For Mike Esteves, Vic Teaño and Adrian Mendizabal
In his Theses on Feuerbach, Marx differentiated what he sees as the “old” Materialism and his then “new” Materialism. The old Materialism, Marx defined as inattentive of “human sensual activities.” Terry Eagleton would later thread into Marx’ categorizations as materialisms which coexists with different projects. A scientists’ basic task is to be at least a materialist. Empiricism pervaded scientific thought earlier in the Enlightenment which made materialist thought rigid. The same can still be seen with scientific-reductionism of Richard Dawkins. But this speaks to us one requirement of materialism, that is, to acknowledge the realities of science, if not as scientists, as sentient beings. But, as the implications of this introduction show, we can’t talk of Materialism now without even looking at the ghost of Marx and Engels.
Materialism is not without its drawbacks. One thinking in a materialist way knows that it is an uncomfortable thought. Materialism makes one realize human “frailty and finitude.” (Eagleton, Materialism, 6) Eagleton noted that this acknowledgement do (or should) not foster nihilism, but realism. Much as this should have been a comforting notion, the greatest drawback of materialist thought came from its dialectical opposition with the (non-)narrative of pervading neoliberal thought which is perpetuated with new age (i.e. neoconservative) essentialism. Realism, in this age, bears with it a negative affect which eventually leads to a certain kind of nihilism. Materialism contrasts Herbert Marcuse’s diagnosis of a society without opposition. A society which is “comfortable, smooth, [and] reasonable,” (Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, 3) formerly pervading American industrial society, is now replicated even in the third world through UN’s globalization powered by Netflix.
I’d like to believe that the main positive sense of materialism came from its acknowledgement of the existence of materials themselves. Empiricism acknowledges reality as such, and nothing more. Going over the danger of humanist essentialism, materialism, as I’d like to believe, sees materials as ingredients for construction or as pieces to destroy. Much of the modernist practices of art sees the world this way: an art’s essence, if not shit, is something that is constructed and is always in negotiation. The same thing goes with every essence, if one is to look into essence in a materialist sense.
Construction is physical. The construction site adds value to the location where the establishment is constructed. So is essence as a construct. The materialist response to essence and essentialisms, I think, is not an impulsive renouncement of it, but through a critical inquiry of its construction site: not purely of the location of construction, but also of what is being constructed. Criticism meant to be a test of strength of materials. Its mechanics necessarily thread into the specifics of the materials whether they could stand the strain, to clear the cloud of essentialism and expose the level of plasticity of the construct.
Destruction is physical too. But what’s interesting with materialism is that, it destroys because it needs to construct. Material mechanics of essentialisms, once strength and plasticity are acknowledged, may construct material thought through the very destruction (or deconstruction) of essentialism: the fact that essentialism can be deconstructed and sourced to a certain location, means that the essence is material and plastic.
In literature, for example, its criticism tests the words as materials, which for Edel Garcellano either define or betray its location. (Intertext, 108) Once the material is identified, it’s only a matter of mechanics to see whether it supports or can positively destroy its location. The strength of a material, I think, is more defined in a society like ours, where contradictions abound on extreme levels. On a recent writing, I noted of an overdetermination of contradictions which defines our daily realities. Although, a materialist acknowledgement of contradictions never really gets confused of overdeterminations. Rather, these stacks of layers are considered as materials which define itself the contemporary so-called identity. In this sense, materialist thought necessarily partakes, or rather itself a partisan stance, to clear the cloud globalist neoliberal essentialism spread over the intellectual atmosphere of the third world.
As mentioned earlier, materialism actively supports constructions and do not just differentiate, say, the forest for the trees: it also acknowledges how trees or forests are cut to build either a toy car, a scrabble tire, the President’s chair, or fences around a still feudal-owned land. Materialism completes its thought through construction. It takes a commitment to construction of materialist concepts or destruction of essentialism before one can be acknowledged as a materialist.
This commitment to construction/destruction, I think, should only be the only ethical barometer of anyone thinking in a materialist sense. But its ethics, of course, is no more important the act of construction itself.
The common mistake of those who claim that they think materially, is that, when ethical questions arises, they responded with moralism. I recently responded to a thread by a “collective” over at Facebook to address an ethical question. [See Ibong Adorno’s Page] The problem by which its responders address is a fault of material mechanics: the materials being tested are not of equal calibration. There is a concern over an ethical practice of writing and its problem of political economy in award-giving bodies. Which, I think, can only be solved if writing itself is abstracted into the level of political economy: on how under capitalism, for example, writing itself cannot exist apart from being a commodity, and how the practice of commoditization itself — the cyclical extortion of human labor by Capital — is the main ethical concern, that the award giving bodies themselves are merely symptoms.
Capital makes victims and accomplices from one’s body. It coexists inside a so-called being. Under capitalism, one’s production, in the case that I’m addressing (and I apologize if this came late) is art or film, is already caught within this webmess of contradictions. Complicity with Capital do not begin and end with production, it’s there before you even participate. I agree, definitely, that self-reflexivity and acknowledgement of these realities and reflecting them into your produce, or art-piece, or film do not make it more ethical.
But to leave all these contradictions aside, for the sake of “craftsmanship”, so to say, is even more unethical. Recent developments in global capitalism assures more effective extortion of labor value from the participation of creatives and campaigns of diversity (whether in style or identity). The model of attention economy is more important now than ever. Media-streaming conglomerates expropriate even moments at-rest of laborers, to make it value-producing, with the ubiquity of binge-watching. Unethical, because, “craftsmanship” alone do not materially construct nor destroy. Craftsmanship itself is the name of a fetishized continuation of new-age essentialism in art. (Say, Mike’s criticism of John Torres’ oppressive practice of enforced meaning in both Ang Ninanais and Mapang-Akit, if looked at materially, is no different than an indie filmmaker’s participation with Star Cinema and leaving it for a pursuit of “artistic autonomy” — they are as unethical as they are both products of a bourgeois artists’ privilege.) It is on the same vein where deviantart, tumblr, instagram or facebook extorts artworks as contributed contents from possibly underpaid or unpaid freelancers waiting for their next client to make them a prototype of their new company’s logo. It is in this sense that Mao critiqued “art-for-art’s sake” tendencies of bourgeois artists: aside from its apparent uselessness as materials, they extort labor-time.
Dialectically, I do not really consider creating political art alone as potent. It’s probably the same as neoliberal craftsmanship, with heightened opportunism. It is only from commitment also for materialist construction and destruction which I see the fulness of a truly ethical production. Not in a form of “playing around” the rules of neoliberal capital, but in a construction site outside it or on the site after the current locations has been destroyed. Criticism and (art and film) production themselves are not ethical if not done so as a continuation and extension of the materialist construction and destruction of and for new realities and thought. Criticism and production’s progressive potential do not come from themselves — whether in form or content — but with one’s participation with the said construction and destruction. Whether criticism and art be useful once materialist construction and destruction has been done is of another issue.