Notes on Bourdieu filtered by Robbins
Knowing well about the problematic of publishing notes, unfinished forms of writing, in a very early stage, I am publishing here an excerpt of thoughts that I had when reading up on Pierre Bourdieu's theories on art, filtered by a quite concise presentation by Derek Robbins.
Notes taken after reading: Robbins, Derek. 2000. Bourdieu and culture. SAGE.
NOTE: Visual art is, has always been, an interplay of form and content; in a first phase form made itself independent of content, or rather form became the content and formal innovation was the new content; in the 1960s this was driven even further, and form, as it had been previously understood, became obsolete, whereas formal innovation kept going (yet in another 'format'); this did not so much concern what was traditionally considered to be formal problems, the relationships of shapes and colours, in short, compositional problems of abstract art, but the 'forms' that art could take, in its relationship to other aspects of life, reality, or the world; it was now the new areas that art explored (body, life, landscape, media) that marked its 'formal innovations'; yet this new-found freedom was soon to be turned back on itself, insofar the new arbiters of taste, in the shape of October orthodoxy of criticists, fell in line with Buergers Theory of the Avantgarde, denying any real possiblitiy that art could break out of the golden (autonomous) cage that it had built itself; the formal question, however, will never go away, only that it has become so incredibly complex that it has become almost indecipherable in an age of anything goes ... not really 'anything' of course, but only those things 'go' that manage to produce some coherence within a certain canon that is the order of the day, within an otherwise unordered field that appears arbitrary and ruled by ever more quickly changing fashions - however, that 'canon' has become so hard to decipher, that in my more pessimistic moments I believe especially those branches of art that pretend do be political, i.e.democratic and fulfilling the needs of the multitude, actually fulfill the needs of an ever smaller number of people belonging to the inner circle of the post-neo-conceptual a-Art conneisseurship. The Lukacs-Adorno debate is not over yet, and slowly, astonishingly, Lukacs appears to get the upper hand again. The avant-gardes have failed (Hobsbawm) - yet avant-garde art is everywhere, it constitutes the grammar of advertising (since the mid 1990s in Britain, with regional differences). We need to acknowledge the defeat of the avant-garde project, but from a non-revisionist and fiercely progressive position. Where are the Rivera murals of the web? That Austrian reactionary, Mr. Sedlmayr, was 'right' insofar as all art since 1750 has indeed 'lost its soul' and its 'purpose'. But while this indictement delivered in 1949 by a Catholic-fascist has an obscene ring of truth only from a certain point of view, it is necessary to turn that around completely and develop new reasons for a new art which can really address the dilemma of the avant-garde. If everything in art after 1750 was just a 'mirror' of an increasingly godless world under the conditions of capitalism, what can a positively 'godless' art do in the age of hyper-capitalism, that so endorses and envelopes us in its 'surreal' creations, that neither fiction nor rationalism can provide an answer? The highly praised latest avant-garde of politically correct yet very hermetic intra-artistic-discoursive art has been incapable of going beyond rewarming post-modernist sauces to essentially modernist dishes; maybe the only way of 'solving' that question would be a real global revolution. Yet, without the social revolution appearing on the horizon, a progressive redefinition of the 'role'of art can only be a self-serving exercise of those minoritarian circles that I have criticised (masochistically) above. Few artists seem to be willing or capable of addressing those questions in a profound way. This on reading Derek Robbins on Bourdieu's interpretation of Manet, looking at those incredibly empty paintings of Manet whose 'realism' is already as eviscerated as any digital simulation of 'human' could be.
NOTE: what is amazing and deserves more attention, is the reception B got in management literature. Is it simply because the notion of cultural 'capital' was welcomed there? On a very lofty basis of understanding? Or is it because of a 'cultural shift', because the economy really turned cultural in the 1990s? And what exactly would that mean? What is the position/situation of culture now?
NOTE: A special point which I am taking out of this literature is that, in a way, post-structuralism contains a second (or third) layer of abstraction (I am not even sure if B counts as a post-structuralist, probably not). It is not only that the relation of a concept to reality is questioned, but the position of that concept within contemporary discourses and the formations of power that exist which have an evident level of influence on those discourses is already preconsiderd in the making of that concept to ensure its discoursive robustness. Thus, there is the vector sign->reality, but also sign/sign-->reality/discourse, the relatedness of a speaker to the situatedness of a discourse, and the position taking, which marks an 'artificiality' which lifts the whole construction up from the ground. It is not only the case, that the whole is socially constructed, vis-a-vis a reality, it has been deliberately done so as an act of position taking vis-a-vis other position-takers. And this is the 'law' which is pointed out here. In a way it is really a law, because this is the one thing that can be said with any certainity at present. At the same time, such a 'law' lacks any grounding other than to state that there is a social interplay of socially antagonistic forces. The implicit value judgements are not further discussed. As a theory Bourdieu maybe succeeded in rendering his subject 'scientifically'. BUt how can this be usefully applied in concrete lived reality by individuals and groups? I understand B as a champion of egalitarinaism, yet in the name of it he reached frightening heights of academism which is exactly that institutionally accumulated symbolic power he took a lifetime to dissect. The problem is not B's double level of abstractionism but the knowledge system that forces one to become (almost) the opposite of what one strived to be. The scientific neutrality of B's theory lent itself to the adaptation by business circles and industrialists who could use 'cultural/social capital' as an excuse for actual strategies of domination that were succesfully applied. Or, more succinctly, the abstractness of B's thinking is in tune with the abstractness of a knowledge economy which is also not grounded in anything but speech acts of socially antagonistic forces in a competitive struggle.
NOTE: the more than robotic appearance of the people in Manet's paintings, the forces of young Marx' alienation in picture, Manet's human subjects are 'gutted' by the abstracting forces of progress.- the congruency of the autonomy of arts and the emerging information age.