Don Mee Choi
William J. Harris
Anna Maria Hong
Myung Mi Kim
Karen An-hwei Lee
Suzanne Jill Levine
Kathy Lou Shultz
Saturday, January 7, 7:30-11:00 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.)
Downstairs at Town Hall (enter on Seneca Street)
1119 8th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101
Why error? When you think about the these two words, Autonomous and University, they seem like two bad ideas.
Universal notions often end up making static rules. They want to destroy anything that challenges their authority – and to set up a world view or model, in pursuit of Truth – in effect denying the validity of all other theories and practices outside their own.
And while Autonomy does sound great, it’s unrealistic. Any interaction of objects needs a medium, an environment. So we’re always in debt to our environment. While Autonomy is usually thought of as the goal of creation, that is, to create something that has a life of its own (in Greek it means “having its own laws”), once autonomy occurs, this initial constituting event is difficult to keep from stultifying into hardened rules and norms.
So perhaps AU could combine two bad ideas into one tolerable one? Not at all sure we’ve done that. Looking back, before looking forward:
The Seattle Research Institute version of the Autonomous University idea envisioned inquiries that would begin as moderated discussion groups or reading groups focused on a particular issue (or problematic). The groups would aim for some form of public manifestation – which in effect would be a presentation of “results” (like tonight). The idea was to launch these groups and coordinate the presentations so that they could generate enthusiasm (& the PR energy) towards the formation of additional groups, and in this way the so-called university could become autonomous, ideally requiring minimal effort to subsist.
I agree with the idea that we shouldn’t allow school to interfere with education – in finding our own way. To paraphrase Alfred North Whitehead via Shaviro, what’s of interest is creation not rectification. Becoming – rather than some refinement of being.
Before Will Owen and I attempted to launch whatever it was that we launched (which hasn’t succeed in enacting this regenerative – engine of enthusiasm), I had come across an essay by Isabelle Stengers (on the ecology of practices) that had a big impact on my thinking, and Stengers ideas helped me think more clearly about what these grouplets could become. Stengers made me think the distinction between community (or the unity of the commons) and the collective – which doesn’t require unification. The collective goal is to cohere – it’s more focused on creating than rectifying. The community has a tendency to want to police itself, looking for rules, averages, norms.
That is, vis-à-vis Autonomous University, I realized that the goal isn’t really to empower individuals, but to empower the situation, to force participants to think and invent. That is, the external structure, the venue for discussions and deadlines and introductions was what could induce collective thought and action.
To quote from the prospectus for the Affective Aesthetics group: “The goal is collective thought, i.e., collective not as a unified consensus but as a dissensus, that is we will pursue a common ground (or common vocabulary) where disagreements can play out. It’s unclear where the research will take us.”
Per Stengers, “the idea is to foster collective thought (as I’ve said, quite distinct from unified thought) and to demonstrate how collective thinking can make a difference.” Submitting oneself to or participating in one of these groups is to a certain extent taking a risk, that is it can open you to becoming other than you are. “Encouraging the risk - the unique risk that each participant has to bring into the collective “meeting & mutation.”
To reiterate, I think the aim of collective meeting and mutation is coherence, and to quote Steve Shaviro (on Stengers on Whitehead): “Coherence isn’t logical, it’s eco-logical – always in relation to its environs.”
Stengers talks about “cohabitation between one [or within one] and between each other. A political ecology would be a social technology of belonging – which assumes coexistence and co-becoming as the habitat of practices.”
This notion of a “social technology of belonging” is difficult to understand (or it is difficult for me to understand). I think of belonging as a situation (like a specific family, or an art practice) where you own it as much as it owns you. You belong to it, and it belongs to you. In this context I think co-existence and co-becoming as the habitat begins to make sense. We’re in this together.
This said, “social technology” in the last couple of years has been on a roll with the so-called Arab Spring Forward (which hopefully does not precede a fall back), and what is happening in London (and Philadelphia & elsewhere). The police and its bureaucracies seem unable to control flash mobs except by adopting phone hacking techniques & preempting the meetings.
The individual in the crowd doesn’t really belong to the technology -- unless he or she works at Facebook or is an impossible geek. So while twitter & facebook don’t exactly induce belonging, they do facilitate meeting or bringing bodies together – they can be a tool for empowering a situation.
The flash mob is powerful precisely to the extent that it unites or subsumes individuals. The flash mob expresses itself in specific actions (for example, a broken Starbucks window, or the liberation of big screen tvs). I want to say that individual participants belong to the event & vice versa, not to the technology that got them to the site of the interaction.
The context for these riots (or flash mobs) is a neo-liberal capitalism where the notion of the market has permeated every part of our lives. We are continuously bombarded by advertisements – we begin to believe that we can have it all. Thus, there is a sense of entitlement at the same time that it feels as if the future has abandoned us.
According to Zizek, these are riots of ironic shopping, fulfilling (in the only available way) the consumer desires instilled in us. These are “zero degree protests” – that is, they are violent actions that demand nothing. Zizek wants to think of this kind of action (after his hero Hegel) as an abstract negativity. The rabble – or those outside organized social space – express discontent via irrational outbursts. Per Badiou (via Zizek), the world is increasingly worldless, "the only form protest can take is meaningless violence."
So while Facebook, with its own autonomy and universal reach, does not seem like a catalyst for deep thinking, it does seem like it can be a catalyst for collective feeling and action.
Stengers again: For real change to occur -- becoming other -- there needs to be an exposure, a risk. And one hopes for an event -- a meeting where mutation may occur.
I’m not sure but these spontaneous uprisings or flash mobs seem less individual expressions, than expressions of what society is becoming. It’s less about a singular or individual meeting & mutation, than about crowd activity.
Backing up a bit, there is a question of intent. What kind of decisions are being made in these viral uprisings. How do we explain the presence of mentality in the individuals and in the crowd?
I think mentality is decisional in the way that bacteria make decisions -- that is, way below the threshold of cognition or consciousness. There is a vast realm of feeling that we do not -- and cannot -- understand.
Kant and Whitehead are onto something when they assert that thinking and feeling require each other. And this was a big part of what I had hoped the affective aesthetic group would think through. We have to remember to acknowledge that feeling is the basis of experience. Aesthetics precedes ethics. “The skin is faster than the word.”
I’m not convinced that the flash mob or zero degree protest can be accurately characterized as a self-organized emergence. And I find the notion of self to be problematic. The presumption of individual consumer choice is central to the market dominated world we inhabit.
I could go on to argue for mentality as transhistorical. It is a reasonably good answer to the question of how to explain the presence of mentality in the world, ie, it was always there, it didn’t just emerge.
Reading some essays by Trevor Goward on Lichen recently, I’ve become intrigued by the notion of evolution as the history of indigestion. That is, what evolves is what resists complete consumption. And perhaps this demonstrates the inadequacy of dialectical explanations.
“What started as a gesture of parasitism later strengthened into mutual dependence, and later still to full symbiogenetic merger.” What fails to be consumed is not merely subsumed, but becomes mutually dependent with its host; and ultimately mutates with the host into something alien.
One problem I’m interested in is how to do something in the so-called humanities that meaningfully intersects science. They seem completely incompatible.
Science demands answers that can be detached from human interests – eliminating human artifacts from the experimental apparatus. But poetry and art demand answers that are attached to human interests. That is, artist-practitioners (even those against the so-called “hand”) attempt to create alluring artifacts.
This reminds me of something enigmatic from Robert Kelly. On his website, he talks about listening out loud to his own incomprehensibility -- as a definition of poetic process. “The incomprehensible is the only thing that makes sense. That is, it creates sense -- the sense of something happening to you as you read.” Kelly says provocatively: “Most poets are too smart to believe in their own intelligence.”
As seductive as this sounds (and it does seduce me), Stengers suggests that maybe it’s not going nearly far enough.
"It is much more comfortable to produce deep, beautiful meditations about an author not being an author of what he or she writes than reaching this point of nonstyle when you simply affirm that writing is not a spontaneous activity of human goodwill but puts the writer in debt to what makes him or her write." (Stengers, Last Enigmatic Message, 64)
But I did say “maybe”. Maybe Kelly’s enigma is not simply a meditation on “not being the author of what he writes”.
Anyway… I’m not sure what it means to live for (or with) what Whitehead calls the “vector character of experience” – where each moment looks both backward and forward. Where experience is not just an isolated point to be analyzed.
I’ll end by reading The Subject of the Subject – which is in debt to my collaborators (Galen, Cristin & Joel) who made me think & write. This appeared in Club Affect’s little pamphlet – an unhappy readymade (after Duchamp’s) that found itself printed on checkpaper – to prevent easy reproduction. It was hung out on a clothesline outside these windows -- between these trees.
One last point of introduction is that the phrase “subject of the subject” is something Michael Palmer muttered in a conversation at the Poetics Colloquium in Vancouver more than 20 years ago (wait – he doesn’t mutter – but to quote the Seinfeld episode where Kramer fixates on which modern horse to bet on – his mutter was a mudder). Today, these modernist rifts still have some life.
Seattle Spoken Word Lab presents a reading by Louis CABRI, Donato MANCINI, Robert MITTENTHAL, who have new books titled Poetryworld, Buffet World and Wax World, respectively. Donations for admission will be taken at the door on the evening of the performance. The reading starts at 7:30pm on Sunday 21st of August 2011.
Location: 3651 S Edmunds in Columbia City, just west of Rainier, one block south of Alaska.
Louis Cabri is author of Poetryworld, just out from CUE. His book, The Mood Embosser (Coach House, 2002), was acclaimed a book of the year by Small Press Traffic. Recent chapbooks include What Is Venice? (Wrinkle) and — that can’t (Nomados). He is editor of a selected poems by Fred Wah (The False Laws of Narrative) and with Peter Quartermain of an issue of critical essays on sound and poetry in English Studies in Canada. He teaches modern and contemporary poetry, literary theory, and creative writing at the University of Windsor, in Ontario.
Donato Mancini’s interdisciplinary practice focuses mainly on poetry, bookworks, text-based visual art and cultural criticism. His new book is Buffet World (New Star, 2011). His prior two New Star books of procedural and visual writing, Ligatures and Æthel were each nominated for the ReLit Award, and Ligatures received honourable mention in the Alcuin Book design awards. Mancini's collaborative visual works have been exhibited in Canada, the US, Scandinavia and Cuba. Long time member of the Kootenay School of Writing, he was a principal curator of the interdisciplinary N 49 15.832 - W 123 05.921 Positions Colloquium at VIVO in August 2008. Other recent publications include Fact `N' Value (Fillip Editions). His poetic and critical writings have appeared in many places, including The Capilano Review, Open Letter, West Coast Line, Rampike, and Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing. He lives in Vancouver BC.
Robert Mittenthalis author of Value Unmapped (Nomados), Martyr Economy, Ready Terms (Tsunami Editions), and the newly arrived Wax World (Chax, 2011).Irrational Dude, a chapbook of collaborative work with Nico Vassilakis, was published in 2009 by tir aux pigeons.Mittenthal was instrumental in creating and curating the Subtext Reading Series in Seattle, and the last few years has been working to induce collective thought via a series of related reading groupuscles, a project called "autonomous university."
Directions to SPLAB: SPLAB is easily accessible by personal and mass transit. If traveling by car, take the 163A exit on I5 for Columbia Way heading East toward Columbia City; or take Exit 3 off of Eastbound I-90 and head south on Rainier.
Mass Transit Options: Get there from Downtown on the Light Rail – SPLAB is just a short walk east from the Columbia City Station (ETA from Westlake: 15 minutes); or the #7 bus – southbound from Downtown towards Rainier Beach (ETA from Pike Street: 20 minutes; Or from Capitol Hill: #8 bus (ETA 20 minutes); from the Udistrict take the #48 to Mount Baker Transit Center, then transfer to #7 or #8 (ETA 45 minutes).
Heard Don Mee read last night at Hedreen Gallery and realized that in lieu of a full review (sorry!) of The Morning News Is Exciting (Action Books, 2010), I should post this old introduction to a reading in mid-2009. My response to the earlier reading was a strong sense of how her translation work was interwined with her own poems, how they feed off each other. It felt like a demonstration of how all writing is translation.
Perhaps I am more excited by her poems (than by her translations of poems of others) since they are less constrained by the external fact of the prior poem? To the extent that one has specific duties to a "prior" poem, one is constrained to be true to its intentions. Translations are in that sense constraint based writing. Without the duty to the specific (yet ultimately unknowable) other, one can more directly engage the arrival [sic?] of what for Don Mee is never merely subjective expression.
Here's the old introduction:
I first heard Don Mee Choi read translations at Gallery 1412 and was very impressed, especially by a theater piece by Yi Kang-baek that she read that had no spoken parts, just stage direction. It had great literary and political power.
The poems I've seen from The Morning News Is Exciting seem to be formal experiments loaded with pointed content. To me that's very refreshing.
The peculiar constructions and repetitions across sections of her title poem remind me of Oulipo (ala Queneaux exercises in style—tho I’m not sure how constrained they really are), but with a more foreboding content. No one talks much about the poverty of politics in Oulipo. For Choi, the politics of gender and of exile seem just below the surface, and to me they’re keenly felt.
“She was a visitor” as Robert Ashley famously said, and here (with enough repetitions) she becomes an “errorist.”
Choi presents billboard-sized ironies that narrate objects. This is playing with fire, and this work demonstrates that potential narrative is power. Subjectivity is at risk here.
The excited news is of dear narration – of dear nation. This text shoulds on itself. The gravity of the past and of “duty” traps the subject which can’t quite shake itself loose. The morning news is near narration and that is exciting. Especially when turned back on itself. The image is a twin with many titles.
To demonstrate a collaged animus.
As my elocution lessons,
Breed easy dear ones
The monograph wants to emerge as an icon an ism
Really on the occasion of the sequence
One’s ass hangs out – can’t get to the front of the class in our travels across the boundaries.
These goods stick to us – the rice and beaning bags under the eyelid – the swallow arising directly into the wind. The sun will meet us in 15 minutes. I am not here then. These mean red conclusions wrap us in real conjecture.
Working my way into Jacques Ranciere's Nights of Labor, and came across this text written maybe six months ago on the parallels between 2666 and The Ignorant Schoolmaster, which may be of interest, even though it is probably guilty of being an explication.
Ranciere's Ignorant Schoolmaster first appeared in French in 1987. Ranciere reviews the career and thinking of Joseph Jacotot, a french literature professor who was forced into exile in 1815 (upon return of Bourbons to power -- after he'd served in the military). Jacotot landed in Louvain in Belgium, where he did an experimental thing. Not able to speak Flemish to his students who did not speak French, he used a translation of Fenelon's novel Telemacque with the Flemish on facing pages.
Jacotot had some success and there was a faddish following for his novel theory of education. Which could fit into a headline -- something along the lines of: "Illiterate parents teach their children to read!"
The students were told thru a translator that they were to learn the French text with the aide of the Flemish translation, and to write in french their thoughts about what they read. The students learned to write French on their own without any explication from Jacotot on conjugation, grammar etc.
The results astonished Jacotot who like any good professor was fully indoctrinated into what Ranciere calls the Explicative Order, where "the master's secret is to know how to recognize the distance between the taught material and the person being instructed,... between learning and understanding." (5) That is, the master explicates and brings the student up to his or her level of understanding. "The explicator sets up and abolishes the distance... deploys and reabsorbs it..."
Jacotot concluded that the logic of the educational system needed to be overturned. Explication was unnecessary. For example, in the acquisition of the mother tongue, learning does not require an infinite regress of explanations and reasons. To quote Ranciere: "What is learned best cannot be explained..." Language acquisition involves an "autonomous relation between apprenticeship and verification."
Ranciere goes far beyond the slogan of the enlightened: "Understand!" He argues that understanding is nothing more than translating (9). "Observing and retaining; repeating and verifying..." It is possible to move blindly -- the way children move, learning by oneself without a master explicator. "Words learned best... are those learned without a master explicator."
What is needed is a thing in common. In our case, it is a book. Something needs to be added to the configuration of the Parent (master) - Child (student). A geometry is created by inserting the thing in common, aka the Book.
In the first section of Bolano's 2666, the academics have Archembolo's books in common. That is the basis for their connection. Their profession is to master the book and to explain it, and as a result they are hungry for any information about the reclusive author.
2666 is full of the unexplicable and tangential. And we're left largely to make of it what we will. In Whitehead's terms, it's full of lures for feeling.
Archembolo himself is completely self taught and had early intense experience with a particular book. Like walking dreamily underwater, swamped in text. And this leads him to very material relations to typewriters and with the world.
2666 is an open text, which is much like the Duchamp's unhappy readymade -- recreated by Almafitano in hanging out a geometry book on a laundry line to interact with nature. One can find endless connections to the Book, which has a life of its own.
It is interesting that Almafitano's interactions with the book in the 2nd section are a mystery even to him. He doesn't know how it has come to him, even tho it has various tell tale markings, but he can't reason out how it arrived in his box of books shipped from Barcelona.
Like Jack Spicer, Almafitano hears voices but rather than dictating the poem to him, they're making him think about the difference between madness and calm.
"There is an order in madness as in everything."
Jacotot's concept is to become an Emancipatory Master, leaving his own intelligence outside the classroom. The emancipatory master gives "the command that enclosed the students in a closed circle from which they alone could break out. By leaving his intelligence out of the picture, he had allowed their intelligence to grapple with that of the book..... The two faculties in play during the act of learning, namely intelligence and will, had therefore also been separated, liberated from each other. A pure relationship of will to will had been established between master and student: a relationship wherein the masters domination resulted in an entirely liberated relationship between the intelligence of the student and that of the book -- the intelligence of the book that was also the thing in common, the egalitarian intellectual link between master and student." (13)
"There is stultification whenever one intelligence is subordinated to another. A person - and a child in particular - may need a master when his own will is not strong enough to set him on track and keep him there. But that subjection is purely one of will over will. It becomes stultification when it links an intelligence to another intelligence." The coincidence of the two wills and two intelligences is called stultification. Jacotot's students are linked to his will (eg, he demands that they demonstrate and verify what they've learned) but to the book's (rather than Jacotot's) intelligence. This is emancipatory rather than stultifying.
For me this resonates with 2666 as a Book. The intelligence is in the book, not necessarily in Bolano. And there are things to be experienced and thereby learned there.
Going back to section/book 2 of 2666, Almafitano's wife, who seems a bit mad but very calm about it, fetishizes an author, rather than the author's books. And this displacement is interesting, since it is unhealthy and futile. The author, a gay poet, is never going to give Lola what she might need or want. But maybe its a nomadic hitchhiking thru time and space that she needs or wants. Lola leaves Almafitano with a lesbian companion and thereafter deals with direct relations as they arrive.
Towards the end of the section, there's a reflexive moment where Bolano is saying, don't look at the "perfect" short pieces of these masters (e.g., don't look at Bartleby -- look at Moby Dick; ditto Xmas Carol vs Pickwick Papers). He revers the Book with a capital B, and 2666 is in fact B's book. A totality in which (in Ranciere's terms) everything is within everything.
"A book that is a totality: a center to which one can attach everything new one learns; a circle in which one can understand each of these new things, find the ways to say what one thinks about it, what one makes of it. This is the first principle of universal teaching: one must learn something and relate everything else to it. At first something must be learned." (20)
A congealed network of the undead. It wants to rip us to pieces...
This beautiful piece by Tilford is available as part of the Urbanomic's Summer Auction, which runs from 26 May - 24 June.
All proceeds of the auction go to support Urbanomic's journal Collapse. The lots – including original work and exclusive signed editions – have been generously donated by artists, musicians and writers who have contributed to Collapse or been otherwise involved in Urbanomic projects over the past few years, including:
Kristen Alvanson, Amanda Beech, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Cut Hands, Detanico and Lain, FIELDCLUB, Renée Green, Florian Hecker, Kröõt Juurak & Mårten Spångberg, Nick Land, Sam Lewitt, China Miéville, Pamela Rosenkranz, Conrad Shawcross, Keith Tilford
The PDF catalogue, which contains images and details of all works, with links to higher resolution images, and details of how to bid can be found here.
It’s an unfortunate iron that walks stiffly over us, pressing our clothes. I miss the comforts of a baggy garment which covers everything while revealing very little.
How do we come to come to speech when language has been stolen from us, when we’ve lost our words? What can words convey, when they belong to the interests of the cultural industry as it serves the interests of commerce, industry, government, warfare.
We’ve lost the word for what connects our public and private selves. Pre-owned words whitewashed and hung out to fade in the sun. It’s a contest where juris-diction is denied. There is no room to plead for the last poet standing. And without standing, we’re left outside.
We are left with a surface, a wax or skin which registers the vague and shifting impressions. In this wax world of malleable, soft, false imitation, distorted surface is the only reality we know. The truth of appearances is that there are only appearances.
How then to say something clear, definite, decisive. How offer any certainty of thought or opinion without bullying the reader, the audience? How make a music out of such unpromising and recalcitrant shifting materials?
The writing in Wax World comes from that condition, explores it, tries to build with that wax, with materials that shift and slide and change even as you use them.
New Star Books (Vancouver)
textual poems, visual poems and conceptual writings.
The interdisciplinary practice of Donato Mancini focuses mainly on poetry, bookworks, text-based visual art and cultural criticism. His two New Star books of procedural and visual writing, Ligatures (2005) and Æthel (2007) were each nominated for the ReLit Award, and Ligatures received honourable mention in the Alcuin Book design awards. Mancini's collaborative visual works have been exhibited in Canada, the United States, Scandinavia and Cuba. Notable exhibitions include Surveillance Sketch(Artspeak, Vancouver 2003), Untitled: Conversation Loops (The Western Front, Vancouver 2004; with Miguel da Conceicao, Jacob Gleeson, and Elisa Rathje) and Angels in the Angles (Gallery Atsui, Vancouver 2009; with Marina Roy and Christian Bök), and an upcoming exhibition of print objects at CSA (Vancouver). He also co-directed the world's first genuine in-world avatar documentary AVATARA (Centre A, Vancouver 2003), now part of the Ubu Web international archive of experimental film and video. Long time member of the Kootenay School of Writing, he was a principal curator of the interdisciplinary N 49 15.832 - W 123 05.921 Positions Colloquium at VIVO in August 2008. Other recent publications include a book edition from Fillip Editions (Vancouver) entitled Fact `N' Value, as well as poetic and critical writings in publications such as The Capilano Review, Open Letter, West Coast Line, Rampike, W, The West Wind Review, Parser, ditch, Poetry is Dead and Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing.
ABOUT BUFFET WORLD
Visually and conceptually dynamic, Buffet World is Donato Mancini's smorgasbord of verbal and visual poems about food, trade, and life under late–late–capitalism.
The various ingredients of Buffet World capture Mancini's dissatisfaction with current social conditions. Buffet World underlines our inescapable complicity as (constantly) both victims and victimisers in a system that should leave us choked with rage, but more often dazzles us with surreal spectacle.
The images in Buffet World are colourful and almost garish, and the words are brilliantly manipulated. Equally concerned with the violence done to our planet, our bodies and imaginations, these startling, funny poems perform a deep cultural critique.
BrandonDowning is a writer and visual artist originally from California. His books of poetry include The Shirt Weapon (Germ Monographs, 2002) and Dark Brandon (Faux Press, 2005), while a monograph of his literary collages from1996-2008, Lake Antiquity, was released by Fence Books in late 2009. A long poem, AT ME, will be released as a chapbook by Octopus Books this Fall, while his next collection, Mellow Actions, will be published by Fence in 2012. In 2007 he released a feature-length collection of collaged digital shorts, Dark Brandon: Eternal Classics, with a 2nd volume forthcoming in 2011. You can see some at www.youtube.com/user/bdown68, along with his photographic and other work at http://www.brandondowning.org/
It is not often than a momentous Badiouian event occurs. And the recent events in Tunisian & Egypt are all the more amazing for their spontaneity.
This is your mission should you choose to accept it. All that is solid melts into air.
Badiou's (somewhat utopian) goal is to follow the "destiny of an event" to solve "unsolvable problems without the help of the state..." [All quotations here from Badiou's editorial last month in Le Monde.]
Badiou celebrates "the principle that Marat never stopped reminding us of: when it comes to freedom, equality, emancipation, we owe everything to popular uprisings."
Badiou is against all forms of constituted statehood. " ...our states ... prefer management to revolt, they prefer claims, and “orderly transition” to any kind of rupture." One can read this absolute rejection of the state as a call for a kind of Maoist continual or permanent revolution.
His politics becomes almost pure math. The event resonates out of revolutionary movement, a movement which is paradoxically without a party. More generic than general, it's far less organized and more spontaneous than any party. Badiou's "event is the sudden creation, not of a new reality, but of a myriad of new possibilities."
It's a brilliant abstract mathematics, against all forms of representative democracy.
One may want to spin Badiou's theory of the event in a more practical way vis-a-vis Egypt, e.g., to argue that the fidelity to these heroic recent events generates a kind of universal obligation, very broadly felt, that will impact how things unfold. This optimism is very compelling, i.e., one wants to believe that the fidelity to this event will "haunt" -- in a very good way -- what unfolds. I think it will prove to be a very powerful point of reference both for citizens and future leaders. But this sort of statement is probably too practical for Badiou, who has given up on all representative forms of governance. And his notion of "fidelity" -- or fidelity to the idea of fidelity -- is to him useless in reconfiguring or reconstituting a political state or any economic situation. Thus for example, he could have little to say about the problem of the Egyptian military as an institution engaged in both economics and politics.
In the wake of the immediate climax (the evacuation or literal separation of heads of state), Badiou has perhaps nothing left to theorize -- it is as if these events demonstrate or prove his theorems.
It is tempting to read Badiou's editorial in Le Monde as a post-coital cigarette. He promises his fidelity to this most lovely event in more than 200 years, aka the Paris Commune. He's been dreaming of this night for a long time.
The problem that arises after the post-coital cigarette is that the heads of state won't stay evacuated. Undoubtedly when the "new" state is constituted, power will corrupt.
The events of Tunisia and Egypt provide what may be Badiou's best of all possible examples. Hard to believe that he will not scratch out more formal paeans to these events, which he may take as mathematical proofs of concept.
At bottom, the problem is that he never ever engages economics. He sneers at the very idea. The State is his problem, and it's an exclusive problem. To him perhaps the Market is always a secondary problem, ie, merely part of the situation that will be overthrown with the state.
One can understand & largely agree with the critique of the how "democracy" under neoliberalism has lost any connection to the direct expression of the people, with the complete commodification of political choices. Did you hear that Sarah Palin was trademarking her name (aka her brand)? If only this were a joke. And of course with the so called global economy, many states are just doing the best they can (eg, like a CEO of a corporation) to maintain the position of their economies in the global market. How "democratic" is that, really? Not very. The independence of the monetary policy and judiciary in the US can't really be thought of as consistent with democratic expression of the people. It strikes me that Ranciere is right to say that democracy should no longer be used as a noun. But as an adjective it can still be useful; that is, behaviors, structures, institutions can be categorized as more or less democratic (i.e., rule by and for the people; or an expression of the people).
Badiou refuses to engage the excruciatingly complex network in which any subsequent actions have to occur. Perhaps he just can't bother with practical details. He is, before anything else, a thinker of the event. (I'll have to try to engage Badiou's Handbook on Inaesthetics, and how his modernist readings fit into his model, at a later time.)
One last comment to connect to the discussion on Badiou v Schumpeter that I missed a couple weeks ago at the autonomous university general reading group. Schumpeter embraces a similar theory of the heroic (and for him, a competitive) event, though it's an economic event not a political one. Schumpeter's celebration of capitalism's creative destruction, i.e., a disruption introduced via innovation, is a frighteningly close analog to the disruptions that Badiou celebrates in his politics against the state. Both are thinkers of the event, but they are almost a yin/yang match for each other. What Badiou lacks, a theory of the event for economics, Schumpeter provides. And vice versa.
For Schumpeter, Capitalism is a “process of industrial mutation – if I may use that biological term – that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism.” [see S. Shaviro's excellent blogpost on Schumpeter]
Schumpeter completely perverts politics, turning democracy into a market-driven representative form that will serve his notion of violent economic events, aka capitalism. As Charles Mudede once said, Schumpeter is the poet of the neoliberals. Perhaps by analogy this makes Badiou the poet of the anarchists?
All apparent contradiction aside, whether one thinks of the violence of the New as a problem or an occasion for celebration, it seems true that the new is not always so violent. The anthropocentric schemas of Badiou and Schumpeter don't account for less heroic lower-case events. For B&S these are not events at all, but sometimes something very small can have very large impact.
The bright lines drawn by B&S don't allow for the more realistic shades of gray which, in Seattle at least, completely engulf us.
In a new article in New Left Review, Jules Boykoff traces the genesis of the relations between Olympic sport and Capital. Detailing the political economic contexts of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where disproportionate long and short term public expenditures are made and short term profits privatized, Boykoff notes how this leads to government deficits and severe cuts to social programmes. The masquerade (in the form of an economic boomlet) lasts only until the games end, and Vancouver is left with a nasty hangover that won't go away.
Similar to the recent US financial crisis, the Olympic Games create a finance bubble for the sporting facilities, housing, and over-the-top pomp that the IOC demands. The developers and local powers-that-be would have residents of the city believe that this massive overspending is really a stimulus package, betting among other things on the future value of the "world class city" brand allegedly attained via hosting the games.
But more importantly here, Boykoff reports on the resistance to the games in Vancouver, cataloguing the actions taken by an impressively diverse list of groups, and describing the remarkable rapport created in this context. Boykoff describes the anti-Olympics resistance as an "event coalition" quoting Tom Mertes' organizing concept from the global justice movement: "an ongoing series of alliances and coalitions, whose convergences remain contingent."
I need to think this through but it is interesting that the "convergences" achieved and the "fun" felt by those in resistance might very well echo what spectators in a sporting audience feel. There is an affective joy in the action of joining a multiple and/or in the feelings of belonging or identification. If you own it, it will own you. Political sport as dialogic, or sport as a dialogical politics?
There also may be something to say here about Isabelle Stengers' notion of an ecology of practices, particularly where she resists general terms which "look for illustrations, for cases that are not causes but refer instead to their potential unity. Unity always means mobilisation, what was asked from armies having to follow orders in a faithful and immediate way." I think Boykoff is more attuned to Stengers, in that he is detailing situated concerns of diverse groups, and more interested in generic than general terms [via Stengers, "generic terms such as cause, obligation or risk... aim at conferring to a situation the power to matter in its particular way..."].
Learning to unravel, let’s start at the end: chasing intensity beyond or before recognition; thinking with the unknowns and bearing witness to intersections of nature and culture.
Attached to our surrounds and divorced from habit
We demand the right to contradict ourselves
A noun’s noun, we verb – in transit
Oh, how the world breeds inferiority
In pursuit of a lexicon’s indifference
Strength through repetition. Darwin’s winner demonstrates how a round peg squares its hole. Grammar’s bias pronounced in short sentences: it cannot explain the logic of the subject.
It is when the new is no longer news – or vice versa. It inverts when one claims one’s lost habit. Coterminous with new habitat, the transhistorical subject is not a subject. It is only that mentality in the world all around us. It is the wonder that something new occurs.
A momentous passage forgets not
And loves not
It unlearns what it is to say uncle
An active not passive forgetting
To collaborate, it remains a mess of connections, of contradictions. A thought wants what trouble kicks up – the fount a body makes in its new image.
This “you” & its precognitive other find that “history is this. Not the same this. Which lesson undoes again. So, forget you, forget everything you know.”
It breeds its own subject – an inescapable genesis within time
The untied or loosened bond – not a negative
But learning the positive fact – the self-evident charge
I counteract – an impoverished religion
Irrational in each sentence. Death in its perverse towers
Of undressed rhetoric – out of uniform compliance
Unable to execute, I lost my appetite,
I forgot the cookies and ate the plate
This is a re-education camp as ungrounded action
An embrace of adverbial tension
The deed without a doer
Free entertainment of a fearful agent
'I' is the greatest, the most beautiful folio, the best of both words
For it is this aesthetic judgment needs an outside
Not reducible to the wicked witch in any direction
It need not precede its relations but must live within them
The parasite translates when Dorothy dances
Nobody stands behind the screen
It is not some contradiction of ourselves
We move through a seascape of ships
Between self-assurance and obliteration
The trick to escape what emotion captures
I’ve always been told I am not I
The nonce and its once
That perishes & collates each expectation, each expression
As invective against the news
To embrace that negativity that cannot be put to work
The positive unraveling as a constructive function
A clarity that is not merely subjective
Yields no noun behind the curtain
I approved this message for all those
who are not. All department heads
Step alive – for once its bottoms up
Sinking slowly, predisposed to the liquidity
Of forms, each retrospect a lapse
For an action to be named later
For the litany of days – a stream of possible
Logics lie in the generals empty hand
Mallarmé was mathematically correct: A throw of the dice will never abolish chance. That is, chance is never retrospective. It would be like me saying that the odds of writing this sentence here and now were 10 million to one. Prospectively, the artistic process yields unexpected results. What really matters is how something new occurs.
Cris Bruch works in collaboration with his materials and tools. What results is contingent, rather than predetermined. His process demonstrates how an act of experience is itself constructive, how the subject/artwork comes out of the world and not vice versa, i.e., the world does not come out of the subject.
An aphorism of Mallarmé’s more germane to Bruch’s work is: Ce n'est pas avec des idées qu'on fait des vers, c'est avec des mots. (“It is not with ideas that one makes poems, but with words.”) One might translate this in relation to Bruch’s practice as: “It is not with space that one makes sculpture, but with time.” That is, in conjunction with material, Bruch takes time and turns it into space. Just as words and ideas combine to make a poem, time and space combine with material to make sculpture, with some priority assigned here to words and time.
At bottom, Cris Bruch’s art practice is a material process. Each work is the result of a temporal engagement, a proposition where labor power meets physical material as the result unfolds or reveals itself in space. This space is where both meaning and form are made.
Elizabeth Bryant says it very well in a 2007 catalog essay: “The making is its own form of thinking, form clarifying meaning.” The goal is indeed to make a “work of attentiveness and possibility.”
The fortuitous acquisition of weathered wood, used here as exterior cladding, led to the conception of Blind. The material was the initial constraint; the idea for the shape of the armature followed. Blind comes into existence one thin wooden strip at a time. Fit, clamp, glue and wait and repeat. It is not unfair to say this wood worked on Bruch as he worked on it.
To quote from an old essay of mine regarding Don’t Feed It: “As personal as Bruch’s works are, always refusing to take their surfaces for granted, he nevertheless achieves a powerful kind of impersonal expressionism, as if the materiality of his pieces were autonomous, not reliant on (i.e., not mere products of) the manner of production.” Likewise, Blind seems autonomous, somehow unified – not something made up of parts. Resembling a cloak, Blind is a life-size enclosure, large enough for the artist or some mysterious Mechanical Turk to be hiding within, alive in the armature. Bruch writes: “Blind is also very much about waiting, though as a complete enclosure it’s not of much use for hunting visible things – more of a hunting device for invisible things.”
It’s difficult to resist an analogy here to Leibniz’s monads. Leibniz’s metaphysics posits a multiplicity of individual (and indivisible) substances or atoms which he calls monads. A monad is an object that withdraws from us, it has no windows. We can only know it partially. In Greek, monad means “unity” – it is an expression of identity, closure, singularity. It is a force of representation; it actively reflects the universe from its own perspective. Proceeding from internal activity, monads are at once material and mental – both particle and perspective.
Perhaps Blind is such a thing – a monad, like our cousin “it” – mere particle or speck in the plurality or parliament of things – a realm where the it’s outnumber the me’s. But unlike Leibniz’s monads, which have no access to the outside, Bruch is fully engaged in both internal and external activity. While the art object that emerges may resemble a monad in its unity and singularity, Bruch’s process is not a windowless one – he simultaneously looks inside and outside.
In a way, Blind does present a problem to the viewer – how to relate to or commune with it – that is similar to Leibniz’s far more generalized problem: how can monads communicate at all? But while Leibniz gets lost in a theological bubble in his attempt to account for the seemingly infinite transactions of monads, Bruch is simply, directly grounded in his process.
In the process of creating work, Bruch interrogates his own relation to the materials he’s working with, and tends to the meaning that unfolds. The goal, he says, is “to make the shifting relation between exteriority and interiority compelling… to create an affective experience that extends beyond personal interest, often through an indirect appeal to the body.” When he says that he aims to “mine the emotional implications of physical space,” I take him to mean that he hopes to investigate how one can begin to account for the emotion and meaning captured in this process, knowing full well that there will always be something lost, that eludes capture.
Bruch’s series of ink drawings – Freshets (which Websters defines as “overflowings of streams caused by heavy rains or melted snow”) – are closer to blind luck than Blind is. Waiting and watching as the ink (the bait) interacts with water and paper, Bruch reels these drawings in. With a considerable amount of attention, he watches the ink run and blur, revealing their mineral contents as they stain the paper with subtle hues. Bruch calls these drawings a guilty pleasure, and I suspect that’s because he’s had good luck. He’s collaborating but he feels the materials are doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.
Every art exhibition to some extent collaborates with the given space and the social context that impacts decisions regarding what is shown and how it is shown. Blind occupies one month of Lawrimore Project’s one year performance, each month relating in some way to a particular two-page spread of Mallarmé’s un coup de des, which famously explodes or doubles the frame of the page. As Donato Mancini succinctly says: “Mallarmé activates the blanks, creates the page as an arena for action...”
In the spirit of un coup de des, Lawrimore makes use of limited space as an arena for action: he constrains himself in a space, for a set duration of a year, in a social context where he is forced to deal directly with everyone entering the gallery. It feels a bit like one is entering Scott’s therapeutic galaxy, triangulated in the enclosed space, between the art, and performer-dealer.
The experience of Bruch’s Blind enclosure within Lawrimore’s open enclosure is a sort of Rorschach test. What’s important is that it is yours to behold. It is your Blind relation that matters, it is your chance to have an encounter, to construct new relations.