Wendy Brown

  • Wendy Brown

    THE STUNNING RISE OF NATIONALISM, populism, and fundamentalism has roiled the world. It is tempting to imagine that we are witnessing just another rotation of political modernity’s cycle of progress and backlash. But we can situate the undoing of the demos in democracy’s longue durée while rejecting the false comfort of the idea that what’s happening is not new, that we’ve seen it all before. How did we get here? How did we create the conditions for Trump, for Brexit, for Mosul, for a daily sequence of devastating events, whether shootings or strikes? Is shock, that quintessentially modernist avant-garde strategy of instigating mass perceptual—and therefore political—change, somehow more prevalent than ever, albeit in radically transformed ways? Does shock, in fact, go hand in hand with apathy and desensitization?
    Art must confront these shifts in experience and form. And so Artforum asked curator HELEN MOLESWORTH, activist TARIQ ALI, and political theorist WENDY BROWN to reflect on the year in shock: on the sudden reaction, the surprise turn, the violent wake.

    “WE KNOW THIS might carry us over a cliff, but fuck it. Compared with my life? Let’s blow it all up and see what’s left.” That seems to be the impulse motivating some Trump and some Brexit supporters alike. It’s apocalyptic populism: “We know it might lead to economic collapse, political peril, even nuclear war, but that’s better than the humiliation and impotence we face now.”

    One has to be shocked by the events of the past year—especially by Brexit, the growing strength of neofascist parties in Europe, the destruction of Turkish democracy, and the rise of Trump—and at the same time,