The End of the Economy and the Realization of Art - Asger Jorn

A rural landscape is foregrounded by two very simple/childish figures

Jorn on art, value and the realisation of humanity. From Internationale Situationniste #4 (June 1960).

Submitted by Fozzie on January 17, 2023

For humanity, time is nothing but a succession of phenomena from a point of observation in space, while space is the order of the co-existence of phenomena in time or process.

Time is the change that is only conceivable in the form of a progressive movement in space, while space is the solid that is only conceivable in its participation in a movement. Neither space nor time possesses a reality or value outside of change or process, that is to say outside of the active combination of space-time. The action of space-time is the process, and this process is itself the change of time in space and the change of space in time.

We see, then, that the augmentation of quality, or resistance to change, is due to quantitative augmentation. They march in step. This development is the goal of socialist progress: the augmentation of quality by the augmentation of quantity. And it allows this double augmentation to be strikingly identical to the diminution of value, of space-time: reification.

The magnitude that determines value is space-time, the instant or the event. The space-time reserved for the existence of human space on the Earth demonstrates its value in events. No events, no history. The space time of a human life is its private property. This was Marx's great discovery in the perspective of human liberation, but at the same time it is the point of departure for the errors of the Marxists, because property only gains value in its realization, in its liberation, in its use, and what makes the space-time of a human life a reality is its variability. What gives the individual a social value is the variability of their behavior in relation to others. If this variability becomes private, excluded from social valorization — as is the case under authoritarian socialism — human space-time becomes unrealizable. Therefore, the private character of human qualities ("hobbies") has become an even greater valorization of human life than the private property of the means of production because uselessness, in socialist determinism, is nonexistent. Instead of abolishing the private character of property, socialism does nothing but augment it as much as possible, rending humans themselves useless and socially non-existent.

The goal of the development of artistic liberation is the liberation of human values by the transformation of human qualities into real values. Here begins the artistic revolution against socialist development, the artistic revolution that is tied to the communist project...

The value of art is therefore a counter-value in relation to practical values, and its measure in a sense inverse to the them. Art is the invitation to expend energy, with no precise goal other than what spectators themselves can bring to it. This is prodigality... Some still imagine that the value of art is in its duration, its quality. And they think that gold and precious stones are of artistic value, that artistic value is an inherent quality of the object in itself. By this logic, the work of art is nothing but the confirmation of humanity as the essential source of value...

The capitalist revolution was essentially a socialization of consumption. Capitalist industrialization brought humanity a socialization as profound as the socialization proposed by the socialists — that of the means of production. The socialist revolution is the fulfillment of the capitalist revolution. The one element removed from the capitalist system is saving, because consumption's richness has already been eliminated by the capitalists themselves. It is so rare to find a capitalist these days whose consumption exceeds the meanest demands. The difference between the lifestyle a great lord of the 17th century and that of a great capitalist of the Rockefeller era is ridiculous, and the gap is always widening.

The richness of consumption's variability was economized by capitalism, because the commodity is nothing but an object of socialized use. It is for this reason that sociologists avoid occupying themselves with the object of use.

The socialization of the object of use, which can be considered as a commodity, has three principle aspects:

a) On its own, the object of use of a common interest, desired by a great enough quantity of people, can serve as a commodity. The ideal commodity is the object desired by all. In order to open the way toward such a socialization of industrial production, capitalism must destroy the idea of individual and artisanal production, under the guise of "formalism";

b) In order to discuss the commodity, it is necessary to have a quantity of exactly the same object. Industry is only concerned with objects in series, manufactured in larger and larger numbers;

c) Capitalist production is characterized by a propaganda of popular consumption that reaches incredible power and volume. The demand for a socialist production is only the logical consequence of the demand for a socialized consumption.

Currency is the completely socialized commodity, showing everyone the measure of common value...

Socialization really constitutes a system built on absolute saving. Indeed, let us consider the object of use. We have indicated that the object of use becomes a commodity the moment as soon as it becomes useless, when the causal link between consumption and production is exhausted. On its own, an object of use is transformed in saving, stockpiling, becoming a commodity, but only in the case where a quantity of objects is stockpiled. This system of storage, which is the root of the commodity, is not eliminated by socialism. In fact, the opposite is true: the socialist system is founded on the stockpiling without exception of all production before its distribution, with the goal of perfect control of this distribution.

To date, no analysis has been made of accumulation — of stockpiling or saving — in its own form, that is the form of the container. Stockpiling occurs according to the relationship between container and its contents. We remarked initially that the substance, known as the contents, is none other than process; and in the form of content, it signifies a material in storage, a latent force. But we have always considered it from its own stable form. The form of a container is a form contrary to the form of its contents; its function is to prevent the contents from entering into process, except in controlled and limited conditions. The container-form is therefore a somewhat different thing to the form of the material itself, where there is never anything but the form of the contents; here one of term is found to be in absolute contradiction with the other. It is only in the domain of biology that the container becomes a basic function. All biological life has evolved, so to speak, by opposing the container-forms with the forms of the material. Technological development continues on the same path; all systems of measurement, of scientific control, are placed in the relationship of objective forms to container-forms.

Container-forms are established contradicting measured forms. The container-form normally conceals the form of its contents, and thus possesses a third form: that of appearance. These three forms are never clearly distinguished in discussions on form...

Money is the measure of time in social space... In a given space, that of society, money is the means of imposing speed itself. The invention of currency is the basis of 'scientific' socialism, and the destruction of currency will be the basis of the supersession of this mechanical socialism. Currency is the work of art transformed into numbers. The realization of communism will be the transformation of the work of art in the totality of everyday life...

Wherever it is manifest (in capitalism, in reformism, in so-called 'communist' power) bureaucracy appears as the realization of common counter-revolutionary socialization, in a certain manner, in the various rival sectors of the modern world. Bureaucracy is the container-form of society: standing in the way of process — standing in the way of revolution. In the name of the control of the economy, bureaucracy economizes without control (for its own ends, for the preservation of what exists). It has every power but the power to change things. And all change will always be made against it...

Real communism will be the leap into the domain of freedom and of value, of communication. Contrary to utilitarian value (normally known as material value), artistic value is the progressive value because, by a process of provocation, it is the valorization of humanity itself.

Since Marx, economic politics has shown its impotence and its cowardice. A hyperpolitics will need to strive for the direct realization of humanity.

This text is taken from a brochure by Jorn: Critique of Economic Politics, which will be issued in a series of "Reports presented to the SI" (Brussels, May 1960).

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From: