1887

    P.M. and M.C.

    ONE CRITICAL REFLECTION we might engage in today concerns what “theory” is or has become for us. Not so long ago, across much of “advanced” visual culture, a typical short answer to the question “What is theory?” would have been “post-Modern, ever more post-Modern!” I myself had little use for this category, and some years ago tried to analyze how it had arisen and become so prevalent.1 The designation nevertheless lives on. But it has become too vague and elastic to mean much,