interpassivity in WHW 2016

, and crowds in a museum like Reina Sofia.
For the exhibition to include a scanner that was unlikely to be used or
a computer monitor that showed the website from which books might be

Easterling, Extrastatecraft, p. 492.
See (accessed July 4, 2016).


What, How & for Whom / WHW

downloaded, but probably not read, would be the embodiment of what
philosopher Robert Pfaller calls “interpassivity”, the appearance of activity or a stand-in for it that in fact replaces any genuine engagement.14 For
Pfaller, interpassivity designates a flight from engagement, a misplaced libidinal investment that under the mask of enjoyment hides aversion to an
activity that one is supposed to enjoy, or more precisely: “Interpassivity is
the creation of a compromise between cultural interests and latent cultural
aversion.”15 Pfaller’s examples of participation in an enjoyable process that
is actually loathed include book collecting and the frantic photocopying of
articles in libraries (his book was originally published in 2002, when photocopying had not yet been completely replaced by downloading, bookmarking, etc.).16 But he also discusses contemporary art exhibitions as sites of
interpassivity, with their overabundance of objects and time-based works
that require time that nobody has, and with the figure of the curator on
whom enjoyment is displaced – the latter, he says, is a good example of
“delegated enjoyment”. By not providing the exhibition with a computer
from which books can be downloaded, the project ensures that books are
seen as vehicles of knowledge acquired by reading and not as immaterial
capital to be frantically exchanged; the undeniable pleasure of downloading and hoarding books is, after all, just one step removed from the playground of interpassivity that the exhibition site (also) is.
But Public Library is hardly making a moralistic statement about the
virtues of reading, nor does it believe that ignorance (such as could be
overcome by reading the library’s books) is the only obstacle that stands
in the way of ultimate emancipation. Rather, the project engages with, and
contributes to, the social practice that David Harvey calls “commoning”:
“an unstable and malleable social relation between a particular self-defined social group and those aspects of its actually existing or yet-to-becreated social and/or physical environment deem

the Pleasure Principle in Culture: Illusions Without Owners, Verso, London and New York, 2014.
Ibid., p. 76.
Pfaller’s book, which first appeared in German, was published in English only in 2014.
His ideas have gained greater relevance over time, not only as the shortcomings of the
immensely popular social media activism became apparent – where, as many critics
have noted, participation in political organizing and the articulation of political tasks
and agendas are often replaced by a click on an icon – but also because of Pfaller’s
broader argument about the self-deception at play in interpassivity and its role in eliciting enjoyment from austerity measures and other calamities imposed on the welfare
state by the neoliberal regime, which since early 2000 has exceeded even the most sober (and pessimistic) expectations.
Ibid., p. 73.

“There is something political in the city air”


brary exhibition in 2015 at Gallery Nova in Zagreb, where we have been
directing the programme since 2003. If the Public Library project was not
such an eminently collective practice that pays no heed to the author function, the Gallery Nova show might be considered something like a solo exhibition. As


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