THE END OF SUBCULTURE and what art has to do with it

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Decoding culture brings no joy any longer in the world of the obvious

Selfing is self-presentation in times of Wikileaks. There are no more secret, self-exposure becomes the “punky” counter-model to the sophisticated sophistication of the pose. Selfing is vulgar, not because of the unreserved display of bare skin, but because it’s so banal. It is thus right back in the tradition of certain art movements: “Banality” was the name of a solo show by Jeff Koons from 1988. Constructions of identity flirting with posthumanism counteract the self-poetics of pop.

With selfing, a form of identity formation takes place in which the person is no longer present – but above all not her story. It is all about the image now. Truth does not result from knowledge, but from the true-false logic of photoshop. The process of subjectivation that children go through today no longer works without the selfie and the internet – and is thus linked to algorithms and serendipity. Perhaps the “last act”, in which the subject recognizes his capacity for authorship, falls victim to cultural evolution. At the same time, a change is also taking place at the level of reception: in the Internet era, cultural consumers no longer look for signs, codes and references as they did in the pop era. They are looking for information and for images and they really don’t care where they come from. The question of the source, of the origin of something, is becoming less and less relevant.

Semiotics also appears dated. The science of signs no longer matters when new pictograms are constantly being created, the purpose of which is navigation and not the creation of secret codes. Decoding culture no longer brings joy in the world of the obvious. So much of what made pop and pop theory fun comes to an end in dataism. The balancing act between art and life never ends. As photographs, selfies fall into the realm of art, but at the same time, via the algorithm of social media, they fall into the realm of digital pop culture and are thus part of everyday life.

Jerry Saltz was one of the first to present this strange intermediate position theoretically. Back in 2013, he prolifically explored the extremely cheesy music video “Bound II” in which Kanye West and Kim Kardashian race through an imaginary American pop landscape on a motorcycle in his lyrics “The New Uncanny”. “In a post on Kim and Kanye last year, I acknowledged that I was speechless at the general disruption of cultural norms that they do seem to be part of, with their patently diverse cultural heritages that they have cloaked in pageantry, sincerity, kitsch, Conveying irony and drama, appealing to notions of spectacle, privacy, factuality and fictionality. All of this has been encapsulated in a kind of new identity that they design with the same confidence and idiosyncrasy as Andy Warhol once did. As with Warhol, this design serves on the one hand to dazzle and protect, but at the same time reflexively calls for criticism of the clumsy, shallow opportunism and the purely superficial Illusionism.”

I quote Saltz at length because I find his thought extremely remarkable. On the one hand, Saltz is following in Leslie Fiedler’s footsteps by demanding the legitimacy of the vulgar: Close the Gap 2.0, so to speak. On the other hand, he attacks Richard Hamilton, whose pop definition from 1957 – “Popular, Transient, Expendable, Low cost, Mass produced, Young, Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big business” – to this day, and by that I think a lot too long, has endured in academic pop theory. “Low cost”, “young” and “witty” are replaced by factuality and fictionality, glare and protection. In the Hegelian sense, pop is “suspended” by postprivacy. It is therefore of course striking that Saltz introduces the term “sincerity” in this context. Sincerity is poison to the performance of the pop persona. Saltz solves the problems that I then had in my essay, deriving selfing from a subject-theoretical perspective, by simply saying that it is a matter of a “not-I”.

The not-I is one hundred percent sincere to itself. How Saltz derives this not-I is reminiscent of Frederic Jameson’s definition of postmodernism. Just as postmodernism also reflects modernity and, according to Jameson, has also “passed through” it, so the post-narcissistic epoch still has the narcissistic epoch in its blood, the selfie still has the pose, selfing still has posing, the post-ego still has the egoistic age , globalism nor the limits. In this sense, selfing would be a logical further development of posing, posing in “the digital environment of hyperconsumption” (Rendueles 2015, 260). Perhaps this state can be explained a little better by returning to Lacan and his “mirror stage” in which the child, as is well known, learns and understands the difference between je and moi. The other, This is the direction I was thinking in my essay when I wrote that the present has a new logic: politics instead of culture, numbers instead of signs, world instead of Liverpool. The paradigm shift that Saltz is referring to here and that I am also on the trail of has, it is actually obvious, to do with borders. Art is growing into the world and pop, as a subsystem of culture – the old concept of subculture – must once again fall, is losing its political explosiveness.

Boundary drawing is significant in this context, of course. The unappealing thing about pop ideology is its fixation on the border. Pop and borders are not about the borders of Europe, but about aesthetic borders and thus what used to be called distinction. When something is distinct, it is clearly distinguishable and it is precisely in this sense that one could say that these poses in pop have always had the purpose, firstly, of distinguishing themselves from the mainstream. And secondly, always to distinguish themselves somewhat from each other (different subcultures, pop, punks, ect.) S This obsession with boundaries, which is inscribed in Western individualism, is currently coming to an end, in any case according to my observation. and this does not only refer to the obsession with taste of the pop subject of the late 20th century. Taste is a relic of 19th century bourgeois culture that has survived into 20th century pop culture – not least in the obsession with style in pop ideology. Both forms of life – bourgeoisie and high-brow pop – were actually forms of life that placed the individual above the social. It is no coincidence that Saltz, in his analysis of a new form of self-expression leading to something like a new form of popular art, speaks of “them”, that is, Kim and Kanye.

In my essay, I went even further and used the term “drift compatibility” borrowed from a science fiction film to show how individuals are increasingly growing together on the net, also mentally – this new form of collectivity and connectivity, this new form of the social works against narcissism, egocentrism, consumerism and individualism – in short, the mass dandyism to which we are accustomed through pop. So in the second decade of the 21st century, the social is not only breaking into the living world in the form of refugee flows that force one to behave socially, but in my opinion it dominates the real in the sense of Lacan in the social media, that is, the strange in-between world between reality and the imaginary.

The place where the social takes over the individual is the social networks. Selfing is not an individual matter. But before we now enthusiastically proclaim a new form of real existing socialism, we should consider what the new social in the social networks stands for, and this brings me to my third, last and most attackable thesis: selfing is not only the new posing, it is the “most neoliberal shaping of the subject.” The subject dissolves, so to speak, in the money flows of capitalism. It becomes 100 per cent marketable, without remainder. I say vulnerable because even in my essay in Pop. Culture and Criticism and then, under the influence of the art world, decided on a less pessimistic assessment of the situation.

The classification of selfing remains difficult, and in my opinion this has to do with the question of whether it is a new form of narcissism or a new form of socialism. The representatives of the narcissism thesis say that selfing is the “self-producing measure” (Tietenberg 2013, 527), of our age. An age in which the sphere of the mercantile is perhaps truly inseparable from the private – postprivacy some call it, the victory stuff of the neoliberal paradigm others call it. It is precisely through the idea of Do it Yourself and a new net-creativity, in which the difference between you and me, but also between commerciality and creativity – through the idea of programming – blurs, that one of course immediately comes up against capitalist structures and the well-known fact that creativity and economy, and thus art and capitalism, can actually no longer be separated.

For as social as one can find the new self that thinks little about itself, it resembles a self that drowns in the flood of images with little reflection and no longer even recognizes the difference between viral art and viral marketing. The reason for this, in my opinion, lies in the possibilities of publication. Network capitalism, the free culture, generates its own economy through a perverted idea of creativity and freedom. This works, as one could read the other day on the website of the Berlin Biennale of all places, because nowadays exchange is always also, immediately, trade – that you no longer must think about whether you should go to the market with your product – even if it is your own self, as is so often the case in the art business – because you are already on the market in production. Emancipated capitalism” – the new, flexible capitalism according to Boltanski and Chiapello – works very well with the help of this perverted idea of freedom and the new machines. The representatives of the socialism thesis, on the other hand, would perhaps say: Selfing finally transcends the form of representation that has characterized the Western world and the power relations that prevail in it for almost a century now, in which it is about the (male) ego, about drawing boundaries, individualism, sophistication in the sense of showing off, knowing better in all variations, in short, status maintenance or, as it is always called now, classism. Especially phenomena like “the world of the commons”, which is about “patterns of collective action” where precisely the individual and property are no longer supposed to play such a big role, can also be associated with selfing, as can connectivity as a new form of collectivity.

The concept of convivalism must fall here as the utopia of a new global economic form in which property is replaced by common property and self-government is preached through restriction. In the 1980s, social researchers wrote articles that it would have been the youth’s disenchantment with the achievements of 1968 that drove them into their narcissistic, solipsistic niche culture. Nowadays, psychotherapists write that it was the post-1989 utopianism that drove the youth into the world-saving fantasies of the internet. Both admonishing voices were and are unaware that the “symbolic horizon” is shifting with a new generation. So when psychotherapists warn that the “collective consciousness, which is increasingly falling into depression” can only imagine a “tired Europe trimmed to economic benefit” and a “transhuman, if not posthuman future”.

The collective consciousness of youth wants to imagine a posthuman future. This is exactly the epistemological background behind selfing. The “symbolic horizon” has shifted and many older cultural critics have somehow not yet recognised this. It’s also hard to accept, because the symbolic horizon that Generation Pop had constructed for itself through its anti-canon, its anti-normativity, had something very reassuring about it. In posing, the symbolic horizon consisted of resistance and negotiation, affirmation and subversion, the pretense of false facts for the purpose of undermining conditions and visions. Ultimately, the thinking of the pop subculture theorists was classically left-wing thinking that adhered to Marxism insofar as it also believed that if the world could be changed at all, then only through thesis, antithesis and synthesis.