30 April 2021

Karen Kurczynski—Jorn: Critique Is Secondary, Creation Is Primary

Kurczynski, The Art and Politics of Asger Jorn
...the Lettrists stated in 1953, "Oblivion (l'oubli) is our dominant passion." The original term "oubli" signifies at once forgetting, intoxication, and anonymity. (165)
p. 183—excerpt from Jorn
What one expresses through destruction is critique. Critique is a secondary reaction to something primary which already exists. What one expresses through artistic creation is joy of life. Art is primary action in relation to the unknown. The French have brought critique into the revolutionary plan, but if critique also becomes the purpose of creative art, and the creative artist thus a "specialized worker," whose work should only serve the permanent revolution's permanent consumption, then these Situationists have lost any sympathetic contact with the artists who seek to create a joy of life for its own sake, and drive them precisely into the arms of the power elite, which always controls the destructive instruments that can crush the people down, and which always make sure to have a moral excuse to make it all good and thorough.

[from "a 1964 lecture, after the artists and the SI had split"]
[source="unpublished manuscript" in Jorn Museum archive, KK's translation]

KK continues:
Jorn perceived Debord's SI as going too far, so that its claims to destroy art effectively relinquished art entirely to those in power. This self-marginalization would allow art institutions to take control of the group's historicization by default and perpetuate the very apolitical conception of art that the Situationists wanted to overturn.
A Just Say It moment which unfortunately runs aground on a couple of key points. Jorn merely talks past Debord when he threatens a loss of "sympathetic contact" with artists "who seek to create a joy of life for its own sake;" this is certainly true, but Debord had already put forth a powerful theory justifying this total break with art and centering on the ways in which it is not nearly so easy to give the artists the generous benefit of the doubt that Jorn seems inclined to grant them herein. The notion that they will thereby be driven into the waiting arms of power is also rather farfetched and seems to deny these artists agency in their own political affairs. And of course the concept of expression is problematic for all of the usual reasons. Seems to me that a stronger strategy here would be to eschew any consequentializing and attack Debord where he lives, i.e. take his theory apart. What I think we find thereby is that the Marxist obscurantism has led old Guy to a blanket, total, monolithic, teleological interpretation of the situation, especially vis-a-vis the anticipated thrust from fragmentary to unitary life, which reduces the complexity of the situation beyond the point where such reduction is tenable. There seems little difference between the two when it comes to the more immediate issues: releasing human potential from institutional mediation, and thereby freeing this potential to manifest. Beyond that, it's hard to shake the impression that Debord simply had it out for art whereas Jorn had more invested in it; in absence of this there doesn't seem to be any reason that Jorn's "primary action" and "joy of life" could not be reconciled with Debord's unitary, unalienated existence.

[from a notebook, 2018]

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