Undoing the Demos p. 44, 67
Amadae, Sonja M. Prisoners of reason: Game theory and neoliberal political economy. Cambridge University Press, 2016. p. 292
Campeones de la WWW
Were the net.artistas successful? Certainly they did not single-handedly turn the tide against neoliberalism and its worship of market rationale. Rather, net.artistas' use of playfulness to undermine neoliberal rationality and net.art's Western-centric institutionalization is instructive for how a future politics might do the same. We should not evaluate these cases on their quantifiablw impacts (as one would evaluate a political organization), but on what effects were produced by the interactions between people and the artwork. Though the surface-level content between cases varies, they are all marked by a procedural rhetoric that manifests in increasingly playful interactions. They undermine neoliberalism not by directly criticizing its effects, but by questioning its underlying assumptions.
Under neoliberalism, market rationality is the only thinkable, sayable form of reason. Irrational playfulness allows these cases to build a rhetoric that is unintelligible to market rationale, offering an alternative mode of interpreting the world. Because play exists only for its own sake, it pre-supposes a form of value completely independent from the marketplace. Even where these works fall closer to playfulness than pure play, they retain the commitment to a non-rationalized, non-marketed mode of being. Without wielding an irrational rhetoric, like that of play, these works would not have been able to intervene in the neoliberal distribution of sensible forms– market rationale would remain unchallenged, the only thinkable worldview.
According to Brown, neoliberalism differs from previous stages of liberal capitalism by aiming to subsume all forms of activity, including politics, into economics. She asserts that, "neoliberalism is the rationality through which capitalism finally swallows humanity," that it generalizes the market as a form of reason itself. Amadae builds on this, arguing that the game theory framework underlying the idea of the rational market actor is impossible to reason against. That is, game theory is impossible to empirically invalidate or validate, so it becomes its own form of reason. For Ranciere, this generalized form of reason would constitute a dominant form in the distribution of the sensible– market rationality became the only thinkable or sayable form of reason. An effective political art would intervene in this distribution, making alternative forms visible, sensible.
As argued throughout, these cases demonstrate how playfulness enables a Rancierian intervention in this distribution of forms– undermining both neoliberal market rationale, but also the cultural exclusion it supported. Error#2 uses imagery of borders between Latin America and the West and a broadcast from Montevideo that is received by no one to imply a critique of closed borders (cultural and otherwise). But through its procedural rhetoric, the irrationality of interacting with it, error#2 makes visible a form of reason outside the domain of rational-choice theory. The political content combined with anti-rational interaction enabled a multi-layered critique and a successful Rancierian intervention. Naco set out to accomplish similar ends, but turned its play against the already-playful sphere of net.art. Rather than adopting totally irrationality, naco mimicked the superficial rationality of net.art institutions while interacting with its audience in playful, irrational ways. Though the emails and website contained a veneer of rational content, if read closely, their internal contradictions were obvious. Naco play-acted the rational net.art institution's irrationality in order to undermine its claim to authority within the community. In letting this playfulness emerge through interaction (e.g. navigation of the website, responses to emails), naco created a procedural rhetoric of irrationality, simultaneously undermining net.art institutionalization and the market rationality that underpinned it. Campeones de la WWW went even further towards irrational autotelic play, completely abandoning any explicit political content in favor of a totally procedural critique. Campeones was a project of pure play, completely unbound from any sort of rational justification. Thus, it challenged the dominant paradigm of market rationale more completely. Campeones used unrestricted website access to render non-market (playful) logics visible and thinkable and frame the internet as a natural home for those alternative forms of reason. Taken together, these cases illustrate how playfulness undermines neoliberal rationality and propose a diversity of modes and forms for playful, political art, each with varying rhetorical goals.
Neoliberalism and its commitment to the primacy of markets has pushed our planet and its inhabitants to the brink of collapse. Without challenging its underlying logic, any potential alternatives will simply be superficial reforms, not systemic changes. Berardi argues that democracy is subservient to aesthetic and technological forces and that the designers of our world must be the originators of change. Regardless of whether one agrees with this diagnosis (I personally do not), the need for opposition to neoliberal market rationality has never been more dire. The practices that emerged from the Latin American net.art community demonstrate how playfulness can embody this opposition in art, but that doesn't mean playfulness must be constrained to art. Wherever neoliberalism forces people to behave as interchangeable units of labor and consumption, a playful politics can subvert that rationalization. There are myriad examples of this real-world political play, like metakettle or camover, but they lie beyond the scope of this thesis. Net.artistas created a political, playful practice that made alternatives to market rationality visible and possible. For opponents of neoliberalism, such a playful politics offers a critical strategy for transcending the suffocating subsumption of all human activity into the rationalizing frame of the market.