You talk about “brutal aesthetics” as a reaction to the historical sense, you write, that “the humanist tradition had failed to prevent both World War and fascist reaction.” I guess I’ve been wondering if your attempts in this project to trace alternative art historical lineages doesn’t reflect a contemporary disenchantment. There was this critical moment of postmodernism, where it was associated with liberation. But that ultimately has coincided with the rising sense of emergency that you’ve been talking about: an extreme right-wing drift across the world. And some of the postmodern rhetoric about decentering narratives of truth and science has been adopted by global warming skeptics and white nationalists.
So how much of your attempt to trace critical lineages in the past is a part of that reckoning in the present?
That’s a keen point. In a way, I have understood this project personally. I was formed by the anti-humanisms of the 1960s, the critiques of representation, the critiques of origins. And I am drawn to this postwar moment and these figures because they actually precede such critiques. In part, I wanted to think about who the figures like Althusser and Lacan and Foucault and Derrida and Delueze were reacting against.
Because my figures are actually interested in beginning again. They are interested in valid representations. And for all the sense of the catastrophe of humanism, they work very much in the name of the human—it’s just a human that is very denatured. They want to think about what the human is, or was, then; they don’t want to give up on humanism. They just want to make a humanism that’s adequate to relate to the destruction of the human.
And this is an impossible project. That’s what interests me about these figures, that they come up with impossible ideas and limit concepts like “the brut.” How can there be an art outside of art, or a culture outside of culture? Or with Bataille there’s this idea that somehow the sacred can be found again in the caves. These are impossible projects.
I think they speak to what Jorn calls a sense of humanism as inhuman, and a corresponding search for a humanism that would not be inhuman. That seems to me important for our present as well.