Revolution at 100: Marc Herbst

  1. What remains of a politico-cultural horizon beyond contemporary capitalism? Is the term “revolution” appropriate today? Why or why not?

Revolution is a silly word, as it has too many marketing connections. You don't go to Madison Avenue to find authentic meaning. So, in specific relation to your question regarding its connection to politico-cultural horizons beyond capitalism, the term hides this horizon with pizzazz!

Change is never not possible– the politico-cultural horizon beyond contemporary capitalism does not remain, limply: it pulses rhythmically and cares deeply in contrapposto to the clanging idiocy and brutality of capitalist relations. The composition of what will change is the pulse that holds together social relations and any social reproductions against the brutality of what must change. As such, it knows this brutality dearly. It knows it for it’s held captive in a manner whose liberation would be something different than a carnivalesque revolution.

Revolution as an overturning suggests nothing other than something new, something wild, and something fresh. It is now a marketing phrase trotted out in reference to something meaningful that happened 100 years ago. For our moment it fails to name things that would produce meaningful change.

  1. Where does the Revolution exist in contemporary cultural politics, if it exists at all?

Revolution exists in every press release! Revolution exists in the spectacle of theory! Revolution exists in every pissing contest! Revolution exists in the branding of something you just gotta see 'cause everyone’s talking about it. Revolution exists in scandal!

Meaningful change exists in taking time to care to listen and plan along lines of what must be undone and done, so that there is breathing room for common being rather than particular and special genius. Meaningful change focuses on what maintains loving struggle rather than approaching resolution, and finds the ability to be sustained in common being against the brutality of the system we are up against. The spectacle of theory and political art is impoverished by with the need to chase eyeballs rather than staying with the trouble. Meaningful connections and common practices for social change, the ones that I'm interested in anyway, are open to the world and by this nature commonly and generously interact with others. For these movements, contemporary cultural politics are a meaningful being in the world, and exist with every worldly engagement.

  1. What new meanings or manifestations might revolution take on in the post- or neo-colonial present, one threatened with ecological as well as politico-economic and military catastrophe?

If I had the power to redefine the term 'revolution,' I'd ask it to mean two things:

- The general provision for failure and the multitudinous capacity for systemic error—without having to pay an ultimate price for such mistakes.

- The awareness that the most distant and intimate other has a stake in everything that occurs beside us, and that regardless, despite the ecological binding of all, the ability for the multitude to drive change is informed by relationality and its ability to re-orient itself and others to derive different outcomes.

  1. Is there hope for political transformation within the terms of actually existing representative democracy? Is it possible to address climate change adequately within the terms of capitalism?


Beverly Chichester, Judge Hand Puppet, c. 1936

  1. What do art, aesthetic action, and visual culture have to offer when it comes to the imperatives of political transformation? What role might they have, more broadly, in building and envisioning political transformation?

The recognition of any crisis arrives when actual experiences with the crisis works with aesthetic forms to facilitate individual and collective rearticulation of experiences and feelings in a different and more meaningful ways. Channeling these emerging awarenesses through linguistic, cognitive and relational channels into wider cultural networks allows for an even further development of transformative politics.

Art, aesthetic action and visual culture can do any of the following:

1) Help individuals articulate the actuality of what is being experienced in crisis, against the dissonance of politics that would say they are experiencing something else.

2) Help organize among those with a shared experience of crisis a common way of being and becoming together in the world, besides or against the violence they have experienced.

3) Help generalize awarenesses within the wider world in a more general but equally meaningful exchange beyond who and what is already known, with others.

4) Create law-likely forces (in terms of organizations, monuments, traditions, general notions, etc.) in order to achieve more long-term goals. Engage in conflict with law and law-likely forces that oppose transformation (Silvia Wynter uses the term 'law-likely' to refer to human-organized forces of culture or governance that are able to enforce particular outcomes like they are natural law).

Within the above orientations, arts and aesthetic action function in the following manners in relation to pre-existing and developing institutions of thought and power.

1) It can specifically destabilize, destroy or close off.

2) It can reinforce or innovate within institutional frames.

3) It can open up new ways and connections beyond pre-existing frames.

  1. How might different subjects—whether differently abled, aged, or particularly vulnerable and precarious—be unevenly affected by the prospect of revolution/political transformation? What work is being done, or needs to be done, to ensure that radical transformation is radically inclusive?

Capitalism holds back change by determining how we should properly relate to others. A social movement from below commonly demonstrates the foolishness and inhumanity of such distinctions. Recognizing this, the common capacity for human relationality and care to remake the world by being across difference, is the central method of radical transformation. It is not an ancillary project.

Social movements, the likes of which I'm describing, utilize sociality rather than cultural law and governmental force. These movements are only as strong as their relation to their most distant intimate other. General movements from below require social solidarity that crosses law and law-likely cultural alignments in order to find common strength that forces reorientation against what seems to be settled law.

  1. In our counter-factual, anti-regulatory, climate change denying era, how might the arts support scientific endeavors? How might the Sciences learn from art activism?

In dialog and exchange.

Marc Herbst is an independent scholar completing his PhD at Goldsmiths Centre for Cultural Studies. His research looks at a cultural policy of the multitudes in the time of climate change, with an understanding that the multitudes have no policy, and based on field research into movements of dispossessed people, and critical theory regarding anthropology and critical theory. He has recently co-edited with Paula Cobo-Guevara and Manuela Zechner the book Situating Ourselves in Displacement, which explores the cultural and political strategies of marginalized populations to politically, socially and psychologically relate to their marginality. The book will be co-published by Autonomedia/Minor Compositions and the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest. Herbst is a co-founder and co-editor of the Journal, an independent non-institution which has recently released works by Precarious Workers Brigade, Ada Colau and Adria Alemany on the PAH, and the 10th issue of its self-titled journal—which is a non-cartography of climate arts and activism that thinks through the mess of the world.

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