During the 1980s, ideas surrounding art within an Anglo-American context were profoundly transformed by the influence of French, and to a lesser extent, German philosophy and critical theory. The reception of these ideas was accompanied by a deep renovation of the discourse and central concerns of critical theory of the history of art. But even further, it normalised the idea of a discourse surrounding art of a strictly theoretical nature: a 'theory of art'.

The influence of this thought in the dominant Anglo-American context, its comings and goings, its connection to psychoanalysis, feminism, postcolonial discourse and, finally, its global academic expansion, has given shape to the discursive/theoretical context which we still inhabit today when discussing art. This series of seminars attempts, on one hand, to re-evaluate the validity of the concepts, problems, antagonisms and debates that marked the decade of the 1980s and, on the other, to point to possible directions of renovation at a moment when the postures that formerly seemed 'radical', today comfortably inhabit the most academic environments.

Judith Barry 'In the Shadow of the City... Vam p r y', 1985


Monday 5 and Tuesday 6 March, from 7.30 to 9.30 pm.

Monday 5 March
The Great Split of the 1980s. When Intellectual Labour and Social Critique Parted Ways...
Here is an attempt at re-contextualising across the board the many intellectual revolutions (and counter-revolutions) of thirty years ago: the rise of identity politics and post-identitarian theories, the break between social critique and textual criticism, the initial formation of a globalised, united critical lexicon in the academic arena, and the turn of a few great masters towards ethics & theology (Derrida), aesthetics & epistemology (Deleuze), or a new type of metaphysics (Badiou). What these various trends have in common is their uneasy relationship with the unprecedented reactionary context of 1980s Western politics, to which they seem to react either by escaping away from the social battlefield, or by replacing it overall with a textual, symbolic, all-cultural battlefield. A new form of intellectual powerlessness, or critical disconnection, was born from that context, which explains today how hard it is for the most adamant radicals among public intellectuals to cope with our global catastrophe and grassroots uprisings. The year 2011 could very well have proven wrong the intellectual caste as a whole in the exact same way that the year 1968 had done, forcing an aggiornamento of the intellectual realm and its sophisticated marketplace of ideas.

Tuesday 6 March
Toying with Subjectivity: The Critical Accident and the End of the Individual
Among the many themes put forward by radical thinkers of the 1960s-70s and later re-appropriated by the world of contemporary art, the 'critique of the Subject' might be the most relevant one, to the extent that it anticipated the evolution of artistic processes from individual creation (the model of the 'genius') to tricky re-combinations (the paradigm of the 'DJ'), that it helped us to get rid of intimidating monoliths such as moral consciousness and the artist's 'commitment', and that it pointed at non-predictable, non-individual, non-fully intentional forms of radical critique – around concepts like 'resistance/control', 'dis-identification', 'involuntarism' and even of 'the Event'. By signalling a way out of Western humanism, thus opening the way to cultural relativity and postcolonial affirmations, and confronting Art's politics in regard to new technologies and the unprecedented dissemination of perceptions, the ill-named 'Critique of the Subject' (and the critiques of representation and theorising stemming from it) has inaugurated a new era in the age-old relationship between Art and Theory. At the risk of depoliticizing art's new propositions, by disconnecting the possibility of a social uprising from any collective will (and making critical events a mere 'accident'), and by offering to mimic and outbid capitalism's madness rather than naively criticising it.

François Cusset is a professor of American Studies at the Université de Paris Ouest, an editor and columnist, and former director of the New York-based French Publishers' Agency, FC. He is the author of Queer critics (PUF, 2002) translated as The Inverted Gaze (Arsenal Pulp, 2011), French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, and Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States (University of Minessota Press, 2008), La décennie: Le grand cauchemar des années 1980 (La Découverte, 2006) and Contre-Discours de Mai: ce qu'embaumeurs et fossoyeurs de 68 ne disent pas à ses héritiers (Actes Sud, 2008). Revolving around intellectual history and the politics of theory, his work currently focuses on the promises and paradoxes of today's 'return of the critical', and on the cultural/historical erasure of 'the people' as concept and signifier, in the context of today's rising global insurgency.

MACBA Public Programs
Tel. 93 412 46 81
programespublics [at] macba [dot] cat




Whatever happened to theory (1st session)
Whatever happened to theory (2nd session)