Museum of Non-Participation
Aesthetics of Resistance
Reading Group
2010
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  • Aesthetics of Resistance Reading Group

    Inseparable from economic advantage was the superiority of knowledge. Ownership involved greed, and the advantaged tried as long as possible to block the road to education for the have-nots. The privileges of the ruling class could not be eliminated until we gained insight into the conditions and acquired fundamental knowledge. We kept getting repulsed over and over because our ability to think, to deduce, and conclude was insufficiently developed. The state of affairs began changing with the realisation that the upper classes essentially opposed our thirst for knowledge. Ever since, our most important goal was to conquer an education, a skill. In every field of research, by using any means, cunning and strength of mind. From the very outset, our studying was rebellion. We gathered material to defend ourselves and prepare a conquest. Seldom haphazardly, mostly because we continued with the things we understood, we moved from one object to the next, fending off weariness and familiar perspectives as well as the constant argument that we could not be up to the strain of self-education at the end of the workday. While our numb minds often had to squeeze out of a void and relearn nimbleness after monotony, we did not want paid labour to be either derogated or despised. In rejecting the opinion that it was a special achievement for people like us to deal with artistic, scientific, and scholarly problems, we wished to maintain ourselves in work that did not belong to us Once, we had furiously refused to admit that reading a book, going to an art gallery, a concert hall, a theatre would require extra sweat and racking of the mind. Meanwhile our attempts to escape speechlessness were among the functions of lives, the things we thereby found were first articulations, they were basic patterns for overcoming muteness and measuring the steps into a cultural realm. Our idea of a culture rarely coincided with what constituted a gigantic reservoir of goods, of pent-up inventions and illuminations. As have-nots we initially approached the accumulations with anxiety, with awe, until it dawned on us that we had to fill these things with our own evaluations, that the overall concept might be useful only when expressing something about the conditions of our lives as well as about the difficulties and peculiarities of our thought processes. [Extract from The Aesthetics of Resistance by Pater Weiss]

    The Aesthetics of Resistance reading group came out of a desire to collectively think through our speechlessness. The group met regularly at Bishopsgate library. Collectively we read the book with the same title by Peter Weiss, a monumental, complex novel of historical events taking place in Europe with the fall of the Weimar republic which functions at the same time as a manual for anti-fascist self-education. Inspired, we typed up and published three extracts from The Aesthetics of Resistance to be given out for free at exhibitions and other events. Chris X wrote a preface to the extracts, giving an overview of the text while reflecting on its relevance for today:

    The story concerns three young workers in pre-war Nazi Germany who are in the midst of an all-encompassing struggle to use, re-think and seize the content of earlier art works, be they an ancient frieze in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin, realist paintings of Millet and Courbet or novels by Kafka and Neukrantz, to try to understand both the structural exploitation of the capitalist system and thus their position as proletarians within it. For them, the reign and tyranny of the bourgeois cultural order is never in doubt. But, they ask themselves, what can we take from bourgeois culture that works for us in our own self-education and collective self-understanding and that furthers our fight against capitalism? It is neither a matter of reclaiming old artworks for the working class nor of becoming artists and writers to compete in that same order but to contest the oppressive living conditions with the precise desire that culture in any future pos-capitalist world would come from ourselves, the distinctions between art and life being destroyed in a world of totally remade social relationships.

    The setting is poignant and ever disturbing, as the young workers view the final disintegration of the promise of the Russian Revolution of 1917 into Stalinist tyranny alongside the rising darkness and violence of German fascism. The final part of Volume One of The Aesthetics of Resistance sees the narrator travelling to fight on the Republican side in the last years of the Spanish Civil War where the determined practice of the Anarchists to hold firm to the gains of the social revolution are under attack from the Russian-controlled Communist Partys notion of strict adherence to Party discipline to win the war.

    But this is not a historical novel despite the slightly askew real life characters that come and go throughout the book. Its a book whose form is as startling as its content. Written as large blocks of text with various devices for contrast, juxtaposition, jumps in time and setting, the way the book reads is an aid to understanding the slow and revelatory way the young workers dig in, maul and find political use from the art and writing they encounter.

    The pertinent questions for us, and from this book you could find one on every page, are what are the ways in which we can self-educate and what are the times and spaces where we can do this? School and college education is systematically being dumbed-down accompanied by both an increase in ideological push against learning for knowledge and understanding towards sheer vocational training and a decrease in the ease of access for poorer people. How do we continue to learn, where do we learn but also how does this fit in with the everyday struggles against work, that time thief that prevents us from spending the days reading, talking, looking, producing things by and for ourselves.

    Also, how do we deal with questions and tensions around art and politics and what use can we make of any politically engaged art that itself isnt rigidly ideological. What would be a public culture that doesnt merely represent and bolster either bourgeois notions of taste and value or maintain the ideological positions that ensnare us in the totalising second nature feel of social relations under capitalism?

    We recommend you get a copy of The Aesthetics of Resistance and devour it. We also highly recommend the value of reading this book as part of a reading group.





  • Acts of Definition / Redefinition:
    The Aesthetics of Fatigue

    Text by AofR working Group

    Cultural work was Coppis term for the transition from the enclosure in the factory to the openness of the night school class, for getting there was the achievement, it had to succeed, it had to overcome the exhaustion that tried to hold us back. More than half the participants dropped out after the first few sessions. The foreheads striking the desks, beaten down by twelve hours, were made of lead by seven P.M. The school system took these casualties into account, the survivors held their eyes open with their fingers, gaped at the blurring blackboards, pinched themselves in the arm, scribbled up their notebooks, and during the final phase more participants dropped out, they only had to lose a week because of apartment hunting, job hunting, because of an accident or simply because of discouragement, and they were yanked out of the class. It would have been presumptious to try and talk about art without hearing the shuffling as we shoved one foot in front of the other. Every meter toward the painting, the book, was a battle, we crawled, pushed ourselves forward, our eyelids blinked, sometimes this squinting made us burst out laughing, which helped us forget where we were going. And the thing then shown to us when we viewed a painting was a web of threads, shiny threads, clotting into lumps, flowing apart, shaping into fields of brightnesses, darknesses, and the switch-gears of our optic nerves marshaled the oncoming storm of tiny luminous dots into messages that could be deciphered. We could recall all the circumstances along the road to knowledge because we remained in a constant stage of preparation, because we sometimes never got beyond the start, because nothing was handed to us on a silver platter, because the encounter with a literary, an artistic subject could never be taken for granted.

    Cultural work was Coppis term for the transition from the enclosure in the factory to the openness of the night school class, for getting there was the achievement, it had to succeed, it had to overcome the exhaustion that tried to hold us back. Being cultural producers, paradigmatic workers, our selves deeply invested in our work, always to be at the ready, on call, on duty, to leap at any opportunity. Not clocking on or clocking off but being always on standby. Work and lesiure blurred together. The foreheads striking the desks, beaten down by twelve hours, were made of lead by seven P.M. Smiling while performing empty gestures of data collection and service delivery eight or more hours a day, holding an invisible muscle structure led us to involuntarily throwing up during our breaks, regurgitating our position of contortionist flexibility. It would have been presumptuous to try and talk about art without hearing the shuffling as we shoved one foot in front of the other. We could recall all the circumstances along the road to knowledge because we remained in a constant stage of preparation, because we sometimes never got beyond the start, because nothing was handed to us on a silver platter, because the encounter with a literary, an artistic subject could never be taken for granted. We met to read collectively, the text and room inside the library at Bishopsgate, gathering the bodies around the table. The slow reading of a text thats end had not been translated, itself a deferral, a suspension of the consumption of the words. We sometimes never got beyond the start, the density of the text itself slowing us down, resisting the fast paced speed of the social factory. With each repetition we read a different reading through the book, finding new meanings and resonances, reading the present through the past. Surrounded by old suitcases and shelves of books, texts dedicated to radical histories, co-operative and social movements, ephemera and anarchist newspapers. What do we do in the face of increasing demands on our time, our energy, in the face of the pressure to constantly perform and produce? When our minds and bodies show the strain of overproduction, how do we perform otherwise? How might we carve time out for self education, for learning for the sake of learning, for doodling and day dreaming? The doodle that like under Coppis hand takes the symbols of the dominant and subverts them...

    Aesthetics of Resistance Reading Group
    The Aesthetics of Resistance reading group was founded by The Museum of Non Participation. The group has been meeting regularly for the past two years at Bishopsgate Library and 56a. Collectively they read the book with the same title by Peter Weiss, a monumental, complex novel of historical events taking place in Europe with the fall of the Weimar Republic which functions at the same time as a manual for anti-fascist self-education. They collectivized in 2012 and their meetings and research are open.They have organised radical history walks, screenings and publications and bring in other texts, images and sound pieces for discussion.