August 2003
volume 1, issue 2



What we have is this, “We want to live! We believe in the right to believe! Save our world we must survive! No justice, no peace!” Meaningful snippets of songs given to speak for all our inchoate hopes.

This editorial was long in the making even though the issue as a whole came about relatively quickly, it was written from November 2002 until May 2003. The speed in which the issue came together is either something for a no budget magazine to be proud of or a horrific marker of just how fluid these times are. This particular article has taken so long because we have desired to capture something worth reading.

The milk days of the Seattle generation and Documenta 11 have now passed. Gone is the hour when Reclaim the Streets could easily communicate that Starbucks shouldn’t control the zoning board. Gone are the nights of cursing “Nike sucks”, when swearing “Fuck the Gap” suggested a burgeoning social critique. Today, culture is solipsistic unless it also aspires to address unbridled political domination. Though Nike still sucks, where is the point in swearing at them when the WTO whines to the New York Times that American Military dominance has stolen their yonni? In Seattle, Bill Clinton was said, however insignificantly, to have responded to the protesters concerns. Now, since September 11th, power regularly conflates expression with terrorism.

The reader wonders about the relationship between our hopes and the analysis that follows. What exactly is the relationship between these initial emotional stirrings and an analysis? Partially, the correlation between these personal dreams and the historic (though constantly fleeting) record is that one is understood as a recipe towards realizing the other.

An article of faith among progressives is the notion that within everyone’s heart is a progressive. I am not able to quantify how truly universal these stirrings for justice are. Regardless, it is clear that while our democracy further degrades under this repressive regime- institutions that sponsor the critical discourse and actions that spring from these stirrings continue to effervesce.

As recently as several months ago, we lived in the rare space of a huge number of heretics coming together under the multiple signs of “No To War in Iraq”. Having once been constituted in this climate, it is easy to imagine these protests gathering again. Acknowledging that our lives are bound in both indescribable personal miasma and clearly geometric social trends, we are tempted to use these gathered “focus groups” to distill approaches that facilitate future revolutionary moments. Yet we understand that it is potentially misleading to refocus from personal reflection to broad-based speculation. Individual body knowledge may be distorted when realizing trajectories of social theory- witness the outcome of International Style’s use as public housing. Architects and public officials constructed what contemporary theorists identified as enlightened structures. From the beginning the social venture was flawed- the interests of those identified as the public’s “most needy” were ignored, they were displaced and their unique communities destroyed. Once they occupied the International Styled housing, the public’s fickle politicians, theorists, and architects abandoned these monuments of the “public good.” The notoriously uncomfortable homes further degrade. Too often, discourse on social trajectories functions to justify pre-existing authority.

Nonetheless, we draw from these recent protests that “this is what Democracy looks like.” This Democracy- this space of post-modern performativity, with its countless identities hoisted on placards. Where we sing in call-and-response amongst ourselves- in these bawdy streets we encounter purposeful diversity and practice the beginnings of a multi-identitied democracy. One imagines the crowds an ocean of functionalized post-modernity floating a contingent fleet of social agreements.

This democracy recedes with the right-wing’s aggressive media strategy and successful institution building. The Reagan Phenomenon crippled the progressive left, making it increasingly unable to gain traction in setting the public agenda. “So what if Iraq had no weapons of mass-destruction at the ready, this was a war for freedom!” The Right is able to co-opt feelings of compassion and to metastasize the media image of a revolutionary to fit the Gingrich/Rove/Bush agenda. Many people’s sincere passions have been suckered for often-tacit support of fucked up agendas.

Regardless, the left perseveres. We credit the institutions that have maintained its representation… those venerable galleries, meeting halls, social groups, museums, clubs and political parties which are supported by Anabaptists, Stalinists, counter-culture freaks, academic Marxists and others. Each of these war-horses display their own unique commitment to representing living or lived social expression.

In addition to offering thanks, we find it worthwhile to examine the face-lifts these organizations have undergone in adjusting their constitution to their understandings of the moment’s needs. Los Angeles’ so jubilant anti-war marches always crashed into a pathetic stage featuring stale rock stars, actors and political functionaries congratulating us for attending. Why didn’t organizers facilitate the crowd instead of swaying us with the nostalgic strains of Jackson Browne, Slash and the Moody Blues? Like other less effective Seattle-style protests, this strategy reified the work of institutional functionaries and asked all others (whether they actually attended the protest or not) to only act as good spectators. Instead of thinking more tactically by engaging, vocalizing and infiltrating marginal anti-war voices (in this case the communities which were new to activism), or by becoming self-critical machines, much of the independent media did no better then protest organizers by focusing instead on the areas where activist/journalists could most comfortably replicate their own scene (amongst traditional leftist circles). Despite claims that this was the most expedient form to stop the war, the internal politics and personal needs of activists and their organizations were clearly got mixed in with their representation of dissent.

Attempting to be conscious of these games then, the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest finds it urgent to distinguish our own professional history from what we see as historical necessities- to find a real edge to stand on. The editors of this magazine are activists of some experience, dilettantes who received Masters Degrees from one of the country’s more “prestigious” art schools. We imagine ourselves educated heirs to a troubled but noble legacy. In this light, we wonder as never before if we are turned off by certain styles of protest art and fine art as in a knee-jerk response to a bad haircut or as a response to a deeper understanding of a style’s ineffectively. With the urgency of the political crisis we are more tempted now to say “it’s all good”- that it is not for us to judge the validity of an individual expression. We are generous with individuated expression, criticality arrives when claims are made that the expression has become particularly meaningful to greater society.

Without a particular aesthetic edge then, we turn to conceptualizing formal change. Within Capitalism, change occurs where bureaucrats have not planned for it. This statement at once supports the lie that we must wait until they fuck up for change to come, it also implicitly acknowledges the opposite- that we can create change if we plan for it.

Though our schizophrenic pop-culture suggests that 1 person can change the world, this is not so. It is undeniable that social changes result from the work of many social bodies. Hegemonic power rewards lone wolves partially because they are not a threat. Groups constituted with attitude are the threat.

Hegemonic power can’t incorporate whole-clothe a culture that finds its vision away from their electrified broadcast towers. Alternative cultures create ecosystems to support their own continuity. This Journal is but one expression growing in these biospheres. The Journal cannot afford to give cash to writers for their passionate testaments. Instead we offer them a platform of public expression. We hope that readers take the resulting thoughts to mind and inspect the architecture.

We want our words to matter for very personal reasons. If our words were called human, heavy, anarchic, beatific, right on, poetic it would all just feel so right.
Of what use are ideas and actions that avoid market rationality? Of what use are ideas that disallow their own institutionalization? Of what use are words that avoid capitalist functionalization? Of what use are ideas that are dangerous?

The rumor circulated by the right that the Clinton staff stole, upon vacating the White house, all the G’s and W’s from the computers clearly reveals the link between the written word and power.

We want our actions to matter for very personal reasons. Speak and the House Finance Committee suddenly budgets for healthcare. Act and a company stops polluting the air. Gather co-conspirators and plot a revolution. All magic- unless we find the right spell to make it real.

Alternatively, it is worth noting the implied reciprocity of the democratic ideal. In these large rallies where identities are willfully displayed, most people silently shake on a pact to have a good time. Without the pact, marches would be rage externalized, a fuckin’ riot. Instead, the rain falling on LA’s March 5th rally against the war was a whispered kiss with thousands quickly altering their normal raingear to make costumes for the fete. Umbrellas, tarps and raincoats served as uniquely crafted billboards, props not meant for passers-by (who walks in LA, in the rain?) but as a means to communicate passionate personal commitments to other marchers. This exchange of meanings between heretics possibly reveals one of our most powerful currencies.
The currency is yearning. The strength of this currency is its irreducibility. Much has been learned by our readers on Hakim Bey’s conception of the Temporary Autonomous Zone- the highly personal yet publicly created experience. The space created in sharing these thrills is powerful and outside easy meaning. Ideally, the successful institution builds out on this same energy. Perhaps it is from these highly personal meanings that people eventually come to desire political change. What words do we really have to contain the energy of 50,022 nightmares, 398,206 heads leaving the pillow early in the morning before a march, 2,489, 328 employees taking a morning shower? -the point is that we continue to try. Ideally, such institutions constitute contingent meanings stretching in appropriate directions...