Let’s imagine a non-Euclidean concept of the “alternative” in which there are not one but infinite lines in perfect parallel to line ℓ, defined as the non-alternative. Let’s suppose also that in our system lines possess intensive properties in addition to their sheer extension: lines have qualities. The line of an alternative may differ from the non-alternative in either regard, that is, it may be distinguishable only in metric terms, or it may be qualitatively other. From this it follows that alternatives are not created equal.
One expects this issue of the Brooklyn Rail will contain a lot of worrying about what an alternative is alternative to. For a Ph.D. student who despises capitalism an answer is readymade: academia, as an institution of capitalist society. There. An account of myself.
Specifics. I study art history at a moment when it is unclear to me whether the discipline has a future, or ought to. I don’t mean that I expect the (immediate) collapse of the apparatus—the journals, the symposia, the departments. Rather, the collapse is here. It’s the abyss of knowing that anything you say can and will be used against you, because the totality is against you. Against you and everyone you care about, because the totality is built for an abstraction called “value.” An abyss, because you know there isn’t a way to talk about art without the abstraction catching in your throat.
To ask, “Is another art history possible?” is nothing but a particular way of asking whether another world is possible. Our great wager, from Tahrir to Zuccotti. We said yes knowing the words were a performance yet lacked their stage. And thus “yes” was only another kind of question—with no answers and a thousand. The affirmation carried within it the seeds of the question, like its open secret.
I’m not sure how to talk about art without the disciplinary supplement. Some artists—and for me they are, calamitously, mostly dead white men—have given us inexhaustibly rich accounts of the world and of our being in it (of other worlds, too), and in turn some art historians have conveyed the strangeness of their achievements. At least the latter group’s dead white maleness is less absolute. Art history is my last indispensable conservatism.
The coming destruction is to be feared and desired in equal measure.
DANIEL SPAULDING is a graduate student in the Department of Art History, Yale University.