eipcp Publications Critique of Creativity Critique of Creativity

Critque of Creativity - Review

Published in Public #45

Marc James Léger

Marc James Léger


THE ESSAYS COLLECTED in Critique of Creativity were, for the most part, written for two conferences that took place in 2006: The Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art’s “Critique of Creative Industries” and the Kunstraum of Leuphana University’s “Creating Effect.” The latter of these was co-organized by the European Institute of Progressive Cultural Policies (EIPCP) and, not surprisingly, one finds in this book many of the interests and concerns of co-editor Gerald Raunig, who is also the coordinator and co-editor of many of the Institute’s research projects. Dedicated to the critique of post-structural theory, the recent August 2011 issue of the EIPCP’s online journal, Transversal, in many ways captures the “theoretical” essence of Critique of Creativity, which, as I see it, is a struggle for theoretical prominence between Marxist critical theory and postmodern, or post-structuralist anarcho- Deleuzianism. However, these two contending factions have not only themselves to argue with, but set their sights in this book on the real problem: neoliberal governmentality and the ideological restructuring of cultural production in an age of creative industries policy. The purpose of the book is not to cover the entire terrain of the subject and to explain how it is that the “creativity” hype has transformed bureaucrats into latter-day Renaissance men and women, but to provide critical terms, concepts and arguments that could be useful to people from different countries and in different contexts who are actually willing to fight against worsening labour conditions.

In terms of reviewing the book, I am tempted to draw a list of themes and commonplaces that could fit into either one or the other of the two leftist options that I mentioned above: materialist, revolutionary and class conscious critical theory, or, post-operaist, second-order cybernetic, anarchistic difference politics. To do so, however, might obscure some very important spaces of overlap and agreement—not to mention real solidarity—and indeed, this for me was both the difficulty and the intrigue of this book: one becomes so impressed by the polemic that it becomes very easy to get caught up in it, as if everything else is less important, or at least, less interesting. Neither the editors nor the contributors should be faulted if theory has outpaced practice. But then that is the point too of Critique of Creativity: what is to be done.

The book is divided into four sections: Creativity, Precarization, Creativity Industries, and Culture Industry. Each one of the essays is well worth reading and thinking about and the book works well as a “think tank” project that successfully and coherently goes beyond the detailed peculiarities of a single-authored monograph. Each writer is worth mentioning here: in Section I: Stefan Nowotny, Suely Rolnik (with Brian Holmes), Maurizio Lazzarato, and Ulf Wuggenig; Section II: Isabell Lorey, Brigitta Kuster and Vassilis Tsianos, and Paolo Virno; Section III: Monika Mokre, Angela McRobbie, Marion von Osten, and Raimund Minichbauer; and Section IV: Gene Ray, Esther Leslie, and Gerald Raunig. For readers who are concerned with the way culture is today being framed by governments, business and individual entrepreneurs, the section on Creativity Industries has much to offer in terms of description and analysis. Even though she clearly appreciates how the economization of culture negatively affects today’s creative workers, Marion von Osten’s piece stands out as one of the essays that could benefit from some criticism, especially insofar as she seems to offer very little in terms of the kinds of resistance that are possible. The same might be said for Angela McRobbie’s essay. While she describes perfectly the pitfalls of competitive individualism, and while she clearly appreciates the desire for meaningful work that is afforded by creative industry-type jobs, she leaves the reader a little bit hungry for what it is in the Marxist philosophical tradition she mentions that would allow a thorough critique of the conditions of precarity.

Unfortunately, the section on Precarity is also short on critique. The exception to this is Isabell Lorey’s brilliant analysis of labour conditions within post-Fordist regimes of de-politicized self-regulation. The second section, it seems to me, could have benefited from an essay that looks into the hype about post-Fordism. The late Chris Harman, among others, has shown that the “Fordist” blue-collar working class has not only not disappeared, but having grown to now comprise a third of the world’s population, represents today, more than ever before, the one class that has the most potential to achieve reforms, that is, if only it was to revolt against the current system of military imperialism, environmental degradation, structural adjustment, state divestiture and fiscal austerity. The sociology of precarity, he argued in 2009, not only departs from empirical reality, but demoralizes workers who should otherwise be organizing. In this regard, perhaps, the events of 2011 have caught up with many publications.

Notwithstanding the global division of labour and the production of value through capitalist expropriation, the book rightfully understands that theory must attend to those values that cannot be measured in capitalist terms alone. The crisis in leftist politics that Lorey mentions is perhaps most explicitly delineated in the first section on Creativity. Stefan Nowotny challenges the observations of Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, whose New Spirit of Capitalism argued that the artistic critiques of the late 1960s eventually became fodder for the strategies of business management. Nowotny wishes to address the immanent effects of creativity in terms of its ability to “take a distance” from what is actual and even from what is desirable. Maurizio Lazzarato also takes aim at Boltanski and Chiapello and suggests that they ignore the benefits of artistic critique inasmuch as it tempers the “excess of equality” that characterizes social justice calls for equality; in other words, artistic freedom need not be opposed to social equality. Lazzarato suggests instead that conditions of inequality cut across all sectors of precarious cultural employment: the universities, television, radio, live performance, etc. Nevertheless, he says, creative workers are often more inventive, mobile and dynamic in their social critiques than most trade unions. Lastly, for this section, an essay by Ulf Wuggenig attempts to subtly displace the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu by re-examining the social conditions of cultural production in France at the time of the Impressionists. He makes use of the work of Harrison C. White to suggest that consumption practices, mediated by the agency of dealers and also by the social capital of upper-middle-class artists like Cassatt and Degas, challenge the individualizing and economistic aspects of Bourdieu’s field theory. Unfortunately, to my mind, Wuggenig does not provide a better account of the emergence of a field of aesthetic autonomy in the nineteenth century but instead dissolves the class analysis in relation to which the emphasis on the superior capital of certain artists should be seen as rather incidental and more reductionist than anything Bourdieu ever proposed.

As for resistance, the last section on Culture Industry presents two of the strongest indictments of contemporary social conditions. Gene Ray begins a fantastic essay with what he sees as the ideological command of the creative industries: “Enjoy your precarity!” Ray is convincing in his argument that the stakes in Horkheimer and Adorno’s culture industry thesis are more present than ever as the total disintegration of the myth of progress is contemplated. The forms of subjectivation that compel people to enjoy precarity, he says, are supplemented and reinforced by the asymmetry of antagonistic relations of production. His rejoinder to those post-Fordists who wish to underscore Deleuze’s “societies of control” is the obvious truth that societies of discipline are still very much current, pre-forming subjectivities that now allow the culture machine to merge with the war machine. The relative autonomy that can still be claimed and activated is addressed most assertively by Esther Leslie who not only decries the neoliberal state’s divestiture from social welfare but also the commodification of culture that has been aided by academic cultural studies. The latter, she argues, has promoted the understanding of ideology as a locus of pleasure, resistance, power and counter-power. With its fixation on consumption and identity politics, cultural studies facilitated the shift from cultural production to cultural policy, providing capitalism with the appearance of a benevolent social ameliorism. Cultural policy aestheticizes politics, providing politically correct art, she says, “that satisfies itself with the gallery and grant system” (189). Defending Adorno’s idea of art as negative imagining, Leslie rejects the reduction of creativity to grease for the business machine. Taking a strategic, transcendent position, she argues that there is no point making a critique of the creative industries unless one was prepared to criticize capitalism altogether – both in its industrial and post-Fordist manifestations. The concluding essay by Raunig echoes the themes of Suely Rolnik’s piece, with its Foucauldian and Deleuzian emphasis on the contemporary modes of subjectivation. Wishing to reverse-engineer Adorno and consider how it is that culture was not so much slow to catch up with industrialization but was actually ahead of the game, providing models for today’s project-based business culture, Raunig is nevertheless no fan of the creativity hype, cautiously suggesting that the informal, non-programmed spaces of post-Fordist capitalism also maintain structural forms that are less than liberating, or rather, that brutally and systematically impose the conditions of autonomy on creative workers.