Once I wrote a letter to a friend writing an essay. I ended up editing and translating the essay and it has been recently published. Now this friend has asked me to write, write about this essay of which every letter has repeatedly passed in front of my eyes. I ask myself, how to write about something that is not my own yet I know by heart? I remembered this letter, a letter that was already about the essay, and in quoting myself I avoid opening with a quote from an essay of which the authority is difficult for me to establish. It will also help me to abstract — always violent — from its recipient, you, Jonas Staal, to the ‘Staal’ he will inevitably become after the quote. The question of the author — who am I citing writing what? — already poses itself with all its force.
In the aforementioned letter I tried to respond to your doubts about the French philosopher Alain Badiou’s ongoing support for the event of the communist revolution. I related this support to his concept of fidelity, which you have appropriated. ‘You feel the need to engage him [sc. Badiou], by finding within another realm […] an event that would obscure the event of the communist revolution. And it is this event that you have located in a recent essay, entitled Post-Propaganda. This event has a maxim, “Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler”, this event has a name, “Joseph Beuys”, and this event has at least one faithful subject, “Jonas Staal”.’1
Staal’s declaration of faith to Beuys at the end of Post-propaganda is a culmination of an argument that starts with the observation that ‘if it wants to take over and inseminate politics, the art institute will have to re-educate politics’ (63).2 This re-education will have to take place through a facilitation of politics by the arts, in an all-encompassing manner that can already be observed in the Third Reich (77). However, in contrast to the over-determined politics of the Nazi empire, art within a democratic system is able to negotiate with politics (85), and will have to be the one to reconcile politics (99). But these words of re-education, facilitation, negotiation and reconciliation are incommensurable with Staal’s final, properly Beuysian claim: ‘All disciplines aimed at the creation and use of the public domain — politics, justice and arts — will have to be interpreted from the perspective of art’ (101).
The ‘theoretical fury’ that was offered to Staal by Badiou is finally ‘deployed as weapon’ (103). Staal has no other option; no artistic claim to truth, as voiced by Beuys, can ever be conditioned by politics. It therefore seems that the truth that Staal attributes to Beuys’ statement cannot be accounted for by the main principle of post-propaganda: negotiation (95); it would impossible for politics to contest Beuys; his claim is properly nonnegotiable. In post-propaganda, there is no use for negotiation other than as rhetorical weapon to lure the unsuspecting politicians into an artistic ambush. A complete coincidence of art and politics (76) can therefore be nothing else but a hostile take-over.
This also means that as Beuys’ truth essentially cannot be discursively defended, fidelity remains the only option. This becomes dramatically clear when Staal has to concede that in the end, his last defence is based on the assumption that any civilised society has to acknowledge an ‘existential, artistic and ideological satisfaction’ derived from the arts (98). So when Staal rhetorically asks us whether ‘we can reduce any ideal connected to a representation of the world to the arts’ (103), we can indeed answer with a Nietzschean ‘YES’, except for truth. A truth that ‘forces both parties [sc. art and politics] to publicly re-appropriate the power over the design, perception and realisation of democratism’ (96). But deploying Badiou’s thought theoretically to prove your right, also means accepting our own state of exception: ‘There are only bodies and languages, except that there are truths.’3 These truths are sheltered in philosophy, not art.
Staal anticipates my escape to the philosophical realm — an escape made possibly through his very own theoretical construct — and has already subsumed (‘sutured’ in Badiou’s terminology) philosophy under its artistic condition (cf. 97, 103). It is this suture that I vehemently oppose. In the same way that Staal has opposed, at the start of our conversation about Badiou, the imposition of the philosophical concept of ‘communism’ on politics, I oppose the imposition of the artistic concept of ‘post-propaganda’ on philosophy, and I am very well aware that this statement potentially compromises my position as editor of Post-propaganda.
In a recent lecture, Judith Balso, a poetry scholar I much admire, said: ‘Politics proceeds on its own.’4 We should add to this: ‘Art proceeds on its own.’ And Jonas, it is in art that you are proceeding, that you are writing. If any negotiation is going to take place, it will be on your artistic terms, and these terms only.