Witte de With Publishers and Sternberg Press proudly present the first book of the new series Reflections, featuring an essay on (surplus) value in art by renowned German cultural critic Diedrich Diederichsen.

The book was launched on Friday 10 October 2008 19h00, in conjunction with the symposium Rotterdam Dialogues: The Critics.

Why this series now? We rarely see the long thematic essay in print – an in-depth consideration of specific but far-reaching themes that prove fundamental to our changing culture. At stake in this publishing adventure is precisely this type of essay. Each text will be published in its original language – to capture all the idiomatic nuances of the author’s arguments – as well as in English and Dutch – to extend its imagined community of readers. “Reflections” is meant to encapsulate this process as both the result of a particular thinking, and the root of further rumination and debate.

For Reflections 01, we have invited Diedrich Diederichsen to think with us about the notion of ‘surplus value’, or more specificallyMehrwert or meerwaarde in art. This German/Dutch term encapsulates the treatment of contemporary art as an exceptional system of valuation; albeit one which is yet to be considered critically. In particular, as changing material conditions, market dynamics and cultural ideals are reshaping how value may be understood in art. Drawing on fresh readings of Marxist and postmodern thought, Diederichsen offers uncommon insights into the current “crisis of valuation in the arts.”

“If in everyday parlance, Mehrwert is an additional value that can be realized in return for a special effort or in connection with an exceptional situation, for Marx, by contrast, Mehrwert is the daily bread and butter of the capitalist economy. That economy must constantly generateMehrwert. The tendency to increase is a natural attribute of value. Indeed, it is based on the exploitation of labor power, and the fact that it appears to come about naturally is precisely its greatest trick. A bonus, by contrast, is accorded the status of an exception. And it is precisely such a “bonus” that is being demanded when people ask where the Mehrwert is, especially when they are speaking of “artisticMehrwert”, which will be the focus of this essay.”

“The fact that the public identifies legitimacy with punch lines and proudly and pretentiously demands them as Mehrwert is something it has learned. Cultural policymakers, whose job it is to make what is not useful useful (which is currently all the rage and takes no great effort), are by definition unable to think any differently.”

– from Diedrich Diederichsen’s On (Surplus) Value in Art

A chapter from Diedrich Diederichsen’s publication has been translated into Russian by the author himself (copy-edited by Andrey Shental) on the occasion of his talk in Moscow (November 2013). This chapter is published by the Russian not-for-profit online magazine Theory and Practice and can be viewed by clicking here.