Aesthetic Revolution

Society as a Work of Art

The End of Modernity's End?

The Strange Relation of Art and Politics

The Ambivalence of the Public Square

Creativity and its Afterlives

A Game of Appearances


Malcolm Miles

The end of modernity’s end?

This paper speculates that the process which might be called the end of modernity has arrived at a potential conclusion in the triumph of neoliberalism and the effective abandonment of the state as a vehicle for the protection of the commonwealth (a term which I use conscious of its association with the Protectorate and the English Revolution). This may be obvious but I try to approach it via a connection between two quite separate texts, one from art history and the other from critical theory. The first argues that modernism (the art of late modernity) cannot be understood now because the conditions of its production have become remote. The other argues that the project of capital (the economics of late modernity) is total containment of all aspects of human life in its mechanisms. Between loss and defeat, however, emerges a strand of contingent thought which, while not an exit from present social or environmental injustices re-casts the problem as more conducive to an extrication of what I see as the utopian content of modernism and modern philosophy from its wreck.

For the sake of argument, I locate the end of modernity between the failure of revolt in Paris and other cities in May, 1968, and today’s ubiquitous privatisation of space and marketisation of social organisation. The end of the end of modernity, then, is market-totalitarianism and its most extant form, consumerism. I am not concerned with arguments (widely rehearsed) about postmodernity or the simulacra of late capitalism; instead, my underlying concern is that – far from this being the end of history – history now enters uncharted ground in terms of how the market’s accumulation of power-over and erasure of the people’s power-to will be contested or refused as the outcomes of late capitalism are seen to include global warming and routine abuses of human rights. Looking back, a vision of a better life for all social classes is both a relic of a lost past and, still, alluring as a future vision.

Context: consumerism and unreason

The 2007 financial services crisis demonstrated capital’s flight into fancy and absence of self-regulation; yet business-as-usual was the mantra of the day as states, residually providing out-sourced governmental services to global capital, used public money to salvage private banks. This was followed by austerity regimes which crippled the economies of several countries to be met by mass demonstrations. The anonymous French collective The Invisible Committee write that the West now resembles a tourist ‘lost on the Mongolian plains … who clutches his credit card as his only lifeline.’ [1] I wonder if that position has really been reached. Sociologist Colin Cremmin argues instead that, ‘Markets … are disembedded from society the more that commodities shape our existence.’ [2] Perceptions are altered to suit market imperatives, and the tourist (or banker) waving a credit card may be rescued by a car and driver, with a nice picnic in the boot. An old proverb has been modified. Once it was: you will wait a long time on the hillside before a roast duck flies into your mouth; now the duck arrives complete with napkin and knife and fork, but only for the platinum elite. Cremmin admits that, with neoliberalism, the market is ‘a juggernaut without a driver,’ which echoes The Invisible Committee; but this is ‘naturalised,’ he argues, by a culture of acceptance that is ‘pregnant with opportunities for those who capitulate to its logic.’ [3] Capitulation rests on a myth that there is no alternative to the way things are, as if this is as a-historical as weather (which is not a-historical at all in a period of climate change). For the non-elite, consumerism is enforced by the global news-media-entertainment sector, masking a widening gap between the world’s richer and poorer citizens, subsuming images of deprivation in advertising, and replacing political choices with choices within various manufactured wants. This introduces a social ordering of conformity to market imperatives while brand-capitalism finds no disaster an obstacle to its pursuit of profit. [4] After an era of liberal reform based on the pursuit of civic values and the notional public sphere – which was to an extent contradicted by a parallel rise in the concept of autonomy – a regime of surveillance relegates individual and social rights to a lost Eden.

There are complexities, however, in that both the modern idea of autonomy (whether in art or the rights of citizens, including that of a refusal of the status quo) and the notion of consumer choice rest on a problematic construct – the freedom of individuals to act as they decide, or as they want under consumerism – inherited from the seventeenth century. In liberal humanism, that is, the individual is free and acts rationally. The characters acting parts on a proscenium stage seem to determine the course of the plot (even if tragically), and stand in, as it were, for the audience of educated individuals who would like to make such freely determined choices in their own lives and social organisation under a constitutional monarchy. [5] In the eighteenth century, bourgeois autonomy meant a freedom of commerce and wealth accumulation against the interference of the (still mainly dynastic) state. In the nineteenth century, dynastic states gave way to nation-states and their institutions; regulation grew as a means of alleviating the worst effects of market operations, acting (like the establishment of art museums) as a means to prevent insurrection. Matthew Arnold saw a crisis when disagreements within Christianity tended to discount the church as a vehicle for social cohesion, arguing that in such conditions culture – pursued by the educated middle classes – was the defence against social breakdown which he called anarchy. Arnold was critical of an interpretation of being free as doing what one likes, however, arguing that the middle class echoed the claims of the eighteenth-century gentry: ‘Our middle class … with its maxim of every man for himself in business, every man for himself in religion, dreads a powerful administration which might somehow interfere with it.’ [6] In the working class, Arnold saw a lack of public consciousness: ‘Our masses are quite as raw and uncultivated as the French; so far from their having the idea of public duty and of discipline’ that, for instance, they would rather ‘flee to the mines’ than join the army during the Crimean War. [7] Arnold launches a tirade against the valuing of machinery but also against mass political self-interest:

… this and that man, and this and that body of men, all over the country, are beginning to assert and put in practice an Englishman’s right to do what he likes; his right to march where he likes, meet where he likes, enter where he likes, hoot as he likes, threaten as he likes, smash as he likes. All this, I say, tends to anarchy; and though a number of excellent people, and particularly my friends of the Liberal or progressive party … are kind enough to reassure us by saying that these are trifles … - yet one finds that one’s Liberal friends generally say this because they have such faith in themselves and their nostrums, when they shall return, as the public welfare requires, to place and power. [8]

Ideally, if I can extend the argument, cooperation between citizens would refine the agencies of government to a point at which freedom is attained and the state is redundant when public consciousness orders society benignly for all.

Millenarian visions of this kind have recurred in European history, as in the anarchic society proclaimed by Abbot Joachim of Fiore circa 1200: abolition of office and property; the Age of the Spirit: immanent revolution.[9]  From another perspective, history is struggle, an always-incomplete process shaped in resistance but inevitably thereby burdened by the conditions it contests. Human freedom of action then leads to conflict and perhaps repetition of trajectories of incompatible logic, as in tragic drama. Marx fused materialism with idealism in a dialectic materialism whereby human intervention inflects the conditions which condition people; but all this is obsolete when consumerism imposes a single choice – to buy – as a sole means for the expression or acquisition of identity. To buy what one likes is in effect social membership and conceals conflicts between those who can and cannot consume, or who enjoy unlimited mobility while the rest – marginal others – are subject to increasing controls.[10] This regime is enforced through the soft policing of mass culture and its conjuring of admission tickets to the affluent society through the repeated purchases of goods. This psychological pressure is applied parallel to the use of addictive additives in food, and to an adrenalin-based addiction produced by a permanent state of crisis in precarity. The outlook is bleak but a premonition looms: part of the bleakness may be inherent in modernity itself.

Looking back

Art historian T. J. Clark writes in Farewell to an Idea that, at the end of the twentieth century, ‘the modernist past is a ruin, the logic of whose architecture we do not remotely grasp’ as we have entered a new age when, it is not lost but, ‘the modernity which modernism prophesied has finally arrived’ making its forms of representation ‘unreadable.’ [11] Modernity has reached its conclusion, a kind of apotheosis of which its ruins are the sign. This requires explanation in light of  the view that modernity is in ruins. [12] And Clark does explain:

Modernity means contingency. It points to a social order which has turned from the worship of ancestors and past authorities to the pursuit of a projected future – of goods, pleasures, freedoms, forms of control over nature, or infinities of information. This process goes along with a great emptying and sanitisation of the imagination. … The phrase Max Weber borrowed from Schiller, ‘the disenchantment of the world’ still seems to me to sum up this side of modernity best. [13]

This is the modern world of Enlightenment which offers freedom from superstitions and rule by a mysterious, perhaps implacable Fate; and equally an earlier form of being cast adrift as a subject-citizen acting in an uncharted realm of agency (not waving a credit card but seeking a map of the world, newly found to be a sphere). Critical theorist Peter Sloterdijk argues that globalisation began with the globe as a representation of a round Earth: ‘the new image of the earth, the terrestrial globe, rose to become the central icon of the modern world picture’ and from the first globe in 1492 to space exploration, ‘the cosmological process of modernity is characterized by the changes of shape and refinements of earth’s image in its diverse technical media.’ [14] The globe resulted from the empirical knowledge of voyages around the Earth but Sloterdijk claims it retained a metaphysical sense of enclosure within a cosmos of spheres. By the 1850s, this is lost: ‘In panoramic nature paintings, the aesthetic observation of the whole replaced its lost safety in the vaulted universe. The beauty of physics made the tableau of the holy circles dispensable.’ [15] Citing the discoveries of geographer Alexander von Humbolt, Sloterdijk continues,

This opening up into the infinite heightens the risk of modern localizations. Humans know … that they are contained or lost – which now amounts to virtually the same thing – somewhere in the boundless. They understand that they can no longer rely on anything except the indifference of homogenous infinite space. The outside expands, ignoring the postulate of proximity in the human spheres, as a foreign entity in its own right; its first and only principle seems to be its lack of interest in humanity. [16]

Nature, weather, space: all are indifferent to human fate; a danger, I suggest, is that states and economic systems mimic indifference through an agency which is not indifferent but follows vested interests. Nonetheless, modernity entails acceptance of indifference, not merely as the basis for aesthetic taste (or disinterest), but as the abandonment of reliance on a supernatural power which might, subject to suitable observances and offerings, bestow charity. Autonomy becomes being alone as wild nature is no less radically other to human interests.

It is this state of being adrift in free will which Adorno and Horkheimer critique in Dialectic of Enlightenment. [17] They argue that Enlightenment is freedom from rule by arbitrary powers of nature yet constitutes knowledge as power-over nature and human subjects. Enlightenment abolishes myth and superstition in a dis-enchantment of the world but myth reappears in other ways. One of these is the seeming imperative of power:

The rulers themselves do not believe in any objective necessity, even though they sometimes describe their concoctions thus. They declare themselves to be the engineers of world history. Only the ruled accept as unquestionable necessity the course of development that with every decreed rise in the standard of living makes them so much more powerless. … The masses are fed and quartered … their reduction to mere objects of the administered life, which preforms every sector of modern existence including language and perception, represents objective necessity, against which they believe there is nothing they can do. [18]

A colloquial version of this is that nothing withstands Progress regardless of what Progress brings. But, ‘true revolutionary practice depends on the intransigence of theory in the face of the insensibility with which society allows thought to ossify.’ [19]   Still, being cast adrift in the seas of agency is daunting. Its utopian face is a benign collaborative world; its dystopian face is domination by abstract (market) forces: ‘bourgeois economy multiplied power through the mediation of the market’ and, ‘multiplied its objects and powers to such an extent that … not just the kings, not even the middle classes are no longer necessary, but all men.’ [20] In the new bleakness, domination is normalised; Enlightenment descends into ‘wholesale deception of the masses.’ [21] That was written in the 1940s, haunted by the failure of the German Revolution of 1918-19 and the rise of fascism and its use of populist imagery and revivals of myth: songs of crowns drowned in the Rhine, campfires and torchlight parades. [22] Clark asserts, too, ‘The disenchantment of the world is horrible … any mass movement or cult figure that promises a way out of it will be clung to like grim death.’ [23] The twentieth century exhibits the charisma of an aestheticised politics; now we have celebrity. Against this fear, Adorno and Horkheimer argue for a revision of Enlightenment from within. And survivor Primo Levi writes,

There is no rationality in the Nazi hatred … We cannot understand it, but we can and must understand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard. If understanding is impossible, knowing is imperative …

Everybody must know, or remember, that when Hitler and Mussolini spoke in public, they were believed, applauded, admired, adored like gods. They were charismatic leaders; they possessed a secret power of seduction that did not proceed from the credibility or the soundness of the things they said, but from the suggestive way in which they said them …

It is, therefore, necessary to be suspicious of those who seek to convince us with means other than reason, and of charismatic leaders; we must be cautious about delegating to others our judgement and our will. Since it is difficult to distinguish between true prophets from false, it is well to regard all prophets with suspicion. It is better to renounce revealed truths … It is better to content oneself with more modest and less exciting truths … those than can be verified and demonstrated. [24]

In brief, reason is the only real defence against fascism. But the ambivalent power relation of modern knowledge remains problematic: knowledge is power-over and power-to. This leads to totalitarianism or emancipation although the latter, too, is problematic: as in the dichotomy between one model in which a chasm separates an old world from a new world which arrives, as it were, from the sky, and another in which the world is made new according to a design or intention produced in the old world, and is thereby shaped to an extent by it. [25] It is impossible to escape the philosophical bind by which postmodernity is shaped by modernity, or freedom by resistance to unfreedom. It is possible, however, to argue, from Marx, that humans inflect the trajectory, as said above. Then, modernity means contingency and this means in turn that another world is always not only possible to imagine but also in the making (although it may never reach a final stage).

Looking from within the glass house

Thinking of Clark’s statement, I wonder if the argument that modernity has reached its end is extended or at least affirmed by Sloterdijk’s claim that the project of capital – also completed – is the total containment of the world. Sloterdijk writes that capitalism’s shaping power had always gone beyond the operations of the market, thus, ‘placing the entire working life, wish life and expressive life … within the immanence of spending power. [26] The figure of the globe acts to hold nations in a unified mass, and capital possesses that whole Earth, its desires and cultures as well as work, so that nothing – only, literally a void of outer space – is outside the market’s containment mechanisms. A Soviet joke takes on a new meaning: using the double meaning of the Russian word mir as Peace and Earth, it was said, we want Peace and we want all of it. Capital substitutes Life for mir. This echoes sociologist Conrad Lodziak’s argument that consumerism produces new human needs; these are really wants but are experienced as new needs which compensate for the alienation and exhaustion of routine toil. [27] Lodziak says that although consumers have agency, are not completely duped by advertising, their agency is limited and hardly autonomous: ‘the consumer is … conceptualised as engaging in a form of active passivity.’ [28] This is the context for a progressive (advancing in stages) appropriation of the need for freedom and the experience of feeling free:

The privatisation of freedom … refers to the conceptualisation of freedom in terms of consumer choices. In the ideology of consumerism, consumer choices reflect the interpretive freedom of the individual, and this is increasingly understood as a freedom that is harnessed to the project of creating a self-identity. For the New Right, the privatisation of freedom also refers … to the privatisation of hitherto publicly provided … collective facilities, resources and services that were available for everybody. Here privatisation means replacing state provision with several competing service providers, and this alone is supposed to give the consumer more choice. [29]

Lodziak’s description of consumerism appears to illustrate Sloterdijk’s idea that a society’s  working life, wish life and expressive life are contained by the operations of global capital. I want to make a further connection by comparing Lodziak’s position with Herbert Marcuse’s argument that consumerism produces contradictions which in turn produce new needs, but not passivity, rather liberational.

Marcuse says that the question, in an affluent society, is no longer how an individual satisfies her or his needs without hurting others but how she or he can satisfy these needs without an act of self-harming (to paraphrase, avoiding Marcuse’s universal masculine) or, as he puts it, ‘without reproducing [her/his] dependence on an exploitative apparatus which … perpetuates [her/his] servitude.’ [30] Marcuse continues that voluntary servitude can be ruptured only by, ‘a political practice which reaches the roots of containment and contentment’ which means ‘a political practice of methodical disengagement’ leading to a radical shift of values. [31] Then the question is how a vision of or desire for a qualitatively different society is felt within existing conditions. Marcuse states the difficulty:

This is the vicious circle: the rupture with the self-propelling conservative continuum of needs must precede the revolution which is to usher in a free society, but such rupture itself can be envisaged only in a revolution – a revolution which would be driven by the vital need to be freed from the administered comforts and the destructive productivity of the exploitative society, freed from smooth heteronomy, a revolution which, by virtue of this biological foundation, would have the chance of turning quantitative technical progress into qualitatively different ways of life … If this idea of a radical transformation is to be more than idle speculation, it must have an objective foundation in the production process of advanced industrial society … [32]

His answer is that the contradictions of capitalism themselves lead to the new biological need for freedom which underpins a shift from quantitative to qualitative progress. If the consumer economy and ‘the politics of corporate capitalism’ produce a ‘second nature’ binding people ‘libidinally and aggressively to the commodity form,’ [33] then the alternative is glimpsed in the radical otherness of beauty, an aesthetic universe which stands apart from consumerism and may have seemed, momentarily, to appear in the events of May 1968 (or in student protests in North America in the mid-1960s). [34] I have to leave the argument around beauty there. [35] Here the point is that Sloterdijk, Lodziak and Marcuse all propose a model of advanced capitalism – for Sloterdijk a literally global capitalism – which contains everything in its mechanisms of production-and-consumption. Lodziak and Marcuse argue that human needs are subsumed in an array of false wants designed to maintain an expanding market but while Marcuse foresaw a new biological need for freedom from the affluent society, Sloterdijk cites Dostoyevsky’s notes on the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace, London as a metaphorical-real model of capital’s containment, looking to a new nihilism as the outcome:

what spirals out of control in the capitalist world interior is the inclination towards an end use devoid of ulterior motives; in the first uproar a hundred years ago, this had been termed nihilism. The name expresses the observation that consumption and disrespect are adjacent phenomena. [36]

From this, perhaps, arises ruin-lust, an addictive liking of fragments which is ambivalent: a reminder that, in broken statues, power-over has declined; and a Romantic counter-force to rationality as the quest for certainties (freedom from the vicissitudes of Nature) which – ruins remind one in their disarray – are found only in the self-contained systems of mathematics and geometry, in certain kinds of philosophical logic, or in fancy. The message of a scene of ruins might also be, however, that life goes on, something survives, and diverse energies seep through the cracks. There may be a beach under the grey paving slabs; and there is a potential for grass to grow between them. [37] Art may seem a vehicle for such seepage, but is it?

Looking at art

Thinking of Clark’s statement again I find myself surrounded by signs of modernity’s end: the dereliction of industry as material production moves to the South and is replaced in the North by the fantasy realms of immaterial production and speculation in sectors such as the media, advertising, public relations and financial services, called the creative industries; the disempowering of trades unions, local government and community groups, which stood for shared and civic interests; a systematic dismantling of the welfare state. I am surrounded by ruins but are they, as Brian Dillon suggests, ‘a warning for our own futures’ or do they allude unsettlingly to, ‘a future past, the memory of what might have been’ in retro-futurism? [38] The ruin spellbinds in a reiteration of the past over which Fate presided; and capital offers a no less enchanting apparatus of self-coercion, according to philosopher Bernard Stiegler:

A prior, spontaneous trust in the power of technological systems …which is the condition of trust of consumers, as well as financial markets, and therefore investors, is possible and conceivable only to the extent that everyone has an interest in the continuation of the functioning and development of the system, even those for whom it does not yield any immediate profit. We must all have a reason to expect something from the functioning and development of the system, and this reason to expect something can only be the expectation of a better future. [39]

A better future was the promise of modernism. It failed because it was designed by experts to the exclusion of vernacular knowledges, but this mismatch of ends and means does not render the idea itself invalid. Modern art echoed modern architecture’s reliance on expertise in an idea that avant-gardes can lead society in a new direction, which implies that artists have a privileged insight into what that direction is, and the power-over to lead people to it. Through the twentieth century, the avant-garde was de-politicised, moving from Gustave Courbet’s belief that art can change the world, after the 1848 revolution in France, to oblique attacks on bourgeois culture’s institutions as a way to undermine bourgeois social values; and in the 1960s a formalism in which non-representational art erased narrative in a reductive revolution of styles.

Sloterdijk’s idea of capital’s total containment is affirmed now as the art market subsumes almost any departure into its mainstream. In the 1960s, artists refused to make objects as art-commodities but dealers traded instead in reputations and glossy colour books of photographs of ephemeralities. More extremely, subsuming illegality, Tate Modern’s summer show, Street Art, in 2009 re-coded graffiti as an art-commodity. Street artists were invited from around the globe to paint panels affixed to the building’s exterior, sponsored by a Japanese car maker. In a remaking of the wildlife safari by other means, guided walks around East London enabled visitors to see street art in its natural surroundings. All this marked the production of a new category, differentiated from the anti-social activity of graffiti. so that it could be contained by Contemporary Art. There was at least one international street art auction; another auction house used the term urban art for a style based on street art where none of the products were produced for street display. [40] Street art appears as good a case as any of Sloterdijk’s picture of total containment. When an art form derived from illegal activity is collectable, the project of containment may have no boundaries.

Looking at modernity’s beginnings

But if modernity’s dreams were tarnished, it has been superseded by a bleaker world of ruins and lost hopes: a realm of the peripheralisation and marginalisation of social groups who are unwilling or unable to subscribe to brand-consumerism; widening social divisions and deeper deprivation; and the precarity of the flexible economy as a corrosion of skills and what was left of satisfaction in labour. [41] Rather, however, than bewail the situation I want to ask again what it was about modernity that leads me to feel a sense of loss at its passing, and what among its traces might be extricated from the general mess to be reconsidered and adapted for today.

Clark writes that modernity means contingency, a social order which has replaced worship of ancestors and past authorities with. ‘the pursuit of a projected future’ which also means, part and parcel, ‘a great emptying and sanitisation of the imagination,’ in a disenchantment of the world. [42] The world’s disenchantment led at least one art critic to propose its re-enchantment via art. [43] I argue against this elsewhere; [44] but here I want to say briefly why I align myself to the disenchanted world of modernity. Disenchantment means, to reiterate, emancipation from a world ruled by Fate and watched over by ancestors. Modernity – as the experience of being alive and conscious in a world in which the human subject has agency – brings a promise of freedom and happiness; and entails the development of ideas, perceptions and interpretations in shared logics through which to arrive at common values. To recap again, disenchantment produces a search for certainty in autonomous systems but most of life is neither geometrical nor mathematical; hence quests for the ideal in which contingency is overcome are theoretical limits rather than guides to everyday life. Modernity is learning to live with uncertainties, an acceptance of uncertainty as an occupational hazard which does not obliterate happiness but emphasises struggle. The alternative is fear, and the twentieth century witnessed the effects of the charismatic leaders who came to power through fear; that was what Levi wrote about. But while the attraction of enchantment is maintained by consumerism – the goods and services offered as a means to feeling that the subject has an identity are alluring because most of the other operations of capital effectively deny that identity through alienation, immiseration and precarity – it may be that Marcuse is accurate when he looks to the inherent contradictions or illusions of the system to produce resistance. I agree with Lodziak (above) that consumers are not dupes, and may play games with the market; but Adorno’s view of the culture industry is as relevant now as in the post-war period: ‘The dream industry does not so much fabricate the dreams of the customers as introduce the dreams of the suppliers among the people. This is the thousand-wear empire of an industrial caste system governed by a stream of never ending dynasties.’ [45] The art-world and fashion contain almost all departures (including styles which emerge on the streets and are recycled as designer goods). [46] Myth is ended in Enlightenment yet returns in mass media and a vacuous politics in which there is no alternative. But another world is possible, as proclaimed at the World Social Forum in Port Alegre, Brazil in 2001. [47]

Geographer Erik Swyngedouw identifies an insurgent polis: ‘Rethinking … the “Right to the City” as the “Right to the production of urbanisation”. Henri Lefebvre’s clarion call … urges us to think of the city as a process of collective co-design and co-production.’ [48] And this is not fanciful, but extant in numerous projects for intentional communities since the 1960s, in eco-villages, in anti-capitalism and single-issue campaigning, and most recently in Occupy. Although I am not an activist – so was not there – Occupy suggests to me that it is viable to make a new society within the old, if ephemerally and in ways which are often compromised by circumstances. That is, the act of being there is the enactment of alternative, life-affirming values. It is not to set up a signpost to a proclaimed future like an avant-garde, but to be there, present in the moment: a Lefebvrian moment which is brief yet transformative. This is what I remember, if now at a distance, of anti-war and anti-nuclear demonstrations in the late 1960s (when I was there); it is a form of autonomy which is shared, a personal stance because the personal is political and the political is personal, but not only that. It offers no certainty, only hope.

In an interesting tangent, Bloch refers to Joachim of Fiore and his contemporary Amalrich of Bena as proclaiming a new world of the Spirit which as both the end of a process of ‘degrees of illumination’ which is, in effect, a deeply personal and introspective mysticism, and, at the same time without contradiction, ‘historical’ as, ‘the light glows up three times, and it burns ever more precisely.’ [49] Bloch sees a vile parody of the three ages in the Third Reich. He also reads a projection of future, hoped-for worlds onto mythicized pasts: ‘The wish for happiness was never painted onto an empty and completely new future. A better past was always to be restored too, though not as a recent past, but that of a dreamed-after, more beautiful earlier age.’ [50] So, ‘We must repeatedly distinguish between mist and light … the impetus … of these constructs is here likewise something different from the husk.’ [51] Modernity conceals utopia and lent it forms no longer either realistic or accessible; it was always ambivalent in an assertion of autonomy which could be evolved as power-over or power-to; and it located humanity in a disenchanted world where agency is always problematic but equally cannot be set aside in favour of complicity. As a Socialist I cling to the vision of a better life for all social classes which I read as the core content of modernism.

Born in 1950 during the Atlee government, I lament the dismantling of the welfare state and trashing of the public sector. I do not remember the Festival of Britain but it appears to have been a nation-wide festival which was emblematic of a vision of rebuilding a post-war world for the benefit of all social classes, linking culture, technology and social equity. In contrast, the Millennium Dome was trash. If the Great Exhibition represented Britain as a nation of manufacturers, however contestably, the Dome told of celebrity and bling. As architectural historian Simon Sadler observes, unlike the Festival of Britain, the Dome gave no sense of a civic space. He adds, ‘The Dome’s spectacular failure underscrored that in an age of flows, design cannot flow but must intervene … to create a state of grace apart from pure economic exchange.’ [52] I agree. Clark argues that modernism and socialism ended at the same time, and I would add simply that, despite that, neither is over because a world of contingency is a world-without-end.

[1] The Invisible Collective, The Coming Insurrection, Los Angeles, Semiotext[e], 2009, p. 90

[2] Cremmin, C., Capitalism’s New Clothes: Enterprise, Ethics and Enjoyment in Times of Crisis, London, Pluto, 2011, p. 15

[3] ibid

[4] Klein, N., No Logo, London, Flaqmingo, 2001; The Shock Doctrine, London, Penguin, 2007

[5] Belsey, C., The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and Difference in Renaissance Drama, London, Routledge, 1985

[6] Arnold, M., Culture and Anarchy [popular edition] London, Smith Elder, 1889, p. 36

[7] Arnold, p. 37

[8] Arnold, pp. 37-38

[9] Bloch, E., The Principle of Hope, Cambridge (MA), MIT, pp. 509-515

[10] Bauman, Z., Globalization: The Human Consequences, Cambridge, Polity, 1998

[11] Clark, T.J., Farewell to an Idea, New Haven (CT), Yale, 1999, p. 6

[12] Dillon, B., Ruin Lust: Artists’ Fascination with Ruins from Turner to the Present Day, London, Tate, 2014; Hell, J. and Schonle, A., eds., Ruins of Modernity, Durham (NC), Duke University Press, 2010

[13] Clark, p. 8

[14] Sloterdijk, P., In the Interior World of Capital, Cambridge, Polity, 2013, p. 21

[15] Sloterdijk, p. 22

[16] Sloterdijk, p. 23

[17] Adorno, T.W. and Horkheimer, M., Dialectic of Enlightenment, [1944] London, Verso, 1997

[18] Adorno and Horkheimer, p. 38

[19] Adorno and Horkheimer, p. 41

[20] Adorno and Horkheimer, p. 42

[21] ibid

[22] See Bloch, E., Heritage of Our Times, Cambridge, Polity, 1991

[23] Clark, p. 7

[24] Levi, P., If This Is a Man, London, Sphere, 1987, pp. 396-397

[25] Laclau, E., Emancipation(s), London, Verso, 1996, pp. 1-19

[26] Sloterdijk, p. 176

[27] Lodziak, C., The Myth of Consumerism, London, Pluto, 2002

[28] Lodziak, p. 68, citing Gorz, A., Reclaiming Work: Beyond the Wage-based Society, Cambridge, Polity, 1999

[29] Lodziak, p. 74

[30] Marcuse, H., An Essay on Liberation, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1969, p. 14

[31] Marcuse, p. 15

[32] Marcuse, p. 27

[33] Marcuse, p. 20

[34] Marcuse, p. 34

[35] See Miles, M., Herbert Marcuse: an aesthetics of liberation, London, Pluto, 2011

[36] Sloterdijk, p. 209

[37] See Wark, McK., The Beach Beneath the Street: The everyday life and glorious times of the Situationist International, London, Verso, 2011

[38] Dillon, p. 48

[39] Stiegler, B., Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individuals, Cambridge, Polity, 20134, p. 17

[40] See Bengsten, P., The Street Art World, Lund, Lund University [PhD thesis], 2014

[41] See Sennett, R., The Corrosion of Character, New York, Norton, 1998; Hatherley, O., A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, London, Verso, 2010, and A New Kind of Bleak, London, Verso, 2012

[42] Clark, pp. 6, 8

[43] Gablik, S., The Reenchantment of Art, London, Thames and Hudson, 1991

[44] Miles, M., Eco-Aesthetics: Art, literature and architecture in a period of climate change, London, Bloomsbury, 2014

[45] Adorno, T.W., ‘The schema of mass culture’, The Culture Industry: Selected essays on mass culture, London, Routledge, 1991, p. 80

[46] Zukin, S., The Cultures of Cities, Oxford, Blackwell, 1995, p. 9

[47] Houtart, F. and Polet, F, Another World is Possible: The Globalization of Resistance to the World economic System, London, Zed Books, 2001

[48] Swyngedouw, E., Designing the Post-Political City and the Insurgent Polis, Civic City Cahier 5, London, Bedford press, 2011, p. 53

[49] Bloch, Heritage of Our Times, p. 124

[50] Bloch, Heritage of Our Times, p. 128

[51] Bloch, Heritage of Our Times, p. 136

[52] Sadler, S., ‘Spectacular failure: the architecture of late capitalism at the Millennium Dome’, Deamer, P., ed., Architecture and Capitalism, 1845 to the present, London, Routledge, 2014, p. 199