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CR: The New Centennial Review 2.3 (2002) 139-168

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Is All Technological?
Global Power and Aesthetic Forces

Krzysztof Ziarek
University of Notre Dame

Aesthetics and Globalization

Linking global forms of power and aesthetics may appear far from obvious and unexpected in the context of debates about globalization, which remain predominantly economic, political, or sociological in character. Art and aesthetic questions seem relatively unimportant and secondary to far more significant economic, political, social, or more rarely ethical considerations, which occupy the foreground in the plethora of meetings, speeches, and publications devoted to the ever more important topic of globalization. Yet this remains so only when globalization is understood as primarily an economic phenomenon, as the opening onto a global world market, which is increasingly regulated by new technologies, and which instantiates progressively more and more technocratic forms of politics. Precipitated by rapid advances in informational technologies, this economic-technological event has been producing epochal changes in political structures and social organization, taking an uncharted course toward new, global, and transnational forms of the organization of power. Power in this context appears as a kind of a "joint venture" of capital, technology, and politics, where politics is [End Page 139] forced by economic and technological pressures to adapt itself to new, global ways of doing business, reflected in the globalizing tendency of both economic and political structures. It seems clear to everyone that political summits increasingly play second fiddle to economic gatherings—if such a distinction makes sense at all—such as the meetings of G-7, the World Bank, or the World Trade Organization, which set the agenda influencing the form that contemporary configurations of power both assume and legitimate. This means that in reality, the flows, circuits, and aggregates of power, instantiated predominantly into economic and technological configurations, exceed and regulate their own articulations into explicitly political structures and arrangements. This situation confronts us with the task of discerning what specific quality or modality makes power what (and how) it is today—namely, capable of both exercising a progressively global reach and assuming worldwide configurations. These globalizing operations or modalities of power ensue and function beyond what we normally understand as various economic or political forms of power, which suggests that speaking in this context of the power of capital—and of capital as power—is, while still of paramount importance, no longer sufficient. Rather, what needs to be understood is how all that is—phenomena, events, things, and relations—comes to be constituted into capital and, more importantly, globalized into new techno-economic constellations of power. The critical question in this context is: what makes modern power "global" power—that is, a power that is capable of "globalizing" reality and thus of extending and intensifying its own reach and "power" in the process?

There is a general sense that power today is technological or technical in essence, as evidenced by the critical role played by new informational technologies in the rapid evolution of the economic and political spheres into global proportions. In fact, it is at the moment when the world has become (is becoming?) global that one may be(come) able to regard it for the first time as a world, that is, as a unit(y), a whole, or a totality. In this sense, political and economic spheres are indeed becoming spheres for the first time, as they come to be operational and representable as spheres, i.e., in terms of the global operations of power. But as Peter Sloterdijk points out in his trilogy, Sphären, the lineage of the concept of globe and globalization goes back to [End Page 140] Greek philosophers, 1 which suggests that globalization is an intrinsically philosophical and metaphysical idea which attempts to grasp the whole of what is and render it intelligible and representable. Jean-Luc Nancy's brief text, "Is Everything Political?" makes a similar point by discerning an intrinsic link between the concept of the political, "determined as total, totalizing, or all encompassing," 2 and the economic tendency toward globalization. The political is here, as a...


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