Neoliberal Undead, The:

Neoliberal Undead, The:

Essays on Contemporary Art and Politics

Charting new directions for cultural theory and practice and offering alternatives to the project of neoliberal class restoration.


The Neoliberal Undead describes the frightening world of class restoration, neoliberal austerity, ecological meltdown, and neo-imperialism – a disaster capitalism that breeds mutant ideological justifications for itself and the inevitability of disorder, poverty and suffering. What role does culture play in this world of markets and how do new contestatory forms enable a leftist solidarity that can move cultural radicalism beyond the postmodern obsession with new subjectivities? Rather than become the symptoms of democratic materialism, signing up for endless culture wars, The Neoliberal Undead argues for a rethinking of radical cultural leftism against the terms of the dominant global situation. The relentless reduction of art criticism and art production under capitalist relations requires that the living separate themselves from the abstractions of globalization and reconnect with revolutionary theory.


Mass upheavals of this decade now include Occupy, and the Squares movement in Europe. Such sustained radicalisation will eventually influence spheres, including art, distant from the putatively ‘proper’ site of politics. Canadian critic Marc James Léger’s recent contribution to these developing debates is The Neoliberal Undead: Essays on Contemporary Art and Politics. (...) A brief on the 2012 mass student strike in Québec constitutes the eighth chapter. As Léger recognises, it involved forces ranged from communists, to liberals, to identitarian movements. A red square – on, for example, armbands – was one symbol for this ‘Maple Spring’. Noting early Soviet artists, such as El Lissitzky, whose mobilising art used similar colour schemes and simplified geometry, Léger upholds the protesters’ chosen symbol. That symbol, first, is ‘associated with the power of organized structures’; and, second, is not ‘based on identity, but … on universal, emancipatory organization’ (143). The first point is hardly specific to his projected communist sequence; while anarchism can be conventionally opposed to such structure, other left tendencies are not. On the second point, the obvious question – which Léger does register – is how such a universalist understanding can be precipitously forced in the current period, given the heterogeneous empirical character of the actual struggle in Québec. (...) Léger’s approach is dialectical throughout the book, particularly regarding questions of art in capitalist versus socialist state institutions; and regarding art’s ability to ‘uncontain’ and stimulate a subjective dreaming. The Neoliberal Undead is a valuable contribution to dialogues around politics and aesthetics. 14 May 2014 ~ Paul Mullan, Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

The 'Neoliberal Undead' reads very much like a report from the 'front lines' and as such has the feel of a users' manual. These kind of books are important at the moment because they offer a quick retort to events. This book's work on art's advance into the 'creative industries' and the artist-as-entrepeneur is absolutely salient to any defence of autonomy now. And this is why the inflation of the artist as the paradigmatic post-Fordist worker today is so risible, for the semi-proletarianization and underemployment of the artist within an expanded global casual economy highlights how feeble the mantra of 'creativity' is under these conditions. ~ John Roberts

Art criticism as institutional critique in this series of essays by Montreal-based artist and writer Marc James Léger. Largely produced between 2009 and 2011, Léger’s writings here have a strong focus on the Canadian art scene and its relationship with a broader culture and politics. Whilst some of the names and references may not be so well known outside of the context in which they operate, Léger’s forceful arguments around the oft-uneasy relationship between art and activism will chime for anyone tangentially involved in the Western world’s subjugated ‘culture industries’. ~ Tom Jeffreys, Editor The Journal of Wild Culture

Marc James Léger
Marc James Léger Marc James Léger is an independent scholar living in Montreal. His essays in critical cultural theory have been published in Afterimage, Ar...
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