Cuts Both Ways

By Watson, Mike | Art Monthly, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Cuts Both Ways


Watson, Mike, Art Monthly


As government cuts become the principle enemy of the creative fraternity in the UK, it is worth taking a moment to halt the wheels of retro-leftist opposition and ask if we might think our way towards something effective that is not either distinctly 'free market' or 'socialist', and which does not offer the worst of both worlds. It is time that the independent artist and the academy ceased complaining about the withdrawal of funds by a system which they hold in contempt, and sought positive alternatives for the dissemination of ideas and artistic creations at a time when the practical means exist in abundance. The ability to educate, learn and create is not under threat so much as the state/business protection of education and the arts--delivered both in the form of funding and via accreditation (prizes conferred, qualifications handed out and ratings awarded). In reality, such mollycoddling may in fact hamper the reception of knowledge and creation of new ideas, as demonstrable in the weakness of political alternatives to capitalism proposed both from within the system and outside it.

On 26 April, Middlesex University announced its unfathomable decision to close its flagship, internationally renowned Centre for Research into Modern European Philosophy, aka CRMEP (Artnotes AM337). The occupation of Middlesex University's Mansion House by students, who were dismayed that the dean of faculty failed to show up for a scheduled meeting in which the closure of the department was to be discussed, was as brave as the comparisons with 1968 were, perhaps, misguided. For sure, the 12 day sit-in, which ended under legal pressure in time to allow its protagonists to join a rally in support of that same occupation, harked back to historical protests: 1968, the miners' strikes--no doubt the French Revolution itself--all started with brave and uncalculating gambles. Unfortunately, if one casts even a cursory eye over the sum achievement of past leftist student protests, it has to be conceded that time has looked upon their aims disdainfully. It is true that the intention behind such protests--in short, a fairer society--remains, as Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek point out unremittingly, fundamental to this day. However, the archaic language and methodology of socially concerned protest is arguably in dire need of an overhaul.

When four of the six principle CRMEP staff members (Peter Osborne, Peter Hallward, Eric Alliez and Stella Stanford) surprised the world by revealing that they had cut a covert deal with Kingston University--which gave them the appearance of bailing out on the promise to fight for the reinstatement of all philosophy courses (BA, MA and research degrees) at Middlesex University and on remaining staff members and students--some felt that both students and protestors had been duped. The intention was to save the CRMEP, which has been central to the promotion of modern European philosophy, aesthetics and art theory in the UK, although course leaders only achieved this with a cold pragmatism that saved their jobs at the expense of others'. In hindsight, this was probably inevitable; the university system no longer spawns revolutionaries, however much some academics may posture as such.

Adorno famously remarked that it is impossible to make art after Auschwitz because the necessary conditions simply did not exist to allow for its production in a late capitalist society, and Fredric Jameson later quipped that, in the post-Soviet world, it was arguably impossible 'to read Adorno by the pool', now it might be said that it is becoming difficult to read Peter Hallward in the dole queue.

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