Friday, May 15, 2009

"Negativity for Life"

On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Negativity for Life by Barrett Watten

“What is negativity, as an element of literary and culture production? If there is one criterion of the avant-garde with which its critics all agree, it is one of the avant-garde’s historical origins in a negative moment of refusal of the culture from which it emerges. This refusal may take the form of an explicitly oppositional politics; or it may be self-negating even to the point of withdrawal from society or suicide; or it may involve a radical reconfiguration of the formal possibilities of a genre or medium and their cultural significance. Arguably, all three are related – countercultural politics, self-negation, and new formal possibilities – and will be present to some degree in any instance of the avant-garde. We need to find ways of positioning negativity that do not end in a predictable result: sterility or recuperation, a decline of force or a reintegration into the whole. Rather than reifying a single, strained negative dialectics in which avant-garde agency performs a permanent refusal of integration, we need to hold open the spontaneity, instability, and evanescence of the avant-garde as a limit situation…” -- Barrett Watten, The Constructivist Moment

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