A second week of readings for honors comes and goes, and despite ever-present confusion, I feel like I am grasping the material better as we go along. Certainly having more familiarity with the Neo-Marxists and their positions has helped.
Habermas begins with a discussion of the public and private domains as they developed in the 17th century (with references to these domains in the 16th, 18th, and 19th centuries as well). I find his interchange between these terms and his schema problematic, but I get a sense that the traditionally “private” becomes “public” with the development of salons, coffee houses, and societies in the 17th century. Here, the use of reason was developed as aristocrats discussed matters of politics, philosophy, art, and literature with intellectuals as well as middle-class citizens–or anyone in theory who could pay to be there and get their hands on the information discussed. Private correspondence about these conversations, and letters of different kinds began to be published in the form of periodicals. Criticism flourished, and people began to purchase periodicals not only to read criticism but learn about the art and ideas that were the source of this criticism. Habermas essentially describes the development of the periodical and the press through his discussion of the transformation of the public sphere.
What I found particularly interesting in his discussion was the noted shift in artists’ ends. Before, artists were employed by wealthy patrons, especially of the third estate and monarchy (Churches or kings and princes), to create pieces for these persons–religious art or art celebrating kings. With the spread of criticism to a wider range of people, and the idea that anyone who could see or learn of art could be a critic of that art (even middle class persons), art itself was emancipated from this style of patronage. Artists now worked for a wide public of private persons (I hope I got that right…), and need not make art in the service of Church or state. This freedom, however, was counteracted by demands of society; now artists were subject to the tastes and critiques of the people, and to earn a living, artists had to appeal to these tastes. Patronage gave way to commercialism.
The prompt for this week was, “Despite their Marxist orientation, both Enzensberger and Habermas are generally considered more optimistic about the emancipatory potential of modern culture. What is the reason for this optimism?” I see, in Habermas’ discussion of shifts in art and the press, a sort of optimism or at least an acknowledgment that the artist or writer was always dependent on something besides “art itself” or personal creativity. He was in service to a patron, and was then in service to a public. With the domination of publishers over editors–or editors being employed by large publisher firms, rather than small groups of individuals running the whole printing process–writers were in service to the publishing company, so by extension to the market. Habermas’ view seems realistic and, while he seems to prefer the idea of the artist working for the public rather than for some large company or a rich ruler, he understands the pressures of the industry and the mechanics within.
Enzenberger is even more optimistic in his views on electronic mass media, seeing it as a means of mobilization and potential freedom of communication (despite the inability to reciprocate when it comes to television and radio). The lack of centrality of the vast sector of electronic media, and therefore the inability to totally control this sector (in contrast to the Orwellian view) allows for mass mobilization and personal freedom. Enzenberger in many ways seems to be anticipating the internet and its reciprocal, decentralized nature. On the internet, a blogger may report, but is equally subject to outside response; so to, Youtube allows for commentary, so that viewers can reciprocate. What’s more the internet, with no one point of origin, allows for a great deal of freedom and subversion of power-holders and “bourgeois” domination. Many a grass-root organization has mobilized through the internet to establish a position against leading groups and ideas.
Enzenberger, unlike the thinkers we previously read, sees the changing media as a future tool to be harnessed rather than a threat to the proletariat cause. He understands too that it is changing, and so its potential may grow (And has, as we have seen. He wrote the article in 1970). His optimism, or better, his pragmatic view of electronic media, and changing media in general, was refreshing to read about, and clears away any of the lingering, heavy-handed negativity of Adorno and Horkheimer.