Decline and resistance!
The new radicalness of the subject
The self has been considered to be irretrievably lost for more than a hundred years. After Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Rimbaud had introduced the notion that the self is not a fixed unit, not invariant substance, the bourgeois concept of the subject became a fiction in the modern and avant-garde discourse, at times indeed vanishing completely from the creative, critical process. Yet despite all the radicalism, classical modernism and the major avant-gardes took a stance primarily opposing the self-certainties and self-assertions of the bourgeois, idealistic concept of the subject. Artists and theorists committed to modernism sought to expand the self and - with pointed revolutionary emphasis - to transform it into a different life-practice.
At any rate, until the late sixties, the aim was not to abolish the subject without replacement but rather to translate it into a non-idealistic and non-bourgeois category. Its final demise and death was not ascertained and cynically proclaimed until the advent of post-modernism; the self seemed to be left behind suspended in a state of utter helplessness and indifference.
But since the nineties, the discussion has become more critical again. Slowly it is becoming clear that the subject has always been in a precarious situation, exposed to the game of instances and constellations of power, ever threatened by dissolution and decline. On the other hand, in a constant interaction with the other, oscillating between self-assertion and self-abandonment, the self can attain an unstable balance that may equally be seen as an opportunity.
Meanwhile, however, dubious alliances have been forged. Genetic engineers are working to create the perfectly adapted, perfectly designed, ultimately adjustable self-module. Or maybe just fantasising. Hypermodernists dream of "freely" instrumentalising the consciousness, preferably by capturing its neuronal code, whatever it may be, on a hard disk. And while ideologies of flexible self-determination are being offered effectively in media terms and profitably sold, every effort is being made in the service of smooth production to eliminate all sources of socio-political disturbance from smooth economic functioning. All subjective aspects are to be incorporated into the global efficiency machine - and thus domesticated - as folkloristic appeal.
In this situation, a newly radicalised subject is opposing, as it were, the all-powerful constraints of appropriation and undermining indifference. New artistic and theoretical identity strategies are engendering a broken, fragile, albeit (for the moment) resistant and critical, vital self. A "Second Modernism" may become an actuality.
steirischer herbst 2001 gives space to this artistic and scientific practice. In opposition to the impositions on the self. In opposition to the constraints of mercilessly globalised capitalism. In opposition to the ill-considered promises of biological engineering. In opposition to the populisms of every political reductionism. The subject is rebelling.