Abstract

The question “Is nonviolence a possibility?” was a lightning rod of disorder in the 1960s as leftist groups became militarized, claiming counter-violence as the most effective vehicle of self-preservation. Numerous publications, whether advocating counter-violence as self-destruction or as self-preservation, from Konrad Lorenz's On Aggression (1963) to the collection The Dialectics of Liberation (which appeared in 1968 and featured essays by Herbert Marcuse, R.D. Laing, and Stokely Carmichael), spoke to the problem of venting human aggression and thereby ending our “mass suicide.” Artistic use of violence at the 1966 Destruction in Art Symposium in London, where Viennese Actionists as well as members of the Fluxus group gathered to stage performances of their works such as Ten Rounds for Cassius Clay, questioned the sublimation of violence or its aggravation via aesthetic strategies. In suggesting that nonviolence in an oppressive society was the equivalent of self-destruction, Actionists participated in a broader discussion of the character of violence being conducted by a number of activist groups at this time. It dismissed self-defense in favor of revolutionary violence. The Actionists politicized self-destruction as a means of routing bourgeois individualism and its internalization of repressive aspects of the state apparatus, forming group-subjects as in Wehrertüchtigung [Toughening Up the Army] from 1967, which had performers parodying the training exercises of army soldiers and reveling in corporal abjection. In this sense, the political capacities of Actionism can be seen not just in its partnering with student-activist groups to offer “teach-ins,” as at 1968's “Art and Revolution” (a manifestation of performance and actions co-organized by the Viennese Actionists and a student group at the University of Vienna); they are more widely manifest in the Direct Art performances of the mid-1960s and in Günter Brus's Body Analysis actions, which question the relationship between the materiality of the human body and the political identity of the citizen subject. Here, violence applied to the body as material seeks to overturn the originary violence that is the basis of state power and to render visible the internalization of repressive social forces.

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