Organized by participants and loosely overseen by Sean Dockery, aaarg's archive included work by almost every major theorist past and present and many not so well known, and "courses" or lists (think "Posthumanism," "Queer Technologies," "Bodies and Time," etc., ), also self-organized, which people could study to learn about...well, a great number of things in the realm of the humanities and social sciences. It did encounter legal threats, from Verso, OMA Rem Koolhaas, Columbia University Press, and Macmillan, the most recent press to issue it a cease-and-desist letter, tellingly enough, not long after Macmillan had worked out a deal with Apple for the iPad. Originally it communicated via email, but that shifted to a Twitter feed that went kaput as of May 27, 2010.
My own experience with Aaarg was limited, but I do want to note one remarkable thing that happened as a result of the site: for several years now, I've been trying to reach the Italian conceptual artist Cesare Pietroiusti. I first came across his work, particular Non-functional Thoughts, while surfing through MIT's news feeds. (I'm known to do such things.) He had been a guest there back in 2004, I believe. I found the gallery that had originally published Pietroiusti's work, and contacted them, but had no luck whatsoever getting ahold of the book. So I posted on Aaarg to see if anyone knew how to acquire the book or reach Pietroiusti, because it wasn't in any library I had access to, it wasn't available on Amazon or any other online book-seller, and I didn't know anyone who could lend me a copy. Lo and behold, after posting this request several times, a certain someone replied that he would try to upload the book, but never did. And this someone wrote me some months later and said that not only would I be able to find Non-functional Thoughts online (cf. above), but that if I sent my address, I would receive more Pietroiusti materials--because it was Pietroiusti himself! I loved this; he not only did send me his work (several books, including 100 things that certainly are not art; a CD), but also two original conceptual pieces, one of which I gave out, via raffle, to my students on the last day of classes! The work requires that if you're its owner, you must give it to whoever requests it, so whom better to have it than my student artists? Perhaps this might have happened via email or this blog or Facebook or some other means, but I appreciated how things unfolded via and as a result of this peer-to-peer site.
What I keep thinking about is the how the desire for proprietary control, control in the form of copyight, of intellectual property, that these publishers are demonstrating, which I grasp rests on a particular economic viewpoint that in part does benefit the authors of some of these works, contrasts not only with the work of The Public School and similar networks, but also with the push for free access to intellectual material and capital--classes, syllabi and so forth--by a number of very wealthy and powerful private universities, including two of the leading ones in the world, the aforementioned MIT* and Stanford. As anyone who has access to iTunes knows, for example, both of these schools, which cost about $50,000 to attend as undergraduates nowadays, make a wide array of their material free (you must, however, sign up for Apple), and MIT in particular has pushed for open-sourcing its syllabi for some time. (Other institutions also make their course materials, classes, and so forth available, but nowhere to the extent of MIT and Stanford). I think that making this material available is an excellent idea, but I also realize that the economics of it, the questions of property rights (especially in this country), control and access, are fraught. While being able to watch online classes on computer science, or chemistry, or the philosophy of mind, or sexuality, gender and performance in the contemporary global context, benefits potentially millions of people who will never be able to attend Stanford, and benefits Stanford too, what about the students who are paying a premium to attend (though they do get a substantially value-added experience, including direct access to the professor, the possibility of collaborative work and face-to-face conversations with each other, classroom time, access to world-class facilities, etc.), what about the contracting nature of humanities and social sciences academe, its march towards commercialism, and the prospects for those scholars who would benefit greatly from being able to teach, with pay, these courses elsewhere? Also, I think about the complex issues of intellectual work, its status as labor and property, and its control and dissemination: who ultimately has the say on what happens to it?
Nevertheless, I mourn the (temporary?) disappearance of Aaarg, and look forward to its (phantasmal) return--in some other guise.
In today's New York Times, the distingushed philosopher and critic Arthur Danto has responded to several queries, under the title "On Art, Action and Meaning," concerning his discussion of Marina Abramovic's The Artist Is Present, which ended just a few days ago at MoMa, and which I've talked about more than once on this blog. I recommend reading what he has to say, though I found it too reductive, and strangely it left out Kant, who is--and this is not just my reading of the history and philosophy of art--utterly central to all Western art, and the understanding of this art, since the Enlightenment. He also says that philosophers aren't interested in art, which probably should have been reframed as, the Anglo-American academic philosophy profession isn't, because many of the best known philosophers, especially in the Continental tradition, have written extensively about art, sometimes devoting whole books (cf. Kant, Schiller, Nietzsche, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Collingwood, Adorno, etc.) on the topic. Lastly I was quite surprised that he holds fast, in the face of nearly 50 years now of art-making that troubles the notion of the autonomy of the artist, to the idea of Abramovic alone as the "artist," especially given his extensive writings on the conceptual and performance art of the 1960s and 1970s, and on Andy Warhol. It's invigorating, nevertheless, to witness such an august figure not simply ignore, but actually take the time to respond, however so, to readers and spectators who still had questions and criticism of his view of a given artwork.
Addendum: If you're in Washington, there's an Yves Klein show (1928-1962) show at the Hirshhorn Museum you might not want to miss!
Okay, this is my final New York Times-related post of the day, but last night I saw the following article by Sam Roberts and threw up my hands: "Black Women See Fewer Black Men at the Altar." I won't even catalogue the problems with this piece, which rehearses arguments, tropes and perspectives so tired they want to just park themselves by the side of the road and die, but I will say that I loved the incoherent opening of the first comment, which began:
"I'm biracial (Black and White), the product of a genuine marriage between German born woman and a Bahamian/Native American man...."Uh, in addition the shaky comment about a "genuine marriage" (what's an ungenuine one, or that be a disingenuous one?), this person's ancestral background sounds like it involves multiplicity...okay, I know, I know, we remain entranced by our binaries, and "biracial" is a term that many people hold dear to their hearts. Something must always cancel out something else, and the principle of both/and is a terrifying chimera....
But then, thankfully, there are always wits like this one:
Darn, this is sure going to make it hard for the tea partiers to know whom to take the country back from.
Believe you me, they have a pretty good idea.
We are not by any means as bad off as during the Great Depression, but the Great Recession lingers on, despite the government's regular assurances that we're in a "recovery." In fact, the same New York Times online edition noted above blithely reports today on $5000 bespoke suits and $4 million condos--Happy Days Are Here Again! Despite this optimism or blindness, unemployment rate isn't budging much, we aren't creating enough new private sector jobs, foreclosures of residential and commercial real estate are burgeoning, and the policies espoused by this Congress, the administration and economic policy makers appear to be still more concerned with wealthy investors and Wall Street, and cruelly indifferent to the struggles and suffering of millions of Americans.
One thing I rarely see reported in the mainstream media is the massive number of bank failures that are still occurring. If you were to guess how many banks have failed since January, what number would you propose, at this time when we're in a "recovery"? If you guessed 77, that would be right: according to the Federal Deposit and Insurance Corporation's Failed Bank List, 77 banks have gone under since January 2010, or exactly 11 per month. This is evidence that the problem facing our financial system isn't just the "too-big-to-fail" banks, or deregulation, or securitization, or the failed right-wing laissez-faire, market-obsessed global policies that have brought us to this brink, nor even the problematic libertarian and neoliberal policies currently be implemented to address our economic problems, but at a very basic level, a severe weakness in terms of capitalization in many small and mid-sized American banks. Last year, 140 banks failed. According to the FDIC chart, at this point last year 73 banks had failed, so the rate is slightly higher, but we're far beyond 2008, when only 25 banks failed.
I bring this up because I still don't think we're getting a complete or honest picture of where this economy is from the people in charge of it. I'm not arguing that it would be easy, or even possible, at least fully, to describe where we're at, but it's also clear that the government, the Federal Reserve, the bankers, corporations in general, and, worst of all for the American public, the mainstream media, are not being square about the true economic trough we're in or how little the current policies in place are addressing what's wrong.
The FDIC was a creation of the New Deal, and it has served the country invaluably since its creation, and it was the result of the spectacular wave of bank failures that engulfed the country by 1932, when around 10,000 banks had failed since the go-go 1920s. I may be a hopeless utopian and rationalist here, but I continue to believe that if we were better informed about even the basics of what's going on in this country, we would be better prepared as citizens to push our representatives--the Congress--to do what would be best for us as a whole, rather than just for those few citizens that happen to be, well, powerful corporations.