blew everything upWritten by David Graeber and David Wingro. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021. 704 pages.
One of the main suggestions Posted by David Graeber and David Wingrow blew everything up, their influential rewriting of human history, is that the prehistoric ancestors were not simple, unthinking groups but rather self-aware and distinct social organizers, living through a “carnival procession of political forms”. Today we might use words like “anarchist,” “communist,” “authoritarian,” or “egalitarian” to describe their activism, but this language fails to capture the sheer eccentricity of actual case studies: large cities without central authorities or agriculture (Göbekli Tepe), tribal states Stretching across continents (Cahokia), social housing projects (Teotihuacan), populations that switch between horizontality and tyranny from season to season (Nambikwara, Winnebago, Nuer). For 40,000 years, people have been navigating different forms of equal and unequal social structures, building and then deconstructing hierarchies, suggest Wengrow, archaeologist, and Graeber, anthropologist/anarchist activist. The authors have proven it, rather than being less More politically self-aware than people nowadays, people in societies were largely stateless more So. How did we comment?
Adopting the “Paleolithic politics”, for Graeber and Wingro, is to draw strength from the fact that humans have experimented with how to organize themselves for so long, and that the course of social change is not at all linear. Indeed, one of the book’s most daring arguments is his stand against a teleological view of our present conditions: his insistence that humanity’s first 300,000 years offer a past more diverse, violent, and hopeful—and more interesting than what we made Earth, and that may be true of our future. The premise is exhilarating, and its implications are just beginning to be considered. The overall conclusions that Graeber and Wingro draw from their sources have been scrutinized by scholars like Kwame Anthony Appiah, but I don’t think it would really matter. The book’s optimism, in the face of impending political polarization and social collapse, is itself a provocation.
What can such a book offer to the art world, which in recent decades has seen a proliferation of work that blurs the line between art and community activism? Art history is full of utopian thinking, but blew everything up He paraphrases this impulse within a long period of social reorganization, thousands of years before he coined terms such as “relational aesthetics” and “social practice”. Of course, we can’t compare artist training wheels, small-scale temporary projects — like Thomas Hirschhorn in the Bronx, Tania Brugera in Queens, and Tino Segal at Tokyo Palace — with our distant ancestors of the last Ice Age. For all the extreme claims found in press releases, murals, and reviews, there is a growing consensus that today’s most ambitious social experiments occur far from traditional artistic activism. The 2011 Occupy demonstrations, recent mutual aid initiatives, a wave of strikes and union motives across the country share more with the world of Wengrow and Graeber the prehistoric ancestors of institutionalized art exhibited by nonprofits, museums, and the Biennale. But perhaps we should think of a history of relational art with a much larger temporal, geographical, and disciplinary imprint. Not calling these grandparents, the artists say more about the limitations of contemporary frameworks for interpreting human imaginations than about their creative abilities. The authors suggest that social practice is not a subgenre of contemporary art as it has recently been mobilized, but rather the lifeblood of human political activity.
reading the blew everything up, you feel that political awareness is artistic awareness.
Today, it is easy to see the art world as a kind of R&D department of capitalist production, or as a weak department, the “experience economy” as a simulation of the actual revolution. reading the blew everything upHowever, you feel that political awareness is artistic awareness. This view enables us to view artworks with renewed optimism, as small windows to alternative ways of living in place of an “artificial hell”. Graber and Wingro date the first evidence of “symbolic complex human behavior” – or what we might call “culture” – to 100,000 years ago. They often cite sculptures, cave paintings, and excavations as evidence not only of creative expression, but also of the changing social formations that their production requires: large-scale mobilization of skilled and unskilled labor to create the two hundred unique animal columns at Göbekli Tepe, for example, or monuments of the system. The matriarchal in the art of Minoan Crete, where all visual representations of figures of authority were depictions of women. However, the book’s deeper implications for art are philosophical. “We are dealing, once again, with powerful modern myths,” assert the authors regarding dominant accounts of history that want to present our present conditions as deterministic. “Myths like this not only tell us what people say: they ensure, to a large extent, that some things will go unnoticed.” Like the artists, Graeber and Wengrow work on counter-mythology, based on new physical evidence.
The book also places art within a broader field of human activity: play. Not all Neolithic creations were directed toward productive ends: porcelain was invented long before the Neolithic for making art and figurines, and later became cooking and storage utensils; The Greeks came with the steam engine, but only to open the doors of the temple to evoke divine powers; Chinese scientists first made gunpowder for fireworks. “For most of history, the ritual play area has been a scientific laboratory, and for any given society it has constituted a reference for knowledge and techniques that may or may not be applied to pragmatic problems.”
The play’s guidance extends to the book’s analysis of social forms, including ‘play kings’ and ‘police play’. Within the Natchez community in present-day Louisiana, for example, the Great Sun (as he was known as the Divine King) wields unlimited power in the royal village—a shrine located in a huge dirt plaza adjacent to the temple. But the ruler’s authority was limited to his immediate surroundings. Outside the royal village, if the people were not inclined to obey his vice’s orders, they could ignore them or move to the wealthier neighborhoods nearby with independent business ventures, military uniforms, and contradictory foreign policies. The gameplay element has also been carried over into a kind of ritual hostility practiced by the Natchez, where every year commoners pretend to ambush and capture the king and prepare to kill him until a second mock war team steps in to save him. This tension between the king’s supremacy and the fictitious revolts of his subjects grew into real hostilities during the European conquest, when some regions chose to ally with the French while others did not. Within the Mandan-Hidatsa and Crow people of what is now Montana and Wyoming, a police force with full coercive powers would be created during the sensitive summer months around the Buffalo hunt. In the cold winter months, these entities will be completely dissolved, and these temporary “chiefs” and “police” will be stripped of all powers. While this sovereignty was no less realistic due to its temporary nature, the collective readiness of societal experiences, for “play” may have allowed a near-permanent flow of conscious political transformation.
blew everything upRewriting human history parallels efforts by art institutions to rethink law and its narratives of linear progress. An integral part of this connection is Chapter One on “Indigenous Criticism” as it traces the influence of Native American thought on the Enlightenment tradition. It focuses on the assessment of European society made by statesman Huron Wundat Kandyaronck, better known by the pseudonym Adario, in an influential 1703 text by a French aristocrat stationed in Canada. “I have spent six years reflecting on the state of European society and still cannot think of a single way in which they act inhumanely,” Baron de Lahontan quotes from his interlocutor in a passage criticizing the melancholy and bitterness of European makeup, its competitive nature, and its concern for property. (Wengrow and Graeber posit that if “the West” has any real meaning, it lies in the legal and intellectual traditions in which property rights are the sole basis of social power.) Addario continues, “To imagine one could live in a country that money and the preservation of the soul are like Imagine one can sustain their life at the bottom of a lake.” Adario has long been considered a propagandist or rhetorical figure rather than a real one, although the authors argue that we have hard evidence to believe he was based almost entirely on Kandiaronk. Even calling Kandyaronk “the American intellectual,” as Wingrou and Graeber do, is a word-level revolution, showing that there was a rigorous intellectual debate taking place at the beginning of contact between European and American civilizations.
What can we conclude in the end from the book’s insistence on “humanity”? At a time when many artists, curators, and academics yearn to “de-humanize” their work, blew everything up It invites us to do the (much harder) work of reframing the braided questions about what the human race is, what it is, and what it can be. In closing the book, Graber and Wingro modify their initial question – how did we get stuck? – By asking another question: How to normalize relations based on domination and violence? The authors’ generous rehabilitation of humanity suggests that we may not need to transcend the idea of man, but instead remember the older.
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