"What comes after the farce?" by Hal Foster. Editora Ubu, 2021 (192 p.). Photo: Disclosure

What comes after the farce?, title of new book by the American professor Hal Foster, is not merely a rhetorical question. It starts from one of Karl Marx’s best-known ideas – that history is usually staged twice, the first as a tragedy and the second as a farce – to reflect on the North American context of the last years of the Trump administration, considered there as a farce. .

Cover of the book "What comes after the farce?", by Hal Foster, published in Brazil by Editora Ubu. Photo: Disclosure.
Cover of the book “What comes after the farce?”, by Hal Foster, published in Brazil by Editora Ubu. Photo: Disclosure.

The book (read excerpt here) was published at the beginning of last year, so there is no time to consider what the new coronavirus pandemic has added to this scenario, including the demise of Trump himself and the rise of the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris ticket. However, it is not really an analysis of the geopolitical question about what comes after the farce, but the implications in the field of art, which is Foster’s space for reflection, or in his own words in the preface: “Where do you stand? artists and critics”.

Despite going far from the context of the global south, which makes the publication somewhat displaced from the current decolonial discussions, ignoring the entire world of art outside the US-Europe axis, the transpositions of certain analyzes to Brazil are inevitable and help to understand a little of the roots of the exhaustion that cultural agents are at this time.

After all, how can you give credibility to an art institution like the Bienal de São Paulo when Credit Suisse, a company run by its president, banker José Olympio da Veiga Pereira, organizes a meeting to support President Bolsonaro, recently criticized in a manifesto headed by religious and intellectuals such as Leonardo Boff and Chico Buarque, which begins with: “Brazil cries out for help. Brazilians and Brazilians committed to life are hostages of the genocidal Jair Bolsonaro, who occupies the presidency of Brazil, along with a gang of fanatics driven by fascist irrationality.”

"Ubu Trump", 2017, by Mr. Fish, referred to by Hal Foster in his new book. Photo: Mr. Fish / Reproduction of "What comes after the farce?".
“Ubu Trump”, 2017, by Mr. Fish. Photo: Mr. Fish / Reproduction of “What comes after the farce?”.

This mismatch between directors of cultural institutions and the reality of the country is addressed in the fifth essay of the book, Father Trump, where, quoting the German sociologist Siegfried Kracauer (1889-1966), he draws a parallel between the Weimar Republic and the present: “Never was an age so well informed about itself (…) yourself". This information paradox leads Foster to recall the concept of “cynical reason”, developed by another German, this one more contemporary, Peter Sloterdijk.

This idea of ​​cynical reason was based on the German people turning a blind eye to Nazism, and a specific case in this regard is Eichman, the official responsible for transporting Jews to the concentration camps, who claimed to be a doer of orders. In other words, the cynical reason has to do with the inability of critical judgments, which is very similar to both the support for Trump's unfounded allegations, as Foster analyzes, and the support by the Faria Lima gang for their Brazilian counterpart. “How can you belittle a leader who feels no shame? How to 'un-dadize' President Ubu?”, asks the author. It is necessary to react, he argues: “Convert the disruptive emergency into structural change.” 

For Foster, in this sense, three movements have been essential to rethink the arts system: #MeToo (appeared in 2017), against the harassment of the patriarchy, Black Lives Matter (2013), against structural racism, Occupy Wall Street (from 2011), against economic and social inequalities and the excessive power of companies. “As codes of conduct are discarded in one profession after another, it is up to cultural institutions to insist more strongly on them and to be role models in this regard,” says Foster. Thus, to counteract cynical behavior, museums and other institutions in the circuit need to create exemplary practices. 

An example that he does not mention, but that deserves to be remembered is the action of the North American photographer Nan Goldin, who has been leading a movement against the Sackler family of patrons, who sponsored rooms and works in important museums in Europe and the United States, and who own the Purdue pharmaceutical company, which manufactures highly addictive and deadly painkillers – calculations indicate that, since 1999, more than 450 people have died. by the use of opioids. Thanks to the group's protests PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), created by her, museums such as the Tate, in London, or the Louvre, in Paris, refused to sponsor the Sacklers, or even removed the family name from the rooms, as in the French museum. Foster, however, addresses the issue of funding sources, pointing out that when it is too dirty, it becomes an “urgent issue for art museums in the Trumpist era”.

Throughout the essays, the author creates some very valid terms to think about the current moment, such as the notion of “ethical aesthetics”, this need for artistic and institutional practices to be based on responsible conduct, avoiding the complicity of managers of cultural institutions. with the post-truth politics of leaders like Bolsonaro or Trump. However, these ideas are often little pills that deserve further exploration.

In this work, Forensic Architecture has incorporated photos and videos, gathered primarily from social media and online sources, into the 3D model to reconstruct the story of the "Black Friday" battle that took place on August 1, during the 2014 Gaza war. , in which many Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli bombing. Photo: Reproduction.
In this work, Forensic Architecture has incorporated photos and videos, gathered primarily from social media and online sources, into the 3D model to reconstruct the story of the “Black Friday” battle that took place on August 1, during the 2014 Gaza war. , in which many Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli bombing. Photo: Reproduction.

Another is the idea of ​​reconstruction through art, based on artistic practices such as that of the English group Forensic Architecture, a multidisciplinary research collective created by the architect Eyal Weizman, at the University of London. “Many artists have moved from a posture of deconstruction to one of reconstruction – that is, to the use of artifice to rehabilitate the documentary mode as a system, if not descriptively adequate, at least critically efficient”, describes Foster in the essay real fictions. Foster then cites Weizman to exemplify some of these procedures in forensic practices: the witness policy based on individual testimony and returns to “empathy with victims” and a policy of defense of human rights carried out as “a process of materialization and mediatization”. In addition to Forensic Architecture, the author points out Harun Farocki (1944-2014) and Hito Steyerl as acting in the same direction. 

So, returning to the question of the book's title, Foster does not shy away from giving many clues to point out possible ways out of the farce. But the conclusion that he himself points out in the introduction is very clear: “Nothing is guaranteed; everything is struggle”. 

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