Wednesday, 29 September 2010

sketchbook photographs / Steven Connor / Joyce

A Few Don'ts (And Dos) By A Cultural Phenomenologist

Because cultural phenomenology would avoid the reduction of the plurality and analytic nonsaturability of cultural experience to common currencies and finalising formulae of all kinds, it would need to nurse an irritability about academic language, and to do without that hunched defensiveness which characterises contemporary critical writing and which seems to me to be having so inspissating an effect on the writing and thinking of those of us schooled in its forms and habits. At the same time, it will involve a confidence in the powers of language, and the possibilities of a cultural poetics. When I first read the work of Derrida, Barthes and Lacan, for example, it was their monstrosity and outlandishness that grasped and called me. The remorseless amalgamating machine of critical theory, and the various agencies for the management, distribution and control of that theory (including a number of books that I have myself written), have pounded that outlandishness into an insipid emulsion, which is now available to applied on every occasion and to every surface.  (It's not at all `theory' that I mind about, in fact; it is the theory that has emerged of what `theory' is supposed to be for and be able to do, along with the theory that there is a special kind of defended and certified intellectual enterprise called `theory'. The theory is that theory is an operational guarantor of truthfulness, of being able to see things steadily and see them whole, and thus to be a stay against doubt, delusion, self-interest and ideology. This is the same theory that suggests that theory is the royal road to political emancipation.)

Cultural studies began as the inheritor of a desire to pay attention to forms of popular culture which themselves had seemed to require - for instance in some of the work of Georg Simmel, Walter Benjamin, Georges Bataille and Humphrey Jennings - new ways of conceiving what it meant to pay attention. The diffuse and fertile body of dreams and inklings about how to study culture began to go wrong at the moment of its conspicuous success, when it started to become cultural studies, and conceived itself as a programme rather than an inauguration (which is to say, perhaps, around the time we began to describe cultural studies as an it rather than a they), and therefore became too concerned with securing its legitimacy, survival and continuance. I am proposing that we (or, less alarmingly perhaps, I) give up on the struggle to fit ourselves or our students out with generalisable models, methods and critical procedures; which means giving up thinking of ways of reproducing ourselves, of preserving what we take to be our present purposes in reliable and replicable procedures. Or giving up thinking of ways of regulating intellectual conduct, and keeping the barbarians and the nincompoops out.

What would it mean to work, and more particularly to write, without such things? I would like to think of taking as a model Joyce's hypertrophic method of working in Ulysses. Joyce may at some point have had a classically architectonic conception of his novel, as a series of chapters, each with their particular point of focus and thematic concern. Quite late into the writing of the novel, he even produced a schema, or table of relations and correspondences for each of the chapters. But this is not how he found himself having to write his novel, or assist at its writing. As he formed each new chapter, he found himself having to accommodate - or, really, to incubate - a wholly new and newly importunate set of demands. Rather than fitting into the scheme with which he had provided himself, rather than providing the epic of the finished, classical body which he had proposed to himself, Ulysses kept on sprouting new organs, new idioms. One of the less-often noticed byproducts of Ulysses was the transformation of critical language it forced in Joyce when he was required to describe what he was doing to others. When he was attempting to describe the style of the `Nausicaa' chapter, for example, the deficit of metacritical terms forced Joyce to give a specimen of the style rather than a characterisation of it. The chapter is written, he wrote to Frank Budgen, in a `namby-pamby jammy marmalady with effects of incense, mariolatry, masturbation, stewed cockles, painter's palette, chitchat, circumlocutions, etc etc'. Rather than following a series of methods or frameworks, the chapters in Ulysses enact a series of inveiglings, or incubisms (the latter Joyce's own word for the kind of writing, bred in the dreaming bed, that he was perpetrating). Joyce's work is often said to have an encyclopedic form; but the `epic of the body' put together in Ulysses is more like the fantastic, disordered and mobile body imagined by Diderot in his unfinished Elements of Physiology than the ordered and coordinated corpus of knowledge that finds its official form in Diderot's and d'Alembert's Encylopédie: Diderot imagines that each organ and even each sense of the body has its own life, independent of the life of the whole: `Certainly', he writes,`there are two, or even three, quite distinct forms of life. The life of the complete animal. The life of each of its organs. The life of the molecule.'

Connor, Steven 29th September 2010

Monday, 27 September 2010

art as criticism

someone once proposed to me the question that today's generation of young artists are presented with a crisis of information, that faced with such a saturation of source and skill they have been forced to adopt the role of one who chooses rather than discovers. This is something I'm still mulling over a year or so later, I think there are easy reductions of this problem to "Information Overload" which I think is missing the point, making it seem that we have simply been dumbed by the bombardment and that's that, as if the crisis is just what I used to feel as a teenager watching Twin Peaks episodes back-to-back for 4 hours straight every time a new VHS tape ordered from US Amazon arrived in the post. No, I think the issue has something more to do with the stance toward information, rather than the sheer volume of it and the effect is more a perception rather than just an overload. Growing up in a time when no information (feels) inaccessible is a different one from our parents clearly. I has exposed a style of art making which I'm glad to see gone though, that of the artist who has the better library, where a small fact, a word, an incident from history, perhaps a lost scientific misconception, are simply illustrated through the work. That sort of thing is a little dumb in an age where a few hours mindless linking through the internet will produces hundreds of these cultural novelties.

The issue I have though is not really this one. When I see work and make a judgement on whether want to spend more time with it or not, one of the things that affects me a lot in this decision is the question of whether this work is a commentary or a proposition. Now something can be both obviously, but I think its a question of weighting. Commentary is a relatively safe pursuit, it is within the scaffolding if you will, a proposition is by definition beyond that scaffolding, its a reach. I think its a logic learnt in art school, and in fact the commentary and proposition, almost like left and right hemispheric preference, are two approaches in defining and perceiving art.

I think there needs to be more consideration on this. And that commentary is in itself the worst kind of combination of commentary and proposition.

Rhizomatic / School of The Moment

print dated on reverse "29th July '29"

School of The Moment
Today is Monday. For the last two days I have been in Southall working on a project with Daryl, Isabella, Katie and Tom. This project is hard to define in terms of the function of the various participants and it is in fact still continuing even as we have returned to our respective bases of operations in London, Norwich, Stevenage and Brighton.
The framework within which we were working is the exhibition detailed at the bottom of this post. I approached these four people, who's work I admired when I received the opportunity to do so by being selected myself for this exhibition. I proposed to them each that this might be an opportunity to investigate the process of production itself as a never-ending series of developments and modifications of our relationship to the world, to see these two days of installing as both the work and the pay off, a relic of which would be left for the show. It is perhaps not this simple though as prior to the show's coming to my attention even, Daryl and I had planned to work together on a sculptural project, building on our ability to work together on objects with minimal verbal communication. So when the opportunity to show, I felt not only that this was a good time to work this way, but that the alternative, of attempting a make a piece of work which I then transported to the site and installed, would be utterly unsuitable. Unsuitable due to the semi-democratic-uncertainty of where we would be showing, who and and what would be showing near by and most importantly that the sheer volume of work (around 250 artists) on display with nullify most subtleties under the very weight of experiencing so many disparate things all fighting for space and attention.
After agreeing with Daryl the plan of, in his words "almost no plan at all" I invited 6 others to take part, of which 3 were able to accept, and outlined mine and Daryl plan expressing a desire for dialogue on this subject before, during and after the install but ultimately making no demands on their participation.
So for two days we've been doing this, we've been working independently at points, communicating at others, exchanging ideas and maintaining correspondence. This will no continue for the next few weeks while the information is developed, the findings of the weekend processed and methods of recording and discussed and then the planned publication of the project will be realised toward the end of the year.
I have enjoyed this weekend a lot, it was great to work as part of a gang in the midst of what was essentially chaos, though I regret not having more of a chance to talk with Katie who was working in a different building to the rest of us, and who is the only one I had not met previously. I think though that the mixture of levels of interpersonal articulation, from working with Daryl continuously to only brief talks with Katie is in itself a very useful comparison.
The exhibition opens on the 8th of October and runs for little over a month, though with access by appointment only.
more soon.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

what am I doing?

I'm learning meditation, I'm trying to improve my guitar solos and I think I'm founding something called The School of the Moment.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Lacan, language, a little Lee Broughall.

I've spent the morning working on a short 0.5 version of a new zine on this summer's residency and I feel like the whole subject is not just threatening to creep up over my head again but in fact is so. I'm working on a 0.5 version in vain hope of getting something complete by the end of this weekend freeing me up to work on the fuller version which is already pushing 60 pages of image and text and I anticipate working on for the rest of the year as a musing form of therapy.
I've been thinking back to Lacan, and having considered him a lot recently in relation to a number of things such as the residency, my never-to-be-completed MA paper and something I've started discussing on a forum regarding attitudes to reality displayed by characters in books by Cormac McCarthy.

I don't claim to be a Lacan scholar by any means, I read some things for the aforementioned MA dissertation (“I am a golden god!” An examination of failure and personal perfection.), mainly attempting to conjure some sort of a spell over a chapter of Four Fundamental Principles of Psychoanalysis so that I might bend it to my desires and reading some Zizek and various snap shots on the subject from around the way. So really I know little more and in many cases a lot less than most (other) art-school-idiots.
I was stuck by definition of the Real, the Symbolic Order and the Imaginary Order, and it floated in the back of my mind, to be miss-quoted every once in a while. I came to paraphrase the Real in my mind as being a sort of reality of phenomenon (incidentally a post on my misunderstanding of Phenomenology might soon come to pass) and during a discussion on the recent residency it surfaced again.

I said something along the lines of

"Language is an imperfect, clumsy and hugely simplified translation of that which we experience, I think we can all agree? Now I would like to propose that to make artwork, to for example mold clay with our hands or draw a line in chalk is a form of thought in itself. when we act like this we are sometimes, able to reduce the trajectory of our thinking to close as can be done to that moment we are in. Phillip Guston talked about this and I'm a firm advocate of it. We can simply act and concentrate so completely on that action that our hand becomes an extension of our arm. This is like what people describe as being lost in the work. In an example of opposition to this method of working I will describe the workings of another hypothetical artist. This artist thinks for a idea, he fishes in the world and it mind and has an idea which is then developed into a concept which he then realises by making this drawing or sculpture or whatever. so these are two different things.
One of my 10 proposed research questions was can a work of art be made which is not a translation? so I thought this might be where headway on that question might be made. In the second method of making language is used throughout. Our concept is something describable, I shall make a crystal space ship, it will be 26m high and point at the galaxy of Andromeda. Now while this might be a tremendous title for a song, it does present us with a difficulty. having been initially created in this one medium, namely the English language, it seems that this is perhaps its ideal place. that existing as a concept, the place where this thing was born, is where it is most appropriate and regardless of whether this is true the fact is that to then realise it is a translation.
So, following from this I propose that there is a manner of making which avoids not only being a translation from words, but also avoids returning and relying on them, such as would be the case if i went and worked intuitively for a while on my lump of clay, then sat a back of the studio with a cigarette and looked at it, consciously or unconsciously transforming it into words. I propose that in opposition to that model, which if drawn might look like a central point (language) from which excisions into an intuitive and immediate kind of thought/action were made, maybe resulting in a diagram that looks like an asterisk, or a pom-pom, that in opposition to that model there is another, and that model might look more like a branch, with its very start being language but its movement taking further and further into unspoken territory with even its later sorties away from the main limb being grounded in some thought/action rather than words"

Now this made sense, and when I thought about it this morning, I thought again of Lacan and as I wrote an introduction for the 0.5 version of this zine on what I've been doing I looked up some Lacanian writing (my wads and wads of photocopies of textbooks having been put in the recycling on the same day I bound my two copies of my dissertation for submission), some broad sweep overviews so that I might use the right specific terms to explain a little about this veil that covers the real.

This has brought me to a rather reflective standstill. For Lacan the Real is impossible and it only affects change by association. This reminded me of a conversation on Cormac McCarthy specifically the argument for fate in No Country For Old Men. When told that a coin toss can not go ahead as nothing has been wagered, that the he has not "put anything up", Anton Chigurh tells the man in the gas station "You've been putting it up you're whole life, you just didn't know it". For Chigurh man does have a freedom to make choices but these choices are all contained within the over-arching certainty that every step is a step toward death, Chigurh is clearly irritated and perhaps even disgusted by this gas station owner who he sees as having lived a live unaware of this, unaware of his existence even. So for Lacan the Symbolic Order something similarly overwhelming to the point of hiding its own existence. A man walking thinks he has reached the sea and the ability to a leave a island only to discover that this is just a very large saline lake. This reminds me that I never saw those final few episodes of The Prisoner...
So language appears inescapable as Lacan is convincing. So what is the thing that differs between the different modes of working? I am considering now that it is the application of language that differs. To make art in the moment is on a different line of comparison from what Lacan talks about. Perhaps, and I am only considering this as a write, it is the fantasy that is important. Something at the root of all this is my having seen art made with so much awareness and distance that it seems empty. I see things made that have such a calculation that I can not but question their point in the world. They were at one time just a sentence in someone's head and each word has now been substituted for the corresponding expressive material or balance of references. Furthermore that sentence to begin with was one borrowed, or at least one formed through close observance of what an artist would do. So I began to look into what might be an authentic way of making art, what is a theory of sincerity? How can one make their own work?

I've brought myself to a point where I believe that the answer lies in two principles. Firstly that an artist should be engaged with their work, that this should be a selfish act, that it should not consider a qualitative judgement of some hypothetical third person, of an audience. Secondly that art works made should be a record of the developing world view of the person making them. That a sculpture for example, is what is left behind by the passing thought. It is a thing passed over and left behind, it is always a relic, always old. There is a predominate way of looking at contemporary art that takes too strongly the fact that it is contemporary, that it is of now, that it is of the future, that it will stand up in the face of time. This is to mis-centre the whole endeavour. For me the art is not the thing left but the thought process's that passed through it. There are two types of these process's but they are ultimately the same, there is the first of the artist, as their developed their view of the world and cast off this thing in the process, and then there is the thought process of the viewer which passes through the work. It would I see now be argued that even the most algebraic of artworks could therefore contain the second sort of art and I fear that at this point, running low on steam I am at a loss to justify my belief that this is not the case in a clear manner. I imagine I would speak of sense of composure of the contrived artwork, by this I mean that there is a feeling of completeness, an application of the general. I think the contrived artwork might give away its awareness of being looked at, that it might show knowledge of its time, of attempting to fudge this to leave out anything that might tie it down. Perhaps, I simply don't know, and perhaps this is less a witch finding proposition of calling out all those artists who are a sham and more a proposition of a way we might better think of art. I'm fairly sure that we are able to spot an absence in a work, but maybe the looking is what has gone off kilter, we have got used to a different game, with different rewards. I rambled a little about something like this on the comments of a post by my friend Lee at this link.

Coincidentally, I would hold up Lee as a fine example of an artist who's work is the poetic real thing, it is a language which does not set out simply to be engaged in a general way, to me able to be taken apart back to a root in words. It is more a constellation, and the constellation was mapped by the artist and so what you witness in seeing Lee's work is his looking up, rather than, as in the art I argue against, his looking at you.

The text below seems interesting at first glance, I intend to read it later  and I'd like to remember this site that seems like an alternative to the ISSUU one that I use...
Lacan After Zizek