What is to be Undone? – Notes on Communization and Cult Value

Stuart Smithers


In one his most influential essays, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin introduces the idea of “cult value” as a value form distinct from exhibition value. Benjamin suggests that prehistoric cave paintings were primarily important to the artist for their “existence,” maintaining a kind of magical relation, without regard for public display or exhibition. Modes of hiddenness, withdrawal, secrecy, ritual, mimesis, and anonymity are implied in cult value and are presented in Benjamin’s essays and fragments in both interior and exterior forms, individually and institutionally. And while these external forms are certainly found in the tendencies and practices of many groups sympathetic to communization theory and practice, the internal dynamics of cult value for the insurrectionary or revolutionary subject might also be elaborated. In this light, resistance and revolution as the undoing of capitalist relations might be related to cult value in both internal and external struggle.

Starting from Benjamin, then, the presentation will offer notes toward a theory of cult value as it relates to the two poles of contemporary communization and exhibitionism (in the sense of visibly “doing”), suggesting that the idea presents an opening to understanding and elaborating an insurrectionary subject in relation to hyper-contemplative modes of resistance and revolution. Tiqqun and the Invisible Committee have inspired strategies of withdrawal and exodus as modes of resistance, but they have also been criticized in communization circles. Has this general form/non-form of “resistance” remained an under-theorized mode? And does Benjamin’s idea of cult value serve to help develop such a theory?

Aesthetics - Reification - value forms - Attachment - Marxist messianism - Walter Benjamin - identity