All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are residual monarchical concepts.
—STATHIS GOURGOURIS, The Perils of the One
I SHOULD BE VERY clear then about my target, which is not exceptionalism at large but a specific kind of exceptionalism that has often been tied to Schmitt. My suggestion is, however, that such exceptionalism is widespread in the art world, and is implicated in the art world’s economic and political order. Indeed, it is profoundly rooted in Western thought.
In his book Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese, Byung-Chul Han summarizes such a thought and provides a countermodel to it. Starting from Hegel’s frustration with the Buddhist notion of “emptiness,” Han points out that “emptiness in Chinese Buddhism means the negativity of decreation (Ent-Schöpfung) and absence (Abwesen). It empties out Being (Sein)” (2). In contrast to Western ideas of “essence,” ideas that a philosopher like Jacques Derrida has done much to unwork, “Chinese philosophy is deconstructivist from the outset, to the extent that it breaks radically with Being and essence” (2). This orientation may have something to do with “the Chinese awareness of time and history” (3). “For example,” Han writes, “transformation takes place not as a series of events or eruptions, but discreetly, imperceptibly, and continually . . . Ruptures or revolutions . . . are alien to the Chinese awareness of time.” Chinese thought “does not recognize the kind of identity that is based on a unique event” (3).
If the philosophical stakes of this are clear—for ontology, for a philosophy of time—Han also draws out its aesthetic consequences. “In classical Chinese,” Han writes, “the original is called zhen ji . . . Literally this means ‘the authentic trace’” (10). In Chinese thought, in other words, the original is always already a trace, and “the trace always lets the artwork differ from itself.” “Its difference to itself does not allow the artwork to come to a standstill whereby it could achieve its final shape.” If Plato banned mimesis from his ideal Republic, this was because Western thought has an entirely different view of the original as what Han calls “monomorphic presence,” “monoeides” (in Greek, with “eidos” marking the Platonic idea or form) (11). But “the basic figure in Chinese thought is not the monomorphic, unique Being but the multiform, multilayered process” (13). Chinese thought breaks out of a monological notion of art.
As a consequence, both individual and collective works are open to transformation. Han considers for example how in ancient or classical Chinese art often a large part of the painting is left open so that collectors can add their seal stamps to the painting, situating the painting as trace in a conversation with others and turning it into an “open . . . field of dialogue” (34). Han analyses as the opposite of this Jan van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Portrait,” which, with its author’s name and image firmly inscribed at the center of the painting, clearly “points out that the named person is also the creator of the artwork” (52). This is unthinkable in the ancient or classical Chinese work of art, which is always subject to transformation and whose authorship is much less clearly determinable. “For example, the oeuvre of the famous master Dong Yuan looks different in the Ming dynasty from how it looked during the Song dynasty, with even forgeries or replicas defining a master’s image” As Han points out, there is a temporal inversion that occurs here: “The subsequent or retrospective defines the origin . . . The oeuvre is a large lacuna or construction site that is always filling up with new contents and new pictures.” “We might also say: the greater a master, the emptier his oeuvre” (13).
Some of this, Han points out, can be found in the work of Theodor Adorno as well; but whereas Adorno insists on the artwork’s “inexhaustible fullness and unfathomable depth,” “the Chinese artwork is empty and flat. It is without soul and truth” (14). To learn to become an artist, one must copy the works of the masters. If one has become such a good student that one’s copies are indistinguishable from the master’s works, if one has become the master’s equal, this is proof of one’s own mastership—there is nothing negative associated with that. “Creation,” Han points out, “is not a sudden event, but a slow process, one that demands a long and intense engagement with what has been, in order to create from it” (16). The consequences are, from the Western point of view, enormous: “If a forger borrows a painting from a collector, and when returning it hands over a copy unnoticed instead of the original, this is not considered a deception but an act of fairness” (16). Or, as Han concludes: “This is an extraordinary practice from ancient China that would put an end to today’s art speculation” (23). If “truth” in the West operates through “exclusion” and “transcendence,” “Chinese culture uses a different technique that operates using inclusion and immanence” (29). One can only imagine this, he writes, “in a culture that is not committed to revolutionary ruptures and discontinuities, but to continuities and quiet transformations, not to Being and essence, but to process and change” (31). In other words: one can only imagine it outside of aesthetic exceptionalism.
As Han points out, there is something “organicist” to this, since it is “nature” that “provides the model”: “The organism also renews itself through continual cell replacement” (62). This applies to the ancient or classical Chinese approach to the master’s oeuvre or the art collection, but it is perhaps more clear in the case of a building restoration, where over time all of the parts of the building are replaced, but it is supposedly still the same building (the well-known metaphor of the ship, whose different parts are gradually all replaced en route, also comes up in Han’s book). “Identity and renewal are not mutually exclusive” (62), Han writes. In such an approach, modularity is crucial, since it enables reproducibility, which is this approach’s central value. This marks the end of the idea of “genius” (68), as Han points out, an idea that came into being with Leonardo da Vinci and is a cornerstone of Kant’s aesthetics. Ultimately, this amounts to an aesthetics of de-creation or Ent-schöpfung: the unworking of the figure of the creator who, as both god and the artist, is theological and aesthetic exceptionalism’s central figure, with all of its political consequences.
Han is certainly not the only thinker to present Chinese thought in this way. Although philosopher François Jullien’s entire oeuvre—the divergence it stages between Chinese thought and Western philosophy—applies here, it is perhaps the chapter “Mythology of the Event” from his book The Silent Transformations that is the most à propos. Jullien takes on there precisely the Western philosophical notion of the event as a representation of “exceptional . . . irruption [and] upheaval” (116), arguing precisely that it is a “fictive or mythological representation” (117). Instead, and coming from Chinese thought, Jullien theorizes the event as “a matter of emergence” (126). Where Western philosophy finds the “incomparable, non-integratable event” (122), Chinese thought offers “a silent maturation of the negative” (121), which, when “conditions are ripe for it” (119), leads the event to emerge.
Singling out Alain Badiou’s thought as an example of how “the event still continues to fertilize philosophy today” (122), Jullien considers the “characteristic of Chinese thought” to be “precisely to dissolve the event” (126). Thus, the event enters into an “equality with others, without privileging one moment or excepting it in relation to all moments” (126–27). Chinese thought, as he puts it, “absorb[s] the prestige of the event” (127). Recalling Wolin’s criticism of Schmitt’s politics as being too focused on the aesthetic of shock, it’s worth noting that in Jullien’s Chinese thought the “brutality of the ‘event’ [only] amazes us, because we have not known how to distinguish the silent transformation which has imperceptibly led to it” (129–30). Chinese thought does not know rupture. If Jullien mobilizes such thought here, it is against what he characterizes as the “reign,” the “dictatorship” even (130), of the event, which has discreetly infiltrated all communication. If Han’s book risks, at times, to look a little thin, it is Jullien’s deep knowledge of Chinese thought that can be brought in to back up the core of Han’s shanzhai project.
Nevertheless, some questions remain. It would be interesting to consider, first of all, the historical location of Han’s claims and ask whether they also apply to contemporary Chinese art. Most likely, it would appear that contemporary Chinese art has been fully Westernized, i.e., fully folded within the logic of aesthetic exceptionalism, which makes sense from a financial point of view.
Second, one should ask whether Western aesthetics has always corresponded to the image that Han sketches of it here, or whether that image is historically located. When it comes to the issue of reproducibility, for example, it seems dubious that it can be used transhistorically to oppose China and the West. In some of his work on aesthetics, the French philosopher Bernard Stiegler recalls how in paintings representing the Louvre just a few years after it opened, “one can see that the visitors, who are most definitely almost all artists, mostly reproduce paintings there.” At least at that time—the museum opened in 1793—copying appears to have been crucial to artistic production. For artists and art connaisseurs at the time, it was “impossible to talk about a canvas that one has not copied.” In other words, it is through copying that one gets to have intimate knowledge of a painting.
Now, when Stiegler considers the shift in Marcel Duchamp’s work from the “wet” painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 from 1912 and the infamous Fountain (from 1917), he is interested in a shift that takes place in between these two works that concerns the status of copying. In between these works, copying becomes mechanized and in Stiegler’s view “the readymade is born from the serialized production for mass markets.” In other words, it’s not so much copying or reproducibility that are the issue here, but mechanical reproducibility, and this is why Walter Benjamin’s celebrated text about “The Work of Art in the Era of Mechanical Reproducibility” is an important resource for Stiegler. Today, with digitization, we are living through a new era of the development that Benjamin was already tracing, and Stiegler is interested in considering the aesthetic consequences of the latter. He marks those as a proletarianization: a loss of the knowledge of (how to copy) a work of art.
There is no doubt that today, copying has largely disappeared from the museum—even if, occasionally, one will find an artist or a group of art students in a museum gallery copying a famous canvas and even if postcard copies of works will be on sale in the museum gift shop. This may have to be tied to the disappearance not so much of the practice of copying but the practice of drawing, partly as a consequence of how art has developed. It does not make a whole lot of sense to take a group of art students to the museum and ask them to copy a Jackson Pollock. Overall though, Han seems correct in his analysis that copying, in the Western art world, has accrued a bad rap and is associated with plagiarism and forgery. The museum is not nearly as open to the copy and to copying as it seems to have been in the late eighteenth century—the institutionalization of artists like Andy Warhol, who turned the copy into a part of their practice, notwithstanding. In this light, “the use of the photocopier as a creative tool” as it was explored in the “Experiments in Electrostatics” exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York can partly be read as a reaction against these developments. That is so even if this exhibition deals with mechanical reproduction rather than craft-based copying. It is not insignificant, given Stiegler’s argument, that this exhibition stopped “at the dawn of the digital era in the 1980s.” By and large, however, there appears to have been a progressive institutionalization of art as Art—art with a capital A—that is original and authentic, separate from the “bad” copy (small, very small c). Another indication of this process might be that if copying is still allowed in the museum today, only dry mediums are allowed. Presumably wet paint is banned because of the risk of interference with the original.
Strangely, this progression seems to have been set in motion precisely at a time when, as Stiegler in another lecture on aesthetics lays bare, commoners struggled to be recognized as art amateurs against “the practice of the Amateur [amateur with capital A], embodied by persons of noble rank, supposedly endowed with what the ancien régime called the ‘natural taste’ proper to ‘persons of rank.’” As Stiegler puts it in more political terms, it is “monarchical taste” that is being targeted here, and being democratized from the king and the nobility—only those of rank can have taste—to the commoners. A commoner too could copy, and it is because of one’s copying skill that one becomes an art amateur—not just because of one’s rank.
Perhaps then the three developments need to be read together, in the sense that (1) the democratic birth of the amateur (small a) and (2) their simultaneous proletarianization lead to (3) a kind of monarchization of Art (capital A), because with the proletarianization of the amateur, copying disappeared from the museum, and monarchical Art was instituted. What looked like a democratic moment on the side of the spectator was actually a profoundly undemocratic moment on the side of art and the art institution, as marked by the disappearance of the copy. Adam Bosse’s Leviathan, the frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’s celebrated work on sovereignty, can thus come to stand in for the work of Art at large. It is those traces of (1) the democratization of the art amateur plus (2) their proletarianization and (3) the monarchization of Art that one confronts in a discussion of aesthetic exceptionalism.
I want to consider in this context an exhibition by Alex Robbins titled “Complements,” which was up at the Monte Vista Projects artist-run space in Los Angeles in Spring 2018. Before moving to Los Angeles a few years prior, Robbins was based in London, where he showed sculptural work. At Monte Vista, Robbins showed six paintings that would probably strike connaisseurs of art history as familiar: indeed, the statement accompanying the show reveals that the paintings are elaborately crafted copies, mostly at different scales and most importantly in inverse colors of celebrated works by the early modernists Christian Rohlfs, Pierre August Renoir, Walter Sickert, as well as Willem de Kooning. The show also includes a copy, at a different scale but in noninverted colors, of John Singer Sargent’s Mrs. Carl Meyer and Her Children.
Robbins had shown other such inverted paintings before, as part of two solo exhibitions: “Sculptures and Compliments” (at Tyler Wood Gallery in San Francisco) and “Hysteron Proteron” (at Commonwealth and Council in Los Angeles). One can get a sense of the effect of Robbins’s inversions by considering a painting not included at Monte Vista, Pierre Bonnard’s Nu rose à la baignoire: if the original bathes in pink, here blue becomes the dominant color.
The Sargent stood out in the Monte Vista exhibition since unlike the other paintings it did not come in the inverted colors. Yet it was mounted on a wall with inverted paintings. Interested in the artist’s use of color as a highly prized aspect of their style, one that depends on its reception by the retina of the spectator’s eye, which in fact produces an afterimage of the perceived painting in the inverted colors, Robbins seeks to capture here precisely that afterimage, thus in fact producing as an afterimage of the spectator’s retina the work in the original colors. If the Sargent, which portrays subjects looking out at the viewer, may at first strike one as banal—or “inane,” as the statement for “Complements” has it—the gazes of Mrs. Carl Meyer and her children become loaded in the context of this series with a kind of conceptual excess that leads one to suspect one may be dealing with conceptual works here rather than with paintings. It is not entirely clear that the works that were on show at Monte Vista can be called “paintings”—in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.
Robbins’s focus on the retina in his understanding of his conceptual work is particularly interesting given Marcel Duchamp’s notion of the “post-retinal” or “non-retinal”:
Since Courbet [Duchamp comments in an interview with Pierre Cabane], it’s been believed that painting is addressed to the retina. That was everyone’s error. The retinal shudder! Before, painting had other functions: it could be religious, philosophical, moral. If I had a chance to take an anti-retinal attitude, it unfortunately hasn’t changed much; our whole century is completely retinal, except for the Surrealists, and still they didn’t go so far!
As the scholar Stephen Barker explains, Duchamp has in mind in particular works like Fountain, which he opposed to painting, associated with the retinal. Duchamp has in mind in particular the readymade, like his work Bicycle Wheel, which was, Barker writes, “astonishingly, not shown publicly until 1951, and even then, typically sotto voce, as a ‘replica of the lost original,’ a wonderfully enigmatic description for an object that ‘originally’ claimed to be anything but (an) original [it was created “for Duchamp’s own amusement,” as Barker points out, as “a kind of mechanical toy”], let alone a work of art.” One finds here not only the non-retinal, but the non-retinal in association with the replica or the copy, with the absence of the original.
Robbins seems to want to take up these conceptual issues associated by Duchamp with the readymade but within the realm of painting, outside of the opposition between the readymade and painting, and the non-retinal and the retinal, that Duchamp sets up. Such an opposition, Robbins proposes, is already false, and in fact the retinal itself already includes the deconstruction of the original that Duchamp associates with the non-retinal readymade.
Also worth noting in view of Robbins’s focus on the afterimage, the image that arrives with a kind of delay, is Duchamp’s insistence on the fact that the non-retinal readymade arrives as “hiatus, pause, suspension.” As Barker reports, “this is how, after the epoch of the readymade, Duchamp thought of the ‘Bachelor Machine’ of Large Glass: he instructed that it not be called a ‘picture’ but instead to ‘use ‘delay’ instead of picture or painting: picture on glass becomes delay in glass [retard en verre],” and he adds that “there is no better example” of this than Fountain, which arrived as a work of art precisely through such a delay. In spite of being retinal, Robbins’s work, too, operates through a delay, conceptually rewrites well-known retinal art as delay, thereby projecting the readymade into the painting and deconstructing all of the oppositions that Duchamp distinguishes.
Robbins works primarily with color to undermine the distinction between the original and the copy and inverts the way in which this distinction is materialized through the human retina and the afterimage that it produces of a work of art that it perceives. Perhaps for reasons of copyright, Robbins also adjusts the scale (again, with one exception). But the works are in all other respects exact copies, executed with the kind of obsessiveness that characterizes Robbins’s sculptural works as well. I am thinking, for example, of the sculpted books (for example, Karl Marx’s Wages, Price, and Profit which was part of the “Primer III” show at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex in Los Angeles; or Capitalism for Beginners, from “2010.2 Alex Robbins,” MOT International, London) through which Robbins sought to execute a kind of reverse move: the fetishization—as a hand-carved block of wood, silkscreened and painted as a meticulous recreation of a worn book cover—of a mass-product object that is then put back on the market (in this case, the art market, which would attach a much higher prize to the sculpted book than an actual book would ever fetch—even if the sculpted book is obviously not legible, is not a book and has thus been stripped of its use as a book).
It is probably not irrelevant that, again with the exception of the Sargent, all of the paintings that Robbins chose to copy are nudes. By inscribing “Complements” within the history of the nude, a history to which I will come back at some length in the section of this book titled “Complement,” Robbins draws attention to the ways in which nudity is caught up in a relation with clothing (the subjects in the Sargent painting are, appropriately, clothed), which arguably mirrors the relation between the original (the nude) and the copy (clothing), with “Complements” producing an inversion in this context as well. By inverting the colors, Robbins’s nudes seem strangely clothed; by contrast, the subjects in the Sargent—and in particular, the mother—appear naked, a nudity that is reinforced by Mrs. Carl Meyer’s pink, flesh-colored clothing. Robbins does not quite do away with the dialectic between nudity and clothing, and original and copy, but by inverting it he does open up a pathway in that direction.
Inevitably, Robbins’s “Complements” opens up a discussion about plagiarism—is changing scale and color enough to avoid the charge?—and forgery. Robbins has likely chosen the title “Complements” because it names his use of complementary colors to execute the paintings on display. But the complement can also be read in relation to what Jacques Derrida in his reading of Rousseau already referred to as “that dangerous supplement,” the thing that is added to something in order to make it complete. As such, the supplement is dangerous, because it draws the very completeness of that something into question, thus destabilizing, for example, notions of presence and originality. It is also dangerous because as an exterior addition, it risks to entirely replace that which it supplements. The complement, which according to Derrida (who consults the Robert’s French Dictionary for this) is distinct from the supplement because it is an internal—rather than external—addition. If the complement as such does not quite pose the threat of replacement, then, it still carries some of that danger that Derrida—via Rousseau—identifies. In this view, one could locate a Derridean deconstruction in Robbins’s practice, one that undermines—like Derridean deconstruction—key notions in the Western philosophical tradition.
Placed within the context of the art gallery, however, one senses that Robbins’s “dangerous complements,” if I can now call them that, also go to the heart of how those spaces—and by extension, the art world at large—are organized. “Complements” targets, specifically, what I have been calling aesthetic exceptionalism by bringing what is obviously a copy within the space of the gallery. There is, of course, the question of the aesthetic value of “Complements”: after all, its subject matter and composition, and to a certain extent its color (even if the works are in inverted colors, those colors are still determined by the colors in the original), have been copied from already existing works. But when placed on the gallery wall, the work also opens up an economic question, for the works are for sale, and they are being sold by the artist Alex Robbins—with no royalties for the artists whose work he has copied.
Interestingly, none of the paintings are signed “Alex Robbins.” Instead, Robbins has meticulously reproduced the signature of the artists who made the original works, in its inverted color. Something interesting happens here to the signature, which goes from being a signature to being something painted, like everything else in the painting. The signature loses its exceptional force as an authenticating element and becomes merely a part of the painting’s composition, an element that exists at the same level as the other elements in the painting. This is not a signature, but just painting. Robbins does not add his own signature: the work in the inverted colors, the copy, is not reappropriated through a new authentication, even if of course putting the work on display as part of a gallery show by Alex Robbins provides this authentication in the margin of the actual works. “Complements” thus undermines, in addition to its troubling the distinction between original and copy and nudity and clothing, the notion of the artist, whose person and signature authenticate the originality of the work. Moreover, “Complements” resists reproducing that logic of authentication by leaving Robbins’s own signature out.
On this count too, one senses an echo of Duchamp, who “signed” the urinal “R. Mutt 1917,” supposedly to make the piece “more impersonal,” as he himself argued—but Barker points out there is little logic to this, even if the signature “R. Mutt” evokes the German word for “poverty,” Armut, and thus appears to go precisely against a speculative art market that is rooted in authentication of the artwork through the artist’s signature. The gesture of the signature needs to be read instead as one of appropriation, especially in view of the fact that it was most likely not Duchamp who proposed the urinal as art but one of his friends, “une de mes amies,” as he reports in a letter to his sister. By acknowledging as much to his sister, however, Duchamp disavows having had any role in the arrival of the urinal in the art world, a disavowal that is much more effective—even if it arrives in the privacy of a family letter—than his proprietary addition of the signature “R. Mutt.”
As conceptual work, Robbins’s ingenuous inversion of the colors and change of scale likely adds enough of a difference to his repetition to set these works aside as “original” works. But one should note in this context that Robbins’s work was shown at Monte Vista, an artist-run space where artists receive 100 percent of their sales (as opposed to the 50 percent cut that is the industry standard). Here then we get yet another inversion, a glimpse of an art world in which the copy actually yields the artist more than the original. This can be an indication of how Robbins’s work risks upsetting the art market, where originality is the key component of price. Everything here, all the way up to the space where the work is shown, contributes to the concept of “Complements,” a series that by obsessively and consistently executing its inversions on all fronts ultimately undermines the aesthetic exceptionalism that I have criticized.
For indeed, it is the exceptionality of art that Robbins’s “Complements” is after. I would propose one read “Complements,” the very word complement (and both the complementary colors and Derridean supplement it evokes), in explicit opposition to art’s exception and the exceptionalism of the art world—in opposition to what, with Stiegler, one might call “monarchical art.” In response to such an exceptionalism of art, Robbins has chosen to make complementary art, which thrives in the complementary, supplementary, indeed inverted realm of the copy and seeks to propose an alternative aesthetics there. As paintings, one might think that these works are unexceptional, in the sense that they copy subject and composition of other works, even if they invert those works’ colors and scale. But we are not dealing with paintings but with conceptual works. As such, these works claim their unexceptionality in order to challenge, precisely, an aesthetic judgment that would take root in an aesthetic exceptionalism that values originality. With Robbins’s “Complements,” we are in a realm in which unexceptionality is not a bad word but a positive indication that another kind of art, another kind of reason of and discourse about art, is possible. This is the power of its concept.
I want to emphasize that with “Complements,” we are not leaving the realm of art, or proposing a relativist view of art within which everything and anything is art. If “Complements” opposes aesthetic exceptionalism, it does not do so as an art that one might call normal. Robbins’s paintings are striking; as conceptual works they stand out. However, the distinctiveness of their strike, of their separation, cannot be captured by exceptionalism as such but only by its unworking—even if that is not quite an unworking all the way into the norm. As a term, and indeed a concept itself, “unexceptional” is meant to capture precisely this unworking, which leads away from the exception if not quite into the norm. Within the unexceptional, there is still a reason one would find Robbins’s work in the gallery, and not just any other work. A trace of the exceptional is preserved: aesthetic judgment, the value of the artwork, or art’s vertical political reason does not go out the window entirely. This is still conceptual work by Alex Robbins, in the same way that Jacques Derrida still authors his texts. At the same time, however, art’s exceptionalism is thoroughly unworked into something else. We have come across this unworking in literature and theory, where the “author” has been declared “dead.” Could the same be said about the artist? Why not? If today, as per Thierry de Duve’s insightful analysis, the aesthetic question is not so much whether a work is beautiful (Kant) but whether it is art (Duchamp), surely we should envision the overcoming of Duchamp’s question as well into the death of art and the death of the artist? Wouldn’t unexceptional art require this?
One should not be surprised if “Complements” does not catch the enthusiastic attention of the art world, whose reason operates otherwise. At best, one will find aesthetic appreciation for Robbins’s work. But the danger it poses risks upsetting the art world’s economic and political order, and therefore it is doubtful that the work will find praise within the art world as it currently exists. Instead, and the Monte Vista space is part of such a project, “Complements” is a deeply political series in the sense that it invites us to imagine another art world, based on another economic and political order. This would be an art world organized around the notion of the copy, not as something against which such a world needs to immunize itself but as the very element in which it operates. It would be an art world outside of the “one.”
In such a world, Benjamin’s celebrated essay (in which Stiegler inscribes his reading of aesthetics) would still be legible—but only partly. Its criticism of mechanical reproducibility would largely hold, but not of reproducibility as such. With Robbins’s work, we are between the mechanical reproducibility that is the condition of the capitalist, commodity-based economy—Robbins’s embrace of the copy is obviously not that—and the aesthetic exceptionalism that (as per Dave Beech’s analysis, for example) would set art apart from such an economy. In reality, this separation of art from the commodity-based economy marks art’s appropriation by the postcapitalist, financial economy, which is not commodity-based but relies on future-oriented speculation. Marina Vishmidt allows one to associate art with finance on this count, to think of art not as capitalist commodity but as speculative financial instrument. Conceptual art historically emerges with this transition, and it may have a particularly intimate connection to financialization. The task here, to evoke Benjamin once more, would be to think an aesthetic that is neither exceptionalist (and, in this way, tied to finance) nor about mechanical reproducibility (in the capitalist sense), one that would thereby institute another economy of art: that of the unexceptional copy.
Ultimately, I understand such an aesthetic as political, in the sense captured by this chapter’s title: as an aesthetic against the monarchic. Although I have used the notion of monarchical art after Stiegler, as a historical understanding of art and specifically the notion of taste (hence aesthetics) as tied to the specific regime of monarchic government, it will have become clear that I also use it in what Stathis Gourgouris remarks is monarchy’s literal, Greek-derived meaning: “μονη αρχη—singular authority, unique authority, but also, given the double meaning of archè [as both rule and origin], singular origin, unique origin.” By working against such a monological notion of art, Robbins also works against a monarchic politics of art or against what I call in more fashionable terms aesthetic exceptionalism.