You’ve likely heard the reason people never smile in very old photographs. Early photography could be an excruciatingly slow process. With exposure times of up to 15 minutes, portrait subjects found it impossible to hold a grin, which could easily slip into a pained grimace and ruin the picture. A few minutes represented marked improvement on the time it took to make the very first photograph, Nicéphore Niépce’s 1826 “heliograph.” Capturing the shapes of light and shadow outside his window, Niépce’s image “required an eight-hour exposure,” notes the Christian Science Monitor, “long enough that the sunlight reflects off both sides of the buildings.”
Niépce’s business and inventing partner is much more well-known: Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, who went on after Niépce’s death in 1833 to develop the Daguerreotype process, patenting it in 1839. That same year, the first selfie was born. And the year prior Daguerre himself took what most believe to be the very first photograph of a human, in a street scene of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris. The image shows us one of Daguerre’s early successful attempts at image-making, in which, writes NPR’s Robert Krulwich, “he exposed a chemically treated metal plate for ten minutes. Others were walking or riding in carriages down that busy street that day, but because they moved, they didn’t show up.”
Visible, however, in the lower left quadrant is a man standing with his hands behind his back, one leg perched on a platform. A closer look reveals the fuzzy outline of the person shining his boots. A much finer-grained analysis of the photograph shows what may be other, less distinct figures, including what looks like two women with a cart or pram, a child’s face in a window, and various other passersby. The photograph marks a historically important period in the development of the medium, one in which photography passed from curiosity to revolutionary technology for both artists and scientists.
first human photo
Although Daguerre had been working on a reliable method since the 1820s, it wasn’t until 1838, the Metropolitan Museum of Art explains, that his “continued experiments progressed to the point where he felt comfortable showing examples of the new medium to selected artists and scientists in the hope of lining up investors.” Photography’s most popular 19th century use—perhaps then as now—was as a means of capturing faces. But Daguerre’s earliest plates “were still life compositions of plaster casts after antique sculpture,” lending “the ‘aura’ of art to pictures made by mechanical means.” He also took photographs of shells and fossils, demonstrating the medium’s utility for scientific purposes.
If portraits were perhaps less interesting to Daguerre’s investors, they were essential to his successors and admirers. Candid shots of people moving about their daily lives as in this Paris street scene, however, proved next to impossible for several more decades. What was formerly believed to be the oldest such photograph, an 1848 image from Cincinnati, shows what appears to be two men standing at the edge of the Ohio River. It seems as though they’ve come to fetch water, but they must have been standing very still to have appeared so clearly. Photography seemed to stop time, freezing a static moment forever in physical form. Blurred images of people moving through the frame expose the illusion. Even in the stillest, stiffest of images, there is movement, an insight Eadweard Muybridge would make central to his experiments in motion photography just a few decades after Daguerre debuted his world-famous method.
by Steven Craig Hickman
Phenomenology, then, is an essential cognitive task of confronting the threat that things pose in their very being. … After phenomenology, we can only conclude that a great deal of philosophizing is not an abstract description or dispassionate accounting, but only an intellectual defense against the threatening intimacy of things.
– Timothy Morton, Realist Magic
Peter Schwenger in his book The Tears of Things comes very close to the same central insight upon which Graham Harman has built his entire metaphysical edifice. We discover that for the most part the everyday tools that we use: hammers, rakes, pens, computers, etc., remain inconspicuous; overlooked by those of us who use such tools; noticing them, if at all, as necessities that help us get on with our own work. Yet, the paradox of this situation is that there are moments when the tool threatens us, becomes an obstacle to our enterprising projects, and it is at such moments that we suddenly awaken from our metaphysical sleep and notice these objects in a strange new light: when the hammer iron head flies free of the wooden handle, or the computer suddenly freezes, the screen goes black, then sparking and sending out small frissions of stench and smoke from the flat box that encases it; at such moments we become defensive, threatened by the power of these material objects that we no longer control, that in fact are broken and exposed, beyond our ability to know just what they are.
We also become aware that the tool is part of a larger sphere: it does not exist in and of itself, but is applied to materials in concert with other tools to make something that may then be seen in its turn as “equipment for residency” in parallel to Le Corbusier’s famous pronouncement that “a house is a machine for living in.” The full network of equipment’s interrelated assignments and intentions makes up what the subject perceives as “world.” The dynamic of this world, at whatever level, is one of care – care of the subject’s being. The business of equipment, then, is not just to build an actual house but as much as possible, and in the broadest sense, to make the subject feel at home in the state of existing.1
Against this Heiddegerian world of comfort and care much of what we call modernist art incorporated the tools into their artistic charade in order to break our at homeness, to make us feel a more difficult strangeness and estrangement, to become Aliens in an Alien Land ( I play off Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land). Against the order of meaning and description OOO prides itself in making things strange again, allowing the Master Signifiers that once ruled the world to fall away into darkness, withdrawn and empty of significance, uncanny and paradoxical guests to a banquet of the Real that can no longer be controlled by humans or scientific discourse. Listen to a master of philosophical mythography, Graham Harman, as he turns a Ferris Wheel into a lesson on Objects and the levels of being, occasional causality, and the inhuman withdrawnness of substance:
The reader should pause and fix this image firmly in mind: a giant rotating wheel, carrying thousands of beings in a long arc ascending to the clouds and vanishing into the darkness of the earth. Let it spin dozens of times in your mind before we move on from this beautiful spectacle. Imagine the faint machinic whirr of its concealed engine, the creaking of its bolts, and the varied sounds emitted by the objects riding in its cars: from neighing horses to mournful woodwind ensembles. Imagine too the ominous mood in the vicinity as its cars plunge deep into the earth. Picture the wheel loaded with animals, bombs, and religious icons. Picture it creaking under the weight of its cargo and emitting a ghostly light as it spins along its colossal circuit. Imagine the artists and engineers of genius who designed such a thing. And consider the human culture that would arise nearby, with the wheel as its sacred point of reference.2
Timothy Morton in his new work reminds us that “the phenomenological approach requires a cycling, iterative style that examines things again and again, now with a little more detail here, then with a little more force there”.2 Harman does just that in his myth of the Wheel turning from light to dark to light again, a fabricated circle of machinic life that harbors the strangeness of existence itself, entities that cannot be charmed into eloquence accept as paradoxical creatures that inhabit the interstices of thought like fragments of a cyclic world. The great wheel rising and falling from the sky into the underbelly below the ground, the dramatic interplay of object and network, the countless entities circling into and out of our lives, some of them threatening and others ludicrous. The objects in the cars and those on the ground or in the chambers affect one another, coupling and uncoupling from countless relations— seducing, ignoring, ruining, or liberating each other. (Harman KL 69-72)
As Morton remarks “thinking objects is one of the most difficult yet necessary things thinking can do—trying to come close to them is the point, rather than retreating to the grounds of the grounds of the possibility of the possibility of asserting anything at all”. Are as Harman would have it objects affect us and in fact these objects turning on the Wheel of Relations – as he terms it, “generate new realities” (Harman, KL 76). At the end of this little myth of wheels within wheels, the churning ocean of being and becoming, Harman remarks that “no point in reality is merely a solid thing, and none is an ultimate concrete event unable to act as a component in further events. In this respect, the cosmos might be described as a vast series of interlocking ferris wheels” (Harman, KL 175-177).
This opening move leads me back to Timothy Morton and his new work where he tells us that to think this way about Objects all the way and all the way down as a series of interlocking machines is to begin to work out an object-oriented view of causality. “If things are intrinsically withdrawn, irreducible to their perception or relations or uses, they can only affect each other in a strange region out in front of them, a region of traces and footprints: the aesthetic dimension“. As he states it so eloquently in his introduction “Every aesthetic trace, every footprint of an object, sparkles with absence. Sensual things are elegies to the disappearance of objects.”
I am reminded of his work within literary criticism of which he is a master. In his excellent essay The Dark Ecology of Elegy in the Oxford Handook to Elegy he remarks:
Perhaps the future of ecological poetry is that it will cease to play with the idea of nature. Since ecology is, philosophically thinking how all beings are interconnected, in as deep a way as possible, the idea of nature, something ‘over there,’ the ultimate lost object … will not cut it. We will lose nature, but gain ecology. Ecological poetry must thus transcend the elegiac mode” (255). 4
And, yet, under the sign of the inhuman he brings us closer to the Sadean truth of the world. “What if ‘man’ was already a kind of ‘living sepulcher,’ an empty tomb, a ‘mere husk’ like the seeds of the rustling reeds? If is finally our intimacy with that which is the deepest and the darkest. Under these circumstances, elegy would perform the melancholy knowingness that we are machines” (269). It is in the darkness that ecology withdrawn within the inhuman begins to harbor that ecological thought of which Morton is the eloquent elegist:
Dark ecology chooses not to digest the phobic-disgusting object. Instead it decides to remain with it in all its meaningless inconsistency (Zizek 1992:35-9). Dark ecology is the ultimate reverse of deep ecology. The most ethical act is to love the other precisely in their artificiality, rather than seeking their naturalness and authenticity. Dark ecology refuses to digest plants and animals and humans into ideal forms. Cheering your self up too fast will only make things more depressing. ‘Linger long’ (Alastor: 1. 98) in the darkness of a dying world. (269)
As he reminds us in his new book “Doesn’t this tell us something about the aesthetic dimension, why philosophers have often found it to be a realm of evil? The aesthetic dimension is a place of illusions, yet they are real illusions. If you knew for sure that they were just illusions, then there would be no problem.” This is the realm of vicarious causation the place where the “aesthetic dimension floats in front of objects, like a group of disturbing clowns in an Expressionist painting or a piece of performance art whose boundaries are nowhere to be seen”. This aesthetic dimension was revived with Harman’s return to Aristotelian substantialist form, which forced him to revive the older occasional causation theories he termed vicarious causation because, as he remarks, it “requires no theology to support it. Any philosophy that makes an absolute distinction between substances and relations will inevitably become a theory of vicarious causation, since there will be no way for the substances to interact directly with one another” (Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (Kindle Locations 83-85). As Morton in his new work remarks on this:
I argue that causality is wholly an aesthetic phenomenon. Aesthetic events are not limited to interactions between humans or between humans and painted canvases or between humans and sentences in dramas. They happen when a saw bites into a fresh piece of plywood. They happen when a worm oozes out of some wet soil. They happen when a massive object emits gravity waves. When you make or study art you are not exploring some kind of candy on the surface of a machine. You are making or studying causality. The aesthetic dimension is the causal dimension. It still astonishes me to write this, and I wonder whether having read this book you will cease to be astonished or not.
Even though I come out of the traditions of Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Schelling, Hegel, Nietzsche, Bataille, Deleuze, Zizek and Land, and am definitely in the opposing insubstantialist stance within the philosophical spectrum, I still admire the power of this older formalism of substance. I have yet to finish this work by Timothy but have enjoyed the stimulation of its alternative traditions descending as they do from those Great Originals, Plato and Aristotle. And, even if I fit within their competitors loquacious if insubstantial or immanent tradition – that tributary river of another materialism (Epicurus and his epigones, who down the ages has spawned varying proposals concerning matter and the void) I still affirm those who hold to the flame of materialism no matter which path they follow.
Read online: Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality
1. Peter Schwenger. The Tears of Things. (University of Minnesota, 2006)
2. Harman, Graham (2010-11-26). Circus Philosophicus (Kindle Locations 27-34). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.
3. Timothy Morton. Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (Open Humanities Press An imprint of MPublishing, University of Michigan Library, ©2013)
4. The Oxford Handbook of The Elegy. Edited by Karen Weisman (Oxford University Press, 2010)
The article is taken from:
by Steven Craig Hickman
The point is that the relation, the subjective relation between an event and the world cannot be a direct relation.
-Alain Badiou: The Subject of Art
"Meraki" Acrylic on canvas, 50x40 cm BTW
One often wonders what truly is going on in Badiou’s mind as he prepares for his lectures. Reading the lecture I quoted above in the link I sit back in wonderment at the childlike simplicity of his statements, as if the audience before him were all ten year old kids and he the master was trying his best to lead them through the intricate yet simple realms of Alice’s Wonderland. His voice is charming and eloquent, decisive and pure, yet one is tempted to smile and realize that the Master has gone over this track too many times, that it is all too confident, too precise and mathematical for our taste. It’s as if he is trying to convince not the audience but himself of the simplicity of his system, to make sure that each and every aspect of its labored precision still fits the measure of his tempered mind. And, does it? Is this trifold world of being qua being, being-in-the-word, and the event truly locked down in such a methodical fashion as to allow for no critical injunctions?
Badiou like Zizek always begins and ends with the Subject as that point in the world where something new happens:
The point is that the relation, the subjective relation between an event and the world cannot be a direct relation. Why? Because an event disappears on one side, and on the other side we never have a relation with the totality of the world. So when I say that the subject is a relation between an event and the world we have to understand that as an indirect relation between something of the event and something of the world. The relation, finally, is between a trace and the body. I call trace ‘what subsists in the world when the event disappears.’ It’s something of the event, but not the event as such; it is the trace, a mark, a symptom. And on the other side, the support of the subject—the reality of the subject in the world—I call ‘a new body.’ So we can say that the subject is always a new relation between a trace and a body. It is the construction in a world, of a new body, and jurisdiction—the commitment of a trace; and the process of the relationship between the trace and the body is, properly, the new subject. (here)
When I saw that word ‘trace’ rise up in the above sentences I was reminded of another French philosopher, Jaques Derrida, for whom trace became a catch word. In the 1960s, Derrida used this word in two of his early books, namely “Writing and Difference” and “Of Grammatology”. Because the meaning of a sign is generated from the difference it has from other signs, especially the other half of its binary pairs, the sign itself contains a trace of what it does not mean. One cannot bring up the concepts of woman, normality, or speech without simultaneously evoking the concepts of man, abnormality, or writing. The trace is the nonmeaning that is inevitably brought to mind along with the meaning.” Is there a connection? I doubt it, only the connection in my own mind between two distinctly independent and intelligent philosophers that obviously with careful reading probably questioned each other to no end, yet read each other deeply and contentiously. Their thought converges and diverges on the concept of the event. I’d have to spend too much time to tease out the complexity of both philosophers conceptions to do that in a blog post so will end here. Read the above essay if you will for it lays down in a few words the basic architectural units of Badiou’s whole system of philosophy. One could do no better than read it and either follow it up with a deep reading of his major works Being and Event and The Logic of Worlds, or toss it into the trash and follow one’s own inclinations toward other climes. I leave that to the reader to choose. For me it is enough to realize that Badiou is someone you cannot pass over, but must confront with all the rigor that he brings to his own project. That there can be no direct relation between the event and the world to me seems to fit nicely into many of the strands of current philosophical speculation. This is a philosophy of movement, of happening, not of closure and stasis. The idea of indirect relation is processual in its dynamics, yet is also gathered into the net of mathematical precision as the intersection of relations defined as the movement between world and body, subject and its field of newness. Where does this take us? I’ll only leave you with one last tidbit from the lecture:
So the subject of art is not only the creation of a new process in its proper field, but it’s also a question of war and peace, because if we don’t find the new paradigm—the new subjective paradigm—the war will be endless. And if we want peace—real peace—we have to find the possibility that subjectivity is really in infinite creation, infinite development, and not in the terrible choice between one form of the power of death (experimentation of the limits of pleasure) and another form of the power of death (which is sacrifice for an idea, for an abstract idea). That is I think, the contemporary responsibility of artistic creation.
by Steven Craig Hickman
“Bacon’s bodies, heads, Figures are made of flesh, and what fascinates him are the invisible forces that model flesh or shake it. This is the relationship not of form and matter, but of materials and forces making these forces visible through their effects on the flesh.”
– Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: the logic of sensation
The ripple of flesh, the slippery lushness just below the surface plane, the immanent materials and forces, the “violence of a sensation (and not of a representation), a static or potential violence, a violence of reaction and expression” (x), these are demarcations of a philosophy of life rather than death. Against the old religions, the monotheistic tribalism of the sky: the dark powers of hierarchy, of the One who beholds, who sees all, whose gaze orders everything into a system of justice and retribution: under the law that keeps everything bound to its harsh justice and stringent banishments; instead of this dead and deadening judgment that hands down decrees and punishments, enforces the legal inducements of final Heavens of the Immortals or Eternal Judgments in Lakes of Fire (for all who do not follow the dictates of this fierce power).
Against this harsh world Deleuze offers us the immanent law of rebellion, of force, of flows that churn within like so many coagulating sperm infested snakes that want to escape: the spasmodic, the serpentine liquidity, the “revelation of the body beneath the organism, which makes organisms and their elements crack or swell, imposes a spasm on them, and puts them into relation with forces sometimes with an inner force that arouses them, sometimes with external forces that traverse them, sometimes with the eternal force of an unchanging time. sometimes with the variable forces of a flowing time” (160).
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944. Oil and pastel on Sundeala board. Tate Britain, London
Egyptian painted figures float in an abstract space that is neither here nor there. The background is coolly blank. Everything is flattened into the foreground, an eternal present where serenely smiling pharaohs offer incense and spools of flax to the gods or drive their chariot wheels over fallen foes. Women strike tambourines, dance as the forces of the earth rise in their young lithe bodies. Hieroglyphics hang in midair, clusters of sharp pictograms of a rope, reed, bun, viper, owl, human leg, or mystic eye. “Can the Egyptian assemblage be taken as the point of departure for Western painting? It is an assemblage of bas-relief even more than of painting,” says Deleuze (122). The Bas-relief is the flat plane of the ontic, the place where eye and hand meet on the surface, the terraform that cleaves the haptic, the layers of movement no longer above or below but moving along the surface unhindered by the chains of chance or necessity.
“It is thus a geometry of the plane, of the line, and of essence that inspires Egyptian bas-relief; but it will also incorporate volume by covering the funerary cube with a pyramid;that is, by erecting a Figure that only reveals to us the unitary surface of isosceles triangles on clearly limited sides. It is not only man and the world that in this way receive their planar or linear essence; it is also the animal and the vegetal, the sphinx and the lotus, which arc raised to their perfect geometrical form, whose very mystery is the mystery of essence” (123).
In line with Lucretius, needing to make visible the forces below the threshold of things, Deleuze touches the heart of art in deformation, the elastic or plastic deformations that are productive of temporal fluctuations harboring the monstrous truth of being: “they are like the forces of the cosmos confronting an intergalactic traveler immobile in his capsule” (58). The transformation of form can be abstract or dynamic. But deformation is always bodily, and it is static, it happens at one place; it subordinates movement to force, but it also subordinates the abstract to the Figure (59). The deformation is obtained in the form at rest; and at the same time, the whole material environment, the structure, begins to stir: “walls twitch and slide, chairs bend or rear up a little, cloths curl like burning paper…. “(60). The aesthetics of forces inhabiting the geometry of flows and fluctuations that move discordantly up through the tongue in the moment of becoming visible, the “visibility of the scream (the open mouth as a shadowy abyss) and invisible forces, which are nothing other than the forces of the future” (61):
“When, like a wrestler, the visible body confronts the powers of the invisible, it gives them no other visibility than its own. It is within this visibility that the body actively struggles, affirming the possibility of triumphing, which was beyond its reach as long as these powers remained invisible, hidden in a spectacle that sapped our strength and diverted us. It is as if combat had now become possible. The struggle with the shadow is the only real struggle” (62).
This is the agon with duende – the force of the sublunar, the chills that spring forward out of the shadows in our moments between, makes one smile or cry as a bodily reaction to an artistic performance that is particularly expressive. Folk music in general, especially flamenco, tends to embody an authenticity that comes from a people whose culture is enriched by diaspora and hardship; vox populi, the human condition of joys and sorrows. Lorca writes: “The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation.”
He suggests, “everything that has black sounds in it, has duende. … This ‘mysterious power which everyone senses and no philosopher explains’ is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duende that scorched the heart of Nietzsche, who searched in vain for its external forms on the Rialto Bridge and in the music of Bizet, without knowing that the duende he was pursuing had leaped straight from the Greek mysteries to the dancers of Cadiz or the beheaded, Dionysian scream of Silverio’s siguiriya.” … “The duende’s arrival always means a radical change in forms. It brings to old planes unknown feelings of freshness, with the quality of something newly created, like a miracle, and it produces an almost religious enthusiasm.” …”All arts are capable of duende, but where it finds greatest range, naturally, is in music, dance, and spoken poetry, for these arts require a living body to interpret them, being forms that are born, die, and open their contours against an exact present” (Theory and Play of the Duende).
Head VI, 1949. 93.2 × 76.5 cm (36.7 × 30.1 in), Arts Council collection, Hayward Gallery, London
Or as Deleuze eloquently states it “Life screams at death, but death is no longer this all-too visible thing that makes us faint; it is this invisible force that life detects, flushes out, and makes visible through the scream. Death is judged from the point of view of life, and not the reverse, as we like to believe” (62). … There is the force of ‘banging time, through the allotropic variation of bodies, down to the tenth of a second,” which involves ”’formation; and then there is the force of eternal time, the eternity of time, through the uniting separating that reigns in the triptychs, a pure light. To render time sensible in itself is a task common to the painter, the musician, and sometimes the writer. It is a task beyond all measure or cadence” (64).
The famously filthy mess that was Bacon’s studio at Reece Mews – the piles and sticky avalanches of photos, books, clipped newsprint, booze-stained scribbles on the verge of becoming drawings, squished paint tubes and every imaginable ingredient of clutter that covered the horizontal and vertical surfaces, tables and walls, like some illegible compost in which, like molds or somewhat alien life-forms, his future pictures were brewing and his past ones decaying. This stuff was more than rubbish. It was an archive, admittedly a staggeringly disordered one. An archive of the deformations that arise out of the earth itself to grasp hold of our very thoughts, and scream… the painters visions of that moment of deformation that implodes and gives birth at the same time. Out of disorder order shapes us, moves through us, spasmodically, and with desperate disjunctive sounds of the duende…
“It is not I who attempts to escape from my body, it is the body that attempts to escape from itself by means of…. in short, a spasm: the body as plexus, and its effort or waiting for a spasm” (15).
“Time is no longer the chromatism of bodies; it has become a monochromatic eternity. An immense space-time unites all things, but only by introducing between them the distance of a Sahara, the centuries of an aeon: the triptych and its separated panels… There are nothing but triptychs in bacon: even the isolated paintings are, more or less visibly, composed like triptychs” (85).
An inversion of the ancient Christian formalism, Bacon’s triptychs remind us not so much of icons of some transcendent deity, but rather as the immanent movement of those strange forces that surface and withdraw, channel their rapprochement or negotiate between the triple aspects of being that is always and forever the faces of Time past, present, and future: the motion of a pendulum that carves and deforms us even as death awakens within us the flowers of life itself. “Like Lucretius’s simulacrum, …seem to him to cut across ages and temperaments, to come from afar, in order to fill every room or every brain” (91). These triple non-forms are the strokes of a cosmic catastrophe: “It is like the emergence of another world. For these marks, these traits, are irrational, involuntary, accidental, free, random. They are nonrepresentative, nonillustrative, nonnarrative. They are no longer either significant or signifiers: they are asignifying traits” (101).
The monstrous void opens inward revealing nothing less than the face of an abyss that cannot be described nor represented for it is the face of the inhuman other that for so long has been banished, exiled among its own dark thoughts, riven of its place within the fold, the flows of time’s dark prison. But the path to salvation is not easy. No. But are atheists allowed salvation? Is art a form of salvation? Are the paths of artistic expression forms of freedom? And, what of these paths? “Abstraction would be one of these paths, but it is a path that reduces the abyss or chaos (as well as the manual) to a minimum: it offers us an asceticism, a spiritual salvation. Through an intense spiritual effort, it raises itself above the figurative givens, but it also turns chaos into a simple stream we must cross in order to discover the abstract and signifying Forms” (103). The Second Path leads another way:
“A second path, often named abstract expressionism or art informed oilers an entirely different response, at the opposite extreme of abstraction. This time the abyss or chaos is deployed to the maximum. Somewhat like a map that is as large as the country, the diagram merges with the totality of the painting; the entire painting is diagrammatic” … In the unity of the catastrophe and the diagram, man discovers rhythm as matter and material. (104 – 107).
These diagrams offer recompense, only if we can differentiate between the triptych diagrams. But we can also date the diagram of a painter, because there is always a moment when the painter confronts it most directly. “The diagram is indeed a chaos, a catastrophe, but it is also a germ of order or rhythm. It is a violent chaos in relation to the figurative givens, but it is a germ of rhythm in relation to the new order of the painting” (102). As Bacon says, it “unlocks areas of sensation.” The diagram ends the preparatory work and begins the act of painting. There is no painter who has not had this experience of the chaos-germ, where he or she no longer sees anything and risks foundering: the collapse of visual coordinates. Ultimately this is a tale of facts, of the power of non-representational painting, the ardour of emergence and flow, the moment of facticity:
“…the forms may be figurative, and there may still be narrative relations between the characters – but all these connections disappear in favor of a ‘matter of fact’ or a properly pictorial (or sculptural) ligature, which no longer tells a story and no longer represents anything but its own movement, and which makes these apparently arbitrary elements coagulate in a single continuous flow” (160).
Gilles Deleuze. Francis Bacon: the logic of sensation. Continuum 2003
The article is taken from:
by Aryan Kaganof
It is worth reminding ourselves why many people think August Highland a great modern poet. The first thing to say is that without him it would have been impossible for the Metapoetics Theatre movement to cohere or become a public sensibility, a symptomatic art for the age. The details of his part in the Hyper-Literary Fiction movement, and the part he played in forming and feeding its views, have been accumulating over the years in which scholars and critics have looked back to San Diego in 1998-2003 as an optimum time of creation.
The moment of the Genre Splice is superluminal.
It arrives before it was sent.
Hyper-Literary Fiction is never on time.
It’s time is a perpetuum mobile of memories of what happens next.
Next-Gen Nanopoetics is Zarathustra’s eternal recurrence, vibrating fast enough for your ears to see it and slow enough for your eyes to hear it.
The prime characteristic of the Genre-Splicer is that he does not tell a story.
The Genre-Splicer creates an emptiness of literature. But this emptiness was already there. It merely needed to be filled. With Genre-Splices the sources of contemporary literature are exposed in their emptiness. What is expelled from the screen page is hysteria, ie. contemporary literature itself.
Hyper-Literary Fiction is never finished.
Genre-Splices always beg the question: when may we begin again?
Each of the Genre Splices August Highland makes is trying to say the whole thing, i.e. the same thing over and over again. It is as though they were all simply views of one object seen from different angles.
The closest Microlinear Storytelling gets to Once Upon A Time is Always Now.
The Hyper-Literary Fiction of value always invokes deja-vu.
Genre-Splicing is addictive.
In a way having one’s writings Genre-Spliced is like eating from the tree of knowledge. The knowledge acquired sets us new (ethical) problems; but contributes nothing to their solution.
Sometimes a Genre-Splice can be understood only if it is experienced at the right tempo. August Highland’s Hyper-Literary Fiction is all supposed to be read very fast.
Hyper-Literary Fiction gazes into abysses, which it should not veil from sight nor can conjure away.
The key to Genre-Splicing lies undoubtedly hidden somewhere in our complex sexual nature.
Hyper-Literary Fiction is ANNIHILATIVE!
The Metapoetics Theatre movement probably reached its most distilled meaning in August Highland’s own career, where the notion of “the hard textimage” did acquire an authoritative centrality, but nonetheless it most certainly offered many essential constituents fundamental to modern Genre-Splicing lore – the free line, “superpositioning”, crack, etc. One thing that can be said in his favour is that August Highland always went in pursuit of a redemptive kinesis.
Aryan Kaganof is an award-winning avant-garde filmmaker, writer and artist living in Gauteng. He is one half of South African Noise duo Virgins.
The article is taken from:
by Marcel Wesdorp
Prints of these digitally developed areas seem to be real photographs, uniquely named by their specific xyz co-ordinates. But at a second glance you are struck by an unknown reality that lies beyond. Some steps in this process lead to unsuspected and surprisingly catching images, each of them with a most sensitive and enigmatic touch, as may be seen in his PW series.
Apart from the purely software based techniques, the collection and modelling of existing satellite data and maps is a second intricate field of work of the artist. Here another elaborate few years were needed to complete the paper-printed black and white ‘Untitled World File’. Wesdorp’s fine imagination of scale and proportion makes you dazzle for this vacuum of time and space. The work originates from a real love history, only to be revealed to the viewer when taking time to see its dimensions.
x4207.44/y2809.41/z258.51 - 2011
x1288.20/y6028.21/z285.40 - 2010
x3435.26./y5201.54/z-9.14 - 2011
x7457.29/y9325.47/z226.42 - 2012
Out of Nothing
2007/2010 - 02:05 hour [fragment]
x86946.1/y55460.1-3838.8 - 2015/16
x52059.4/y2598.8-2161 - 2015
Untitled World - 2015
Untitled World-File - 2014/2015
MINE 'compiled world file' 2017
Born in Netherlands (1965) and graduated at Willem de Kooning Academy -Rotterdam and the advanced programme in photography at St. Joost Academy in Breda, Wesdorp creates computerized animations of landscapes.
Wesdorp’s work has been shown several times at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam (2007-2011), at Museum Belvedere, Heerenveen (2012), in Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012), Erasmus University, Rotterdam (2013) and with gallery Helder in the solo presentation at KunstRAI, Amsterdam (2015). Wesdorp continues to investigate new ways to show what lies beyond the surface.
by Armen Avanessian
I want to pursue the question of the new interest in materialism by way of an(apparent) detour, namely: with a view to determining from what direction, for what reasons, and via what signs this new interest is expressed. Because of the increasing lack of interest on the part of official academic institutions and their pitiful failure at hosting or producing new philosophy, it is now an expanded art field that gives impetus to various movements and transformations in theory. This expanded field includes not only artists and curators but also galleries, art institu-tions, art academies, art journals, and the theoreticians and critics whom they pub-lish. At times, it is this expanded field that enables individual theoreticians to con-tinue working at all. On the other hand, in view of the fundamental crisis of a con-temporary art scene that appears increasingly directionless, and that can betermed materialistic primarily in an economic sense, the new speculative realism(or in Quentin Meillassoux’s case, speculative materialism) has been stripped forbuzzwords. This process is well known, and has been undertaken in order to dis-guise extreme emptiness and disorientation in the art field (zombie-conceptual?pre-internet? post-digital?) with new concepts—this time from the subject areas of materialism, speculation, and ontology. In particular, one variant of speculativerealism has achieved rapid success in the art world, namely Graham Harman’sobject-oriented ontology. There are a couple of obvious reasons why artists andcurators have embraced this ontology so joyfully: Harman developed a pan-psychictheory largely by re-reading positions that were already established—and hencecomprehensible for the art business—such as Husserl’s phenomenology, Latour’snetwork theory, etc. And he endorses aesthetics (as prima philosophia, first philoso-phy), which is fundamentally and inherently “correlationist,” depending as it doesupon a perceptual dialectic of subject or object. Finally, there is the ontologicalenhancement or upgrading of the status of objects, an aspect of his thought that has certainly not slowed the economic materialism of the art world.
The fog is slowly lifting after several years of hype, and we now see positionsand demarcations more clearly. This relates first of all to the several kinds of new speculative materialism or realism. This occurs not least through the recent prominence of accelerationism, a political theory in which the influence of Deleuze and Guattari meets that of a new Promethean rationalism. With the lat-ter, the significance of analytical-philosophical and linguistic-philosophicalthought clearly enters the foreground. A positive side effect of this is the over-coming of a rather naive initial emphasis—it could also be termed somewhat sim-plistic public relations—namely, the assumption that a speculative turn would sim-ply overcome the linguistic turn; or that an uncritical, purely speculative and base-less ontology would or could now operate in place of critical epistemology or lan-guage philosophy. Such simple models maintain a common dichotomy of either language or matter (a misunderstanding that is no less widespread in poststruc-turalism itself). The second of these terms—matter—is at times excluded in thesemodels as impossible and at times is longingly invoked through aesthetics. In place of such unhelpful juxtapositions, there will hopefully be a greater material-istic reliance upon thought or language, not as opposite terms of a simple dichotomy but as recursive aspects of world and matter together: of language best understood from its material dynamics. This is also a linguistic-ontological pre-supposition for every (future) attempt at an understanding of art that is no longer aesthetic but rather poetic or perhaps poietic (meaning productive, in the sense of creating something genuinely new).
The other shift in the understanding of speculative materialism can be observed in the field of art (theory). Following the Speculative Realism Conference, organized by Robin Mackay and Ray Brassier and held in London in 2007, the initial reception in the art world was at times enthusiastic. This is attest-ed to by numerous anecdotes regarding object-oriented art students who are either arguing about or supposedly producing archifossiles (materials indicating tra-ces of phenomena anterior to the emergence of life), or trendy gallery owners try-ing to associate their artists with the appropriate theoreticians, the latter them-selves all too often readily acting as catalogue text writers for the art business at the same time that they banally lambast it as corrupt (instead of systematically pon-dering the material software and hardware of the art business); or the prominence of various positions of the new materialism at the last Documenta. In short, there have been a great many efforts that have led at the very least to successfully estab-lishing a new, young, fresh generation of artists in a global market between Basel and Miami who benefit from their association with speculative philosophies.
Old wine in a new bottle? Same old sculptures—this time 3-D printed? Yet more decorative paintings with some new industrial colors or maybe on synthetic materials? This is pretty much the impression one gathers when following somequite fruitless debates about post-internet art. Regardless of these discussions thehorizon or the potential of the digital revolution has until now hardly had a posi-tive impact upon ultimately decisive questions such as the economic terms of thedistribution forms of contemporary art (as long as one doesn’t count the flippingphenomenon or the importance of Instagram to gallery sales as a progressivedevelopment). By and large, everything appears to have remained pretty much asit was. Critics still invoke the critical potential of art objects and the impressionthey make upon bourgeois subjects when those works hang upon their walls, andart historians still mystify white cubes as aesthetic experience in a profitable way (to say nothing of the ever-increasing volume of money that is laundered by meansof contemporary art). That these practices continue to take place in relation tospeculative and materialistic ideas, to concepts that are opposed to every form of correlationalism, is a pity, and certainly helpful neither for art nor for philosophy.
In the longer term, I would hope that the real philosophical and art theoreti-cal potential of speculative realism or materialism might emerge more clearly, even if this were to have a threatening impact upon the business as usual aspect of contemporary art.1 Meanwhile, so-called critical art and its aesthetics does not combat the new spirit of capitalism (Boltanski and Chiapello), but by its nature con-tinues to propagate that spirit. An art truly informed by speculative materialism would on the contrary strive not only for a transformation on the discursive levelbut also for an acceleration of the existing platforms of the art system: the materi-al-economic forms of production of art and the paths for its distribution. This alsoapplies to the material power of images to transform our reality, a power that hasfortunately been dealt with recently in a more concise way by artists and theoreti-cians. Such images can also shape reality and can be integrated recursively in actu-ality, instead of merely reflecting it over and over again. Rather than an aesthetic-critical art that bears such an affinity with our modern capitalism, a materialisticart, in a sense that is poietic and speculative, would aim at a new art, no longer our contemporary art.
1. See, initially, Suhail Malik, “Reason to Destroy Contemporary Art,”Spike Art Quarterly 35(2013), pp. 128–34. On the question of other platforms for politics and new economics, see my project for this year’s Vienna gallery festival,Tomorrow Today (www.curatedby.at). Here I experiment with dif-ferent economic models for a postcapitalist and postcontemporary art.
—Translated from the German by Alan Paddle
Armen Avanessian is a philosopher and political theorist.
He is co-founder of the bilingual research platform Spekulative Poetik www.spekulative-poetik.de and of Bureau of Cultural Strategies (https://www.bureauforculturalstrategies.com).
His publications include Irony and the Logic of Modernity (De Gruyter, 2015),
Present Tense: A Poetics, with Anke Hennig (Bloomsbury, 2015);
Speculative Drawing, with Andreas Töpfer (Sternberg Press, 2014);
and the forthcoming titles Metanoia: A Speculative Ontology of Language, Thinking, and the Brain, with Anke Hennig (Bloomsbury, 2017);
Overwrite. Ethics of Knowledge – Poetics of Existence. Berlin: Sternberg Press 2017;
and Miamification (Sternberg Press 2017).
The essay is taken from:
by Armen Avanessian
Today, science fiction might be the best kind of realism – if, that is, it is not the only possible realism. This insight by J. G. Ballard provides the impetus to look at our political, economic and artistic present from the perspective of an already present future. For example, though the current financial crisis has led to severe criticism of financial speculation, those market operations also force us to realise what may have been repressed for decades: Capitalism as we conventionally understand it might not exist anymore, and we are only just becoming aware of this.
The latency period of this transformation of the past decades coincides with the history of contemporary art as a genre or concept devoid of the time orientation that was characteristic of the historical avant-gardes and modern art movements, each of which affirmed the possibility of future (social) progress as a constant in the present. If the coincidence of contemporary art and the latent transformation of capitalism is not entirely arbitrary – and it cannot be if the basic claim of contemporary art is that it is an art appropriate to its time – then contemporary art could be taken as the sign of the derivative or speculative financial system that has left us bereft of both future and present since it reduces every future present to a present future pre-calculable on the basis of probability theory. Here, what has yet to happen is but a continuation of the long-known, the execution of what has already been priced in.
Tomorrow Today opposes this futureless condition, instead presenting experiments in new art-economics projects and taking up the interface between art and capital as a political contestation. Accepting that we are currently in a period of transition and new formation, the question of Tomorrow Today is whether and to what extent artistic imagination and poetic practices can help us accelerate the entry into a post-capitalist society rather than passively accompanying the gradual and increasingly ubiquitous approximation of post-democratic conditions (the aestheticisation of everyday life, gentrification, the art-market bubble, biennale tourism). After postmodernism we realise: the end of (art) history has not yet been reached. Neither liberal Western capitalism nor the genre of a globally expanded contemporary art will have been (art) history’s last word.
Art as currency
For a while now, we have been up against a speculative regime in the world of art. In the pricing system of art, the expertise, skill and, ultimately, the degree of influence of the respective market players play a decisive role. The artistic significance of artworks, their critical content and their art-historical relevance serve a mostly ideological function. If that is the case, we should do nothing less than reverse the popular conviction that the relationship between art and the market is characterised by constitutive ‘tension’. It is rather the priceless nature of art, whose value cannot be calculated through and is irreducible to price, which has rendered it a perfect object of speculation. In this sense, isn’t contemporary art indeed the model and transmission mechanism of a universal financialisation permeating all aspects of society, as has recently been proposed?
Perhaps for this reason, amidst the increasingly disoriented movements of critical contemporary art we are confronted with accelerationist positions that, instead of simulating a ‘critical’ distance to the market, move in a diametrically opposed direction. These positions replace distanced aesthetic reflexions with creative interventions and practical confrontations, for example, at the interface with fashion or celebrity culture (lifestyle branding, image campaigns, marketing strategies) or that of art and science (big data, climate change). They are remarkable for their recursive appropriation and reprogramming of the respective technological, economic and media platforms (virtual money, bitcoin).
How then to speak to the intrinsic relation between art and finance capital? And what is capital, if it isn’t the market, economy, consumption or simply money? Strictly speaking, ‘capital’ is a social entity that facilitates translations of cultural, social, economic and other forms of capital (a good example of this is the shamelessness with which ‘critical’ intellectuals are continuously producing value-adding catalogue texts). Noisy debates on the pricing structures of the art market (most recently on the allegedly illegitimate flippers, etc.) have to be understood against the background that all cultural and social processes are indissolubly connected to the capital. Capital is a social relation, a permanently shifting balance of power.
In view of the current system-wide crisis, revaluing the debt economies that are collapsing right before our eyes becomes inevitable. Financial speculation is becoming increasingly detached from any type of real economy through high-frequency and algorithmic derivative trading. Can finance nonetheless be controlled by better means of regulation, as suggested by the government parties of the European mainstream (who are all adherents of neo-liberal economic policy, whether or not they are social-democrats)? Or are we witnessing the final throes of a moribund political-economic classification system named ‘capitalism’, which in turn could entail serious consequences for the production and distribution conditions of art?
Given the technological (digital, algorithmic) conditions of the current economy, new and different ways of working from these premises come into play. curated by_vienna explores the alternative economic and artistic strategies that are now available.
What options should galleries take if they are not to continuously equip art fairs with the newest in zombie formalism, the youngest emerging artists and evermore exhibits of alleged criticality – often only to be overshadowed by a few global players and risking financial ruin in the process? On the side of artistic practices, economic interrelations are being explicitly readdressed to realign them into the future. Artists and curators who are digital natives and seismographers of a new economy of attention optimistically experiment with poetic and artistic practices instead of believing they can escape from overarching capitalisation by resorting to folkloristic niches. This anti-nostalgic accelerationist perspective raises the question to what extent artists can succeed at steering the changing forms of distribution (for example, by founding companies or through similarly offensive strategies) in an emancipatory manner in today’s Internet age practices that are already forcing gallery and museum exhibitions to take different approaches to the well-established conventions.
Accelerating (contemporary) art
From a speculative and untimely perspective, the principle of spectatorship proves to be an expression of the expiring television age. Doesn’t the omnipresence of social media call for entirely different artistic strategies, not least in how social media providers view their users as passive spectators but as disposable concrete and active material for enhancing diverse algorithmic and data processing and, through that, revenue? What is important here is less the purpose and disadvantage of social media or new communication technologies than it is their means of navigation and control.
The determining media of this day and age are to be understood as interfaces between the human and the non-human (bio hypermedia), whereby creative activities are increasingly integrated into extended technological and economic processes in everyday life. What were once ‘final’ exhibits are now taken only as intermediary stages in an ongoing process of action-once again making apparent the necessity of testing new models or combinations of art and economy.
Armen Avanessian is a philosopher and political theorist.
He is co-founder of the bilingual research platform Spekulative Poetik www.spekulative-poetik.de and of Bureau of Cultural Strategies (https://www.bureauforculturalstrategies.com).
His publications include Irony and the Logic of Modernity (De Gruyter, 2015),
Present Tense: A Poetics, with Anke Hennig (Bloomsbury, 2015);
Speculative Drawing, with Andreas Töpfer (Sternberg Press, 2014);
and the forthcoming titles Metanoia: A Speculative Ontology of Language, Thinking, and the Brain, with Anke Hennig (Bloomsbury, 2017);
Overwrite. Ethics of Knowledge – Poetics of Existence. Berlin: Sternberg Press 2017;
and Miamification (Sternberg Press 2017).
The essay is taken from:
Artaud’s Metamorphosis: From Hieroglyphs to Bodies Without Organs (2017)
Joseph Nechvatal (Rail): Hello Jay. I have just devoured your incredibly rich, incredibly detailed and provocative new book Artaud's Metamorphosis: From Hieroglyphs to Bodies Without Organs (Pavement Books) in an uninterrupted two day reading orgy. I found that the serious intensity of your book demands as much. It is not a book easily skimmed - as there is so much to be learned here. Even in the copious footnotes!
I have known you on and off for many years now, but there is so much I don’t know about you and your fascination with the poète maudit extraordinaire Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) – the laudanum-addled but seminal, visionary, multi-faceted, mid-20th century artist who directly antedates art relevant to our current virtually-enhanced era. You were one of the first to write about my Computer Virus Project 1.0 (1992-93) for the Parisian Galleries Magazine where you demonstrated to me your grasp of the virtual in relationship to contemporary art. This was my early viral contamination computer painting series done at The Saline Royale that reflected on the AIDS epidemic (work that I will be showing in New York at Galerie Richard this November). So I have long been well aware of your expertise in these matters. But I think that your book Artaud’s Metamorphosis will amaze readers, even long standing Antonin Artaud admirers such as myself (a passion that began with reading Susan Sontag’s book of Artaud’s Selected Writings in 1976, the year I moved into downtown New York). Later I was stunned by the 1996 MoMA show of drawings Antonin Artaud: Works on Paper that was curated by someone I have met in Paris, Margit Rowell.
You and I met a long time ago in New York, but you now live in New Orleans and I in Paris. So let’s catch up on what you have been doing in your life and in your curatorial practice. What led you to such an exhaustive deep dive into the magickal chaos of Artaud and your emphasis on tracking his transition (or metamorphosis, as you call it) between his (mystical) white and black periods: a metamorphosis that hinges on the peyote rituals he experienced with the Tarahumaran people in Mexico in 1936 that led to his famous theory of a theater of cruelty based on a “body without organs” (so influential upon Deleuze and Guattari’s BwO ‘virtual’ body as described in their all-important A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia).
Jay Murphy: I’m a bit surprised myself that I took this on as a project. Many figures have been resurrected or renewed in thinking about our digital or now post-digital era – Joyce, Mallarmé, Proust – but I was especially struck by how Artaud had a whole new relevance. This was both in terms of the ‘virtual’ generally, and very specifically in works like the catastrophic video installations of Gary Hill in the ‘90s. Artaud is already writing so articulately about the ‘virtual’ in 1925-1927, as a kind of “life plane” or trajectory involving the body, and the insistence of the ‘later’ or ‘final’ Artaud that the ‘virtual’ remains an arena of intense struggle and combat regarding the projection of the body I find a really useful corrective to seamless notions of the ‘virtual’ that continue to be passed around.
I find Artaud inexhaustible. I first read him in high school, in the Hirschman anthology and The Theater and Its Double (1958), but was introduced to him at the beginning when he was quoted in Phil Brown’s Towards a Marxist Psychology (1974). Brown’s book was a birthday present I took at the time as a put-down, since I had the most leftward views of anyone in school at the time. It ended up being extremely productive since I found the quotes from Artaud so very remarkable. Trying to grasp what exactly is going on in a bewildering yet so very germinative essay like his “Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society” is still a challenge, even after I’ve done an entire section on it in my book.
So I have been reading and thinking about Artaud for a long period of time. There’s also the issue that I returned to Artaud, giving a series of papers on him at conferences beginning in the ‘90’s, since I felt the matter of affect (an extremely weak and poor term given what it purports to refer to, but I’m using it here anyway) was not adequately conveyed or engaged by the vast majority of visual and media art I was seeing in New York, or elsewhere. I was motivated to look at Artaud again since he continues to transmit such extraordinary power. I know many take issue with that – Allen Weiss found To have done with the judgment of god (1947-1948) overly “poetic” and Gayatri C. Spivak has spoken of an Artaud taken up into the ‘culture industry.’ On the contrary, I find Artaud opened up some pathways that have still not been closed.
One of the distinctive features of Artaud’s Metamorphosis is that it is one of the most affirmative views of Artaud that has been published in decades.
There’s also the dimension, of what Isabelle Stengers might call “cosmopolitics.” We live in a period of collapse, of political, environmental, socio-economic, aesthetic systems and motivations that are grinding to a halt or coming to brutal denouements. (Jean-Luc Nancy has compared this to the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages, hence our usual political and economic models lose their coherence). If we were in a more stable era where various ecological systems were working very well, Artaud might be more of a curiosity. But we aren’t. And Artaud is one of the great world poets of collapse and dissolution. If he is about anything, he is about absolute re-invention and re-constitution. That he poses this at the level of the body in such utterly concrete terms is one of the many factors that make him so critically relevant again. Sterlarc dated the carbon body as obsolete as of the early 1970’s – Artaud is already positing this in 1945-1948.
Rail: There is so much to cover here, but one thing that jumped out at me was how important André Masson’s painting L'homme (1924) was to Artaud: a painting Artaud wrote about that shares the same speeding, automatic, ritualistic and revelatory mode of iconographic mark-making seen in Masson’s sex-machinic Automatic Drawing from the same year (1924) where a conflict or antagonism is set up between the feminine litheness of curves and hard angles. Slow looking reveals that the image calls to mind Marcel Duchamp’s Nu descendant un escalier n° 2 (Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2) (1912). But beyond that there is at work an artistic method which plays in the area of chaotic control/non-control, aiming towards constructing a capricious alliance that associates discourses of machinic grinding with organic sexuality. An expanded field of decentered and distributed subjects pervade the visual lexicon of Surrealism, but Masson is generally considered to have pioneered the automatic drawing technique with an opulence that borders on the decadent by adapting the écriture automatique (automatic writing) method of André Breton and Philippe Soupault, who with it composed in 1919 Les Champs magnétiques (The Magnetic Fields), the first surrealist text. Masson’s graphical automatism created a visual analogy to the écriture automatique writing method, based on speed, chance and intuition, but also revealed a certain amount of reflection and artistic strategy. This is all well known, but given Artaud’s stress on spells and magick (that you accent in no uncertain terms), I noted that in the summer of 1924 the English artist and chaos magician Austin Osman Spare, a late-decadent, perversely ornamental graphic dandy in the manner of Felicien Rops, produced a sketchbook of ‘automatic drawings’ of equal disembodied fabula consistent with Artaud’s body without organs. Entitled The Book of Ugly Ecstasy, it contained a series of outlandish pan-sexual creatures produced through automatic (trance induced) means that resembles in their totemic stacking and overlapping transparency the two late-drawings by Artaud you reproduced in your book: both called Untitled (1948) (both 64 × 49 cm).
Considering Spare’s elaborate magickal practice of sigiling (condensing letters of the alphabet into diagrammatic glyphs of desire) and given Artaud’s voracious appetite for occult material, might it have been possible he knew of Spare’s practice of making automatic magickal chaos drawings? Indirect ties between Spare and Masson can be found with Grillot de Givry’s 1929 seminal book Le Musée des sorciers, mages et alchimistes (Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy), an art historical account of where painting, illuminated manuscript, sculpture and architecture connect to the occult heritage that Michel Leiris reviewed in Georges Bataille’s Documents. Of course, Documents was a circuitous challenge to Breton’s ‘mainstream’ Surrealism, as spearheaded by Bataille’s scheme for a swank divinatory “war machine against received ideas.” Also from 1924 is Masson’s intense Dessin automatique (Automatic Drawing) (1924-1925) that strikes hard as an example of that divinatory practice of finding subconscious desires within vague cues. Like Spare’s and Artaud’s drawings (from years later), it is a neurotic network of lines that seem fluid but hectic. At times staccato-like. Gradually appearing among the lines is a standing, plugged-in burial casket (we find many caskets floating in Artaud’s drawings) surrounded by phantasmagorical figure motifs that may include boxy object parts merged with anatomical fragments. The sum total gives off a feeling of occultist ferment typical of Artaud’s thesis of a body without organs.
Of course, it, like many of Masson’s and Spare’s and I add Artaud’s drawings are really sites of suggestibility full of the duality of violence and whimsy, allowing the viewer to make use of her own liberated and heightened mental faculties to probe the opaqueness of the world and discern concealed forces. In that regard, I have always wondered why Artaud showed no interest in the drawings of Hans Bellmer: drawings that have similar transparent and metamorphic qualities as his own. Do you know?
Murphy: I think your questions bring out the extent to which Artaud, despite his hatred of France, and who at one point writes “it is French which is the cause of the carnage and of the universal madness,” remains in a French milieu and is very Paris-centric. He did a version in French of Matthew Gregory Lewis’ 1794 Gothic novel The Monk, but Anglo references in Artaud are very rare. There’s no mention of Spare, or W.B. Yeats, Aleister Crowley and the ‘Golden Dawn’ for that matter. I would agree that Spare is one of the most developed and credible of the homegrown magus of the time, but Artaud is more concerned with first sources. This is why he would travel to the Sierra Tarahumara to experience peyote rites, but it is also why Artaud, Breton, and other surrealists admired a figure like René Guénon. Guénon was withering in his criticism of mystical syncretisms.
To discuss Artaud’s relationship with visual art demonstrates again his singularity. The process of his own drawings at Rodez and at Ivry-sur-seine don’t have much to do with automatic drawing, and the surrealist practice of écriture automatique was anathema to him. Jean Dubuffet was one of the first collectors of Artaud’s drawings, and he considered them in a category of their own. That said, Artaud’s art criticism in the 1920’s and ‘30’s was frequently remarkable, delineating the “ideal space, absolute” gestating in Masson’s L’homme, what Évelyne Grossman has called a “transitory” or indeed ‘virtual’ space, which characteristically for Artaud, despite its location in static art, is in perpetual motion. That Spare’s drawings reach a space similar to Artaud’s would be a fascinating thesis to pursue; part of my current project on Artaud Media Theory (a sort of part two to Artaud’s Metamorphosis) is to compare the function of the ‘virtual’ in Artaud and Duchamp. So to bring up Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase as you do, and The Large Glass installation (1915-1923) as well, for me cut much closer to the bone.
Artaud’s art criticism was also written in a different period, when he was in the midst of his own “occultist ferment,” as you say. I have to stress that Artaud’s invention of the ‘body without organs’ is produced in a later one, created in the cauldron of his asylum confinement (1937-1946), and for Artaud it is explicitly a counter-occult, counter-sorcery weapon for aggression and survival. “The occult,” Artaud writes in 1947, “is born from laziness.” The occult and allied sets of representations, including the mystical paths Artaud seemed to advocate in the 1930’s he now holds in total contempt: “I hold it now in the real, and in my body, like a toilet broom.” This results in Artaud writing almost the opposite about aspects of Cubism, for example in 1947, then he does more than a decade earlier. In 1936, according to Artaud, Picasso executes a “living geometry,” as a kind of “seer,” what Artaud elsewhere calls an “occult geometry” that makes up the patternings of the world. Yet in a January 16, 1947 letter to Georges Braque, Artaud doesn’t salute cubism for depicting such a geometry, but champions it rather because it “is a putting into question of the linear occult world,” because it confounds and tears the mechanics of an already made cosmos.
In Paris Artaud is part of an entire milieu that seeks a solution to civilizational ills in the occult or various forms of Eastern mysticism – this is definitely true of surrealists who were personally very close to Artaud such as René Daumal and Robert Desnos, of André Breton (whom various writers have described as a kind of ‘older’ brother to Artaud). Masson was a close friend as well. It is what Scottish poet and theorist Kenneth White characterized as the “shamanic scene” of the time. But the Artaud of Rodez and after rejects this en toto. This gives the drawings to my mind an originality corresponding to their motive force. It makes sense to speak of his drawings at the very beginning of this conversation, since they (and his notebooks they often grew out of), perform a remarkable rebuttal to the psychoanalytic modes of interpretation that have so frequently been offered up to describe them. The “totemism” or stacking up of figures you mention being a case in point. Artaud demolishes any symbolic correspondence they may have, or hierarchal familial-type affiliation (why, for Claude Lévi-Strauss, ‘primitive’ totemism anticipated the State). They are rather “anatomies-in-action” as Artaud called them, or assemblages in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense, and quite far from psychoanalytic mechanisms of identification. In the notebooks, they provide an almost documentary day-to-day record of the creation of Artaud’s “new body.”
I honestly don’t know what Artaud would think of Bellmer’s work, or why they weren’t engaged (though I compare their drawings in the book). There are others one would imagine Artaud having an extremely productive exchange with that didn’t occur, Georges Bataille being foremost among them. Bataille seemed to be frightened and repulsed by Artaud. A marked contrast to the somewhat pitiable, purple laudanum-lipped Artaud in Bataille’s memoirs and Anäis Nin’s diaries, is producer/director Roger Blin’s account in his autobiography Souvenirs et propos(1986) – there one sees Artaud as a very powerful, dramatic presence in the cafes and embodiment for many young artists of their hopes for a generalized breakthrough (whether in the theater or elsewhere). Sexuality is such a fraught area for Artaud – one of the least appealing aspects of Artaud’s version of ‘body without organs’ is that it is designed to squash any jouissance and replace at least dualistic sexuality. Though I don’t know what Artaud would have thought of Bellmer’s project, it does similarly open up to non-homeostatic cycles, going beyond thermodynamic models of desire.
Rail: This is speculation on my part, but there may have been non-aesthetic political issues that blocked any productive Bellmer-Artaud exchanges. I learned in your book that Artaud was, in 1939, an admirer of Adolph Hitler, going so far as dedicating one of his books to him. Whereas Bellmer was declared a degenerate artist by the Nazis and had to flee Germany for France in 1938 where he was welcomed by the surrealist circles around both André Breton and Georges Bataille.
Perhaps I should not have been shocked by Artaud’s pro-Nazi demeanor, given his stress on cruelty in his theory of theater. This is something I need to ask you more about. I have never understood why Artaud asserted ideals for a theater of cruelty when what it appeared to me he was striving for was a theater of intensity (based on cosmic hieroglyphs and the extremely graceful dance of Bali - so full of classical restraint typical of high culture). I have long pondered about Artaud’s emphasis on cruel ideals for his art (even in his white period) and I think I now understand after reading your book. Am I correct to assume that Artaud’s participation in the peyote ritual with the Tarahumaras can be described (in our parlance) as a bad trip? As you describe, he experienced something like the “death of the sun” through an all-over “grinding” that persisted with the insistence of repeated drumbeats. He madly perceives a painted, snickering (cruel) face on this cosmological grinding as it eclipses away the sun. (p. 122) This experience (of what sounds like a bummer) initiates his black period and the “explosion” of his mystical adaptation of magick, tarot, numerological, astrological and alchemical systems: an explosion that led to his internment in Le Havre and elsewhere after “cracking up” the next year in 1937. You point out that Artaud was in fact looking for psychic healing in Mexico (he even withdrew from his drug addiction there) so does interpreting his peyote experience as a bummer help explain the opposite; his encountering of trauma, cruelty and torture? A trauma that he was already expressing in his first drawings at Rodez in 1944 of dense fields of weapons and broken bodies intertwined? Drawings that point towards his building impulse to rage against any and all representation.
Murphy: Artaud does dedicate a copy of his The New Revelations of Being (1937) to Hitler in 1943, but this is in the sixth year of a frequently brutal psychiatric confinement. It is unclear whether this is mockery, a backhanded false “tribute” to the man who dominated Europe while Artaud languished, was tortured (and perished, Artaud claimed he died at several points) in asylums. This is the way the poet Jack Hirschman, editor of the 1965 City Lights Artaud Anthology, interpreted it. Artaud addresses one of his spells in September, 1939, to Hitler and it demonstrates all the profound ambiguity and ambivalence with which Hitler appears in Artaud’s journals. At times he seems to be one of the Initiatés, a being with power who could fight for him, intervene for Artaud and free him from the asylum; at others he is yet another demonic force and threat. What is consistent is only that Artaud seems very unsure of how to place him. Artaud claimed to have met Hitler in the Romanisches Café in Berlin in May, 1932, a meeting, as Stephen Barber points out, that was entirely possible (Artaud’s actor jobs sometimes brought him to Berlin in the early ‘30’s). But Artaud also claimed to have been in the bunker with Hitler when he committed suicide on April 30, 1945 – this obviously wasn’t. That Hitler constitutes a nearly overwhelming, archetypal vector for Artaud isn’t so surprising, this is also true for millions of other people. To characterize the first asylums Artaud was confined in as concentration camps also is not a stretch. Under the Nazi occupation of France all funds to asylums were cut off, consequently inmates frequently were condemned to drinking urine and eating grass to survive. It was in these circumstances that Robert Desnos arranged Artaud’s transfer to Rodez, in the ‘Free Zone.’ But there he was subjected to 51 then-experimental electro-shock treatments in a single eighteen-month period. It is difficult, despite all the painful episodes in Artaud’s life, to find anything that compares with the trauma of his treatment in the asylums. Art historian Florence de Mèredieu in her biography of Artaud has pointed out the similarity of the profound suspension of space and time in peyote and electro-shock coma, arguing that Artaud often conflated the experiences.
Artaud isn’t ‘political’ at all in the everyday, normal sense of the term, so to say his complex relation to events prior to and during World War II is “pro-Nazi” I don’t think is accurate. Yet you’re right in that Artaud was never beholden to leftist ideologies and views in the way Bataille and Breton were, however idiosyncratic their respective communisms. Both determinedly anti-fascist, Bataille and Breton rejoin forces in the short-lived Contre-Attaque group (1935-1936), which Artaud denounces in his Mexico City lectures. In contrast, Artaud, chronically broke, later appealed for aid to Pierre Laval, the minister of culture in the Vichy government, and to futurist Filippo Marinetti, then state poet of the Mussolini regime. Artaud’s point that the revolutionary socialisms or communism of the period did not adequately deal with “the question of desire” and so was a revolution of eunuchs, of course is shared in a different manner by Bataille; this is another way of saying that changing the ownership of the means of production is a far from sufficient revolutionary condition, which becomes a commonplace insight by the time of the 1960’s New Left.
That this area is so problematic in Artaud is paradoxically why he makes such a fruitful paradigm for Deleuze and Guattari. Artaud can slide with alacrity from the paranoid/fascist pole to the schizo/revolutionary one, to use the shorthand of their Anti-Oedipus (1977). The ‘body without organs’ is the “figureless and foundationless” foundation (in Guattari’s terms) of any drive or desire, and so doesn’t exclude fascist and capitalist drives, rather it acts as attractor and platform for those as well. Artaud has often been confusing on a political level, and many of the political appropriations of Artaud in the 1960’s were oblique to their source, to say the least. When the students occupied the L’Odéon Théâtre in May, 1968, one of their slogans was “They have even stolen Artaud!” L’Odéon’s director at the time, Jean-Louis Barrault, was a close associate of Artaud’s and could have told them how misdirected this was. One of the most viable theatrical pursuits stemming from Artaud would have to be Julian Beck and Judith Malina’s Living Theater, though their anarchist-pacifist agenda wouldn’t have found much support from Artaud. Similarly, Carolee Schneemann’s ‘kinetic painting’ with its joyous assertion of female sexuality would likely horrify one of its primary inspirations.
Yet Artaud’s critique of representation was so adamant and so far-reaching it strikes one as far more appropriate to today’s era of Google Earth and omnipresent digital infrastructures and links (Benjamin Bratton’s ‘The Stack’) than it was in the 1940’s. There have been a series of recent exhibitions and studies exploring this new ‘animism’ of our media environment where images and disembodied powers act. According to pharmaceutical activist and publisher Philippe Pignarre and Isabelle Stengers, this connects to the prevalence of “capitalist sorcery” that require counter-sorcery in response. So there is a political dimension that emerges from Artaud that was not present before, just one aspect of how some of his most previously outrageous aspects find a new home in the early years of the 21stcentury.
In regard to ‘cruelty,’ this is a thread of consistency between the ‘early’ Artaud before his journey to the Tarahumaras, and ‘final’ Artaud 1945-1948. At the end of his life Artaud is still scheming and obsessed with what a proper Theater of cruelty would consist of. Artaud wrote the manifestoes of The Theater and Its Doublebefore his trip to Mexico, but when it appeared in France in 1938 Artaud was already in the asylums. In the ‘Third Letter’ of the chapter “Letters on Language” in The Theater and Its Double he responds to the many critics of the term ‘cruelty’ – it wasn’t a matter of “sadism” or “bloody gestures,” Artaud wrote, “but on the contrary, a pure and detached feeling, a veritable movement of the mind based on the gestures of life itself…” Artaud argued, “Life cannot help exercising some blind rigor that carries with it all its conditions, otherwise it wouldn’t be life…I have therefore said ‘cruelty’ as I might have said ‘life’ or ‘necessity’.” He writes elsewhere of ‘cruelty’ as any determinable or rigorous action. So any birth is a moment of cruelty, as is death. Yet the roots of any ‘culture’ are quite dark, macabre and ‘cruel’ in the usual, bloody sense for Artaud; he admired Seneca as a theater of cruelty in the ancient world, and ardently identified with the 3rd century mad Roman boy-king Heliogabalus (in a 1934 book very important to Deleuze and Guattari).
Such was the force of theater, according to Artaud in the 1930’s, that a symbolic death or crime could have a much greater impact “than the same crime, realized,” that is, than if a person was actually murdered on the stage. This sounds unbelievably ambitious, and it is, but I see a contemporary corollary in Philippe Grandrieux films, where the suggested or anticipated violence packs more menace and fear than any violence you may see on the screen.
Artaud was searching for a still extant, viable Theater of cruelty, and with the Tarahumaras believed he had found one. It certainly has a number of ‘bad trip’ aspects, but to conclude these are the only ones would be to deny any validity of what Artaud discovered there. The filmmaker Raymonde Carasco followed Artaud’s footsteps and like him became initiated into the Tarahumara rites; she made eleven films with the Tarahumaras, 1978-2003, beautiful studies of rhythm and gesture, part experimental cinema, part ethnography. (Her Tarahumara journals, Dans le bleu du ciel, were published in France in 2014). She found Artaud’s notion of the ‘body without organs’ a very faithful transcription of Tarahumara religion and thought. Others, such as Sylvère Lotringer, were surprised by the accuracy of Artaud’s descriptions of their ceremonies. The percussive beats, the screams and chants of To have done with the judgment of god were very much inspired from the Tarahumaras, although he’s not trying to replicate the form of their rites so much as the transfiguring power they produce. Artaud called that last radio broadcast a “mini-model” of a Theater of cruelty. This is remarkable since nowhere does Artaud point to something he’s done as having attained his goals, quite the contrary. These ‘final’ works are the fruit of Artaud’s transformation that began with the Tarahumaras. They are produced despite the horror of the asylums, where Artaud’s life became its own Theater of cruelty. The drawings become a kind of laboratory for the re-formation, re-constitution of Antonin Artaud, though not one, as he writes, of “the reintegration of a sensitivity misled.” It is a new creation of a “true body.”
Rail: One more word on his drawings before turning to his sensational audio art radio project, Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu (To have done with the judgment of god) that Sub Rosa published on CD and the merits of his general attack on representation. By the way, stimulated by your book, I have also returned to the recording of Artaud reading his 1947 text Alienation et magie noire(Alienation and Black Magic) that was published by Lunapark.
Artaud draws as a counter-spell his own head and face a good deal and other human heads. In doing so, he usually adheres to the tropes indispensable to the comprehension striven for in typical drawn representation. The viewer of his drawings (that were framed and exhibited in 1947 at Galerie Pierre - where Artaud made his last public appearance) is thus mostly excluded from his goal of ruining representation. Held at bay as it were, and invulnerable to a true ruin of representation through the conventions of framing, centering and perspective. My take-away from your book is that a truer ruin of representation entails more ambient and simultaneous impulses than Artaud himself provides - after all, the casting of spells is representational thinking par excellence. Needed is something all-over which returns framed and centered perspective to its rightful place as contingent instrumental convention. This is really a question of anti-phallocentric form that asks for a more active and continuously searching situation rather than content at the level of practice and reception. Hence Jay, do you think any current anti-conventional representational aesthetics of the virtual would mean working beyond Artaud’s theatrically cruel boundaries? And if so, how?
Murphy: Yes, one would think Artaud’s approach would lead to complete non-representationalism. He has his reasons, however, for retaining the figure in his drawings while he scarifies, re-arranges, obliterates and replaces it. In his little essay “The Human Face” (1947) he refers to how one of Van Gogh’s self-portraits “renders null and void all the attempts of abstract paintings which can be made after him,” as well of “the most specious secrets in which abstract or nonfigurative painting can delight.” As usual, what he says about Van Gogh applies as much or more to his own work. “There will be hell to pay,” Artaud wrote of his own drawings, “for whoever considers them works of art, works of aesthetic simulation of reality.” It may well seem a contradiction to allow such work to be shown in an art gallery as Artaud’s comments on the postwar Parisian art world were coruscating. Furthermore, some of Artaud’s last work will seem to make moot the entire notion of audience.
What I feel evokes Artaud are works that highlight the virtual operations or components of any ‘experience.’ This would include not only works that do evoke catastrophe or conventional loss of perspective or ‘self’ - like Gary Hill’s Dervish(1993-1995), Reflex Chamber (1996), or Impressions d’Afrique (2003), among others - but also works that do not feature the cataclysm one associates with Artaud. I can’t imagine Toni Dove is attempting to uproot and transform audience/participants the way Artaud hopes, yet her Lucid Possession (2013) features a “schizoid chorus from the real and virtual worlds,” so her narrative in this advanced, interactive performance/cinema has Artaudian themes. Lucid Possession is a ghost story where the principal character is invaded by presences; similarly, in her Spectropia (2007-2008) the noir/sci-fi themes include time-travel and telepathy. Lucid Possession utilizes robotic screens, motion sensing, laser technologies and live VJing, among other elements, that one could embrace as a technologically-enhanced theater of cruelty. And in her artist’s statement for Lucid Possession Dove asks the preeminently Artaudian question of “where does the body end?” Such works are multi-directional and depend on the gesture and bodily movement of their audience-participator, and so are decentered in a manner perhaps that Artaud’s drawings cannot be; despite what Artaud called the “unsticking of the retina,” a sliding before the work that could engulf the entire body.
I find some of the most successful Artaudian approaches in the films and installations of Philippe Grandrieux, whether in La Vie nouvelle (2002) or Malgré la nuit (2015) and the Unrest trilogy (2012-2017). It is not simply a matter of shock-value, or utilization of the scream, contortions of the face, real and symbolic violence, the dance, location of the psychosis of our time in sexuality and the body, which are all present. It is that Grandrieux is so effective in dissolving subject/object relations that one must navigate his films through the images alone or viscerally through the body, which implies another, double body. This speech of the body through motion and gesture, all other avenues being closed (sound is a profoundly significant element, and there are songs even if speech is often futile or foreclosed), is a consequence of an annihilation of metaphor – this is a tremendous Artaudian achievement. One must participate in the film through joining a labyrinth of bodies, yet the body remains inaccessible for all that. Grandrieux’ “new life” seems to suggest inventing another body in Hell – as Artaud did in the asylums. The character of Mélania in La Vie nouvelle is nothing so much as new Eurydice.
Artaud’s influence has been so vast – from lettrism in France, Butoh in Japan, concrete poetry movements in Brazil, aside from paintings by artists as disparate as Nancy Spero, Georg Baselitz and Julian Schnabel, and in alternative theater/performance – but these I’ve mentioned appear as really promising extensions, and they are often only possible due to new or digital technologies. In another medium, Diamanda Galás has spoken of her “surgical approach” to each word, dismembered and rended, and then reconstituted as part of the sentence, phrase or entire poem, as a device she took from Artaud. So a Theater of cruelty continues, more or less cruel!
Rail: Artaud’s influence is not in doubt and his cruel attitude towards abstract or nonfigurative art is intriguing. Your explanation made me think of what Gilles Deleuze said in Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation (1981) about abstract painting: that “it has pure hands, but it doesn’t have hands.” But perhaps more important for the future of art is how Artaud insists on linking the imagination to notions of impossible spells. I think that even though in his essay “The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation” Jacques Derrida describes how Artaud’s theory may be seen as impossible in terms of the established structure of Western thought, this is precisely why current art theory, with its vital connections to spells, the speculative, the imaginary, the virtual, and the impossible should be re-placed in parallel position to Artaud’s body without organs hypothesis. This is particularly so when artists put themselves inside the virtual way of art making, where one experiences constant preludes to the work’s fulfillment. As with Artaud, the artist’s will and desire play with and against an impossible vastness that can always divert immediacy, thus stimulating desires which affect the state of nerves and minds.
But in his statement on Van Gogh, Artaud seems to be suggesting that such nervy desires involve a prying-loose from former familiarities, and hence is a state where art itself is attacked and opposed. Is that right? I sort of hope not, as the way I see it is that art and the artist are required more than ever as a way of overcome the alienation felt with the expanded boundaries of virtual presentation and re-presentation. Perhaps only the artificiality of art extols the operational possibility of realizing in the physical world imaginative challenges needed for gaining familiarity with those vast virtual concepts. Also, isn’t it true that Artaud proposed that art must become a means of influencing the human organism and directly altering consciousness by engaging the audience in ritualistic-like activities involving excess?
Murphy: The body without organs does involve a kind of infinite suspension. With Artaud, it is part of an ecstatic wager where one gets the sense that this body cannot ever be completed. This is similar to the earliest treatment of BwO in Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, where the only complete body without organs would be a dead body, its orifices totally closed. It is also typical of Artaud’s spells that he is waiting for their result, and constantly testing which ones work and which ones don’t, so your comment concerning “constant preludes to the work’s fulfillment” is very much to the point. But I don’t think Artaud sees his spells as impossible. Rather, for him it is how and why anything happens. Artaud shared the belief, extremely common in the millennia of ‘traditional’ societies, that one only dies due to malevolent magick. Otherwise, one would live forever. Artaud’s notion of art is tied to transformative action, much as it was for most of human history. A parallel in modern and postmodern art would be William Burroughs’ definition of writing as “making things happen.” Like Artaud, Burroughs means this quite literally, in that it changes reality or creates an effective alternate reality. (Burroughs, a member of the Order of the Thanateros, was buried with its chaos star ring on his finger).
Artaud stays faithful to Dada and early surrealism in that art-as-institution is to be absolutely opposed. Artaud, at the end of his life, said that he doesn’t mind being called a surrealist and that he was always a surrealist, except for the short period of time when he was in a group that called itself that! He writes about Van Gogh as a “marvelous musician,” as well as practitioner of “pure painting,” yet Van Gogh partakes of “direct creation” that dwarfs even the power of nature for Artaud. The artist-as-shaman comparison that comes in and out of vogue, given its domestication among other reasons, is another kind of “pitiful terminology” for what Artaud presents. There are many ‘art worlds,’ but the consumer cycles of the high-luxury business are simply irrelevant to this. Bataille’s path was different, but his advocacy of le grand surréalisme in the 1940’s is analogous in that it suggests a surrealism without or beyond ‘works,’ which cannot be appropriated as such.
Rail: As virtual space places us in the position of indeterminate unknowing, I see how Artaud helps disable previous emphasis on the false objectivism of representation accorded to cultural production. In the virtual condition of arduous inter-relational questioning, what is clarified in terms of the ruin of representation is the human idiosyncratic ability to imaginatively convert absence into presence.
In the book you suggest that Artaud foresaw and anticipated the cultural rupture (or bifurcation if you prefer) that occurred between the capture technologies of the 20th century (representational art, film, photography and video) and the far more virtual and elastic technology of the computer and its language codes. For you, does Artaud’s virtual body aid current culture by pushing the underlying assumptions of excess inherent in the virtual into the flesh, thus challenging artists to face up to the radical implications of that assumption in their body of work? I assume so, but don’t you think that what is important to Artaud’s ruin of representation was already instigated by Arthur Rimbaud’s poetic formula based on the derangement of the senses? In Rimbaud’s poems, we are already essentially challenged to find the virtual within vast and shifting non-representational sensations of the body’s sense organs. Right?
Murphy: Rimbaud is a very significant and relevant precursor and also, for different reasons, is Comte de Lautréamont. Artaud has a ‘peer group’ he often refers to, including Rimbaud and Lautréamont, Baudelaire, François Villon, Edgar Allen Poe, Friedrich Hölderlin, Gérard de Nerval, and sometimes others. There is a Baudelairean “voyage” aspect to cyberspace, though as Rimbaud pointed out, Baudelaire remained a conservative writer in some aspects given his respect for traditional French prosody. Baudelaire never broke the “eggshells of being” in Jean-Paul Sartre’s awkward phrase. Baudelaire and Poe had already filled out to a great extent Artaud’s theme that greater insight was possibly gained from degradation and sickness, insomnia and lucid dreams, than in health. Nerval’s psychotic episodes were profoundly mythic ones, as certain periods of Artaud’s ‘schizophrenia’ were likewise ‘classic,’ in that they were travels through history that contained assumptions of historic personas. Lautréamont’s howls, especially directed toward the nuclear family and family-like institutions throughout society, were also unrepeatable gestures, as Gaston Bachelard stressed in his book on him. Artaud includes Nietzsche in this group now and then, and their stances strike me often as very close. But for Nietzsche the “aesthetic simulation of reality” was necessary for human beings to bear existence at all, not a condition to be abolished.
Artaud’s Theater of cruelty does bank on excess, but I stress the constructivist nature of the body without organs that is missed by looking at Artaud and his convolutions strictly through a lens of excess. Artaud claims some success: in December, 1947 he writes, “I have made/a body.” Artaud in the ‘late’ work has generated a new substrate of being, which is arguably more significant than his achievements during the short-lived participation with the surrealists or even the theater manifestoes. It is this body without organs that Félix Guattari later generalizes as “the continual point of emergence of all forms of creativity” in an era of “planetary computerization.”
Rail: In my view, Artaud’s logocentric defect or deficiency (that I cited earlier) exactly illustrates what is wrong with his method of supposedly ruining representation in sound art and in drawing. As Artaud suggested, systems of representations operate by establishing a fixed standard as the norm or model. I think he stayed too close to these models. In that sense, Artaud’s audio art piece To have done with the judgment of god, regardless of its ground-breaking treatment of the scream and glossolalia and some pretty far out sound effects for the time, fails to effect a ruin of representation. He should have used higher degrees of excessive superimposition to produce a lavishness that bids us to open our ears and eyes to the nomadic nomos of wandering assemblages and their molten distribution. Do you agree with me Jay, or am I being too hard on Artaud?
Murphy: To have done with the judgment of god has evoked all sorts of responses. Artaud’s ambitions for it were vast. He predicted the broadcast “would connect with certain organic points of life, a work which causes the entire nervous system to feel illuminated as if by a miner’s cap, with vibrations and consonances that invite one to corporeally emerge.” Artaud thought that the working class people that tuned in were among the few who could understand what he suffered in the asylums because they too had been exploited. Artaud wanted to engulf the listener. Though his disappointment in it being banned cannot be overestimated, by all accounts it was devastating, there is a sense in Artaud’s use of the scream that its impacted power no longer needs an audience. Exercises with screams were a major part of Artaud’s work with actors in the 1930’s, and it is a remarkably honed weapon by the end of his life. The scream becomes the ultimate in what Artaud called his “search for fecality” – an expression or value of expulsion that is not excremental, which cannot be located in any ‘interior’ or ‘exterior.’ This self-propulsion, beyond what Artaud termed the oral-anal canal, also resides on a border of all dualities: including eros/thanatos, life/death. This form of non-duality had its existence, in Guy Rossolato’s terms, as that which “by means of the single thought incarnate in the infinite instant of passage within the circumscribed immensity of the theatre: a scream.” Artaud’s aim was for a re-materialization of his body, and a taking back of his voice that was silenced for nine years in the asylums. In that sense, it is a success. There are shades of it in early Butoh’s insistence on gestures that hang in the air in a grasp of immortality (its refusal, especially in Tatsumi Hijikata’s performance, of repertory), and in the later work of Jerzy Grotowski that consists of excruciating ‘spiritual’ exercises for the performer with no audience. But it is with various new technologies that Artaud’s ambitions for a veritable disorder and engulfment can be most realized.
Rail: Thank you Jay for this marvelously rich book and for the stimulating conversation. I end our exchange with a quote of Antonin Artaud’s from his “Manifesto in Clear Language” that I always find relevant and nourishing: “In the realm of the affective imponderable, the image provided by my nerves takes the form of the highest intellectuality, which I refuse to strip of its quality of intellectuality.”
The article is taken from:
CONTRIBUTOR: Joseph Nechvatal
JOSEPH NECHVATAL’s book Immersion Into Noise was published in 2011 by the University of Michigan Library’s Scholarly Publishing Office in conjunction with the Open Humanities Press.
by Himanshu Damle
Would it be unsafe to say that every epoch (Zeitgeist) is defined by the kind of technology that determines the consciousness on the social and the individual level? I don’t think so.
Post 1980, roughly speaking, we have been living in a world that is accompanied by a fellow traveler as a parallel world, a world that could be called the virtual world and the world we inhabit could be termed the actual world or the real world. Rather than getting into the realm of psychoanalytic vocabulary, let me be clear enough to denote the virtual and the actual/real as the one based on computations and the other as based on non-computational respectively. What we get on the merger of these two worlds is the carving out of new topography. The merger needs to presently map out only the cognitive vision in a space that gets defined when the two interact heavily, the case today. This merger has been called by Nechvatal “Viractual”. Joseph Nechvatal has been the pioneer in this study that he undertook as a research topic in virtual reality at the Center for Advanced Inquiry at the Interactive Arts, UK.
The major issue of contention here is the trapping and unleashing of the power of digitization over its counterpart ‘the analog’. To quote Roy Ascott in his essay titled “The Architecture of Cyberception”,
“Inhabiting both the real and virtual worlds at one and the same time, and to be both here and potentially everywhere else at the same time is giving us a new sense of self, new ways of thinking and perceiving which extend what we have believed to be our natural, genetic capabilities”.
A new sense to self could be what Michel Henry called the “ipseity” or a presence in what was hitherto never imagined, what had always disturbed the notions of imagination. A new sense to self could be what Michel Henry called the “ipseity” or a presence in what was hitherto never imagined, what had always disturbed the notions of imagination, a sense of aporia never thought of in overcoming. But, this is what is precisely what the inhabited world is facing upto. One can easily sense the parallel in the way Deleuze read Spinoza in his practical philosophy, wherein, Desires always propelled us to move to states of higher or lesser exaltations depending on whether the object encountered is in harmony with us or sets out to decompose. Viractual is this sense of existence in a double bind and a sense through which the notion of the exalted-ness gets defined as a flux of moving back and forth, a dynamism that abhors ossification. A sense of novelty in looking at life and art in compartmentalizing the two is the order of the Viractual. Viractual is often called cybism. Nechvatal states that cybism can be used to characterize a certain group of researchers and their understanding of where cultural space is developing today. Cybists reflect on system dynamics with a hybrid blending (cybridization) of the computational supplied virtual with the analog. This blending of the computational virtual with the analog indicates the subsequent emergence of a new cybrid topological cognitive-vision that Nechvatal has called viractuality: the space of connection betwixt the computed virtual and the uncomputed corporeal (actual) world which merge in cybism. He further states that co-extensive notions found in cybism have sharp ramifications for art as product in that the cybists are actively exploring the frontiers of science/technology research so as to become culturally aware of the biases of consciousness in order to amend those biases through the monumentality and permanency which can be found in powerful art. He begins with the realization that every new technology disrupts the previous rhythms of consciousness. In this sense cybist art research begins where hard science/technology ends. Cybists reflect on system dynamics with a hybrid blending (cybridization) of the computational supplied virtual with the analog. Digitization is a key metaphor for the cybists only in the sense that it is the fundamental translating system today.
This blending of the computational virtual with the analog indicates the subsequent emergence of a new cybrid topological cognitive-vision: the space of connection betwixt the computed virtual and the uncomputed corporeal (actual) world which merge in cybism. This cybrid space of cybism can be further inscribed as a span of liminality, which according to the anthropologist Arnold van Gennep (based on his anthropological studies of social rites of passage) is the condition of being on a threshold between spaces.
Concerning this cybrid topological cognitive-vision, I am reminded here of two very different, yet complimentary, concepts: entrainment and égréore. Entrainment, in electro-physics, is the coupling of two or more oscillators as they lock into a commonly sensed interacting frequency. In alchemical terms an égréore (an old form of the word agréger) is a third concept or phenomenon that is established from conjoining two different elements together. I suggest that the term (concept) cybrid (and cybism) may be a concordant entrainment/égréore conception helpful in defining this third fused inter-spatiality that is forged from the meeting of the virtual and the actual.
Co-extensive notions found in cybism have piquant ramifications for art as product in that the cybists are actively exploring the frontiers of science/technology research so as to become culturally aware of the biases of consciousness in order to amend those biases through the monumentality and permanency which can be found in powerful art. They begin with the realization that every [new] technology disrupts the previous rhythms of consciousness. Then, generally speaking, they pursue their work in an effort to contradict the dominant clichés of our time, as they tend to move in their regimented grooves of sensibility. In this sense their art research begins where the hard science/technology ends.
Most certainly cybists understand that in every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. Hence the role of the cybist is that of the explorer/researcher. The function of such an explorationaly inclined artist however is not to only find, but to participate in and foster a constant instability of consciousness, to mitigate against self-stabilizing formations so as to encourage internal ‘cybomatic’ connections to sprout and expand. This integration goes far towards exemplifying an aesthetic that has a problematic relationship to material science-based reality.
Today, with the emergence and continual growth of cyberspace, it seems that no sense of closure will ever be able to contain the deterritorialization articulated and monumentalized by cybism.
Consequently, cybism has begun articulating a new techno-digital sense of life. By looking at the complex social and technological changes already occurring within the 21st century, cybists seem to perceive the world now as a kaleidoscopic environment in which every tradition has some valid residual form as information and sensation. A world of perpetual transformation has emerged and established a seemingly unrestricted area of abundant options.
What is being targeted here is an effort to bridge the two cultures of electronic activity with the traditional painting. The electronic activity could be the tailored virus and the traditional painting could be the panoply of images, stacked ones for that instance. Dromologically, the image is a blessing and a problem, so is the traditional image and therefore, the fusion of the two is defined as the problematic. This problematic is essentially treated as a purgatory of the psyche, and according to Nechvatal, conceptualized as a bringing forth to the surface the repressed ideas or the memories. A kind of sublimation is at work here as the dialectics of the bringing forth and repression is exercising the purge, the cleansation of the psyche.
One way of looking at the Viractual is the way consciousness operates, that is, if it is ever thought in terms of as an emerging property. Rather, it would be safe to say, the way the Viractual operates would facilitate in mapping the emerging of consciousness. Nechvatal undertook the study of viractual images and initially toyed with the idea of complex images with increasing mixture of drawing, digital photography, written language and external computerized codes. Once done, he subjected the deliberations to computerized manipulations including the viral attacks. The tailor made virus is behavioristically modeled as an active loop that swings into action in the manner of artificially intelligent. The viral conditions are built in keeping in mind the way the environment impacts the existential status of the virus. The environment dictates the way the virus starts or stops to process. This way is nothing short of openness for the system, an interactive one, a one where the processual dialectic is continuously at work, where the structurality and the functionality are always dialectically negotiating. Or in the words of Maturana and Valera, an autopoietic machine:
“An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network.” 1
Nechvatal actually identifies the Viractual with the autopoietic machine, but the difference is the way in which he relates the same in a more Deleuzean manner of a rhizomatic web, wherein all is connected all at once in a globular communicative network. But, why rhizomatic? As Nechvatal has himself pointed out in a talk, his perseverance to detect in art a fertile attraction towards the abstractions of advanced scientific discovery-discovery now stripped of its fundamentally reductive logical methodology. This attraction has the property of emerging out or exiting out, entering into or an intercourse into the fold at multitudinous points or rather topologically defined co-[planarity]. Cleansing the psyche is a new way of looking the consciousness, a presence of the carrier of the dialectics, sublimation is wrought out. Therefore, viractual art may not be satisfied with the regurgitation of standardized analog repertoires for art. Rather, a fertile attraction towards the abstractions of advanced scientific discovery – discovery now stripped of its fundamentally reductive logical methodology is detected in viractual art.
Into the unfamiliar (but evolving familiarity) chaosmos, the turbulence defined by the dromological technology in all its auto-superlative-prerogative over the ‘techne’ is indeed fracturing the very consciousness that once was taken to be the very cradle of comprehensibility. It dislocates the very hypostasis, dethrones it and opens up the space of mutation, a space of extreme plethora, of experimentation, empiricism constantly pregnant with abstraction called the ‘viractual’.
1 …with F.G. Varela. De máquinas y seres vivos, Santiago, Chile: Editorial Universitaria, 1972; English version: “Autopoiesis: the organization of the living,” in Maturana, H. R., and Varela, F. G, Autopoiesis and Cognition. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Reidel, 1980.
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