Plato is usually not the artist’s best friend, but the least that can be said about him is that he took art seriously. It’s true that in his ideal city, there is no place for a poet who “through clever training can become anything and imitate anything”. It’s true that he considers artistic presentation to be merely a weak imitation of the real ideas that he is after. But at least he took imitation seriously. At least he still thought imitation was somehow dangerous. Today, we have landed at the opposite end of the spectrum. Everybody loves art. But art, even the art of the nursery tale, is dangerous.
Primitive accumulation is a “nursery tale” that explains why there are some who have, and others who have not. This distinction exists because there are some who work and others who are lazy. Therefore, the distinction is just. You get what you earn. Those who are lazy thus have “nothing to sell but their own skins”. Marx thought this nursery tale was “insipid childishness” that is “preached to us in the defence of property”. “In actual history, it is a notorious fact that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, in short, force [Gewalt] play the greatest part”. The tale overwrites the violence of actual history.
So the tale serves property. In this particular use, it comes close to theology (it “preaches”; the example that Marx gives of a tale defending property is the tale of original sin). Given that in Plato’s ideal city, none of the citizens “should possess any private property beyond what is wholly necessary”, one can understand Plato’s suspicion of tales. However, Plato also notes towards the end of his book that tales might have other uses. Even the tale of primitive accumulation might have such another use.
If primitive, or originary, accumulation marks the fictive moment outside the history of capitalism when the capitalist accumulation began, then it might be necessary to return to this moment in order to be able to position ourselves with respect to capitalism. The task appears to be for us to write ourselves into this moment in order to be able to take position. We must enter into the primitive, originary accumulation in order to take position with respect to the capitalist accumulation that surrounds us. Any accumulation, if it keeps accumulating, is ultimately bound to destroy itself. At this point, which might be happening now, humanity will end up in the suspension of primitive accumulation.
So as to know what to do then, in that time, and so as to prevent history from repeating, we will need to prepare another tale. Of primitive accumulation, or something else.
References: Plato. Republic. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett, 1992; Marx, Karl. Capital: Volume 1. Trans. Ben Fowkes. London: Penguin, 1990. Image: Dan Davis Cyrano, digital image, 2009.
Primitive Accumulation was launched some time in the Fall of 2009 as a means to record the creative collaborations between artist Dan Davis and critic Arne De Boever, as well as a few of their friends. In the midst of an emergency situation that is both political and economic, the blog aims to stage a dialogue between images and texts that would empower viewers and readers to not simply face up to the challenges of their times, but to generate new works in response to them. Our philosophy is that crisis is not a problem, but should be embraced as the source of new aesthetic, ethical, and political possibilities. So far, the images on the site have ranged from scratchboard drawings, to pencil and India ink on paper, to digital images; the texts have addressed key questions in ethical and political thought from Ancient Greece to the present. Although initially, the blog will only record work by its founders, our aim is to include, little by little, works by other artists and writers so as to intensify the process of creative accumulation until the point of its destruction, when the blog will burst out of its frame and the virtual accumulation it has staged will take over reality. After this break has occurred, the works featured on Primitive Accumulation will be gathered for a show at a gallery in London, where a self-published book with images and texts from the site will be launched. The book will be an open access publication that will be freely available on the site. Contact us if you want to be involved.
Image: Dan Davis, Hell(ed), oil on canvas, 25 x 35,5 cm, 2009.