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The Transformation of Poverty and the Transformation of the Revolutionary Project. . .

UNITARY URBANISM IS A CRITIQUE, not a doctrine, of cities. It is the living critique of cities by their inhabitants, the permanent qualitative transformation, made by everyone, of social space and time. Thus, rather than say that Utopia is the total work of art, it would be more accurate to say that Utopia is the richest and most complex domain serving total creativity. This also means that any specific propositions we can make today are of purely critical value. On an immediate practical level, experimentation with a new positive distribution of space and time cannot be dissociated from the general problems of organisation and tactics confronting us. Clearly a whole urban guerilla will have to be invented. We must learn to subvert existing cities, to grasp all the possible and the least expected uses of time and space they contain. Conditioning must be thrown in reverse. It can only be out of these experiments, out of the whole development of the revolutionary movement, that a real revolutionary urbanism can grow. On a rudimentary level, the blazing ghettoes of the USA already convey something of the primitive splendor, hazardousness and poetry of the environments demanded by the new proletariat. Detroit in flames was a purely Utopian affirmation. A city burnt to make a negro holiday . . . shadows of most terrible, yet great and glorious things to come. . . .


3. The Work of Art: A Spectacular Commodity

UNFORTUNATELY, IT IS NOT ONLY the avant-garde of revolutionary art and politics which has a different conception of the role to be played by artistic creativity. "The problem is to get the artist onto the workshop floor among other research workers, rather than outside industry producing sculptures," remarks the Committee of the Art Placement Group, which is sponsored by, amongst others, the Tate Gallery, the Institute of Directors, and the Institute of Contemporary Arts (Evening Standard, 1/2/67). In fact, industrialisation of 'art' is already a fait accompli. The irreversible expansion of the modern economy has been forcing it to accord an increasingly important position for a long time now. Already the substance of the tertiary sector of the economy -- the one expanding the most rapidly -- is almost exclusively 'cultural.' Alienated society, by revealing its perfect compatibility with the work of art and its growing dependence upon it, has betrayed the alienation of art in the harshest and least flattering light possible. Art, like the rest of the spectacle, is no more than the organisation of everyday life in a form where its true nature can at most be dismissed and turned into the appearance of its opposite: where exclusion can be made to seem participation, where one-way transmission can be made to seem communication, where loss of reality can be made to seem realisation.

MOST OF THE CRAP PASSED OFF AS CULTURE today is no more than dismembered fragments -- reproduced mechanically without the slightest concern for their original significance -- of the debris left by the collapse of every world culture. This rubbish can be marketed simply as historico-aesthetic bric-a-brac or, alternatively, various past styles and attitudes can be amalgamated, up-dated and plastered indiscriminately over an increasingly wide range of products as haphazard and auto-destructive fashions. But the importance of art in the spectacle today cannot be reduced to the mere fact that it offers a relatively unexploited accumulation of commodities. Marshall McLuhan remarks: "Our technology is, also, ahead of its time, if we reckon by the ability to recognise it for what it is. To prevent undue wreckage in society, the artist tends now to move from the ivory tower to the control tower of society. Just as higher education is no longer a frill or a luxury, but a stark need for production in the shaping and structure created by electric technology." And Galbraith, even more clearly, speaks about the great need "to subordinate economic to aesthetic goals." (Guardian, 22/2/67)

ART HAS A SPECIFIC ROLE TO PLAY in the spectacle. Production, once it is no longer answering any real needs at all, can only justify itself in purely aesthetic terms. The work of art -- the completely gratuitous product with a purely formal coherence -- provides the strongest ideology of pure contemplation possible today. As such it is the model commodity. A life which has no sense apart from contemplation of its own suspension in a void finds its expression in the gadget: a permanently superannuated product whose only interest lies in its abstract technico-aesthetic ingenuity and whose only use lies in the status it confers on those consuming its latest remake. Production as a whole will become increasingly 'artistic' insofar as it loses any other raison d'etre.

RATED SLIGHTLY ABOVE THE run-of-the-mill consumers of traditional culture is a sort of mass avant-garde of consumers who wouldn't miss a single episode of the latest 'revolt' churned out by the spectacle, the latest solemn 80 minute flick of 360 variegated bare arses, the latest manual of how to freak out without tears, the latest napalm-twisted monsters air-expressed to the local Theatre of Fact. One builds up resistance to the spectacle, and, like any other drug, its continued effectiveness demands increasingly suicidal doses. Today, with everyone all but dead from boredom, the spectacle is essentially a spectacle of revolt. Its function is quite simply to distract attention from the only real revolt: revolt against the spectacle. And, apart from this one point, the more extreme the scandal the better. Any revolt within the spectacular forms, however sincere subjectively -- from The Who to Marat/Sade -- is absorbed and made to function in exactly the opposite perspective to the one that was intended. A baffled 'protest vote' becomes more and more overtly nihilistic. Censorship. Hash. Vietnam. The same old careerism in the same old rackets. Today the standard way of maintaining conformity is by means of illusory revolts against it. The final form taken by the Provos -- Saturday night riots protected by the police, put in quarantine, functioning as Europe's premier avant-garde tourist attraction -- illustrates very clearly how resilient the spectacle can be.

BEYOND THIS, THERE ARE A NUMBER of recent cultural movements which are billed as a coherent development from the bases of modern art -- as a contemporary avant-garde -- and which are in fact no more than the falsification of the high points of modern art and their integration. Two forms seem to be particularly representative: reformism and nihilism.


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