Posts on: criticism
Someone at the first session of the k-punk quarantined online seminar series yesterday made quite an interesting slip of the tongue. Discussing how we got into Fisher’s work, one PhD student described themselves as a fan of Fisher’s works, before almost immediately pulling themselves back and saying something along the lines of: “well, not “fan”, fan’s not the right word…”
Said in a moment amidst technical difficulties before the conversation proper started, I didn’t say anything in response to this when it happened. But needless to say, this kind of academic and postmodernist aversion to “fandom” is exactly what Fisher was rallying against in his work (amongst other things, of course). All of Fisher’s work starts from the basic starting point unveiled in different ways by Nietzsche, Freud, Spinoza, and various others: there is no libidinal neutrality. Far from escaping desire for the cherished realm of dispassionate objectivity, anxious attempts to rein back “subjectivist” desire only further demonstrate it through their jittery acts of denial.
Fisher most explicitly makes his case for being a “fan” in two 2009 blog posts, “Fans, Vampires, Trolls, Masters” and its follow-up. Against the idea that fans are simply the mindless zombies of groupthink, lobotomised of any critical faculties, he asserts in the latter:
Far from being uncritical dupes, fans will often be more critical of their object of adoration than anyone else is; in part, evidently, because they care far more than those who haven’t made the libidinal investment. (This doesn’t mean that fans won’t close ranks when their object is attacked by an outsider.) I say ‘object of adoration’ but ‘adoration’ doesn’t really capture the fan’s relation to the object. The object isn’t so much adored as fetishised, elevated into the position of an idol, the figure around and through which libido is organised. But the mistake of anglo-American deflationism is its notion that we can simply dispense with this kind of fetishism and just deal with propositions. Some kind of attitudinal/ libidinal stake is always necessary to get things going; the issue is whether it is foregrounded and affirmed or occulted and denied. Passing beyond being a fan is not achieved by occupying a chimeric position of libidinal neutrality, but precisely by following the implications of the libidinal investment.
The question this poses is: if you like Fisher’s work to the point of being invested in it, why shun the label of the “fan”? Why deny that investment? The idea that being a “fan” of Fisher jettisons one of any critical engagement with his work is patently silly, and far from enlightening the disinterested “truth” of his work, only deadens it into a flat apparition to be slotted neatly into pre-existing categories. Indeed, as Fisher notes in “Fans, Vampires, Trolls, Masters”, “there is a strong relationship between the Fan and the critic”. This is something I elaborated further in my post on Iain Nairn and criticism – good criticism actually incorporates fandom in that it intensively places itself within its object, gives itself over to its mobilisation of the libido. But – and this is something I neglected to mention in that post – this is not enough in itself: the placement of one “within” the object of criticism must then also be matched by a flight or escape from it. (This is demonstrated by the banalities of everyday life: often we only realise the truth of a past situation we were involved in because the passage of time distances us from it and allows us to reflect on it from the outside, having previously been “in” it.) But in order to make that escape, one necessarily must have previously been “within” the object at hand; it’s not enough to simply sneer from the outside.
Adorno gives this a theoretical rigour in aphorism 46 of Minima Moralia, which I quote at length because the force of his argument here is lost if one reduces it to a pithy citation:
Naivety and sophistication are concepts so endlessly intertwined that no good can come of playing one off against the other. […] Knowledge can only widen horizons by abiding so insistently with the particular that its isolation is dispelled. This admittedly presupposes a relation to the general, though not one of subsumption, but rather almost the reverse. Dialectical mediation is not a recourse to the more abstract, but a process of resolution of the concrete in itself. […]
The morality of thought lies in a procedure that is neither entrenched nor detached, neither blind nor empty, neither atomistic nor consequential. The double-edged method which has earned Hegel’s Phenomenology the reputation among reasonable people of unfathomable difficulty, that is, its simultaneous demands that phenomena be allowed to speak as such - in a ‘pure looking-on’ - and yet that their relation to consciousness as the subject, reflection, be at every moment maintained, expresses this morality most directly and in all its depth of contradiction. […]
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Nothing less is asked of the thinker today than that he should be at every moment both within things and outside them - Münchhausen pulling himself out of the bog by his pig-tail becomes the pattern of knowledge which wishes to be more than either verification or speculation. And then the salaried philosophers come along and reproach us with having no definite point of view. (p.79-80)
I had never heard of Nairn before this, but he comes across as immediately magnetic, eccentric and above all convincing: a character of real passions, or, as Jonathan Meades puts it in his preface to the show from some time in the 80s, the “enfant terrible of architectural criticism”. Meades continues:Read More »