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Actually, this is why Stalin insisted so much on permanently exhibiting the dead Lenin's body to the public. Lenin's Mausoleum is a visible guarantee that Lenin and Leninism are truly dead. That is also why the current leaders of Russia do not hurry to bury Lenin-contrary to the appeals made by many Russians to do so. They do not want the return of Leninism, which would become possible if Lenin were buried. Thus, since the French Revolution, art has been understood as the defunctionalized and publicly exhibited corpse of the past. This understanding of art determined postrevolutionary art strategies-until now.

In an art context, to aestheticize the things of the present means to discover their dysfunctional, absurd, unworkable character-everything that makes them nonusable, inefficient, obsolete. To aestheticize the present means to turn it into the dead past. In other words, artistic aestheticization is the opposite of aestheticization by means of design. The goal of design is to aesthetically improve the status quo-to make it more attractive.

Art also accepts the status quo-but it accepts it as a corpse, after its transformation into a mere representation. In this sense, art sees contemporaneity not merely from the revolutionary, but rather, the postrevolutionary perspective. One can say: modern and contemporary art sees modernity and contemporaneity as the French revolutionaries saw the design of the Old Regime-as already obsolete, reducible to pure form, already a corpse. Actually, this is especially true of the artists of the avant-garde, who are often mistakenly interpreted as being heralds of a new technological world-as ushering in the avant-garde of technological progress.

Nothing is further from the historical truth. Of course, the artists of the historical avant-garde were interested in technological, industrialized modernity. However, they were interested in technological modernity only with the goal of aestheticizing modernity, defunctionalizing it, to reveal the ideology of progress as phantasmal and absurd. However, Marinetti did not publish the text of the "Futurist Manifesto" isolated, but included it inside a story that begins with a description of how he interrupted a long nightly conversation with his friends about poetry by calling them to stand up and drive far away in a speedy car.

And so they did. Marinetti writes: "And we, like young lions, chased after Death Nothing at all worth dying for, other than the desire to divest ourselves finally of the courage that weighed us down. Marinetti describes the nocturnal ride further: "How ridiculous! What a nuisance! I braked hard and to my disgust the wheels left the ground and I flew into a ditch. O mother of a ditch, brimful with muddy water!

How I relished your strength-giving sludge that reminded me so much of the saintly black breasts of my Sudanese nurse. I will not dwell too long on this figure of the return to the mother's womb and to the nurse's breasts after a frenetic ride in a car towards death-it is all sufficiently obvious. Thus, the manifesto opens with a description of the failure of its own program. And so it is no wonder that the text fragment that follows the manifesto repeats the figure of defeat.

But he writes that when the agents of this coming generation try to destroy him and his friends, they will find them "on a winter's night, in a humble shed, far away in the country, with an incessant rain drumming upon it, and they'll see us huddling anxiously together This passages show that for Marinetti, to aestheticize technologically driven modernity does not mean to glorify it or try to improve it, to make it more efficient by means of better design.

On the contrary, from the beginning of his artistic career Marinetti looked at modernity in retrospect, as if it had already collapsed, as if it had already become a thing of the past-imagining himself in the ditch of History, or at best sitting in the countryside under incessant post-apocalyptic rain. And in this retrospective view, technologically driven, progress-oriented modernity looks like a total catastrophe.

It is hardly an optimistic perspective. Marinetti envisions the failure of his own project-but he understands this failure as a failure of progress itself, which leaves behind only debris, ruins, and personal catastrophes. I have quoted Marinetti at some length because it is precisely Marinetti whom Benjamin calls as the crucial witness when, in the afterword to his famous essay about "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Benjamin formulates his critique of the aestheticization of politics as the fascist undertaking par excellence-the critique that still weighs heavily on any attempt to bring art and politics together.

In this text, Marinetti famously speaks about "the metallization of the human body. Benjamin interprets this text as a declaration of war by art against life, and summarizes the fascist political program with these words: "Fiat art-pereas mundi" Let there be art-let the world perish.

Of course, Benjamin's analysis of Marinetti's rhetoric is correct. But there is still one crucial question here: How reliable is Marinetti as a witness? Marinetti's fascism is an already aestheticized fascism-fascism understood as a heroic acceptance of defeat and death. Or as pure form-a pure representation that a writer has of fascism when this writer is sitting alone under an incessant rain.

The real fascism wanted, of course, not defeat but victory. Actually, in the late s and s, Marinetti became less and less influential in the Italian fascist movement, which practiced precisely not the aestheticization of politics but the politicization of aesthetics by using Novecento and Neoclassicism and, yes, also Futurism for its political goals-or, we can say, for its political design. In his essay, Benjamin opposes the fascist aestheticization of politics to the Communist politicization of aesthetics. However, in Russian and Soviet art of the time, the lines were drawn in a much more complicated way.

We speak today of the Russian avant-garde, but the Russian artists and poets of that time spoke about Russian Futurism-and then Suprematism and Constructivism. In these movements we find the same phenomenon of the aestheticization of Soviet Communism. Already in his text "On the Museum" , Kazimir Malevich not only calls upon his comrades to burn the art heritage of previous epochs, but also to accept the fact that "everything that we do is done for the crematorium.

Here again, Soviet Communism was aestheticized from the perspective of its historical failure, of its coming death. And again in the Soviet Union, the aestheticization of politics was turned later into the politicization of aesthetics-that is, into the use of aesthetics for political goals, as political design. I do not want, of course, to say that there is no difference between fascism and Communism-this difference is immense and decisive.

I only want to say that the opposition between fascism and Communism does not coincide with the difference between the aestheticization of politics rooted in modern art and the politicization of aesthetics rooted in political design. I hope that the political function of these two divergent and even contradictory notions of aestheticization-artistic aestheticization and design aestheticization-has now became more clear. Design wants to change reality, the status quo-it wants to improve reality, to make it more attractive, better to use.

Art seems to accept reality as it is, to accept the status quo. But art accepts the status quo as dysfunctional, as already failed-that is, from the revolutionary, or even postrevolutionary, perspective. Contemporary art puts our contemporaneity into art museums because it does not believe in the stability of the present conditions of our existence-to such a degree that contemporary art does not even try to improve these conditions.

By defunctionalizing the status quo, art prefigures its coming revolutionary overturn. Or a new global war. Or a new global catastrophe. In any case, an event that will make the entirety of contemporary culture, including all its aspirations and projections, obsolete-as the French Revolution made all the aspirations, intellectual projections, and utopias of the Old Regime obsolete. Contemporary art activism is the heir of these two contradictory traditions of aestheticization. On the one hand, art activism politicizes art, uses art as political design-that is, as a tool in the political struggles of our time.

This use is completely legitimate-and any critique of this use would be absurd. Design is an integral part of our culture, and it would make no sense to forbid its use by politically oppositional movements under the pretext that this use leads to the spectacularization, the theatralization of political protest. After all, there is a good theater and bad theater. But art activism cannot escape a much more radical, revolutionary tradition of the aestheticization of politics-the acceptance of one's own failure, understood as a premonition and prefiguration of the coming failure of the status quo in its totality, leaving no room for its possible improvement or correction.

The fact that contemporary art activism is caught in this contradiction is a good thing. First of all, only self-contradictory practices are true in a deeper sense of the word. And secondly, in our contemporary world, only art indicates the possibility of revolution as a radical change beyond the horizon of our present desires and expectations. Thus, modern and contemporary art allows us to look at the historical period in which we live from the perspective of its end.

The figure of Angelus Novus as described by Benjamin relies on the technique of artistic aestheticization as it was practiced by postrevolutionary European art. He still moves into the future-but backwards. Philosophy is impossible without this kind of metanoia, without this reversal of the gaze. Accordingly, the central philosophical question was and still is: How is philosophical metanoia possible? How does the philosopher turn his gaze from the future to the past and adopt a reflective, truly philosophical attitude towards the world?

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In older times, the answer was given by religion: God or gods were believed to open to the human spirit the possibility of leaving the physical world-and looking back on it from a metaphysical position. Later, the opportunity for metanoia was offered by Hegelian philosophy: one could look back if one happened to be present at the end of history-at the moment when the further progress of the human Spirit became impossible.

In our postmetaphysical age, the answer has been formulated mostly in vitalistic terms: one turns back if one reaches the limits of one's own strength Nietzsche , if one's desire is repressed Freud , or if one experiences the fear of death or the extreme boredom of existence Heidegger. But there is no indication of such a personal, existential turning point in Benjamin's text-only a reference to modern art, to an image by Klee.

Benjamin's Angelus Novus turns his back to the future simply because he knows how to do it. He knows because he learned this technique from modern art-also from Marinetti. Today, the philosopher does not need any subjective turning point, any real event, any meeting with death or with something or somebody radically other.

After the French Revolution, art developed techniques for defunctionalizing the status quo that were aptly described by the Russian Formalists as "reduction," the "zero device," and "defamiliarization. And this is precisely what Benjamin did. Art teaches us how to practice metanoia, a U-turn on the road towards the future, on the road of progress. Not coincidentally, when Malevich gave a copy of one of his own books to poet Daniil Kharms, he inscribed it as follows: "Go and stop progress. And philosophy can learn not only horizontal metanoia-the U-turn on the road of progress-but also vertical metanoia: the reversal of upward mobility.

In the Christian tradition, this reversal had the name " kenosis. Indeed, traditionally, we associate art with a movement towards perfection. The artist is supposed to be creative. And to be creative means, of course, to bring into the world not only something new, but also something better-better functioning, better looking, more attractive. All these expectations make sense-but as I have already said, in today's world, all of them are related to design and not to art.

Modern and contemporary art wants to make things not better but worse-and not relatively worse but radically worse: to make dysfunctional things out of functional things, to betray expectations, to reveal the invisible presence of death where we tend to see only life. This is why modern and contemporary art is not popular.

It is not popular precisely because art goes against the normal way things are supposed to go. We are all aware of the fact that our civilization is based on inequality, but we tend to think that this inequality should be corrected by upward mobility-by letting people realize their talents, their gifts. In other words, we are ready to protest against the inequality dictated by the existing systems of power-but at the same time, we are ready to accept the notion of the unequal distribution of natural gifts and talents. However, it is obvious that the belief in natural gifts and creativity is the worst form of social Darwinism, biologism, and, actually, neoliberalism, with its notion of human capital.

In his lectures on the "birth of biopolitics," Michel Foucault stresses that the neoliberal concept of human capital has a utopian dimension-and constitutes, in fact, the utopian horizon of contemporary capitalism. As Foucault shows, the human being ceases here to be seen merely as labor power sold on the capitalist market.

Instead, the individual becomes an owner of a nonalienated set of qualities, capabilities, and skills that are partially hereditary and innate, and partially produced by education and care-primarily from one's own parents. In other words, we are speaking here about an original investment made by nature itself. The world "talent" expresses this relationship between nature and investment well enough-talent being a gift from nature and at the same time a certain sum of money. Here the utopian dimension of the neoliberal notion of human capital becomes clear enough. Participation in the economy loses its character of alienated and alienating work.

The human being becomes a value in itself. And even more importantly, the notion of human capital, as Foucault shows, erases the opposition between consumer and producer-the opposition that risks tearing apart the human being under the standard conditions of capitalism. Foucault indicates that in terms of human capital, the consumer becomes a producer.

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The consumer produces his or her own satisfaction. Near the beginning of this text, Kant makes clear its political context. He writes:. If someone asks me whether I find the palace that I see before me beautiful, I may well say that I do not like that sort of thing All of this might be conceded to me and approved; but that is not what is at issue here One must not be in the least biased in favor of the existence of the thing, but must be entirely indifferent in this respect in order to play the judge in the matter of taste.

Kant is not interested in the existence of a palace as a representation of wealth and power.

However, he is ready to accept the palace as aestheticized, that is, negated, made nonexistent for all practical purposes-reduced to pure form. Here the inevitable question arises: What should one say about the decision by the French revolutionaries to substitute the aesthetic defunctionalization of the Old Regime for total iconoclastic destruction? And: Is the theoretical legitimation of this aesthetic defunctionalization that was proposed almost simultaneously by Kant a sign of the cultural weakness of the European bourgeoisie?

Maybe it would be better to completely destroy the corpse of the Old Regime instead of exhibiting this corpse as art-as an object of pure aesthetic contemplation. I would argue that aestheticization is a much more radical form of death that traditional iconoclasm. Already during the nineteenth century, museums were often compared to cemeteries, and museum curators to gravediggers.

However, the museum is much more of a cemetery than any real cemetery. Real cemeteries do not expose the corpses of the dead; they conceal them. This is also true for the Egyptian pyramids. By concealing the corpses, cemeteries create an obscure, hidden space of mystery and thus suggest the possibility of resurrection.

We have all read about ghosts, vampires leaving their graves, and other undead creatures wandering around cemeteries at night. We have also seen movies about a night in the museum: when nobody is looking, the dead bodies of the artworks come to life. However, the museum in the daylight is a place of definitive death that allows no resurrection, no return of the past. The museum institutionalizes the truly radical, atheistic, revolutionary violence that demonstrates the past as incurably dead.

It is a purely materialistic death without return-the aestheticized material corpse functions as a testimony to the impossibility of resurrection. Actually, this is why Stalin insisted so much on permanently exhibiting the dead Lenin's body to the public. Lenin's Mausoleum is a visible guarantee that Lenin and Leninism are truly dead. That is also why the current leaders of Russia do not hurry to bury Lenin-contrary to the appeals made by many Russians to do so.

They do not want the return of Leninism, which would become possible if Lenin were buried. Thus, since the French Revolution, art has been understood as the defunctionalized and publicly exhibited corpse of the past. This understanding of art determined postrevolutionary art strategies-until now. In an art context, to aestheticize the things of the present means to discover their dysfunctional, absurd, unworkable character-everything that makes them nonusable, inefficient, obsolete.

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To aestheticize the present means to turn it into the dead past. In other words, artistic aestheticization is the opposite of aestheticization by means of design. The goal of design is to aesthetically improve the status quo-to make it more attractive. Art also accepts the status quo-but it accepts it as a corpse, after its transformation into a mere representation.

In this sense, art sees contemporaneity not merely from the revolutionary, but rather, the postrevolutionary perspective. One can say: modern and contemporary art sees modernity and contemporaneity as the French revolutionaries saw the design of the Old Regime-as already obsolete, reducible to pure form, already a corpse.

Actually, this is especially true of the artists of the avant-garde, who are often mistakenly interpreted as being heralds of a new technological world-as ushering in the avant-garde of technological progress. Nothing is further from the historical truth. Of course, the artists of the historical avant-garde were interested in technological, industrialized modernity. However, they were interested in technological modernity only with the goal of aestheticizing modernity, defunctionalizing it, to reveal the ideology of progress as phantasmal and absurd.

However, Marinetti did not publish the text of the "Futurist Manifesto" isolated, but included it inside a story that begins with a description of how he interrupted a long nightly conversation with his friends about poetry by calling them to stand up and drive far away in a speedy car. And so they did. Marinetti writes: "And we, like young lions, chased after Death Nothing at all worth dying for, other than the desire to divest ourselves finally of the courage that weighed us down.

Marinetti describes the nocturnal ride further: "How ridiculous!

What a nuisance! I braked hard and to my disgust the wheels left the ground and I flew into a ditch. O mother of a ditch, brimful with muddy water! How I relished your strength-giving sludge that reminded me so much of the saintly black breasts of my Sudanese nurse. I will not dwell too long on this figure of the return to the mother's womb and to the nurse's breasts after a frenetic ride in a car towards death-it is all sufficiently obvious.

Thus, the manifesto opens with a description of the failure of its own program. And so it is no wonder that the text fragment that follows the manifesto repeats the figure of defeat. But he writes that when the agents of this coming generation try to destroy him and his friends, they will find them "on a winter's night, in a humble shed, far away in the country, with an incessant rain drumming upon it, and they'll see us huddling anxiously together This passages show that for Marinetti, to aestheticize technologically driven modernity does not mean to glorify it or try to improve it, to make it more efficient by means of better design.

On the contrary, from the beginning of his artistic career Marinetti looked at modernity in retrospect, as if it had already collapsed, as if it had already become a thing of the past-imagining himself in the ditch of History, or at best sitting in the countryside under incessant post-apocalyptic rain. And in this retrospective view, technologically driven, progress-oriented modernity looks like a total catastrophe. It is hardly an optimistic perspective. Marinetti envisions the failure of his own project-but he understands this failure as a failure of progress itself, which leaves behind only debris, ruins, and personal catastrophes.

I have quoted Marinetti at some length because it is precisely Marinetti whom Benjamin calls as the crucial witness when, in the afterword to his famous essay about "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Benjamin formulates his critique of the aestheticization of politics as the fascist undertaking par excellence-the critique that still weighs heavily on any attempt to bring art and politics together. In this text, Marinetti famously speaks about "the metallization of the human body.

Benjamin interprets this text as a declaration of war by art against life, and summarizes the fascist political program with these words: "Fiat art-pereas mundi" Let there be art-let the world perish. Of course, Benjamin's analysis of Marinetti's rhetoric is correct. But there is still one crucial question here: How reliable is Marinetti as a witness? Marinetti's fascism is an already aestheticized fascism-fascism understood as a heroic acceptance of defeat and death. Or as pure form-a pure representation that a writer has of fascism when this writer is sitting alone under an incessant rain.

The real fascism wanted, of course, not defeat but victory. Actually, in the late s and s, Marinetti became less and less influential in the Italian fascist movement, which practiced precisely not the aestheticization of politics but the politicization of aesthetics by using Novecento and Neoclassicism and, yes, also Futurism for its political goals-or, we can say, for its political design.

In his essay, Benjamin opposes the fascist aestheticization of politics to the Communist politicization of aesthetics. However, in Russian and Soviet art of the time, the lines were drawn in a much more complicated way. We speak today of the Russian avant-garde, but the Russian artists and poets of that time spoke about Russian Futurism-and then Suprematism and Constructivism. In these movements we find the same phenomenon of the aestheticization of Soviet Communism. Already in his text "On the Museum" , Kazimir Malevich not only calls upon his comrades to burn the art heritage of previous epochs, but also to accept the fact that "everything that we do is done for the crematorium.

Here again, Soviet Communism was aestheticized from the perspective of its historical failure, of its coming death. And again in the Soviet Union, the aestheticization of politics was turned later into the politicization of aesthetics-that is, into the use of aesthetics for political goals, as political design. I do not want, of course, to say that there is no difference between fascism and Communism-this difference is immense and decisive.

I only want to say that the opposition between fascism and Communism does not coincide with the difference between the aestheticization of politics rooted in modern art and the politicization of aesthetics rooted in political design. I hope that the political function of these two divergent and even contradictory notions of aestheticization-artistic aestheticization and design aestheticization-has now became more clear.

The Aestheticization of Catastrophic Art: Capturing the Imagination of Disasters

Design wants to change reality, the status quo-it wants to improve reality, to make it more attractive, better to use. Art seems to accept reality as it is, to accept the status quo. But art accepts the status quo as dysfunctional, as already failed-that is, from the revolutionary, or even postrevolutionary, perspective. Contemporary art puts our contemporaneity into art museums because it does not believe in the stability of the present conditions of our existence-to such a degree that contemporary art does not even try to improve these conditions.

By defunctionalizing the status quo, art prefigures its coming revolutionary overturn. Or a new global war. Or a new global catastrophe. In any case, an event that will make the entirety of contemporary culture, including all its aspirations and projections, obsolete-as the French Revolution made all the aspirations, intellectual projections, and utopias of the Old Regime obsolete. Contemporary art activism is the heir of these two contradictory traditions of aestheticization. On the one hand, art activism politicizes art, uses art as political design-that is, as a tool in the political struggles of our time.

This use is completely legitimate-and any critique of this use would be absurd.

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Design is an integral part of our culture, and it would make no sense to forbid its use by politically oppositional movements under the pretext that this use leads to the spectacularization, the theatralization of political protest. After all, there is a good theater and bad theater. But art activism cannot escape a much more radical, revolutionary tradition of the aestheticization of politics-the acceptance of one's own failure, understood as a premonition and prefiguration of the coming failure of the status quo in its totality, leaving no room for its possible improvement or correction.

The fact that contemporary art activism is caught in this contradiction is a good thing. First of all, only self-contradictory practices are true in a deeper sense of the word. And secondly, in our contemporary world, only art indicates the possibility of revolution as a radical change beyond the horizon of our present desires and expectations.

Thus, modern and contemporary art allows us to look at the historical period in which we live from the perspective of its end. The figure of Angelus Novus as described by Benjamin relies on the technique of artistic aestheticization as it was practiced by postrevolutionary European art. He still moves into the future-but backwards. Philosophy is impossible without this kind of metanoia, without this reversal of the gaze. Accordingly, the central philosophical question was and still is: How is philosophical metanoia possible?

How does the philosopher turn his gaze from the future to the past and adopt a reflective, truly philosophical attitude towards the world? In older times, the answer was given by religion: God or gods were believed to open to the human spirit the possibility of leaving the physical world-and looking back on it from a metaphysical position. Later, the opportunity for metanoia was offered by Hegelian philosophy: one could look back if one happened to be present at the end of history-at the moment when the further progress of the human Spirit became impossible.

In our postmetaphysical age, the answer has been formulated mostly in vitalistic terms: one turns back if one reaches the limits of one's own strength Nietzsche , if one's desire is repressed Freud , or if one experiences the fear of death or the extreme boredom of existence Heidegger. But there is no indication of such a personal, existential turning point in Benjamin's text-only a reference to modern art, to an image by Klee.

Benjamin's Angelus Novus turns his back to the future simply because he knows how to do it. He knows because he learned this technique from modern art-also from Marinetti. Today, the philosopher does not need any subjective turning point, any real event, any meeting with death or with something or somebody radically other. After the French Revolution, art developed techniques for defunctionalizing the status quo that were aptly described by the Russian Formalists as "reduction," the "zero device," and "defamiliarization.

And this is precisely what Benjamin did. Art teaches us how to practice metanoia, a U-turn on the road towards the future, on the road of progress. Not coincidentally, when Malevich gave a copy of one of his own books to poet Daniil Kharms, he inscribed it as follows: "Go and stop progress. And philosophy can learn not only horizontal metanoia-the U-turn on the road of progress-but also vertical metanoia: the reversal of upward mobility.

In the Christian tradition, this reversal had the name " kenosis.