Friday, July 31, 2009

Notes on Spite: Apostrophes and Pronouns

Diogenes: To own nothing is the beginning of happiness.

The pretext or precondition for spite is a sense of propriety. I have created or built or found X. I've tended to it, thus X is mine, I own it.

Your sense of ownership can get so large that it owns you. Having too many things or too many choices can be a burden. Everyone today seems obsessed with both tangible and intangible commodities. We’re bred to have big heads, spending all our freedom constructing a sense of self from various consumer choices: brand Y; band Z. We take these constructions or invisible territories to be our own.

Spite is a simple and transparent emotional reaction. A spite house is constructed to destroy or disable the territorial views or rights of an adjacent house.

When told of the concept of the Spite House, I wanted to know how the concept of blocked light or blocked flow of air and/or water evolved in common law. I found that in English common law, there is something called a Negative Easement, where instead of simply denying a easement, or right of way through one’s land, one preemptively stops one’s neighbors from using their land in specific ways.

This anticipation of encroachment “limits productivity in the land,” that is, it restricts the other’s potential use, thus devaluing the other’s so-called “servient” estate (from the Latin “servire” -- to serve, originally to be a slave). The “dominant” estate anticipates negatively, to insure against interlopers or appropriators who may take the light or air away from the authority constituted via the original or more primary (artistic) labors.

A predominant extension of the concept of negative easement can be found in intellectual property, which reduces ideas to property. An intangible object of the intellect is magically transformed into tangible property. Today one can objectify an idea, not only figuratively “bringing it to the body” or “possessing it” (viz. etymology of property), but one may sit on the idea-object for years, preventing others from productively using it. Cognitively and conceptually driven by rules about origin and authority, the notion of intellectual property negatively anticipates and preempts neighborly use.

The aggressive artist marks his territory, carefully pissing away time – sitting on the egg with the hope that it will begin to resemble himself. Even the faint possibility of being spited, the possibility that some heathen may transgress his invisible or intangible boundaries, invites negative ease.

A traditional suspicion regarding the making of art is that it's an abnormal act or illness. This dis-ease is a sign that the very creative act involves a violent rift that separates the profane lower world (spite!) from the sacred higher world (self-righteousness?). It is artistic authority which begets this duality of spite and negative ease. The alleged salvation of art is that it aims to heal this rift.

In other words, authority in its base (ok, vulgar!) form is inherent to the so-called creative process. So, if anything I might create is infused with vulgar authority, then how to proceed? One can only hope that this art show posits this vulgarity as a problem worthy of serious contemplation.

One final thing you can say for spite – for the most part, it knows what it’s doing. Spite has a goal – it has made a decision, albeit a vulgar one. For me, the interesting problem is how to aestheticize. To build a Spite House is to work negatively, with no eye open to potential futures. It is to be trapped replaying anti-aesthetic strategies and tactics that have already been fully played out. We need an aesthetics of decision that doesn’t simply repeat the notion of pharmacon (poison = cure). We need aesthetic decisions that have functions but no goals – not a floundering around and hoping that something might emerge – but making use of material and occasion – a heterogeneous practice.