Fragments on Artistic Labor

These fragments were written during Stevan Bradić’s research on contemporary conditions of artistic labor, conducted at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in summer 2021. They encompass a wide range of ideas, some of which he aims to further develop either conceptually or through empirical research, in a more detailed study devoted to the topic.

Stevan Bradić — Apr 12, 2022

But will the freedom be able to sing
As well as the bondsmen who sung its praises?

– Branko Miljković1




Literature is possibly no more than one of the forms of speech we have tried to make external to the field of commerce. Most of its fantastic and unexpected effects stem from this attempt. It is speech caught in particular kind of denial that it has stumbled upon and tried to wiggle out of, and in this process has become what it is today. Entrapment of language and the entire phenomenal world in a singular logic of quantifiable evaluation for the sake of exchange has created conditions for the establishment of language as something outside this logic. Gestures that are currently utilized in this refusal have previously existed in various registers of speech and for various reasons, but have only in the past two centuries been encompassed by a total formalization that ties it to our current predicament. This formalization is a precondition of the modern social institution of literature, which simultaneously exists as the literary tradition.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Fragments on Artistic Labor

Andrea Palasti, used and reused exhibition labels, a fragment. From the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Split, Croatia, 2022. Documented during her pauses while on the exhibition setup of Emil (B5044) at the Museum of Fine Arts Split. Artist fee received for the exhibition: €160, plus travel expenses. Accommodation arranged at the guest room of the Museum.


Tradition in art is only a particular strategy by which one invokes precapitalist forms of mediation of human relations, and makes them relevant as a sort of vantage point for the resistance to the prevalent logic of current mediation. By itself it is not necessarily relevant. Resistance and sublation are the only relevant factors here. This is why certain modernists and avant-gardists have rejected tradition in part or wholesale. Past forms mostly do not coincide with contemporary problems.


Certain modernists, such as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and some romantics, such as Novalis, enter into struggle which is, of course, ambivalent – it is a struggle of content against its form, a struggle of conservative, archaic, mystified, and, finally, ideologized image of the past community, as ordered, good, righteous, etc. with the anomic form of speech, in which this content finds itself in the present.


As a constitutive element of artistic practice, autonomy in the modern sense of the term is also a mechanism for the inscription of its border in relation to capital. There is nothing natural in this process, nor is autonomy given in advance, or established through the artistic practice alone – that is, artistic practice organizes itself, if it aims at autonomy, by denying its real subsumption under capital,2 and thus by acting against its own interests, in order to advance its freedom (for what?). A similar claim is maintained by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Notes from the Underground, in relation to modern subjectivity and its contradictions: »That’s just the thing, gentlemen, that there may well exist something that is dearer for almost every man than his very best profit, or (so as not to violate logic) that there is this one most profitable profit (precisely the omitted one, the one we were just talking about), which is chiefer and more profitable than all other profits, and for which a man is ready, if need be, to go against all laws … man, whoever he might be, has always and everywhere liked to act as he wants, and not at all as reason and profit dictate; and one can want even against one’s own profit, and one sometimes even positively must (this is my idea now) … One’s own free and voluntary wanting, one’s own caprice, however wild, one’s own fancy, though chafed sometimes to the point of madness – all this is that same most profitable profit, the omitted one, which does not fit into any classification, and because of which all systems and theories are constantly blown to the devil … Man needs only independent wanting, whatever this independence may cost and wherever it may lead.«3 One has to note how the line of argument here rests upon the terms from the monetary register: »cost,« »profit,« »profitable profit,« and one might even go so far as to claim how the »law« invoked here is none other than the »universal law of exchange,« and this should not come as surprise, since the modern subject, a bourgeois subject, obviously frames his entire existence in these categories. But paradoxically, confined by the reason of this and other laws, the subject emerges as necessarily irrational, counterproductive, self-destructive, etc. If one is to be a truly self-legislating, no heteronomous power can ultimately be accepted. Autonomy of literature (and art in general) stems from such demand, inscribed in modern subjectivity that values (perceived) independent agency above all else. This means even the choice of one’s own destruction, over any other rational profit, if it is to affirm one’s independence. In parallel to Dostoyevsky, implications of this relation for modern literature and art are perhaps predominantly economic.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Fragments on Artistic Labor

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Fragments on Artistic Labor


Resistance to commodification cannot be established through art objects – resistance is a gesture, an intervention, an event, a process – no »fixed« thing can resist commodification: an image, a sculpture, a poem. And only initially can an event be outside of commodification – meaning labor and the products of labor. Once the labor is successful, and the products of labor receive their social use value, it is only a matter of time before the commodification takes place, sometimes being indistinguishable from the process of social recognition. It occurs that much faster if there is no alternative network to support and distribute individual works of art. »Subfield of restricted production« (Bourdieu) is one such network, but only in capitalist societies.


When certain modernist poets are concerned (those that ascribe supreme, even mystical value to art, particularly in the sense of »high art«), the analysis would have to show how their practice, both artistic and editorial, does not align with their own interpretations and stated intentions, i.e., ideology, because of the objective conditions under which they conducted their artistic labor (i.e., were forced to sell the products of their labor).


In his letters from the twenties and the thirties, Pound complains of many things, and particularly refuses to accept audience as a measure of literary value – general audience, that is, »the masses.« He complains of academies and universities, of the way the publishing houses and magazines are run, etc. to such an extent that one could even ask if he sees their mediation as a problem in itself, and if there exists at all a happy solution to such equation.4 He might see it in a laboring man, a creative productive individual, a particular magazine, or a publisher etc. and basically he tries to solve these issues himself, through his various schemes and endeavors.5 I wanted to claim that he does not have a problem with the mediation itself, but this is inaccurate – his problem lies in the concrete conditions, laws, compensations, and a mediation which is incompetent, and which values petit bourgeois morals and provincial esthetics.


In paying wages, a capitalist, out of necessity of maintaining production, must pay the laborer at least as much as it is necessary to reproduce his labor power, so a minimum that would guarantee the laborer’s bare life during his employment. This value is dependent on a range of other values in a particular society, e.g., the price of food, lodging, utilities, clothing, etc. which basically means the value of labor invested in them. At the same time, literary labor, in an average sense of the word, maintains that it cannot be rented out for a specific period of time to produce a specific product, demanded by the public or the publisher, and thus denies the mere possibility of quantification in any socially average manner. Literary workers are therefore, on average, condemned to an inability to reproduce their labor power – which means that they are, on average, condemned to starvation.


Pound, therefore, maintains that a writer should be paid as much as he needs in order to exist in leisure, i.e., freed from the necessity to rent out his labor power.6 This still means that his labor/leisure is quantified: in one of his letters from 1915 he says 500 dollars a year, which would mean that monthly wages for a writer would be round 40 dollars, or about 2 dollars per day, 25 cents an hour, for an eight-hour workday. We could of course say that, since a writer is paid for his leisure time, one should divide the sum by half, and so we get 12.5 cents per hour, for a 16-hour leisure-day. It is also somewhat unclear in his letter whether he thinks that 500 dollars is the entire sum, or only a half of the sum necessary, but seeing how the average national salary for teachers in the US, for 1914–15 is about 543 dollars,7 it seems fairly safe to assume 500 dollars is in fact the entire sum.8 Adjusted for inflation all of this comes to about 27,519.60 dollars per year for 2021,9 which would mean that generally speaking Pound believes that a poet should make at least about 7 dollars per hour (in the case of 500 dollars), for an eight-hour workday, which is, interestingly, the federal minimum wage for covered nonexempt employees in the US today. This entire calculation does not take into account the sales of the products of one’s labor nor the extraction of surplus value. The question at stake, then, is can a writer’s publisher make more than 500 dollars per year from the sales of the writer’s works? If so, we could speak of the extraction of surplus value, but only in an absolute, and not relative sense … Nevertheless, the point of the modernists is that this monetary expression of value is not adequate or relevant, and does not coincide with the text’s artistic value.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Fragments on Artistic Labor


This very fact is a matter of struggle rather than of some inherent and presupposed logic of the artistic practice itself. And even more so, that the logic of artistic production had to change in order to make this fact its proper structural element. Which means that it had to oppose, in its brief history, that which quantifies its value, on different levels of its mediation. Artwork is therefore a dream of commodification without commodification.


This is how modern art always already encompassed that which today is usually considered particularly postmodern: »coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol.…«10 Artwork is to be reproduced (if possible) and sold (since there is no other »socially average« way of reaching the audience), without becoming a commodity, in the sense of its social being. In other words, even though an artwork will be commodified only subsequently, its structure will supposedly never be that of an ordinary commodity, which means it will not be a priori determined by the disparate demands of the market i.e., its augurs, the mediators, capitalists and their representatives: publishers, editors, collectors, curators, gallerists, and so on. This, paradoxically, makes it an ideal commodity, belonging to Žižek’s aforementioned set of »products deprived of their malignant property,« perhaps even in a paradigmatic sense. One can enjoy consuming, buying and selling art, without having to suffer the guilt of consumerism. But, are these relations indeed that simple, or does art frame itself differently – has it ever claimed that it does not become a commodity even in the process of distribution, or was it aware of this transformation from the outset? What does this mercurial character of its social being imply in the wider set of social relations?


Pound’s understanding of the need for an artist to be paid a minimum wage to be able to create in leisure is strangely reminiscent of the logic of artistic residencies, which can be understood as paid leisure time in which art is created. Leisure and not labor-time, therefore, is one more of romanticist consequences: human beings create in leisure and not through labor (this opposition is conceptualized in a capitalist way, so that labor is not creative but repetitive and reproductive, i.e., productive only for capital).


A concept of an artist residency becomes relevant only through the invention of leisure time, which is to become the condition of artistic production. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one finds the first examples of artist colonies, like in Worpswede in Germany or Abramtsevo in Russia. These are communities separated from the general flow of society, and focused on supporting a way of life that would be beneficial for the production of art (which is often understood at this time as the utmost affirmation of our humanity). At the same time this is reminiscent of the anti-monastic community described in Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel, in the famous episode of Abbey Thelema: »All their life was laid out not by laws, statues, or rules but according to their will and free choice. They got up out of bed when they saw fit, drank, ate, worked, slept when they came to feel like doing so; no one woke them up, no one forced them either to drink or to eat or to do anything else whatever. Thus Gargantua had established it. In their rule was only this clause: do what you will.«11 It seems that we can recognize here something equally applicable to modern art and to a specific form of life – rather than having a rule which precedes and determines one’s living, the rule coincides with living/living produces its own rule – or, put differently, rather than having a poetic rule which precedes and determines what art is and what it does, the rule coincides with the production of art/art produces its own poetics. In The Highest Poverty, Giorgio Agamben analyzes this passage from Rabelais, and concludes: »the common life, by identifying itself with the rule without remainder, abolishes and cancels it.«12 Once an artwork is produced simultaneously with the poetic rule that constitutes it, poetics in the traditional sense no longer makes any sense. And seeing how there is nothing left outside of such immanent rule, nothing is left unrepresentable in modern art. If a residency is to follow the logic of such artistic form, its problem »will always be more that of constructing and affirming itself as an ordered and well-governed community,«13 than anything else. But since no a priory rules can be articulated, apart from the one which resists any such imposition, their content remains open.


In a well-organized residency, one is invited to fully inhabit an artistic form of life and share the consequences of such life with the community of other residents. Moreover, one is paid to do so (at least in most EU countries), which is akin to a universal basic income, applied to a particular kind of existence we have conceptualized as artistic.


There is a direct correlation between the failure of the counterculture movements of the late sixties and early seventies, their retreat from the world into communes, and the invention of a modern artistic residency. In it one can recognize a synthesis of an avant-garde demand for the identification of art and everyday life with the modernist demand for autonomy, since it is indeed a small autonomous community where it becomes possible to establish such an identity. At the same time, the community itself is excluded from the general society, and as such included in it – a place where this artistic »folly« is allowed. This exclusive inclusion directly undermines the political implications of residencies, and of contemporary art in general.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Fragments on Artistic Labor


The postmodern condition, as an outdated term, unfortunately still has some relevance in explaining the world we inhabit. It represents, among other things, an overturning of the categories of classical wage labor into categories of what was once reserved for artistic labor.  Implosion of all oppositions established in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century – such as: labor–rest, work–play, worktime–leisure-time, workplace–leisure-place, automation–creativity, boredom–fun, etc., signified in the slogans of late capitalist ideologues, such as work is play (»There is no real difference between work and play – it’s all living,« Richard Branson) or think outside of the box (»It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the Navy,« Steve Jobs), and their endless variations – represent the embodiment of this ideology.


For Schiller (through Kant), on the other hand, free play was the deepest, most essential affirmation of human essence – unlike wage labor – which was to be understood, particularly by materialist thinkers, as heteronomous in relation capital, with aims and modes foreign to to a laboring individual, turning him consequently into a mere automaton (the original meaning of the word robot, from Karel Čapek’s famous satirical play R.U.R., is of course, laborer). Postmodern, or perhaps, more precise, late-capitalist claims on how wage labor is in fact, play, imply in the language of classical idealism, that labor is finally liberated from its alienating character, and as such is a proper manifestation of the essence of our freedom. If work is indeed play, no further emancipation is required. We have already reached a post-historical utopia, a place beyond exploitation, beyond class struggle, and so on. One could move further and add in the same spirit: work is rest, loss is gain, proletariat is bourgeoisie, exploited are the exploiters, etc. And in our context: commodities are artworks. At the same time, one could maintain the position that all of these identifications somehow actually depict our contemporary reality.


If work is indeed play, then their  historical, political, artistic opposition has been overcome, and no tensions are left. We no longer have to be artists to explore human condition in any particularly liberating or meaningful way (if this was ever the role of art) – our »postmodern« wage labor always already makes this possible for everyone. Baudrillard maintains a similar position when he claims how in our contemporary world there is »no more divergence of meaning, no more dialectical polarity, no more negative electricity, implosion of antagonistic poles.«14 But all of this was made possible only through a set of specific interventions. Some of these interventions relevant for our analysis here are: the attack on the workday (focus on accomplishment of specific goals and not on the duration of workday, with a tendency to expand it to its natural limit), the attack on workspace (the internet has enabled us to work from anywhere on the globe, from home, from the beach, from foreign countries, etc., instead in a designated workspace, like an old-fashioned office, factory floor, etc.), the transformation in the atmosphere of the workplace (various leisure activities are on constant offer, with designated spaces for rest and relaxation, open spaces, vibrant colors, and other architectural trickery), the restructuring of relations between the employees and the management (Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello made an exhaustive analysis on this last point in The New Spirit of Capitalism). Labor under these conditions is no longer reminiscent of the nineteenth-century factories, at least phenomenally, which should imply that it is essentially different as well – and while some differences do exist, structurally it is still productive labor, which also means it is still alienating, since we still rent out our time to the owners of the means of production and distribution – and since the structural relation remains, its logic also persists, meaning that all of the said strategies exist to intensify productivity without an increase in wages, and to extract ever greater rate of surplus value. Therefore, simply put, work is not play, at least as long as the workers are not free to govern their own time and goals, and as long as they do not become the owners over the means of production and distribution. (Of course, if the structural relations had indeed shifted away from the logic of capitalist exploitation, none of the aforementioned strategies would be necessary, and none of what I’ve written here would stand).


One can easily remember seeing an image shared by a friend on a social media platform, that contains, perhaps, a laptop shaded from the sun, usually accompanied by an exotic drink, juxtaposed over a sandy beach and the oceanic line of the horizon in the distance, titled »My new workplace!« or something along those lines. Compared to the horrors of the nineteenth-century factory conditions this must be what progress looks like. At the same time, whenever I see such an image (and they appear more and more often), I break out in a cold sweat. Indeterminacy of leisure and labor only mask the fact that we have simply moved our workplace to an exotic location, where the productivity of our labor continues. And who wants to work on a beach anyway? I personally prefer swimming.


Seeing how fragments of artistic discourse have been appropriated to justify certain transformations on the phenomenal level of capitalism, the claims that art has to reassert its difference to capitalist labor became more convincing.


One sometimes imagines a literary text to be constructed wholly through the logic of antithesis. Accordingly, either form or content, or both, have to be formed as a total negation of the prevalent commercially successful exemplars. This of course is not the case. Since no text is a monolithic block of language one should rather talk of a whole range of strategic negations of particular gestures. So, the struggle does not take place through mutual opposition of the totality of individual texts, and instead takes place within them. As an assemblage, any text encompasses numerous linguistic layers that simultaneously open different fronts and struggles, hence, the struggle is a matter of the inner constitution of a text, of its segments and layers. It might also be the case that by opposing a particular aspect of a singular text, one opposes the totality of its effectiveness in a specific historical context.


This also means that a supposedly autonomous text might contain various commercially acceptable and successful segments and strategies (Flaubert’s choice of topic, for example). A text has various axes along which it rotates in relation to the field of commerce, and it usually remains tied to it through some of them. These represent its entrance points, from the perspective of the prevalent conventions of understanding. Such a claim is perhaps too reductive, since it implies that the field of commerce is somehow a reservoir of the conventions of understanding, which is far from truth. It is more likely that this field has monopolized certain conventions of understanding and restricted others, while simultaneously and intentionally producing various forms of misunderstanding.


In any case, if these entrance points are successfully established, any form can be commercially viable, even the emancipatory one. This would seem to confirm that art can autonomously shape community in spite of its commodification. So, it is concrete-universal/concrete-abstract after all.


Concrete and abstract labor in art: there is an intersection, or perhaps their convergence here (as well as of use and exchange value), inasmuch as concrete labor represents, paradoxically, the measure of exchange value of an artwork. This means that artistic labor has historically managed to articulate itself as absolutely singular (immanently purposive, unrepeatable, etc.). The problem lies in the fact that (particularly in visual arts) a price of an artwork has nothing to do with its supposed construction of meaning (or its formal contribution), but rather rests upon a mere fetishistic character of (visual) arts in the contemporary market. And so, we once again traverse from the region of concrete to abstract labor – since the basis for the measure of the exchange value is no longer the concrete labor of any individual artist, but the mere fact that it is socially established as art (which is, again, done on the basis of abstract labor).

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Fragments on Artistic Labor


This relativization of concrete labor is tied to the avant-garde attack on the very idea of labor in arts, which manifested itself as a reaction to the ineffectuality of autonomous art, based upon the attempt to differentiate art and non-art through, among other things, techniques of production of its unrepeatable objects. Once this was denied, once Duchamp had shown that art is outside of itself and within the institutions (abstract labor), which guaranteed its autonomy, labor became irrelevant, or at least was socially accepted as such (e.g. Warhol’s silkscreen prints). Subsequently, in neo-avant-gardes this was integrated in the institution of art.


The audience/consumers do not exist, just as the people do not exist, all of these categories are formed through the address. Those who have the monopoly over the mediums of address produce the audience/consumers. This is how the readers are produced and language privatized.


Autonomy, as it was often understood under socialism, implied artistic autonomy from the state, the Party and its official poetics (even when it was officially and factually guaranteed by the state and the Party, as was the case in socialist Yugoslavia). This is the main reason why autonomy with its economic implications is so thoroughly misunderstood in post-socialist societies – seeing how it was  usually promoted by dissident writers and pro-capitalist intellectuals, and is therefore tied to various understandings of liberalism, conservativism, religious mysticism, and traditionalism. In our present condition, such understanding of autonomy misses the point.


Statistical analysis of book sales, of bookseller chains (such as Barnes & Noble), or of internet giants (such as Amazon), has certain significance, but at the first glance seems insignificant for the structure of any individual book or for the corpus of an individual author. The issue is of course much more complex, and if we speak of present-day distributors and of ways in which they have established their business empires, we speak of the historical genesis of the mechanisms of mediation. Are we not speaking then of the formation of »private linguistic property,«15 that is, of the privatization of a portion of a common good we call language? Language is occupied by the media conglomerates and multinational corporations which deal precisely in linguistic mediation, distribution and sales of everyday linguistic messages, as well as literary and artistic ones. This process establishes the area of language subsumed under capital, constituting certain forms and contents as commodities, and creating the precondition for the split of artistic and non-artistic linguistic labor. It therefore establishes a dialectic background upon which art is to take place. This means that when we talk of »the Big Five« (AT&T Time Warner, CNN, HBO), Comcast (NBC Universal, Telemundo, Universal Pictures), Disney (ABC , ESPN, Pixar, Marvel Studios), News Corp (Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post) and ViacomCBS (CBS, Paramount Pictures)), we should pay less attention to the sales statistics and market shares and more to the form and contents of the commodities they put out, as well as to the process of commodification they are implementing within the space of language and of sensory experience in general. This is, naturally, a double-edged sword.


Seeing how the conglomerates are enormous machines for the production of consumers and for the commodification of everything available, one should notice how from time to time, certain art commodities emerge, from all possible channels, universally praised and glorified, transposed in different mediums, and certain more or less singular aesthetic gestures, fragments and procedures are presented as the utmost expression of relevance, moment, issue at hand, etc. In this manner these gestures are lifted to an almost total visibility, as supreme commodities. Artworks that are on occasion sucked into this process usually implode into unrecognizability. Example of this transformation are of course the classics, such as Van Gogh, or Picasso, which no longer speak to anyone, but there is of course a whole range of recent ones. Ever present, these works no longer convey anything apart from their price or the lavishness of their production. Procedures inscribed in them, which perhaps once had an exceptional status, become mostly invisible. This does not mean that they have to remain so, and perhaps our task today is to create in such a way as to disable these transformations and appropriations beforehand (which seems impossible), but, in any case, everything here must be constantly fought over and regained.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Fragments on Artistic Labor


Accordingly, even though we live in a time of almost total domination of capital, which constitutes the visibility of certain procedures and works, it simultaneously suspends them as artistic, or at least, transforms them into something like the courtly decoration of capital. Parallel to this process is its dialectical other, through which art can be constituted as a passage to an alternative distribution of the sensible.


This process of imposition of the rule of capital upon an artwork always produces a remainder, something we could almost call (in parallel to Agamben), »bare art.« »Bare art« is what, within a particular artwork, always remains outside of commodification and the market dynamics, unrepresented and unrepresentable in the language of capital, but nevertheless included in it. This is why it usually remains invisible, but never invisible as such. Once again, artwork is split within itself, rather than being wholly on the outside or wholly on the inside.


The struggle over the procedures and artworks is therefore unending. It is the place of encounter, as well as the border that delineates artworks and commodities – and as we have learned from Hegel, the border is never simply an external imposition, but an essential moment in the unfolding of the essence of being – becoming therefore decisive in our understanding of both, in our (postindustrial?) age. Postmodern criticism of progress shows its affirmative side here, since it becomes apparent that emancipatory movement does not have to invent ever newer forms, but can also redeem the existing ones, which have fallen into disrepair due their temporary subsumption under capital.


This type of speech is perhaps faulty and does not illuminate the problem I wanted to address. Once the owners constitute the visibility through the expropriation of surplus value from the linguistic and nonlinguistic laborers, and employ it in the process of maintaining their domination, they create a distribution of the sensible, meaning simultaneously a reality and its reflection. This reflection does not have to simply legitimize the existing relations, it can, for example, be critical of them, but from the positions that will not compromise the existing order. So, there is an overwhelming orchestration of all available positions, by presenting some of them as supplementary, even though they in fact belong to its interiority.


If one finds this insight unconvincing one should, for example, check out Frances Stonor Saunders book The Cultural Cold War, which deals with the ways in which the cultural politics was orchestrated in the postwar Europe and the US by the latter’s various state agencies and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in particular: »During the height of the Cold War, the US government committed vast resources to a secret programme of cultural propaganda in western Europe. A central feature of this programme was to advance the claim that it did not exist. It was managed, in great secrecy, by the America’s espionage arm, the Central Intelligence Agency … At its peak, the Congress for Cultural Freedom had offices in thirty-five countries, employed dozens of personnel, published over twenty prestige magazines, held art exhibitions, owned news and featured service, organized high-profile international conferences, and rewarded musicians and artists with prizes and public performances. Its mission was to nudge the intelligentsia of western Europe away from its lingering fascination with Marxism and Communism towards a view more accommodating of ›the American way‹.«16 It is largely an analysis of the CIA’s role in the global success of Abstract Expressionism, as well as the success of its proponents (such as art critic Clement Greenberg for example). What primarily interests me here, nevertheless, is the general structure of a twofold exclusion of autonomous artistic practice/artistic labor: firstly, the practice excludes itself from the market logic, and then, it is excluded, once more, from the position of exclusion through the projection of a fictive opposition in its place. The rule here does not simply produce a reminder, but rather a simulated and an actual reminder, in an attempt to nullify the actual one, by occupying all positions. A time of total visibility.


All of this is reminiscent of Novalis thought experiment, in which he postulates the laws posited by and for the absolute subject onto the relative subject, by stating: »If we were blind, deaf and deprived of touch, and instead, our soul was perfectly open, our spirit would be the exterior world of today,« then »who knows if, little by little, with multiple struggles, we would not be capable of producing eyes, ears, etc. Because in that case, our body would be so much under our own power, it would constitute part of our inner life, just as our soul does now.«17 It is the absolute subject who posits the limit between the inside and the outside, for us, through the spontaneity of its imagination, and, as we can see, Novalis attempts to show how this separation is therefore dynamic, and perhaps even within our grasp. None of this idealist epistemology interests me here as such, but rather the relation implied in the image of a subject closed off from the outside world, which produces within itself a simulation of the split to the outside and the inside, which is indistinguishable for it from the actual relation which was established by the absolute subject (and was therefore real).. This is the logic I was trying to address – a simulated split within the world of capital, which projects the inner and the outer (through the spontaneity of its »absolute« imagination), as well as the »senses,« or the mechanisms of their mediation (i.e., various institutions, the mass media etc.), which is accomplished through abstract labor of numerous linguistic and aesthetic laborers (working in these institutions of mediation). But this split always remains an inner split. What we want to know is what’s on the outside.


This description does not imply anything substantial, nor that the perception within such a world precludes any slips or cracks. They necessarily exist, and, as in Rilke’s poem, »at times, the curtain of the pupils/lifts, quietly. An image enters in/rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,« and persist briefly on the inside, causing commotion and ruckus. This, I think, art can do. But, on its own it is weak, especially without the social pressure which would carry its formal principle back into reality.


All images © Andrea Palasti

  1. Branko Miljković (Serbian Cyrillic: Бранко Миљковић) (1934–1961) was an iconic Serbian and Yugoslav poet, one of the leaders of the Neo-Symbolist movement which had tried to bring together Surrealism and Symbolism. The poem from which the verses are quoted is titled »Everyone Will Write Poetry,« and is given in my translation.

  2. On the question of subsumption of art under capital see the introductory chapter of Nicholas Brown’s Autonomy: The Social Ontology of Art Under Capitalism (2019), »On Art and the Commodity Form.«

  3. Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. London 2004 (1864). pp. 20–24.

  4. See, for example, Pound’s letter to Lincoln Kirsten: »The endowments are sabotaged. Even when some vague and good-natured millionaire ›founds‹ something with allegedly cultural or creative intent, the endowment is handed over to academic eminences who are as incapable of picking a first class painter or writer as I shd. be of making a sound report on a copper mine. The only thing they are sure to hate is the germ of original capacity. They will go on backing Howells, the Tarkingtons and the W. Churchills to the end of their ignominious history,« p. 234. Numerous other examples can be found in his letters to Harriet Monroe, Amy Lowell, William Carlos Williams, James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, and his friend and lawyer John Quinn. P. In: The Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907–1941, ed. D.D. Paige, London 1951.

  5. Particularly interesting in this respect is his Bel Esprit project, as outlined in the letter to W. C. Williams dated March 18, 1922.

  6. In his letter to W.C. Williams, March 18, 1922.: »Only thing we can give the artist is leisure to work in. Only way we can get work from him is to assure him this leisure,« p. 239.


  8. In his letter to Henry Ware Eliot, Ezra Pound writes: »Now on the practical side a writer making one thousand dollars per year here is, I should say much better off than if he were making five thousand a year in America … I should think that if a fellow had five hundred dollars for the first year and two hundred and fifty for the second he ought to be able to make the rest of his keep and get decently started.« London, June 28, 1915, LTSE 112.


  9. Calculation via the US Inflation Calculator,

  10. Slavoj Žižek: »A Cup of Decaf Reality« available online at:

  11. François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel, transl. M. A. Screech. London 2006. p. 127.

  12. Giorgio Agamben: The Highest Poverty. Stanford 2013. p. 11.

  13. Ibid, p. 13.

  14. Jean Baudrillard: Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor 1994 (1981). p. 17.

  15. Rossi-Landi, Ferruccio. Linguistics and Economics, Hague: Mouton de Gruyter, 1977

  16. Frances Stonor Saunders: The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. New York 2000. p. 1.

  17. Novalis: Fragmente, in: Werke, ed. H. Friedmann. Berlin 1915. no. 460.

Related persons