Music 576 Spring 2012, John Rahn
Is it necessary for a social and political protest movement, so evident in 2011-12 as the current Occupy movement in the USA, Spain, Italy, France, and other countries, the Arab Spring, and even the increasingly effective mass protests in specific locations in China, to have a cultural and intellectual “superstructure”?
It is possible to ask this now, because the Occupy and other recent movements do not seem to have such a thing. In the USA, Occupy has not much ideological or cultural or even political identity beyond its central assertion. The Chinese protests have none I can perceive. The Arab Spring originally had none, though the aftermath is evolving. Clearly, one can no longer assume that revolutionary movements have a Communist/Marxist superstructure, or even a democratic one.
So, what about today's superstructural Vacuum? In the past, contrary to Marx, it is even arguable that “superstructure” in part caused catalyzing historical events such as revolutions. Examples include Christianity, Islam, the Crusades, perhaps the American Revolution, certainly the Russian Revolution, and the student riots in Paris around 1100AD (“We want more Aristotle!”) as well as in 1968. One up to Hegel, one down to Marx.
The anti-war and counter-culture movements of the mid 60s and 70s in the USA had important concomitant superstructures. French thought and culture from the late 60s through the 80s at least, to a large extent evolve the superstructure of the 1968 Paris riots, or react against them. In both cases, these movements informed critical thinking about the arts.
Gilles Deleuze was a French philosopher whose work is mainly not overtly – or at all – political, but there is no doubt that his culture was far Left. His book Anti-Oedipus was, as its title suggests, at one with the attitudes of 1968, but took them much further philosophically. His subsequent collaboration with Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, went “too far” and enjoyed it very much. Its delirious expansions of radically non-centered and non-hierarchical thinking have been extremely influential in cultural criticism in literature, in music, in dance, and in film.
The seminar will read some Deleuze, mainly A Thousand Plateaus, and other historical examples of revolutionary superstructure such as Adorno and Jameson, but we'll focus thereafter on trying to make sense of the current situation, and its implications for the practice and ethics of the arts.