[image from Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann, Volatile Smile]
Some years ago, it was common to lament, in critical circles, the taboo on “naming the system”: capital’s unlimited reign was everywhere cloaked in euphemism. While challenges to that reign have been fitful and fragile over the last decade of staggered crisis, the cognitive demand for figures, images, narratives, and allegories of the social totality has been nothing if not insistent.
Across domains, genres, and media—from the economic treatise to the television serial, the novel to the art installation—the same prescription: it cannot represent itself, it must be represented. Underlying it, a common sense: disorientation is the quality of our present; a strategy of emancipation demands a cartography of domination; the collective must be cognitive; knowledge of the levers prepares the power to seize them. And, over and again, the urge to represent is itself the object of dramatization—each fiction a metafiction, every scene tracked by its commentary, all information transmuted into its allegory.
That the representation of capital should so often devolve into a representation of representation is perhaps unsurprising. The demand to visually or narratively identify and encompass a social form, a relation, a totality—a demand often acknowledged to be impossible in the same breath it is proffered—cannot but raise metaphysical conundrums, in all their sordid anxious everydayness. Among them is what we could term the speculative identity of epiphany and opacity.
The remainder of the essay can be read in the catalogue to the exhibition I stood before the source at the Blackwood Gallery, Toronto, Oct 16-Dec 3, 2016.