Brad Evans and Chantal Meza – Making Peace with Violence

What’s in the proposition of making peace with violence? What is the making that’s being imagined? Whose vision of peace are we conforming with in the process of this production? Which modalities of violence are we considering of befriending in the final act of our peaceful making? Is such a condition desirable? Would it require the banishment of all conflict from the face of the earth? And might that truly be Nirvana – or of a totalitarianism complete: – to imagine a world that can no longer imagine, for every conflict has been settled, every future determined, every life part of the sacred order, every political ambition quelled beneath the cover of an identity complete, every thought a mere living out of some technical happenstance?


The truth is we’ve always been making peace with violence. The violence we have in mind here is the violent peace we call the sacred. It seems that as a society we cannot avoid allowing our individual imaginations to fall back into identity. Even the most renowned of critical thinkers cannot help but demand we give ourselves over and ultimately renounce the abstract imagination in favour of the material promise – towards a collective identity that answers the question of where imagination comes from, what is its purpose, and where is it tasked to lead us in the future. If one believes that art is solely the creation of a physical object, then it will leave out the possibility to encounter a human connection within art itself. Through art we seek to criticise and rethink life in ways that otherwise would not be apparent to us because they exist in other levels of our consciousness. Art connects us with those abstractions bringing them in various physical ways into the world. Art therefore is not found in every material form, but in the forms of life we give to ourselves as productive and imaginative species. That is not to say that every form of abstraction is positive or liberating. Power has always conjured its abstract machines.  Indeed, we seem incapable of conceiving of a meaningful life without the need to sacrifice in order to give rise to the very order of our metaphysics. We find it impossible to connect the abstract with the constructed without turning the very material ground we walk upon, the very things we produce, into sacred objects of our desire. This is more than fetishism; it’s the volcanic terror we bring upon ourselves as we seek to make peace with a violence that’s seen as an innate part of our own creative ways of being.


The history of the human condition is a history of sacrifice that gives rise to a particular order of production. Such has been the triumph of gods and the vanity of reason. And such has been the vanity of man and the triumph of identity and its essentialised notions of truth. We know how creation has been claimed by the sacred will to truth and the demands to give ourselves over to the greater good. Everywhere reveals the marks of Jerusalem, especially the hallowed lands populated by secular theologians. And can we even imagine in this world right now a conception of production or even a theory of creation that’s simply for and in of itself? A theory of production that seeks the effacement of all identity and simply for the image to come? To dream of a form of transgression that’s open to the future and has no need for identity truly is an infidel art – demanding of the creator a wilful banishment and return to the wilderness.


The making here thus invokes a particular idea of production – the veritable revolution in the material fabric of life, which touches the insecure sediment of existence only to demand security and collective truth. This is often presented as the history of identity politics, which is nothing more than a chapter in the history of a certain mode of production. Such production is the production of the authentic as a form of sacred truth. This truth has taken many names, collective and true, but its binding condition is always pre-conceived in respect the discernible figurations its produces. We see this writ large in the preconceived production of official or Royal art, which proves in the end to be merely propaganda by another name. The making then brings something into the world, the making of a pre-imagined body, the making of an already conceived and birthed life, so that the contours and truth of that life may finally be revealed like some fragment of a giant revelationary and providential machine. The arrival of such production is the destiny in waiting, the manifest truth that is delivered in the birthing of the production that not only made peace with violence but produced its violently fated offspring. Hence, if the making is the task, the proofing that the order was always and already there contained within-the-making, peace is the destination. But this is a peace that can only be imagined as something that’s impregnated by violence-in-waiting. A peace that sees Saturn devour his son and Athena devour her daughter.


But this is a destination that only makes sense by internalising the beast that gives rise to the initial act of production as dominantly conceived. So, it is commanded and written that the violence is the original scene. In the beginning, then, survival, unto the end. This is the unquestionable truth. Hence, despite the most eloquent or terrifying sermons by the prophets of peace, it can never truly be vanquished nor can it be overcome. Peace thus learns to internalise the violence, tames it like a lone savage wolf, always fearing the return of the packs and revealing every now and again its shadowy presence. Sovereignty & the Beast. How life has depended upon the spectre of violence in the drama of its kingdom of political animality. This is not simply to point out that life has evolved in various states of ecological reckoning. It is to impress how we have been continually enslaved within a sacred image of thought that demands making peace with violence, without entertaining the possibility of another idea of creation.


Any discussion of the relationship between the act of creative production and violence must eventually confront the philosopher Theodor Adorno, who once infamously remarked to write poetry after Auschwitz was barbaric. Such a sentiment was understandable. What did it mean to after-all to even exist or to live on after its occurrence, to carry its barbaric memory and come to terms with the shame of being human? Thought, existence, memory, dreams, all seemed barbaric as the world survived. We might also agree with Adorno when he pointed out how culture was unable to prevent a holocaust. But what vision of culture are we referring to? And should we take Adorno’s pessimism too literally? Let’s be clear. Just as visions of peace (along with war and justice) have always made the political an aesthetic concern, political confrontation has always been inseparable from art and culture. The question is why? The answer is rather straightforward when we think about it. Art is not cultural past time. Nor does it simply represent the past. Art at its best changes how we see the world to steer history in a different direction. Art in this regard is by definition resistive to the dominant order for power and political control. And it is for that reason alone why art is dangerous. We are not saying art can create an army. But that is not a bad thing.  Art raises difficult questions. And it disrupts nice and comforting images we have about ourselves. Let’s just think of disappearance and annihilation. How many of us have shamefully compromised with power and even been complicit in the denial or rights to another’s existence? Life is something that is already outside, but is also within, and there is no escape. Creation happens while making sense of what arises, of what is been born, of what constantly grows, and what always will die. Undoubtedly there is a history of art that shows how it can be mobilized for oppression. That much is clear.  But can we think of an artist who has created systems of mass destruction, or thought of theories for the domination of societies, or planned sadistic experiments in groups of communities? Some may invariably counter here with the name of Hitler. In our estimation, he was never an artist, only a mediocre copyist who had no poetic sensibility; indeed, the violence of Hitler arose precisely because his dream as an artist was never realized. We are not saying he didn’t tap into the romantic tradition and the ancestral claims of blood and soil, this however was done heroize the war machines of fascism and displace the mystery of the ancestral with the certainty of nihilism.


In our support of the abstract, we could then do no better than return to Nazi Germany, which showed in the most insidious and terrifying ways how oppressive power truly fears free expression and creativity. In their attempts to control and censor the meaning of art and its public value, which was after-all integral to how society imagined itself, the Nazi regime orchestrated a brutal campaign aimed at revealing how art was responsible for corrupting the very fabric of the nation’s moral and political character. The early twentieth century was witness to a remarkable period of creative energy, much of it taking place in Germany that was particularly open to abstract expressionism. Then in 1933, Adolf Hitler came to power as Chancellor of the Nation. He would take an active role in reshaping the image of the nation, instigating his own cultural war upon all forms of creativity that were to be blamed for social decay. This would culminate in the now infamous Degenerate Art exhibition, held in Munich in 1937. Set alongside what was seen to be the main attraction, The Great German Art Exhibition, which showed classical works that Hitler approved of due to their perceived high moral value, the degenerate exhibition was meant to show how art could lead to cultural and social collapse, which as the Nazi’s knew all too well, would be an integral element in the war over the mythical qualities of the nation as framed through the virtues of family, home and church. ‘It is not the mission of art’, Hitler proclaimed, ‘to wallow in filth for filth’s sake, to paint the human being only in a state of putrefaction, to draw cretins as symbols of motherhood, or to present deformed idiots as representatives of manly strength’.


Some might rightly argue that we are literally a world and lifetime away from the violence of Nazism and its cultured wars. Could we not even argue that for past half century we have been living within an “abstract image of thought”? Alongside the so-called affective and aesthetic turns in critical thinking, others might point to the importance given to the arts more generally in providing therapeutic practice to forms of life whose most intimate feelings are now the staple for political discussion. All of this may be true if by the abstract we simply meant some unknowable inner feelings of vulnerability or even more broadly the terrain of the immaterial. The abstract has never been immaterial. That is why power has always feared its presence. It is as real as the black sun of the void, which is as explosive as any supernova.


For such reasons we maintain that the abstract in thought is the thought of resistance. It is the thought whose expression doesn’t concern itself with means and ends. It doesn’t collapse imagination back into identity, nor does it concern itself with traitors or betrayal. It cries out in the loudest of silent screams “Sorry I don’t identify. I am not one of yours”. Abstract thoughts and expressions don’t accept that the original scene is violence, though violence is often the subject for its concern. Rather than attempting to make peace with violence, it warns against such tendencies in the full knowledge that the very process of making peace is a way of impregnating the future. The abstract brings a creative conflict to violence to ensure that the violence never rests. But this shouldn’t be confused with consecrating ontologies of vulnerability, nor is it about authenticating the position of the victim. What’s marked out politics in the past half decade is precisely this condition; the normalisation of insecurity by design, the proliferation of narratives concerning a broken life, the determination of a world that’s inherently vulnerable, which, in the end, reveals through the cracks a multitude of identities of victimisation all now competing for the sacred title of those who feel the suffering most. Just look today how much effort goes into shaming others by those who truly believe the victims account of history is on their side. Whether we are talking about the feminine sacred, the child sacred, the queer sacred, the black sacred, or any other collective, we struggle to find any claim in the contemporary moment that is not tied to the affecter’s share. How so many have given twitter a literal meaning in their states of hyper-aroused togetherness, which laments everything and creates nothing but throwaway words.


Identity today is fashionable. It is the new branding, which sweeps up all commodities in its wake or should we say the wokeness of the present that categorises to include, colour codes to authenticate. But the easiest thing in the world is to identify with something that looks and feels the same. It’s not difficult to relate to a mirrored reflection of the self. To recognise the unrequited truth of the Other, because ultimately the other is me. The more difficult task is to be open to the transgressive, to love the very thing you know will destroy you so that you may learn to think, live, experience and imagine the world anew. Art is not created for mere aesthetic pleasure, because to do so would be comparable to constantly recreating yourself as an exhibit, in other words to present the analysis of nothing. Creation moves when the world disturbs inside. The vast majority of times when those disturbances are intoxicating.


This brings us directly to the question of love. The biggest conceit we keep telling ourselves is that love is universal. “If only we could learn to love”, the universal peacemakers say. This is the delusion that strangely binds all attachments to a condition that’s always of the particular. Like art, love is not universal, it is resolutely and defiantly exceptional. It doesn’t come easy, nor can it be given over based upon the order of “appearances”; unless the appearance means to love thy self. Love in this regard, like the exceptionality of the art of the political and the art of life, must be open to the transgressive in a way that throws everything into the creative void of existence. Such a love, which we believe to be the opening into an alternative politics, not a love born of the wedding of technology and biology, but a politics that resides in the abstract in thought, gives over to the other and yet asks nothing in return. This is not a love which issues demands, requires being visibly correct and insists upon a self-censoring for the sake of domesticating what may offend or be deemed as outrageous. The love we imagine, the love we share, conditions what is possible insomuch as it finds beauty in the imperfect wounds, not to define, but to rage with a ferociously savage beauty. If we imagined love as a territory of resistance, and if for a moment we tried to consider the possibility that it could be surrendered to the same order that administers the consumerist appetite, we could then begin to contemplate the amputation of one human form, that has been created and has been intrinsic to the countenance of life.


Still ever tied to the dream of a majoritarian future, we imitate and replicate, dream of the other for the other confirms the truth of our own existence. Such ambitions all too easily slip into theology, driven by the cult of conversion and banishment, affectively populated in these digital times by arbitrators in the court of emotional reason, whose purer faith, purer justice, purer feelings, and purer aesthetics demands conformity as it seeks to violently destroy everything else. This is the making peace with violence writ large, incessantly communicated into every hand as it collapses any viable conception of space and time, life and its transgressions. Indeed, to be transgressive in this moment is to be thoroughly dangerous. Little wonder so many are willing right now to speak on behalf or in the place of victimised others. In the very demand for conformity, the new peacemakers proclaim, the transcendental is most surely revealed to the world. The trouble is most of us can’t see it. Under such conditions, who needs art or for that matter the abstract in thought? Should we see art only as the most important inheritance we give to future generations or the generations that are coming behind? But what is to be the future and the past at the same moment. Are we all scrambled? Then, would those inherited objects be relevant to life? They will be much less so in the context of art, since art involves life, the present and our artistic action that is not only or always objectual, it should be instead an echo, a dialogue, and a sharing.


An inheritance always becomes hierarchical, valuable, sacred, and often untouchable by others the moment it becomes identical with the times, authentic and as true and unquestionable as the gospel of the age. Our wager is that we haven’t been abstract enough in our thinking. Art seeks its place in here, but like poetry, it’s always from the future. The visual might be claimed, but only if it seeks to interpret. But art is not only what you can see, but what the sight is able to reach, not to the exterior, but to the interior, how deep can you enter? How strong can you push and resist? This is why art is always taking us on a journey across naked lands. Where to search and how to reach and to connect with the many senses awaiting in their transgressive state, to confront what has yet to arrive and be consecrated as the sacred truth. Many of these lines will be already existing in their abstract forms. Through the senses and yet incomprehensible to them, there is a world full of mystery, the unexposed and the inexplicable, that which is not said in words and will remain in the realm of the void. 


“Life now parades itself as a work of art”, but the meaning of this seems to have been lost in the meaningless of its words. Left to the dogmatic revolutionaries with their worn-out words such as “progressive”, “common sense” and “reactionary”, even the “imagination” has been stripped of its exceptional qualities.  No. Not everybody is an artist, and yes, only artists can create art, as much as only pilots can fly a plane. Art left to the cultural censors armed with their sensory truth would be as dull and preconceived as any exhibition of classical realism in that house in Munich. But if only the artist is capable of creating a work of art, then the possibility to connect with the senses and bring them into the here and now, into the material, are we not indulging in another elitism or indeed another theology with its pure claim for a prophetic vision? There is a danger in saying that of entering the void is a considered privilege of the select few “artists” who can conjure up the future to behold. This would only be the case if art was seen in the context of its own productive isolation. Could we also wonder about the possibility of existing in a life of abstract contemplation, if, as the humans we are, we can enter into the realm of the spatial within us, letting the artist be the mere bridge that connects poetic souls, such that we find ourselves in that other vast and immense dimension where art is created? We also have to point out here the castrating life of the immanent critic who knows all there is to know about the wrongs of history and everything there is to know about the creative act and the real meaning and value of culture. They feel it into existence; therefore, it must be true and universally so. And yet all the while they call out to stop people thinking. In the space of peace, the space of chosen interventions, who can hold the truth of art, of our inner souls, of our mental space and determine what is meant, intended, implied and as true as nothing? Maybe if we stop projecting answers in our own torments, the earth will open up and its path will direct us to a more dutiful conversation.


Mindful of this, it’s time to listen more intently to the abstract voices of the ancestral, which continue to warn about how we produce too much and create too little. It is through these timeless creative echoes that are carried on the ephemeral dust that we learn to counter this schizophrenic demand to produce in a way that must consecrate a collective truth. Society needs conflict. That much is clear. Conflict is not the same as violence, even though violence may result when the affirmative is denied. Without conflict we have no theory of resistance just as we have no theory of creation. But the order of this battle, as we see it at least, is not between truth and nontruth, identity vs identity, law and justice, or even optimism and pessimism. It is a battle between the sacred and the abstract, which demands a more intimate understanding of the relationship between technology and poetics. It might seem on many occasions that creation is violent because in the act of finding within the abstract terrains of our minds, bodies and senses, that we are wrapped in an abstract whirlwind, where the expressing forms in the creative moment will be presented with those nuances of violence. Art as a violent image can be easily confused as the violent act brought from art, even though it is not art that brings violence into the world, it is the experiences in life itself where violence resides. Thus, if the modern condition has represented a triumph of the technical over the poetic as the sacred order for politics has been recast; it has also represented the triumph of the constructed sensibility over the abstract in thought. That is why it is important to go beyond the technicalities in art and the triumph of the new grounds for representation, where art itself can once again be easily paraded as having a singular or definitive truth. Moreover, placing emphasis on the understanding that no one can make art by focusing on technique alone is important; not least since technique is merely the mechanics of a doing a robot could easily replicate. AI can learn the techniques of abstraction, but never think abstractly. That’s why its advocates place so much emphasis on the retort “how do you know what consciousness is or whether you even are conscious of the world”? Art requires us to overcome the robotic mode, however complex its algorithms, to bring from beyond something that only the human can be and do through the senses, even if, especially when, it seems incomprehensible to us. Contained within art remains the unknown mystery that only we, through art, can come to experience as powerful as the primordial fire. 


So, lets end by returning to the degenerates and ask about the way they speak to the present moment. The degenerates never belonged to a society that had its own terrifying vision of peace. They certainly didn’t wish to set themselves up as some sacred object for desire, though they would be collectively sacrificed by the toxic winds that intensified the most brutal sacrificial fires. Yes – their story is about race and of identity. But to reduce it to this alone would be to demean what they embodied and to overlook the creative energy they brought, which continues to warn of the real dangers when the power of technocratic thinking takes over every decision, when a singular truth is imposed upon the meaning of art, when it collides with the boundaries erected by identity politics and its cultural police, and when ultimately a certain moral voice for reason uses progressive narratives to censor and eradicate, to shame and destroy, the most important constituent element in any claim to freedom: the art of free expression. History shows how those who were labelled degenerate were on the wrong side of history. They were the infidels, those who refused to accept the truth about how a society should be imagined. They were also more intimately connected to the human condition than any system for power, which instead of creating, in the end, nearly destroyed the world. Heeding the warnings of the degenerates of history, forces us to recognise the importance of their transgressions and the heavy price they had to pay, so that the freedom of expression is defended, and its right given the due prominence deserved. Keeping alight their abstract fires means refusing to accept the demand to make peace with violence, for it is, in the end, nothing more than the allegiance to a violent peace, which loves as it kills.