“Tell me love isn’t true/It’s just something that we do” sang Madonna in 2000. At that time it felt cool – cynical enough, smart ass enough, apathetic enough. But shit what a tragedy, if love is just something that we do then it’s all a matter of calculation, measurability and economy. In Madonna’s 2000 universe love has turned to nothing more or less than a decision, something we put on or off like a coat or maybe a diet. I’m vegan. Or if love is something that we do it’s turned into negotiation, investment and affordance. In 2000 love ended up being economy one o one.
Roland Barthes was a little earlier than Madonna: You fall in love, you fall out of love, you recover from love and you fall in love again. Holy Moses what a horrible thing to say, love is just something that we do and the last part again is really really sad. Again proposes another one or more of the same and the the book closes with the insight that love is comparable, measurable and simply different in degree, business as usual. There is nothing special with this love and there is certainly no singularity to love.
But why, why such a mediocre understanding of love? Well, for anybody who proposes the death of the author and the end of essence and authenticity it’s evident that not even love is allowed to transgress language and have anything to do with magic, blown away or overwhelmed. For Madonna it might be the other way around and that the song rather proposes, if I just convince myself that love is something that we do, it means I can’t really have a problem or be heart broken. It’s just reasons anyway.
If postmodernism and its entourage was keen on letting us know that language is the capacity with which we have access to the world nothing must bypass language and hence love must be degraded to something that we do, causality and reason. The other way around, since love is something that we do, that is negotiated, one can also be held accountable for one’s actions, for one’s love.
What about swopping love for art. “Tell me art isn’t true/it’s just something that we do”. Well, in fact perhaps art councils and venues, museums and commissioned should consider the sentence, because if art is just something that we do it goes with out saying that making art is something one also gets paid for. But then again if art is just something that we do, how come some of it is just valued so much higher – monetary or symbolic – and if art is just something that we do it would be difficult to argue anything about originality. If love is just something that we do wouldn’t that mean that if there were a shortage one could also be ok with second best. Like, I really prefer Volvo but what the heck if you only have Volkswagen that’s also o’rite. Or, if there’s no Ad Reinhardt around I’m ok with that black wall.
As has been mentioned, if postmodernism claim language to be how we access the world it can simply not allow art to be something else, art can’t be magical, overwhelming or transcendental, because then apparently language is not the only etc. But the price to pay for making art something that we do, or inscribing it into language, it also means that art always is calculable and measurable, in other words that is has become a matter of investment and affordance, simple economy and that the artist at the end of the day is just a manipulative shit, a seducer and that all artists are con artists. More over it also means that the artist can be held accountable for his art and that a person who makes art that is weird or deals with awkward representations is somehow sick. An art in short becomes a prostheses of the artist’s fucked up mind. If this was the case quite a bunch of artists would be in trouble and Frances Bacon sent at least to Coventry. Aesthetics exchanged for ethics. Contemplation with policing.
When Judith Butler published “Gender Trouble” in 1990 that was absolutely terrific but an understanding of identity as performative is not all pros, because doesn’t identity politics tell us that from now on it’s all up to you. When identity becomes politics there is so nobody or else to blame, the only one responsible is you and for every decision or action you do or don’t. You equal your actions and how you iterate “yourself” becomes a matter of affordance and investment. With “Gender Trouble” identity became 100% economy, and indeed identity was repackaged into commodity – you become private property and property – since there is only dynamics and relative value – that needs to be surveilled and invested.
Two things come out and disturbing. If art is just something that we do and so on it ends up with that all art always is private. Art can of course happen, be and exhibited in public/space but is always private, but there is no public art. Not just it the sense of – who owns that paintings – but private in the sense of accountability. An art that is private, that can be owned is be necessity inscribed in the terrain of possibility which means that is cannot carry with it the occasion of aesthetic experience.
Jacques Rancière, another poststructuralist that cannot extend art’s life beyond language, writes that the definition of politics is the maintenance of two worlds in one. It is and has to be an endless negotiation, argument against argument until the sun goes down which also means that politics is conducted through or within language. For Judith Butler identity is two “worlds” in one, it is always a negotiation. For those folks art is the same and must be – or their arguments crumble – it’s two worlds in one, negotiation. It is not political but it’s always politics, which at all times will stand in the way for it to be political. For art to carry within it potentiality it must withdraw from politics and from negotiation, only then when two become one can it slip out of reason, causality, accountability and give rise to the unconditional singularity of aesthetic experience.