CLASS SIX (3/7/16 – 5pm)

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This was our Rehearsal/Performance Class — led by David Levine



This session we dug in on “Art and Objecthood” — and began experimenting with what it feels like to try to “perform” sections of this essay. Though the plan had been to run the whole session as a kind of acting-practicum under David’s leadership, the reality was we spent a lot of time just trying to make sure we understood Fried’s argument — the line of the argument itself, as well as its “mood” and “motives.”  As we paired off to work on communicating bits of the essay, the emphasis was on giving voice to specific sections, and to issues of articulation and pacing in the expression of the ideas.  Just trying to memorize a sentence or two, and to say that to another person in a way that felt “felt” (that felt “inhabited”) gave us plenty to do and think about for the last hour of the class.  It will be interesting to see these problems worked out in action at “The Best New Work” in two weeks…



LHP: Fried – Diderot – Street as Theater

Michael Fried’s “absorption” shall we say with the theater and theatricality is certainly apparent in “Art and Objecthood.” I recently read this article on some of his top/favorite books, the first, no shocker, by Diderot, Salons. Fried explains:

“Diderot is a great philosopher and arguably the best-ever art critic. My own work as an art historian has engaged closely with his, especially Salons (the art-critical texts) and his related writings on painting and the stage. In my early book, Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot, I discovered something about Diderot previously not recognised: the importance he placed on the relation between the painting and the viewer. That issue was also central to the development of French painting in the mid-18th century – between Chardin and Greuze – and Manet and his generation over 100 years later. It’s a topic with resonance beyond the modern period. The basic idea is that painters inevitably construct a certain sort of relationship with the viewer. In the 1750s, Diderot put forward a set of claims as to how that relationship was supposed to work for a painting to be successful. I argue in my book that those claims and imperatives turned out to be foundational for modern painting and modern art generally.”

The relation between the work of art and viewer is a point of particular interest for Bridget Alsdorf (Princeton Art and Archeology professor, currently teaching a course on Manet and the enormous amount of literature his work has garnered, including dear Fried’s Manet’s Modernism: Or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s (1996), steeped in notions of theatricality) in her catalogue essay “Vallotton’s Theater of Death” (p. 20-25) in The Avant-Gardes of Fin-de-Siècle ParisShe focuses on prints by Swiss (active in Paris), Nabis artist Félix Vallotton that “explore death as a form of theater for idling crowds,” relating them to contemporary discourses on crowd psychology and mass behavior as well as spectatorship and “badauderie” or gawking.

The suicide (Le Suicide) 1894. Félix VALLOTTON

Félix Vallotin, The suicide (Le Suicide), Woodcut1894.

This notion of moving through the street as if it were a theater (can we consider modes of interactive/immersive theater like Sleep No More?) may be seen in Vallotton’s prints, which position the viewer of the work as a spectator. I just took a look at an amazing publication Badauderies Parisiennes: Les rassemblements physiologies de la rue (1896) (cover pull-out image below) at Rare Books at Firestone in which Vallotton’s prints are centerstage.



From Alva Noë’s Strange Tools. Art and Human Nature about Fried’s Art and Objecthood (pp. 78-79, 241-242, 261-262)

CLASS SEVEN (3/23/16)



So in this meeting we pushed us through to the late nineteenth century — along the same thematic line of the last five weeks: theatricality, pedagogy, epistemology (and, to a considerable degree, politics). Our core texts — Darnton on Mesmerism, Fourier’s Quatres Mouvements, and Tresch on “physiospiritualism” and “technésthetique” across the revolutionary meridian of 1848 — put us in the way of the linked problems of possession, trance, and hypnosis.  And the reading thronged with vibrant and idiosyncratic (if also, finally, somewhat marginal) figures. There was picaresque scenography in abundance in these pages.  In the end, the combination of charismatic teacher-leader-guru-sage(frauds?) and their coteries of “true-believers” raised some critical hackles.  The politics of “harmony” is an unstable business — and perhaps not wholly to be trusted. Or so some of you seemed to wish to insist by the end of class.  Schaffer’s “self-evidence”? Maybe.  But evidence beyond the theater of the self felt increasingly urgent as we plunged into the the Fourierist phantasmagoria in which “Armies of Love” were seen falling upon each other in hotly contested contestations of lubricous gymnastics as perhaps could only be imagined by a fevered, lonely, and awkward early-nineteenth-century traveling salesman.

That said, I do think everyone was basically persuaded by Darnton’s argument about the latent radicalism of the mesmerist program. And we spent some time on that. And the idea of Fourier’s Phalansteries as a kind of “participatory art project” (or are they performance art?) has stuck in my head (Bishop’s Artificial Hells, anyone?).  I admitted to loving Fourier (though I acknowledged the misogyny, and do not think it is redeemed by the “progressive” character of the Fourierist program), and to having read the text a number of times — but I had never noticed how much attention the author pays to theater in a formal sense:


The phalanx is an amateur theater company. And it is tempting to suggest that in Fourier’s utopia life itself becomes like a perpetual exercise in collective “social-practice” artistry. Relational aesthetics as an actual political theory.  (In Part III of The Four Movements, by the way, there is a nearly endless footnote on, among other things, the decline of theater in the provinces — and the need for better acting everywhere — worth reading).

The Tresch (which I had not read before) significantly refigured my feeling for the legacies of Fourier. I found his argument — for a rich and extensive “middle ground” between the “mechanical philosophy” and “Romanticism”; indeed, for a swampy shared terrain that may be more significant than either of its ideological marches — both persuasive and totally exhilarating.  This was the part I double underlined for our purposes:


Our conversation turned to a consideration of the way that the Diderot-style “ideal actor” perhaps needed to be reconsidered as a kind of cyborg, in that the actor’s body is not wholly separable from the techno-mechanisms of the theater: the lighting and effects and scenographic technologies.  In musing in this direction we had doubtless been infected with some of the “ontological transvestism” of Tresch’s historical subjects — perhaps most extravagantly J.J. Grandville’s unforgettable Un autre monde:

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In the end, I felt that the big question we sat with can be discerned (in a fragmentary form) on the photo of the blackboard above: “If the theater, taken in its socio-spatial totality, amounts to a kind of enacted collective understanding (i.e., if collective understanding is what happens in a theater), is that a good or a bad thing? Are we in Plato’s cave, or have we finally arrived at the ‘happy day’ of big, communitarian, intersubjective paideia?”

Is this what we wanted?  All to be in the same zone together?

But what if, um, we are all just feeling it. And we are, like, totally wrong? What if we are about to drink the Kool-Aid? What if we already did?  (I wrote my dissertation about Guyana, so I feel this phrase in a particular way when I use it).

Matthew was in the mood, by this point, for some old school criticality.  He wanted someone who was not too comfortable in that “theater” with everybody else. Someone who kept stepping outside, say.  For a breath of fresh air.  For a little critical distance.  The Bacchae was mentioned.

For a moment in here I paused, and, holding the chalk, I felt like I was actually on the cusp of “understanding” the particular way that our post-Cartesian tradition has internalized a kind of fundamental unwillingness to be “ok” with the feeling of being right about something. Only a kind of bottomless dis-ease will suffice.

But this was probably only a feeling.  That I was understanding anything — or doing so in any “new” way.  It probably wasn’t even new for me.  But it felt like it, for a moment.

Was this in fact an actual example of the sort of nonce-knowledge, the kind of “understanding-trance” that the whole tradition is afraid of?  That special kind of enchantment that can happen in the theater of the seminar room?  Maybe.



DGB Postscript on all of the above: It occurs to me that Rancière’s account of Joseph Jacotot (in The Ignorant Schoolmaster) is relevant to these themes — to trance and understanding, to utopian pedagogy, and to Fourier’s historical moment more generally.

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A small to-be-noticed thing that came up in the reading for today:  In Schaffer’s essay on “Self-Evidence” there is this great passage:


Which not only beautifully exemplifies the kind of celestial pageantry invoked by Tresch in Grandville and elsewhere, but also affords a concrete historical instance of the scene Lee offered us from the Werckmeister Harmonies back in Week 5:

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By way of exercise, then, we worked in pairs for a while on our excerpts from “Art and Objecthood” — each taking one phrase or sentence and experimenting with its use as a “spell” or “incantation.” We worked to turn those words into something that had power, on our tongues, to mesmerize and enchant — to “entrance” our listener.  It was an interesting exercise.  Brief, but it afforded an opportunity to try to turn a sentence in a critical essay into a genuine “speech act” of world-transforming power.  It was perhaps a test of everyone’s ability to suspend disbelief.  But for me it felt like an opportunity to experiment with the disconcerting proximity between suspended disbelief and…, well, belief.



Lucy Partman & Matthew Strother


I wanted to get us started with a dive into mesmerism. The well-spring of fluid-related metaphors shall commence, heinously cliché and pretentiously punny, no matter! Onward, the fluid awaits! In Darnton’s Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France we find the “all puspose fluid” conveniently co-opted into pre-French Revolution political rhetoric, a pseudo-scientific base and cause which Rousseau-infused republicans and anti-establishment types could absorb and utilize for their political agendas.

For a poorly received, though nonetheless amusing film regarding the prophet of this most appealing, though hotly contested phenomenon–by B. Franklin himself–see Mesmer (1994), trailer, and full movie available on the tube! ALAN RICKMAN as Memser. Need I say more. And I bring up Franklin and also Jefferson–who it seems ardently rejected mesmerism, perhaps a destabilizing moral quandary for his fledgling nation–as I am interested in response to such pseudo-science in America. Phrenology, another “big heavy” in the panorama of 19th-century French and European thought, practice, spectacle, and, oh (oy!) yes, performance, was widely practiced and received with many an open arm in America.  


On this train (or wave), I had a look at this article related to an exhibit at the Poe Museum (“Poe Museum’s New Exhibit is Mesmerizing”).

Edgar Allan Poe was on the band wagon, perhaps more so in jest and for satirical purposes, fielding great material from the mesmeric under and over currents in the following works: “Mesmeric Revelation,”  Columbian Magazine, August 1844, 2:67-70 and The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (reprint), The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe (1850), 1:121-130.

Let’s look at David Knight’s ardent statement in “Scientific Lectures: A History of Performance”: “If education is a matter of lighting fires rather than filling bottles, then we should still see professing as a performance.” How do you feel about this? What is “lost” when performance is stressed in pedagogy? Knight suggests that the need for seriousness in professional 20th-century science relegates the performative in the realm of science as a form of spectacular popularizing. Perhaps dramatizing science should be reserved for igniting the first sparks in potential young scientists, but what about in the university lecture halls? Do the general public still flock to scientific lectures for entertainment? Could that be beneficial, moral?

An important technical, research-oriented question came up in Knight, who asks: “How do we know what one of Davy’s lectures was like?” As historians, how can we best reconstruct the experience of performances, especially pre-recording era performance? But also, let’s consider performance art. How can pieces of performance art be “correctly” re-created? Can they be? (See Hal Foster’s latest book Bad New Days: Art, Criticism, Emergency, 2015).

In The Romantic Machine, Tresch positions the performative and spaces of performance in the traffic zone between art and science, machine and romanticism. The ‘two cultures’–and it seems the distinction if not as cultures, but at least as separate disciplines did exist in pre-Revolution France, as the age of the Humboldtian polymath was coming to a close–intermingle in spectacular displays of scientific devices and on the instruments and machinations of musical and operatic performances. Could the realm of performance/drama/entertainment be the–ultimate?– middle ground between art and science? Could it keep these ever-differentiating fields in closer proximity? Similarly, I would look back to Knight who claims “that scientific lectures, instruction tempered with entertainment, kept our playgoing ancestors from becoming narrowly specialized and deferred any ‘two cultures’ for a long time.”

The visual material related to the period, issues, and ideas in this week’s reading is, in my opinion, phenomenally diverse and endlessly captivating. Considering depictions of pedagogic performances I want to offer the following:

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Engraved illustration of the collecting room for Caspar Friedrich Neickel’s Museographia published in 1727. In this copper plate etching curtains are drawn to reveal the spectacle of the private scholar with his collection (cabinet of curiosities, “kunstkammer”). Though the scholar is alone, such collections were often visited, objects displayed, and their respective narratives explained (“performed”?).


Hello mood lighting! Science for everyone, the children are captivated, the young scholars ponderous, a woman, well she’s there, but also not (foreground silhouette). The new hearth, the new religion–consider depictions of the birth of Christ, the central light and all surrounding, no baby Jesus in the center in this painting exuding light–it’s science! Joseph Wright of Derby, A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery (or, A Philosopher giving a Lecture on the Orrery in which a lamp is put in place of the Sun), ca. 1766, oil on canvas, 147 cm × 203 cm (58 in × 80 in), Derby Museum and Art Gallery, Derby, England. This was painted prior to An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (National Gallery, London) referenced in Knight’s article.

On a less serious note, or more, satirizing of performative phrenology by the infamous British caricaturist George Cruikshank:


George Cruikshank, “‘Calves’ Heads and Brains: or a Phrenological Lecture,” September 1826, Engraver: “Bump, L. Delineator: Lump, J.” Colored Etching, The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University. Read more here (can also view in high resolution so you can read the fabulous text at bottom and all around!).

Another, why not?


“Detail from a satirical print by James Gilray, 1802 titled Scientific Researches! – New Discoveries in PNEUMATICS! – or an experimental lecture on the Powers of Air” (Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, exhibit.) With this we can think about the body as an object of research, the body as evidence… (considering the evidence in”Self-Evidence” by Schaffer).

826px-Thomas_Eakins,_American_-_Portrait_of_Dr._Samuel_D._Gross_(The_Gross_Clinic)_-_Google_Art_Project Close up

Thomas Eakins, The Gross Clinic (or, The Clinic of Dr. Gross), 1875, Oil on canvas, 240 cm × 200 cm (8 ft × 6.5 ft), Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Here’s a close up too. It’s visceral! Extreme realism! This piece was deemed inappropriate for display in an art exhibition when Eakins first painted it. Instead, it was exhibited with other hospital equipment and contemporary medical technology.

Another creation from the period which Tresch spends time discussing in section two of The Romantic Machine is J.J. Grandville’s (1803-1847) Un autre monde : transformations, visions, incarnations, ascensions, locomotions, explorations, pérégrinations, excursions, stations, cosmogonies, fantasmagories, rêveries, folatreries, facéties, lubies, métamorphoses, zoomorphoses, lithomorphoses, métempsycoses, apothéoses et autres choses published in 1844 (Paris : H. Fournier, libraire-éditeur, rue Saint-Benoît, 7). The title of the book alone had me mesmerized! Tresch incorporates images from this remarkably complex, hilarious, satirical, generative, smorgasbord… into his own book. We have an original in Rare Books and you can view a digitized version here. And not to forget the utopian socialist other world/system/order put forth by Fourier in his Theory of the Four Movements and other works, we have Grandville’s illustration of the idyllic world of harmony and lemonade seas! And we are back to the fluids!




I was very intrigued by the question which emerged out of our discussion on Diderot two classes back:

Does the situation of the actor (as a person responsible for embodying a person/character for others represent a model (archetype?) for human understanding and human action? A model/archetype that ought to be understood to supersede on, say, a “cartesian” model (where understanding is achieved by a solitary thinker cutting itself off from world/sensibility and book/people to “figure things out” and then “teach” others.)

This model was connected to the idea of the actor as an ideal republican citizen. By extension, the theater where the actors perform was seen as the society that can be managed in a democratic way. This left me wondering: Who runs the theater? The theater is not a neutral space. It is controlled by a larger network of people (owners, producers, managers, technicians) and has, in every instance, different layouts controlling how actors interact with actors, actors interact with audience, and audience interacts (or doesn’t interact) with the audience.

This week’s readings complicate the simple analogy that says “actor is to citizen” as “theater is to society” by introducing different kinds of theaters, and showing how these spaces produce different forms of knowledge. We have Fourier’s phalanx, where people really do learn in a theater how they are going to incorporate into Harmony; we have the scenography of proof and demonstration, where understanding is “staged” in very particular condition before an audience with particular expectation; and we have the magic halls where Houdin’s acts are interpreted in many different ways, depending on the perspectives one brings into the theater.

This is all by way of asking: how does the situation of the theater in turn effect the situation of the actor as model for human understanding and action?


Also, this line from Romantic Machines:

“Uncertainty over the increasing presence of new technologies in everyday life was reflected by the fantastic’s alternations between wonder and dread.”

made me think of this Bjork video:

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For Ernst Jentsch’s first theorization of the unheimlich in 1906 read here.

For present instantiations of mesmerim, see The Abramović Method.

For the most recent understanding of the body as mesmerizable see Jaron Lanier, the father of virtual reality as he is called. You can start from here.

I’m very sorry to have to miss class today! As I’m not able to attend physically, I thought I might be there in spirit by sharing something I saw last night: the production of Louis Andriessen’s vocal-theatrical work “De Materie” (yesterday was the premiere of the new (American stage premiere) production at the Park Ave Armory)Bildschirmfoto 2016-03-23 um 12.04.02.png

Throughout the performance I found myself thinking about our class and the question of the tensions inherent in the performance of theoretical/philosophical texts. This four-part non-opera does not contain a traditional dramatic arc, consisting instead of four what might be called “images”, moving the listener/viewer back and forth through time, and in the case of the 4th part, space. Despite the highly heterogeneous nature of their material, all four parts can be unified in their interest in the relationship between matter and being, materiality and spirituality, existence and freedom. The first part sets three disparate texts: the 1581 Dutch Act of Abjuration, a treatise on ship building and a philosophical treatise on matter by the Dutch philosopher David van Goorle. The first two are sung in straight-tone style by the chorus; the excerpt from van Goorle’s treatise is sung by solo tenor, setting it apart from the otherwise homophonous vocal writing. Watching a man dressed in ascetic period dress passionately declaim a text on matter from the rafters of the Armory, I found myself thinking about the effect the setting of this text at the high point of the first part of a large-scale theatrical, but almost defiantly non-operatic work was making. Paired with the minimalist (or post-minimalist) style of the writing, the straight-tone choral singing, the sudden focus upon the individual of van Goorle, there seemed to be a conflict, or a plurality of conflicts, bubbling beneath the surface of the movement. The sparse monotony of the harmonic language fought with the lushness of the orchestration, of the very harmonies expressed by the orchestra; the unadorned, homophonic writing for the chorus fought with the luscious texture it created in its union with the orchestra writing; the acoustics of the sheer force of sound booming around the cavernous space was itself almost theatrical. And then this defiantly non-dramatic text made highly dramatic in its sudden isolation of a single individual voice. With the variously human or animal-like shadows visible upon the lit walls of the camp-like tents set up throughout the hall hammering in time to the percussive blows of the orchestra, the work seemed deeply conflicted about its own status. But this conflict was productive. It pointed to the dramatic nature of what might at first seem to be dry texts: van Goorle rebuts Aristotle with vigor; the 16th century Dutch throw off the oppressive chains of the Spanish crown, the text reaching its climax in naming William of Orange their new leader; the reality of the shipbuilding treatise becomes visceral in the booming blows of the orchestra, the work famously opening with 144 iterations of the same chord, played fortissimo. This strange combination of texts early modern texts, of a predominately American minimalist style highly influenced by a pop aesthetic, of a sparse production that emphasized the dramatically cavernous space of the Park Avenue Armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall pointed precisely to the tensions inherent to the performance of theoretical texts, perhaps uncovering their secretly dramatic nature, perhaps also uncovering the strangely powerful desire to efface or deny the operatic in post-war avant-garde music, though this desire might be eternally fated to be unsuccessful.

PERFORMANCE (March 26th)


A performance of David Levine’s “The Best New Work” at the Princeton Art Museum, featuring Laura Beckner.

Some videos HERE


Here’s a chronological section of the experience through images/captions:


Walking around performing AV&K, stops by museum visitor, visitor questions the performer, performer proceeds to “answer” in the words of Greenberg. Fabulously hilarious!


A very scenic launchpad for decrying Repin!


Dude to the left did not avert his gaze once from the hand-held tech, as the visitor/audience watched and performer continued, with feeling!


It got dramatic!


Captive audience.


Words of AV&K thrust onto / in front of work of art…dissonance, generative musing, psychobabble?

What an experience. Engaging, nuts and absolutely funny. The viewer reactions were captivating, especially viewers that seemed totally mystified/confused. But was the whole performance just “entertaining” (or baffling to the unaware/uniformed)? And if that’s the case, is that an issue, is it problematic?  Theory flung at art objects for what purpose? As a type of audio-visual experiment? I did not leave with an understanding of the text (and I hadn’t walked in intending to attain one). There are hints of institutional critique (thinking to Fraser’s Museum Highlights and masquerading as tour guide) at play with choice text and works of art (and museum institution) left in a state of use and abuse, disregarded, trivialized (spectacularized). Or one could find in the collision of spoken text and visual the potential for generative/new/random (aleatory) associations. The concept of “spectacle” comes to mind, making the spectacular, spectacularizing and the potential for animation performance allows. And I return to the funny–the humorous, a trance-like, hypnotic type of laughter induced, following and trying to keep up with the leader-performer. But were the actual words “funny”? Or was it just a situational awkwardness of sorts?


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Beckner chose to deliver a passage on Mussolini’s appeal to the masses by way of their aesthetic tastes in this room full of Italian paintings and sculptures, suggesting something less than a completely arbitrary relationship between content and setting. In what registered to me as the end of a scene/movement, she gestures toward a gilded thing in a vitrine and proposes, “The masses must be provided with objects of admiration and wonder” (video embedded in the still above).That shiny object is a 17th-century gilt bronze and silver angel attributed to the French sculptor Jean Regnaud during his time in Italy, perhaps once a piece of a reliquary holding an instrument of the Passion, probably the nails, its label speculates.


The small angel becomes a false idol in relation to the performed text and hit perhaps more dramatically than would a modernist work nearer the aesthetic Mussolini used to distract from the brutality of his rule. It made the described subjugation of the people register as more biblical than bureaucratic.


I was struck by the way the performer moved back and forth between being total obliviousness to her audience–totally inside her own head, moving as if through her own fog–and totally aware of her audience, making eye-contact and interacting. But the mode of interaction with the audience felt less like the performer descending from her own self-created world, and more like the performer ushering the audience into *her* plane of existence. The audience became a part of this odd virtual in-between space of performance art.

The performance also made me interact differently with the space of the museum. I was aware of the museum as a sanctified space that was now being made into a space to *live in*, made into a kind of home for a brief time. I felt compelled to lean on objects as if they were furniture, to take advantage of the acoustics of certain rooms in order to sing or declaim poetry. What happens to a museum when the entire space becomes stage, becomes virtual playground?

I was also intrigued by the activity of looking for the performer, of finding her and losing her again. Was this also a part of the experience of the audience? The disorienting idea that this performer will go on whether you (or any given audience member) is there at all? (This was thrown into particular relief when the performer entered a bathroom and continued with her monologue even though only one or two people could hear her.)

What was going on when the performer stopped her monologue to observe a painting? I found myself watching her watching a painting. The activity of being an audience member thrust itself to the fore, as did the activity of looking at artworks in a museum. These moments made me think of the performance as a kind of satirical version of a museum tour guide who does not wait for museum goers to follow her and often gets lost in her own thoughts, rendering her role superfluous…



I had a lot on my mind as I watched the performance on Saturday, and I really look forward to talking about it together tomorrow.  The whole thing definitely stimulated my thinking as we look forward to our final project, and the experience of watching Laura do the piece enormously sharpened for me many of the questions I think we need to resolve for ourselves as we move toward a pedagogical/performative activation of “Art and Objecthood.”

Below, a short clip I took — the final image of the bystander (her fingers are in her ears, as you will see) says a lot about how one museum-goer managed the situation.  I think this image heightens for me the challenges we face as we seek a form of text-performance that is closer to teaching — since this is really important to me.

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It is such a bummer that I missed the “Best New Work” this past weekend; thank you everyone for your videos/pictures/comments! After watching them, some things came to mind. However, I apologize in advance if I am misinterpreting what actually happened on Saturday; I have tried to reconstruct what the performance was all about based on what I just saw on your posts.

The first thing I want to bring up is the idea of talking about art in an art space vs talking about something that has no relation to the physical space we are performing in. I think that one of the reasons that makes this performance stronger is its content relation to the museum. As Graham points out, now looking at our project we should aim for a text-performance that resembles teaching. However, I am not totally sure how more (or less) powerful/challenging/rewarding could be to perform/teach about art in a non-artistic space. Looking at the videos, I see how Beckner looks at some objects and paintings, which sometimes relate to what she is saying. Nevertheless, her conversational tone, hand gestures and interaction with the space in general (not relying on the spatial artistic personality of the museum too much) seem to me the powerful components of her performance. I think this is something we could reflect on moving forward. Why do we need to perform in a museum for it to be more of a “teaching” exercise?

As some of you pointed out, she looks at times as a tour guide—or at least, some bystanders confuse her as one when they first see her. I could not tell from the video who she was actually looking at all the time. I saw that sometimes she looks at some people (e.g. the guy who was doing work (?!) in the museum) as if she was engaging in a conversation with him. In a more “teachy” performance as our final project, should we indeed be conversational and interactive?

Finally, I want to comment on the corporality of Beckner’s performance, which I found fascinating. She laid down and abruptly sat down, used hang gestures, and changed her voice tone appropriately. In watching and admiring her performativity, I also wonder if she was creating a dependency on it to converse and situate herself in the space. I felt that such performativity drew people’s attention to her and to even wonder what she was doing; at times, it added to the oddness of performing a text in a museum. Can we imagine her doing the whole text just in one space without moving? How would the oddness/performativity be seen as more or less of a “spectacle” in this hypothetic scenario?



Kitsch, “a product of the industrial revolution” – an ersatz version of ‘genuine culture’, whoch the dominant bourgeoisie sold to the proletariat who had lost its folkic traditions in its move to the cities. Mass produced kitsch became the ‘first universal culture ever beheld’ and supported the ‘illusion that the masses really rule”. This was what made kitsch integral to the regimes of Hitler, Moussolini, Stalin and others.

I have been trying to work out what made me feel uncomfortable with the performance. Yes it was entertaining, it made me laugh, sometimes chuckle out loud, but this was never at the words, never at the ‘acting’ but rather, as has been said above at the awkward interactions with the members of the public who were not ‘in’ on what was happening. A certain exclusivity was given to those ‘in the know’ – those aware of the ‘performance’ and in some contexts this could be fine, but the joke seemed to be on the members of the public who weren’t, those who were confused by what was occurring. There is a certain elitism in theory itself (although Avant-Garde and kitsch is arguably more criticism), a certain elitism enshrines academia, this in itself is no bad thing, but with the rise of knowledge and information economies a certain updating of Greenbergs essay is due, not one that leaves it as empty, not one that makes it Kitsch. (as Hermann Broch charecterizes it on the year the Nazi’s take office, “the evil in the value-system of art”.

There were other moments, that I must admit I was slightly seduced by. The talk of POWER and the third Reich whilst sitting in front of a large painting of an eagle. The Eagle as audience or bestower of power? But a recent trip to Broodthaers had left the eagle image firmly imprinted in my memory. The metaphor lacked though, it seemed cheap, easy perhaps, the same with pointing to certain artefacts, perhaps a shiny… it all seemed rather nice, rather quaint. I struggled to scratch below all of this, and at the moments when I did, I realized I sat an uncomfortable side of a power dynamic between actor / general public

Kitsch, “a product of the industrial revolution” – an ersatz version of ‘genuine culture’, whoch the dominant bourgeoisie sold to the proletariat who had lost its folkic traditions in its move to the cities. Mass produced kitsch became the ‘first universal culture ever beheld’ and supported the ‘illusion that the masses really rule”. This was what made kitsch integral to the regimes of Hitler, Moussolini, Stalin and others.

I have been trying to work out what made me feel uncomfortable with the performance. Yes it was entertaining, it made me laugh, sometimes chuckle out loud, but this was never at the words, never at the ‘acting’ but rather, as has been said above at the awkward interactions with the members of the public who were not ‘in’ on what was happening. A certain exclusivity was given to those ‘in the know’ – those aware of the ‘performance’ and in some contexts this could be fine, but the joke seemed to be on the members of the public who weren’t, those who were confused by what was occurring. There is a certain elitism in theory itself (although Avant-Garde and kitsch is arguably more criticism), a certain elitism enshrines academia, this in itself is no bad thing, but with the rise of knowledge and information economies a certain updating of Greenbergs essay is due, not one that leaves it as empty, not one that makes it Kitsch. (as Hermann Broch charecterizes it on the year the Nazi’s take office, “the evil in the value-system of art”.

There were other moments, that I must admit I was slightly seduced by. The talk of POWER and the third Reich whilst sitting in front of a large painting of an eagle. The Eagle as audience or bestower of power? But a recent trip to Broodthaers had left the eagle image firmly imprinted in my memory. The metaphor lacked though, it seemed cheap, easy perhaps, the same with pointing to certain artefacts, perhaps a shiny… it all seemed rather nice, rather quaint. I struggled to scratch below all of this, and at the moments when I did, I realized I sat an uncomfortable side of a power dynamic between actor / general public

CLASS EIGHT (3/30/16)



A lot of the first part of seminar focused on a discussion of “The Best New Work” last Saturday at the Princeton Art Museum. It was an intense conversation, I thought — and one that pushed our thinking on our aims and means as we look to the final performance-project.  It is perhaps worth taking a moment to résumé what I took from that, before moving on to the readings themselves (which we really only focused on for the last hour).

I am pasting in here below the blackboard after the first half of the seminar (the image above is the blackboard at the end of class — I’ll come back to that):


The most important stuff for us to underline here, I think, runs down the middle of the board — it was our emergent “frame-commitments” for the performances of our sections from “Art and Objecthood.”  We all (I think) felt comfortable signing off on all of these as listed, even as we also increasingly felt it was important that everyone have some latitude as to individual ways of doing something with the text (in this setting and under these constraints):

  • we each agree to be “responsible” for our passage of the text for the duration of the performance;
  • our ways of being “responsible” need to have some sort of public “face” (that is, must be ready to engage/confront and/or be-engaged-by/be-confronted-by others);
  • even when we are not attended on (not being seen or not in the company of others) there needs to be something “going on” in whatever way we are enacting our “responsibility” for the text — something to look-at/see.

Beyond that, things feel pretty open.  Will there be a copy of the text to hand?  It feels like that could go either way.  Other props?  Maybe.  But a sine qua non of the whole thing is that everyone needs to have their bit of the text memorized.

This conversation definitely pushed on hard questions concerning the relationship between pedagogy and performance.  What do we actually want to make happen in that gallery?  What does it mean to be “responsible” to a text?  Does it mean something like “making an effort to ‘put the words/ideas into another person’s mind?'”  Some felt that this phrasing had about it the odor of brain-washing.  Too authoritarian.  But the opposite extreme (“just putting the text out there”) seemed not-wholly-satisfactory either.  Text feels weak, left to its own devices.  It either sits there on the page, or it flows by on the tongue — but in neither case can it quite be said to be “gifted” or “bodied forth” in the manner we associate with the best scenographies of teaching and learning.  Chiara said that text needs context and history — that is how it “lives” (and it is the teacher’s role to provide something like the “life-story” of the text, and thereby to give it its vitality). The language of mothering was invoked.  Of birthing. Not everyone would go there, I think.  But her proposition was impassioned, and I certainly felt the power of her formulation.  On a slightly different note, it was interesting that many of us felt that we needed to be able to engage in some form of dialogic encounter if we were going to be “responsible” to our texts.

At any rate, the whole discussion gave us all a lot to think about.  Or it gave me a lot to think about anyway.  One of the most interesting exchanges I think we have had to date.  I felt a very strong sense of mounting consensus (harmony?) as we contemplated a kind of simple dramaturgy for our performance:  all of us in one gallery, perhaps stationed in specific locations around the room (with individual works?  perhaps), and then something like each of us taking turns (coming to the middle of the room?) to “speak” or “present” our section of the text.  Something like that.  The idea of their being a cone on a stand in the middle of the room into which we each whisper (think of it as the opposite of a microphone/loudspeaker) was mooted.  I personally sort of loved this, in that it seemed to create a frame within which visitors to the gallery have a kind of choice — they need to make a commitment to listen, by walking up to the cone and putting their ear to it.  I feel this might well work as a nice technique/technology for “artificializing” the encounter — “artificing” it, placing it within a heuristic frame that may help manage the challenge of a more “naked” encounter.  (I think David will hate this idea, BTW, but that is OK; we can discuss on Friday!).


Coming back to the seminar-seminar, it should be said that the Shannon Jackson book dealt a lot with the swampy zone where pedagogy and performance inosculate.  The book was definitely impressive in a number of ways.  Learning the history of the relevant departments and disciplinary leaders in the field of performance studies was certainly valuable, and it was good to be reminded of how much history there actually is in this domain.  I was struck to see the process by which the study of the drama of drama was separated from the study of dramatic texts (in English departments). Perfect book?  No.  Some folks wished it had offered a little more — instead of ultimately seeming a little too close to (as the sinuous comment recorded on the blackboard at the top of this post notes) “criticism of criticism of criticism.”  The latter chapters were less satisfying.  But the upshot: definitely worth reading, and a very serious book.

Much of the rest of seminar time went to me and Chiara disagreeing about Beuys — she finds his vatic-prophetic routine a little tiresome.  And perhaps is made to feel uneasy (like a lot of other people) by a German who fought for Hitler using sort of nebulous mythopoetic language and a lot of personal charisma to try to conjure a new and collective spirit among the people.  She would not be alone, if this left a funny taste in her mouth.

Me, I am something of a sucker for the whole thing, and I tend to feel that everyone is basically a mystic — so the general question in that department is not if, but exactly how (and how honest one is about that).  So that part of him doesn’t bother me.  And I am also pretty sympathetic — even touched, frankly — by the “pedagogy as the highest art-form” rhetoric.  Between Duchamp’s mandarin silence and Beuys’ endless, hyper-didactic explaining-it-all-to-you, I’ll take the latter. Yes, there this is an instance of intensely self-absorbed universalism, but I spent most of the time I was reading Energy Plan for the Western Man thinking of another prophetic monomaniac of democratic narcissism who tried to push solipsism so far that it achieved warp-speed (a velocity at which it becomes cosmic-transcendent-omnidirectional-empathetic-mind/body meld), and did so while attempting to reconstitute a whole people in the wake of total war and civilizational collapse.

I am thinking, of course, of good old Walt Whitman.

They feel to me like kindred spirits.

(I just may have a little essay in me on this proposition…😉)

(DGB, postscript: I will admit that later, watching Beuys hold forth relentlessly [his eyes shaded by his severe fedora] in the Dead Hare thing that Lee posted below, my enthusiasm did cool a wee bit; he’s better on the page).


5 assorted comments and/or follow-ups on Graham’s class summary:

1. On the subject of putting or not putting words/ideas into another person’s mind, I mentioned a short essay by Gadamer that adds a little nuance to the binary between authoritarian force feeding and “just putting it out there.” It’s called “Authority and Critical Freedom.”

The text begins with some armchair philologizing about the semantic field of “authority.” Gadamer observes that the word “authoritarian” has become so predominant in late 20th century usage that its cognate – “authoritative” – is hardly heard at all anymore. He traces the roots of this shift to Hitler’s rise to power, when “authoritarian” first acquired its “ominous tone.”

Gadamer feels something is lost when a knee-jerk suspicion towards authority in all its guises becomes the de facto position. While acknowledging this line of thought “does not particularly recommend itself to current opinion, and for good reasons,” he goes on to point out that a certain kind of authority is “indispensable . . . to the whole practice of education.” He wants to restore the positive sense in which this can be so. 

For him, the positive sense of authority revolves around a kind of paradox: “We call someone authoritative if they do not need to invoke authority. . . The word ‘authoritative’ precisely does not refer to a power which is based on authority. It refers, rather, to a form of validity which is generally recognized, and not one which is merely asserted.” 

The essay closes with a meditation on the “deep interconnection” between what he views as the good kind of authority and “critical freedom.” By critical freedom, he means a Kantian respect for others as-end-in-themselves that is, crucially for Gadamer, bound up with the humbling of one’s self.

In the end, the ability to recognize one’s own limits turns out to the be the basis for all genuine authority. 

Apropos of this, I recently attended an event in which Mark Greif (founder of n+1 and a prof at the New School) was speaking about the art of the essay. He said he likes to use the collective pronoun “we” in his essays because it is more likely to incite a person to think for themselves. e.g. to ask “am I a part of that we? do I want to be?” By contrast, Mark suggested that the default pronoun of the personal essay – “I” – allows the reader to adopt a “you think what you think and I think what I think” attitude looks like healthy pluralism but amounts to little more than a collective shrug.

Chiara also made some comments about democracy and criticality and respect, but I can’t remember them well enough to summarize (maybe you can, Chiara?). I was vibing. 

CC: My pleasure Matthew ;). What I was saying is that the (only ?) possible way out from the despotic drift of the authority embodied in verbal human exchanges is the presumption that the other, your other then and there, has virtually the same power you are exercising to persuade him, to resist you. He can say no. He can also say “I would prefer not to”. Within democracy, in the realm of speech, the speaker has to presume that his interlocutor has the same oratorical efficacy. This presumption prevents violence and aggression and at the same time elicits charisma. Said that, some problem arises because  it does not imply nor produce equality, but on the contrary the permanent possibility of revolution (in fact, this is the reason why I like it). Of course, this presumption may not be translated in the realm of the pure body, where force makes the difference. You can say no, and still… As I said: “within democracy, in the realm of speech”. Performances push such a paradigm to its limits.

2. Speaking of vibing…and its PROFOUND DANGERS (that old sawhorse of mine), I recently saw this poster round town:


I submit that the mere fact of its existence is an undeniably powerful (dare I say authoritative) argument for the need to hold on to some old-school criticality in the face of collective projects of…er…uh…*ahem*…understanding.

This is all to say: if you can’t step outside the theater, how do you know Gwen Stefani isn’t running the show? What if she is running the show and it feels like truth?

3. I’m currently reading my way through Capital (no comments, please, I go to the New School, it’s what we do) and was pleasantly surprised to find Brecht’s predecessor invoking the metaphor of theater as a model of society:

“As we proceed to develop our investigation, we shall find, in general, that the characters who appear on the economic stage are merely personifications of economic relations; it is as the bearers of the economic relations that they come into contact with each other.”

The above, in relation to the metaphor of actor as ideal type for understanding, asks who is writing the script and where the roles are coming from. The question of the “outside” of the theater will no doubt be on the table again this week as we continue discussing Brecht. 

4. A propos of last week’s texts, it occurred to me that the stark dichotomy represented by the Jackson text (“criticism of criticism of criticism”) and the Beuy’s (vatic prophetic intoning) is precisely the dichotomy that Weber addresses in his famous essay Science as a Vocation Should we bring values into the classroom? Or simply equip students with the critical tools to make value judgments for themselves, doing our best to maintain a disembodied wissenschaftlich distance? Of course, it is ultimately a matter of value whether one thinks it is appropriate to teach values in a university. 

A brief excerpt:

“One can only demand of the teacher that he have the intellectual integrity to see that it is one thing to state facts, to determine mathematical or logical relations or the internal structure of cultural values, while it is another thing to answer questions of the value of culture and its individual contents and the question of how one should act in the cultural community and in political associations. These are quite heterogeneous problems. If he asks further why he should not deal with both types of problems in the lecture-room, the answer is: because the prophet and the demagogue do not belong on the academic platform.”

5. If you’re still with me…I present you with…



This was an exhibit playing at the Jewish museum in Berlin a few years back. I found it to be a very interesting – and effective – model of a “dialogic” performance piece. We already broached this possibility with Nathaniel’s report about the children-whispering-through-cones art piece, which presents the viewer with an option to approach or not to approach. But I, for one, think it is worth discussing even more radical versions of viewer agency.

I believe the unpleasant experience of being arm-wrestled into viewer-participation can be entirely inverted when the viewer is no longer simply viewer (even a glorified viewer who can choose, say, to approach the cone or not to approach the cone) but co-performer.

Basically, what I’m proposing here: FRIED IN A BOX.



Lee Colon & Elaine Fitz Gibbon


On January 11, 1974, five days after arriving in New York, Beuys engages in a dialogue with 350 audience members at the New School. As transcribed in Energy Plan for the Western Manwhich compiles interviews, speeches, and lectures addressed to American audiences during a series of visits (p. 25-37)—Beuys has the audience issuing cries of approval and scorn toward a string of interlocutors called to the stage. Improving on the transcript, we can get the full sense of the crowd’s dynamic under the power of the performer in this video documentation of the event, available in EAI’s streaming archive:

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For those unfamiliar, links to clips of two of his best known works, and a description of one of his earliest:

“I Like America and America Likes Me,” 1974, New York, Galerie René Block

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“How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare,” 1965, Düsseldorf, Galerie Schmela

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“For Siberian Symphony,” 1962/1963, Düsseldorf Art Academy

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I was particularly captivated by Brecht’s text, “On the Use of Music in an Epic Theatre” and how enthusiastically Brecht embraced music and the emotional power of music when used for moralistic purposes. See, for instance, such passages as: “The tenderest and most moving love-song in the play [The Threepenny Opera] described the eternal, indestructible mutual attachment of a procurer and his girl. The lovers sang, not without nostalgia, of their little home, the brothel. In such was the music, just because it took up a purely emotional attitude and spurned none of the stock narcotic attractions, became an active collaborator in the stripping bare of the middleclass corpus of ideas” (85-86).
Here’s a recording of the song that he’s referring to:

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I’m curious about his seemingly naive happiness that the songs are sung by everyone, even in their own homes (note the affinity between Neue Sachlichkeit and Hausmusik particularly in the works of Paul Hindemith, the very same Neue Sachlichkeit that he disparages in the interview “Conversation with Bert Brecht”) — “A lot of poeple sang them to piano accompaniment or from the records, as they were used to doing with musical comedy hits”. Did he believe that this was proof of their revolutionary, “muck-raking” potential? How can we square this with Adorno’s (in)famous critique — written 19 years earlier! — of the fetishistic nature of modern musical listening and the fundamentally un-revolutionary result of this listening mode?

On another musical note: I found the composition and structure of Beuys’ “ja ja ja ne ne ne” — the transformation of tone and timing of the five ja’s and ne’s throughout the hour and four minutes of the piece, the antiphonal nature of their performance by the two voices, spaced in different places in the room, and the inclusion of the woman’s voice now and again — really fascinating. It reminded me a bit of the phasing techniques of the minimalist composers Steve Reich and Morton Feldman.
And for the German speakers out there, here’s a very useful (und knapp!) explanation of Brecht’s concept of epic theater (though apparently one’s adherance to the intentional fallacy must, in this case, be momentarily “aufgehoben”):

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PS: There’s a talk/public dialogue being given on April 6th that’s relevant to our class, and actually, to the text we’ll be reading for next week, Gregory Ulmer’s “Applied Grammatology”. Peter Goodrich, Sigrid Weigel and Niklaus Largier will be speaking and it promises to be very lively and really fascinating! Here’s the full poster.

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If you have trouble with Beuys’ prophetic attitude, as I have, you can detox reading Paul Chan’s last text   published now in October. It is about what cunning art is.

DGB (on the above):  Ah!  Really, Chiara?  Trouble with the prophetic? Hmmm. Me, I am like putty in his hands.  Beuys’ hands, that is…


DGB: The reading this week (more the Beuys than the Brecht) put me in mind of the work of Thomas Hirschorn — and particularly of his Gramsci Monument (see below) here in NYC a few years ago (Lex Brown, who ran a major chunk of the participatory project, is a former student of mine, who did an amazing final project in The Art of Deception back in 2011; she is a really interesting young artist):

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I also have a soft spot for Hirschorn’s chaotic and rubbish-strewn Flamme Éternelle at the Palais de Tokyo a few years ago.  Cannot resist a (basically gratuitous) snapshot of my daughters proudly making their contributions to the vast assemblage of well-graffittied old tires, cardboard, and packing tape:

Paris - Palais

CLASS NINE (4/6/16)

Class 9


For those of you who have been paying attention to the session titles on the syllabus, you will have noticed that last week’s class was entitled “Performing Pedagogy I: Teaching (and Learning) as Theatre.” And this week we met under the follow-up rubric “Performing Pedagogy II: Theory as Acting.” One inevitably makes up these titles without a terribly clear sense of how the seminar conversation is going to go, but in retrospect I feel our discussions in both Class 8 and 9 tracked our titular themes quite closely.

Discussion today opened with some reflections on the cultic mood of Grotowski. We heard anecdotal accounts of the body severity and self-sacrificing exigencies of the deep woods Polish camp-retreats where Grotowskian acolytes learn to lay body and soul on the line. We also heard a bit about Eugenio Barba’s slightly less chiliastic version of the Grotowski project — namely the “Odin Theatre,” with its utopian communitarian globetrotting and east-west syncretism. Watching some archival footage of Grotowski working with actors brought out the intensity of his “poor theatre,” which clearly asks a great deal of everyone.

The religious/spiritual/sacrificial mood of Grotowski’s project met with mixed reviews in the seminar. Perhaps predictably, I was sympathetic: the notion of a (secular) “holy actor” — an actor willing to sacrifice him/herself in a commitment to the other (the role? the audience?) with an eye on some form of (secular) “redemption” — spoke to the part of me that remains unconvinced that the category of “art” can ever meaningfully escape its historically specific status as a metaphysical dilapidation of a fundamentally theological enterprise. (And I should add that I found Grotowski’s allusion to the possibility of a “holy spectator” enticing; it articulates suggestively with respect to the work of what is sometimes called “The Order of the Third Bird,” a kind of collective or loose association of individuals apparently committed to durational practices of sustained attention — often to works of art).

Others were markedly less enthusiastic. Matthew once again fingered what he takes to be a not-wholly-savory cocktail of private language, ritualistic practices, charismatic leadership, and self-sequestering enthusiasm— and by this point we have come to recognize, I think, a kind of slightly old-school, Enlightenment-rationalist concern to which Matthew (helpfully) recurs when it starts to look like everybody may just be experiencing a little too much ecstasy in their mutuality (especially if said enthusiasts start using the language of “knowledge” or “understanding”). Matthew has been wonderfully vigorous in his willingness to make his views explicit here on the website, so he is invited to nuance/clarify my effort at summary/paraphrase of his position.

It was about this moment (in the wake of a vigorous review of antinomianism in the Grotowskian enterprise) that somebody (Chiara? Yes, it was me) wanted the word “university” up on the board (you can see it there up above in the photograph). What about the “universal” aspirations of the univers-ity? Isn’t the “university” precisely conceived as a special place for the “all”? And shouldn’t we therefore understand such micro-communities of psycho-cognitive consilience as fundamentally at odds with the universalizing aspirations of the university itself?

Maybe. The provocation sat heavy in the room for some time. We sat with it.

Eventually I did a little back-of-the-envelope history of the university, one that (polemically) emphasized the extent to which any genealogy of a place like Princeton reaches back to (and passes through) a set of institutions (e.g., seminaries, monasteries) that look precisely like small self-sequestering aggregations of acolyte-devotees.

But this maneuver, while hopefully suggestive, did not really resolve the matter. At some point in here we ended up with the fascinating question that occupies the center of the blackboard in the photograph above: “is understanding achieved by/through ‘creating’?” Although I cannot say we made any real progress answering this question, I was left with a feeling that merely posing that question clearly, and thinking about it in relation to the material we have been reading, afforded one of the basic kinds of satisfaction that a seminar in the humanities can sometimes afford.

About this time, the question of universalizing knowledge versus exquisite micro-communities of affective/intellectual consonants was reframed as a question of scale: maybe the lecture, for instance, and some of the other pedagogical mechanisms of university life are basic solutions to a number problem. Niche experiences of thought-intimacy may be terrific, and perhaps even utopian, but they are not suitable to the exigencies of mass education. Or they haven’t been, anyway, under the technological and social conditions of the last several hundred years.


What followed then was a turn into a relatively astringent (I think — feel free to correct me if you think that’s not right) critique of the position and function the university (and its professorial denizens) in the era of “late capitalism” (if you are sufficiently optimistic as to feel comfortable with that formulation). And this part really focused on the humanities. I will omit the summary, but the analysis was on the bleak side, and emphasized the way that domains of specialized scholarship in the humanities have substantially come to serve as elaborate mechanisms for levigating the aspiring hoards of prospective plutocrats — an exemplary close reading of Gide in an undergraduate class amounting (under the normal conditions of bourgeois proto-professional development) to a proxy/index of a student’s capacity for post-law-school document review on a corporate merger deal. The humanistic professoriate serves as an (almost, but not quite) obligatory passage point in the conventional passage to membership in the one percent — since we do a fair bit of reading of student work, and are therefore positioned to write the letters that play a significant role in determining who goes where for professional school.

Oops. I did sort of do a summary.

Anyway, all this framed a return to the question of experimental pedagogy/inquiry in relation to texts and ideas. Such investigations can be understood as part of an effort to create forms of teaching and learning that resist assimilation to the dynamics of power/money triage that continuously encroach upon the high ideals of great colleges and universities.

And we turned to Ulmer’s Applied Grammatology (and the conclusion of Teletheory) in this context. Here was a surprisingly early and clear defense of a radical rethinking of classroom practice based on a kind of light-footed commitment to a pure “poetry of daily life.” What if the project were to learn, maintain, share, and practice a continuous “Writing” in the grammatological sense? i.e., Continuously to attend to, and contribute to, the scintillation-field of difference/différence? What would life look like? Thought? Teaching?

It might look like “Derrida at the Little Bighorn — A Fragment” (Chapter 6 of Teletheory; see joke here).  Would this be bad? It would certainly be different. And it would certainly look much more like an “art” practice than like the scientistic doings of university humanists that characterize the current paradigm. Anything-goes-ism? Maybe. But harder to use as the basis for a sorting out who goes to Harvard and who goes to George Mason for law school. It would have that going for it.

And it was in something of that mood that we turned to our exercises, and began seeing who had actually mastered their texts. Comments on the process of memorization and performance of the texts (both in class on Wednesday, and in our rehearsal class at The Emily Harvey Foundation on Friday the 26th, from 2pm-6pm) are welcome here below. (I will circle back on this later…).



LHP: I certainly felt the challenge of communicating ideas – not your own – while all eyes are fixed on you and the context of  “performance” is established. Going through lines, acting, not acting, too theatrical, but with emphasis, you but not you…it’s frustrating, especially for someone not used to acting. Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch. Paradox of acting much?! Part of me wanted an understanding of the “composition” / staging / tone / attitude / position / theme of our project beforehand in order to figure out how best to act and inhabit the words. But inherent to our developing performance, part of the experiment, it seems is in figuring out different forms of presentation, what the words compel us to do in relation to them without the strictures of staging.

EVT:  Both performance exercises from last week challenged my definition of performing a text and theatricality. As a trained actor in Spanish, it has always been a challenge to perform a text in English—or at least I’ve always been very reluctant to do so as I do not “feel” the English language as naturally as I feel Spanish when performing a role. However, ironically enough, I think I can read or give a paper in English at a conference without much trouble and as I would do it in Spanish. For those of my friends who know me, and I feel comfortable with around, I am usually a very “theatrical” person when I speak and interact with others. When I was told I was performing a role while saying Fried’s text, I did it unconsciously since I’m very expressive regularly when I speak. I unconsciously move my hands a lot and overuse gestures since I do not feel comfortable at speaking English; I feel that my body language makes up for my accent interference or my lack of correct English. I say this because the exercises from last week allowed me to realize this once again and I feel like I have a challenge to perform without letting my second guessing in speaking in English come in the way. I cannot help to think about our initial conversations about theatricality and performativity and I feel it will be a challenge for me to be able to draw the line between the two. To me, Fried is inherently theatrical, then how can we show that without being theatrical ourselves? How can I set my own “theatricality” aside when performing him? Those are questions I will definitely consider moving forward.

I join in the chorus with Lucy’s kvetching about feeling the paradox of acting! and found it to be an experience of a weird disjuncture between having previously felt to be understanding the direction of my text (and — at least maybe — its semantic content) and then standing on our “stage” and feeling like it all had fallen away, like the words I was articulating were husks of what they had been when I was reading it alone (…or in a highly rhetorical language like this, all of it is husk and it requires the acting in order to communicate the anger still exuding from Fried’s aging body… okay, full disclosure, I had assumed he was dead and//unfortunately it would seem that my post wasn’t saved correctly. If I’m remembering correctly what I had posted much earlier this morning, it went something like this: Fried is indeed still alive. I really enjoyed Nathaniel’s and Graham’s performance on Thursday, of the devil whispering in the speaker’s ear, using him as a mouthpiece, a husk of a human, for his proselytization of modernism; and perhaps we can see Fried as such: the young, furiously ranting Fried breathing the life-force into the frail, decaying body of his aging self. Maybe? Luckily we, in performing this text, have some agency in our own articulation of it. And here I again join into Graham’s chorus of this entry: maybe.


Last week was our first chance to hear the text read aloud in performance, as opposed to “in our heads” via the private, interior experience of reading. I was most struck by the disparity between these two modes of engagement, and the difficulty of the task we’ve set for ourselves.

David described the Fried text as intensely rhetorical. By this I took him to mean that the text has a certain dramatic quality that mirrors speech spoken with the intent to persuade. But does a text’s having rhetorical qualities mean it lends itself to oral performance? At first listen, it certainly seems to, because one hears all kinds of communicative cues that we use in everyday conversation (“Here it is worth noting” etc.).


But, I couldn’t help but feel that, while every performer produced moments of clarity – a run of a sentence or two or three where a chunk of meaning emerged – such moments were continually swallowed up in the dense forest of references, the endless reformulations, and the clauses qualifying clauses qualifying clauses (positively Germanic in their ability to postpone the actual meaning of the sentence until the very end!)

This, of course, is partially a function of practice. But it also reminded me that this text is not necessarily written so as to be easily accessible to the ear – or, for that matter, to be easily accessible at all. Is it possible that Fried, in wanting to safeguard a certain old-school idea of hierarchical quality, in which there are those who get it and those who do not, is also using a rhetorical style that mirrors his desire to separate the wheat from the chaff?

I say this because one usually enters a rehearsal room assuming a text has been written so as to be maximally communicable to audience. I’m not so sure this is true with Fried. Should that have any bearing on how we perform it?


Also, I present DBG playing souffleur to Nathaniel’s performance:



At our run-through in the city I I felt that I was forcing a “character” or an exaggerated theatricality that wasn’t my own. I didn’t feel comfortable speaking loudly and aggressively, but I also knew that I did not yet “own” the text and needed to be able to convey it with more confidence. This past Wednesday I felt that I was able to own the text and feel comfortable with it without being aggressive or particularly loud. I found it especially helpful to bring to the text not so much the feeling of discovering these insights for the first time– which might give rise to a sense of uncertainty about the validity of these sudden revelations–but the feeling of having come to these insights already, and only now conveying these insights in a way that has been internalized. I was especially at ease when I felt that I was directing my speech at individuals, at peers; directing the speech at an audience considered my inferior because lacking in my knowledge only made me feel defensive. I liked the sense of intimate communication and a kind of learning from one another that came out of our exercise this past Wednesday.


Our session with David was my nearest exposure to the craft of acting, live and in the flesh! As I’ve been working through the text at home, I had trouble imagining new ways of motivating Fried’s words in my mouth. Therefore, I found David’s prompts extremely helpful. His suggestion to several of us that we recite the text twice, beginning our second reading in the mood arrived at by the end of the first recitation was, I thought, a fantastically simple way to locate another “character” within my own dispositional range.


As we learnt from this weeks reading Silence is one of the strongest forms bith of conversation and of interruption. It was definitely the silence that captivated me with others ‘performances’, a slight pause between sentences a slow intake of breath before an important phrase. It was these moments that seemed to say more than the words themselves. David’s emphasis on embodiment of a certain mood, a certain persona, definitely changed the meaning of the words beyond recognition.



Enzo Vasquez Toral & Nathaniel Whitfield


First, let me start with a full disclosure: I am a Grotowski and Brecht fan so I was very captivated and immersed with both their texts, and my opinions might be slightly (just slightly) biased.

In terms of Grotowski, I found fascinating his technique of “trance” and of the extreme for actor training. Moreover his idea of a Poor theatre, one without the “traditional” and “synthetic” elements of theater, is a powerful concept as it unmasks aspects that we could classify under the theatricality of a mise-en-scene and of a theater itself. One important point to highlight is that Grotowski, after all, prioritized the actor-spectator relationship and understood it as one of “perpetual, direct, “live” communion” (19). In extending this to teaching and performance, we might want to start thinking on how we can create such “impulses” and “signs” that Grotowski refers to, in order to convey our text during our performance. Inspired by Grotwoski, this actor-spectator or teacher-spectator communion might be an important point of departure in constructing our final project. Grotowski also mentioned that theater is “what takes place between spectator and actor”(32). In the context of a classroom, for example, can we understand theater as teaching or theater as the relationship established for teaching to take place and thus provide/encourage/facilitate understanding?

Another relevant point to include in our discussion is what “go beyond yourself” on stage means for Grotowski. In reference to pushing oneself beyond our limits, Grotowski believed that “these are the limits we impose upon ourselves that block the creative process because creativity is never comfortable” (205). Thus, in surpassing these limits, we should transform body movements into personal impulses. In possible opposition to what we read before on Stanislavski, digging/tapping on one’s personal experiences might be an early activation that could block the work of acting, according to Grotowski. In relation to this and our work towards “performing a text”, I believe that animating the words of the text might need to be a product instead of a process that might “block” an impulse mechanism for “acting”. Or, conversely, should we rely on our own personal experiences to elicit the impulses we see or interpret in Fried’s text? What is the difference between performing a text by impulse (not as impulsive actors) and performing it “naturally”? What is the performer-spectator relationship we want to frame moving forward? How distant it is to the author-reader relationship of Fried’s text, or any text?

Since the 1970s, Grupo de Teatro Macunaíma from Brazil has applied in many of their productions some of Grotowski’s ideas, particularly those of the poor theater related to set design. Here is a small video featuring Marlene Fortuna in her performance in All nudity shall be punished by Nelson Rodrigues in 1984:

toda nudez

If you want to see Grotowski in action, watch the next video which is part 1 out of 4 videos that make up a documentary about his work. The videos are in Polish but the images are very powerful and need no language translation:


Now on to Brecht… I would like to point three interesting ideas of the chapters we read for today. First, in relation to the A-effect (alienation effect), Brecht insisted on the actor remaining as demonstrator of an action (125). It is in this demonstration that social commentary and a social point of view arises in the spectator. According to Brecht, this distancing and empowerment to understand actors such as actors, and spectators as possible “actors” in real life happens because “artistic abilities in some small degree are to be found in any man” (126).

A second relevant point of discussion is the understanding and use of the concept of empathy in Brechtian terms. Brecht asserted that “the technique which produces an A-effect is the exact opposite of that which aims at empathy”. However, Brecht acknowledged that in creating a character the actor might not renounce to empathy to that character entirely; instead, the actor should “use these means just as any normal person with no particular acting talent would use them if he wanted to portray someone else” (136). Therefore, Brecht invites us to achieve a level of empathy to the character we are creating without allowing for such character to become ourselves. I find this very important because at first sight, being a demonstrator and alienating oneself might preclude us from a full sense/state of empathy. Nevertheless, I think that the big take away is that empathy must be done in a dose size comparable to one that any of our spectators would have in showing how someone else behaves.

Third, and more of as an invitation, chapter 37 talks about the Messingkauf Dialogues, which is a fascinating piece by Brecht in particular because it serves as a philosophical exploration of his own dramatic ideas. I find it very related to our earlier conversation on philosophy as a dramatic exercise. Here a video of a performance of part of the Messingkauf Dialogues:

messingkauf dialogues

Also, I want to point you guys to the work of Grupo Yuyachkani in Peru. This group has been one of the most important theater groups in Peru (and South America, I would say) over decades. They explore social, political and historical theater. Here a video of a one-woman performance by actress, and founder of the group, Ana Correa. The piece is titled Rosa Cuchillo and was performed initially in local markets in the Andean region of Peru. The performance talks about an Andean woman and thus the relation to the intended space for performance. Yuyachkani’s work is self-proclaimed Brechtian, and you will notice this in this video; particularly the use of music (starting at minute 13) would resonate to what we read for today as well. As the character says “te voy a danzar para que florezca la memoria” [I’m going to dance for you, for the memories to flourish]. Enjoy!

rosa cuchillo

Finally, I want to comment briefly on Ulmer’s book on Applied Grammatology. I believe that the first part of the book makes a strong case for looking at Derrida’s work, and his difficult texts, beyond his deconstruction discourse and contributions. In particular, understanding grammatology as a “boundary science and science of boundaries” (130) underscores Ulmer’s argument that grammatology in light of Derrida’s experimental writing is both pictographic and homonymic. With this said, I was not completely sold on the second part of the book, particularly the chapter on Eisenstein. In relation to the language of cinema and its traditionally understood representational characteristic, and to exemplify the language of cinema as a system of writing instead, Ulmer uses Eisenstein’s theory of montage. Nevertheless, I believe that the author’s argument loses strength because of the particularity of Eisenstein’s case. I was left a little confused towards this part of the book in understanding Einstein’s montage as not just a mere representational exercise, and whether it would actually fit under Derrida’s conception of writing and grammatology.



Fistly I will push back off Enzo slightly – I admire and applaud Grotowski in his efforts and his methods are interesting, however I feel in the contemporary age a complete absence of ‘spectacle’ within the work is not necessarily the best reaction to ‘unmasking’ the ‘truth’ (although his theatre was in the late 50s/60s and here I am writing this over 50 years later, on a laptop via the internet, the world has changed somewhat). With that banal observation out of the way here goes…

Grotowski’s view towards an actor’s education as an ‘attempt to eliminate his organisms resistance to the psychic process’ a sort of via negaiva, ‘not a collection of skills but an eradication of blocks’ . That state where one does not want to do something but rather ‘resigns from not doing it’.

For Grotowski the ‘artificial’ is what limits the ‘spiritual’, forms of ‘common natural behaviour obscure the truth’ – now I can role with that for a certain extent but after a while I am left cold, what he means by truth other than simply not ‘artificial’, not constructed is not entirely clear. The question of the ‘real’ for Grotowski never seems to get further than these throwaway references to ‘truth’ and ‘unmasking’ (please correct me if I’m wrong) – I can get behind this somewhat, the real is constructed through a presentation and has to be deconstructed (Holla Derrida) – and here I am reminded of Archimboldo and his portraits, exquisite for those of you who are unaware, but Lacan writes on his portrait of the librarian in Seminar VIII Ch. 17;
“In short this production of that which in its essential shape presents itself as the human image, the image of another, will be realized in the Mannerist method by the coalescence, combination, the accumulation of a pile of objects the total of which will be charged with representing what henceforth manifests itself at
once as substance and illusion because, at the same time as the appearance of the human image is sustained, something is
suggested which can be imagined in the disaggregation of objects which, by presenting in a way the function of the mask, show at the same time the problematic of this mask.”
For Lacan what lies at stake within this work is not the visual trickery of painting an imaginary man but the clear declaration of artifice of his Symbolic identity, where Arcimboldo’s librarian dons the symbolic disguise of his social persona (perhaps because beneath this mask there is nothing to see, its books all the way down). For Grotowski it is these forms of common ‘natural’ behaviour that obscure the truth, this composition of a system of signs that demonstrate ‘what is behind the mask of common vision’ he refers to this as ‘The Dialectics of human behaviour’.

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His attempts at distilling the theatre are very interesting, pushing back from TV and film and scratching away the unnecessary parts of theatre he is left with the actor – spectator relationship of ‘perceptual, direct, ‘live’ communion’ (notice the deployment of religious language, suggesting the theatre as somewhat divine).

His new kind of theatre is distilled into 3 parts:

  • Actors can play among the spectators, directly contacting the audience
  • Actors build structures among the audience and include them in the architecture of the action.
  • The spectators may be separated form the actors, ie by a high fence where only there heads protrude.

Here I would just like to draw your attention to the work of Emma Smith – I had a tutorial with her once – and her work is very interesting contemporary counterpart…

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Grotowski’s writing on the lighting of his theatre – ‘the spectator must become visible, he too beings to play a part in the performance’ – reminds me of something that I’ve been looking at in my work and that is the reference to a ‘participatory panopticon’ (James Cascio’s idea, not mine). A spectator has to move out of the dark shadows and into the light, In order to see one has to be seen. He references it to the contemporary nature of the internet, a stage where a wilful participation of ones own surveillance occurs, in order to reach a point of social or informational access.

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“By his controlled gesture the actor transforms the floor into a sea, a table into a confessional, a piece of iron into an animate partner”

reminded me of Anthony Howell – whose theatre of mistakes is also of relevance – but don’t take my word for it… from Stewart Lee

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and on the theatre of mistakes…

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Some other great moments:

‘collision with the roots’, ‘the dialectics of mockery and apotheosis’, ‘religion expressed through blasphemy, love speaking out through hate’

Ahhh, now time to move on…

to “what very visibly manifests itself is a little pedagogue who teaches the student that there is nothing outside of the text”  –  not my description but Foucault’s…

A nice summary of Derrida’s Grammatology here

On Shamanistic practises and personal calling…

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CLASS TEN (4/13/16)

Class ten


Although I felt that our conversation today brought us (or me, anyway) very close to the core of a set of problems that feel central to art and inquiry (i.e., to the center of the center — How do you like THAT!?), I must say that the task of recovering, in this mini-essay format, the arc of our discussion seems, this week, especially daunting. I have looked over my notes. I have reviewed the passages from our reading on which we focused. I have even spent a little time looking at the (especially cryptic) glyphs that ended up on the blackboard. But I am not confident I am going to be able to map the movements of thought that occurred as we talked, or reproduce the miasmatic “mood” within which those movements took place (that mood, of course, itself having been constituted by the conjunction of those movements — and here, recalled for a moment to the problem of the figure-ground relationship between ideas and environments, I am reminded of Wallace Stevens’ exquisite formulation in the poem “Loneliness in Jersey City”: “Well, the gods grow out of the weather. / The people grow out of the weather; / The gods grow out of the people. / Encore, encore, encore les dieux …”).

Anyway, here goes:

We opened the seminar by rolling up our sleeves on Howard Singerman’s really superb (in my view) Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University. We set ourselves to the task of simply resumeing the arguments of the book and sketching/recalling the history that it tells. As far as the actual history went, there was much to admire: the emergence of art in the (male) environment of American higher education required a demonstrable deprecation of the (feminized) “fine arts,” and a corresponding elevation of a “design” sensibility that focused on form and matter in ways that were consistent with the industrial aspirations of a suitably virile and modern political economy. Gender work, both discursive and embodied, was essential to the early twentieth-century realignment of art and education in the United States. Seeing was central to the new identity of the industrial age artist. Inspired and informed by the Bauhaus, those training artists emphasized the distinctive visual acuity that characterized their pedagogy (and their understanding of what being an artist meant). Importantly, Singerman identifies two very different registers within which the artist’s eye worked: on the one hand, “analytic” seeing was key (the capacity to decompose, schematize, and discern characteristic patterns/forms); at the same time, however, the eye of the artist was also the eye of a child, indeed of an infant (always capable of seeing everything as if for the first time, and thereby unconditioned, spontaneous, and primordial and/or extravagant).

As Singerman would have it, the tensions inherent in this account of the antimonies of art-sight more or less “gave rise” to the particular self-consciousness of the abstract expressionists. They found themselves confronting a conceptual paradox that they thematized — simultaneously fetishizing and eliding what it was to be an artist. Singerman might say that they “painted the problem.” And putting aside whether they did or they didn’t, they certainly performed the problem in their pedagogical activities, which were considerable (the stuff about “Subjects of the Artists,” the failed art school founded in 1948 by Motherwell and Rothko and their buddies, together with the very interesting material about Ad Reinhardt’s teaching at Brooklyn College in the 50s — all this was especially informative here).

By chapter 6, language comes to be seen as the most effective medium for articulating the general problematic (language being very good for articulation), and the “postmodern” artistic condition is born, exemplified by the art-school visiting artist whose work inevitably involved repeated statements along the lines of “I am here.” This is what Rosalind Krauss has called the “terminology of the index.” New art came of this tendency and its situation, and one can have different views of its quality and character. But one cannot deny that it was the increasing institutional dominance of this sort of work that explains why Singerman himself, doing an MFA in sculpture in the 1980s, learned neither to sculpt nor to cast (the biographical fact from which his study departs). In some sense, he didn’t learn how to “make” sculpture (in any traditional sense); rather, he learned how to think about and articulate his position in relation to the history of the activities that have been called “sculpture,” and the theoretical/aesthetic principles that grounded those activities.

And here we find ourselves on the threshold of Singerman’s valedictory chapter 7, “Toward a Theory of the MFA,” in which he delivers himself of a pretty large argument: to wit, that the structure of “art” at this point has effectively become “disciplinary.”

We spent a lot of time on this proposition.

text from singerman

And we weighed Singerman’s treatment of the sociology of disciplinarily — its relationship to “professionalization” (he distinguishes between a “client-model” of professionalization, like medicine and law, and a model of professionalization rooted in the ideal of “independent research within [a]… field defined by formal, theoretical discourse”; interestingly, the former domains have come largely to be regulated and administered by imbricated relationships to the state [through licensing and accreditation]; the latter have tended to find their home in universities).

Art, Singerman believes, has bought its universitarian position at the cost of a substantial reconfiguration of itself into an enterprise that can be assimilated to something like what he cites Sande Cohen calling the “bureaucratization of the concept of research in the nonscientific disciplines of the high university.”

It isn’t completely clear (to me) that this has been good for many of those disciplines — and I would include history and the study of literature in that criticism.  Or, to put it another way, there have been enormous costs to reconfiguring those enterprises as primarily or even exclusively programs for producing knowledge.

Among other things (and this is what is going on in the imagery on the board above), we noticed that collective knowledge-producing enterprises organize themselves and their activities in relation to a large domain of MYSTERIES or UNKNOWNS which are configured as lying out ahead of the dynamic of the community and its labors.  The unknown becomes an orientation for motion/movement/progress.  Unknowns are alienated and rendered as teloi.

This works fine for lots of things. Thermodynamics, say.  Electrochemistry.

But there are unknowns/mysteries which are ineluctable components of our experience of being.  These must be lived with, not reconfigured as targets or objectives.  One might argue that the humanities and the arts (in the absence of religion) offer a repository of best practices and sources for managing this very serious challenge of our individual and collective lives.

And when these activities assimilate themselves to knowledge-producing enterprises along the lines of disciplinarity in the modern research university, it is not clear that they can continue to serve in this capacity.

Here is Singerman on (something like) this question — at least as far as the arts are concerned:

Singerman 2.jpg

And it’s that last line that kicks: “This university science precludes the otherness of the work of art.”

I think each of us has to weigh if that gets it right.  If that is the problem.

It might be.  Or we might want to rephrase it like this: “This university science precludes the otherness of ourselves — and that is one of the things that both art and the humanities must continuously engage, manifest, and permit us to accept/manage/survive.”


The final movement of our discussion took us into a turn though Irit Rogoff’s “Looking Away,” Jan Verwoert’s “Passion of the Pedagogical,” and finally Rike Frank’s “When Form Starts Talking: On Lecture-Performance” — each of which can be read, I think, as addressing the very problem Singerman’s text brought us to consider.  Verwoert, paraphrasing Rogoff, offers the following:

“Addressing this question of how to imagine a different mode of exchange in the space that art and education open up for discourse, Irit Rogoff argues that hierarchical structures of authority may be invalidated by a mutual commitment of all those who find themselves in a given situation — be that an art project or seminar — to confront the challenge this situation implies, together.”

I felt, for a moment, that we were striving, together, as a class, to achieve something like this in the collaborative work we are doing on the final project — the task of designing a way that we can all, together, “be responsible” to/for a critical text in space/situation that stretches the standard discursive/pedagogical norms of the disciplinary humanities.  Are we seeking a new kind of “Space of Appearance” (the term of art, borrowed from Arendt, that is very important to Rogoff in the “Looking Away” essay)? As we talked, it seemed not impossible. I think I can speak for all of us in the class when I say that we felt sympathy for the ambition and mood of these pieces.

Who is the “we” in that sentence above?  Well, “us” — HUM 598.  But Rogoff has a very quotable proposition on this head:

“In the contact of this particular writing the ‘we’ I have in mind is designated through recognition of shifts taking place in the project of ‘theory.’ A shared transition, albeit expressed in different ways, that the project of theory has moved on from being a mode of analysis by which you understand what lies behind and beneath the workings of knowing and representing. Instead, ‘theory’ can become a space of making, or remaking, of culture, of envisaging further possibilities rather than explicating existing circumstances. Those who agree to a suspension of the purely critical, to momentarily shared imaginaries, to a bit of groundlessness, lost and regained — that’s us, that’s who I mean.” (emphases added)

Achieving this, Rogoff suggests, requires the “looking away” of the title.  Requires a (temporary?) suspension of commitment to authorized auratics — and a willingness to reorient around(?)/within(?)/to(?) Agamben’s quodlibet.

And then, suddenly, everyone is talking about love.  Sigh.


Verwoert ends on a text from which we began: the Symposium:


And Frank invokes Guillaume Désanges’ posture of the “amateur” — he/she who is “motivated by love”  — in the course of a (sympathetic, if not un-wary) discussion of the ways that “affective attachment” and “‘personal’…relations” can “take up a position directed against forms of fixation, standardization and closure.”

Fair enough.

But it was in Frank’s block-quote from Rorty that I found (in the words of Kenny Loggins’ Gambler) the “Ace that I could keep”:

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This really resonated.  And it seemed to stand in a very useful relation to the “Singerman Problem.”  Edifying philosophy?  Might this be part of what we are hoping to achieve in our final performance?



Nathaniel Whitfield & Lucy Partman 

Just to get y’all in the swing of this weeks readings…also…

“who gives a fuck about Michael Fried when you are desperately scouring job listings for any job that pays more than $12 an hour”

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Just to complicate, Hennessy Youngman aka Jayson Musson “studied at the University of the Arts, receiving a BFA in Photography in 2002, and at the University of Pennsylvania where he graduated with an MFA in Painting in 2011.” (Read about Musson’s presentation at PAFA in 2011-12 called The Grand Manner). Does this complicate the message/position/situation? Or is it a matter of institutional critique? 

DGB: From here below, am I right that this is both LP and NW depending on ink color?

INDEED! (Trying it out) How come you two get exciting colours, I wanted orange or blue!

Just a few links (that came / were thought of during the reading) in case anyone is checking on here this early…

Jerome Bel’s Veronique Doisneau (2004) – a short clip – was also mentioned in the reading we did for the very first class…

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Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen (potentially may have been mentioned in class before)Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 17.23.15.png

As Rosler states about her piece, “An anti-Julia Child replaces the domesticated ‘meaning’ of tools with a lexicon of rage and frustration.” Why not take a look at Julia Child preparing boeuf bourguignon for the hell of it! The dissonance is resounding. 

Tris Vonna Michell’s work is veyr interesting and relevant…

[( please note that these are opened but do not close at any point on the page…  ( DGB: Is the “veyr” a grammatological gesture that I am not understanding? [wink])

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An excerpt from Dan Graham’s “Performer/Audience/Mirror” (1975), suggested for viewing this week! DG Performer

Related article on Dan Graham that incorporates some FRIED! John Miller, “Now even the pigs’re groovin'” (2001), Dan Graham, ed. Alex Kitnick, MIT Press, 2011.

The inimitable A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882) by Manet is mentioned in the above article in relation to Graham’s use of mirrors. I am reminded of a recent passage at the end of art historian Richard Schiff’s introduction to the collection of essays/perspectives by different scholars in Twelve Views of Manet’s Bar (1996). He proposes that”Modern or postmodern the contemporary historian’s critical method seems to mimic the problematic of modernity as it was once addressed by Manet’s art. You approach modernity by probing your vision, your own perspective, the moment that belongs to you. The writing we call ‘history’ therefore becomes artistic, like Manet’s Bar—a matter of historically contingent, self-reflective expression. Has it not always been?” (p. 19). Are art historians (historians) also artists (creative writers…)? I question this often, and lean more and more to an emphatic yes. But – and a big but – this seems utterly hidden amid the academy’s objective positivism. Such deception, I think, is intimately related to the “problem” of artists in the university and how art is positioned as a discipline within the academy.

Tadeusz Kantor’s (theatrical impresario and artist) The Dead Class (1975) came up recently in a discussion I had with Chiara. “In this harrowing performance, live actors carried effigies of their younger selves, an evocation of the tragic history Kantor lived through during World War II.” Considering the classroom as a “theater of memory”(concept related to this exhibit) positions the classroom closer to the studio, incorporating history and (artistic) fabrication. Is it possible to connect the “impossibility of returning to one’s past and childhood” in Kantor’s performance to Dan Graham’s attempts to create a childhood (experience, environment) through many of his glass/mirror constructions?


Regarding questions of audience involvement vs. separation from the stage and performance, The Dead Class was an explicitly “closed work.” “In 1978 [Kantor] stated the following in a conversation with Teresa Bętkowska: I believe that an artwork has to be closed if it is to fascinate. A closed artwork forces the viewers to focus. They’re forced to feel like people in the shadow of a huge pyramid, which is inaccessible but has a colossal, not to say metaphysical, influence. However, this pyramid emanates certain vibes. The Dead Class is a closed work, because the idea of open theatre has long since passed.” 

OPEN vs. CLOSED Performances

Rike Frank considers the lecture-performance an open system. “Such blurring of the boundaries between production and reception also appears to be relevant for examining the format of the lecture-performance today insofar as it opens up possibilities to experience knowledge as a reflexive formation that is as much aesthetic as social — in other words, as an open feedback system. In this sense, lecture-performances can be seen as picking up on a historical thread that runs from the formal interpretation of a work, via analysis and deconstruction of the circumstances of its modes of production, to a turn towards reception as part of the work’s inherent condition — that is to say, to those time-based aspects that indicate processes of thinking, articulate relationships and ascribe meaning and value” (p. 6).

Another mention of the opened vs. closed concept in Singerman: “The [university] student work is always an open work; it is always on its way to somewhere else. It exists as a place marker, and only in relation to another work produced offstage, or rather, off a number of stages” (p. 179). 

Further questions regarding Singerman’s text:

  • Can artists and their students be collaborators? (140) 
  • Did university art programs enable/produce/allow for nontraditional media and performance art to emerge? (157)
  • Can artists and their students be collaborators? (140)
  • Is there progress in art? (always a question; see especially 209)
  • Is language (at the heart of) contemporary art? 

Another note on Kantor: He “is widely recognized as one of the most important theatre artists of this century. Critics have ranked him with such influential directors as Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Brecht, and Grotowski.” Check this out: Tadeusz Kantor, A Journey Through Other Spaces: Essays and Manifestos, 1944-1990 (Berkeley, University of California, 1993). 

A sculptor who never learnt to sculpt, what good was Howard Singerman’s M.F.A if he did not learn this? Has art education taken us to a place where the true aspiration of an artist is just to be an artist, an artist is the true subject of herself. “Artists are the subject of graduate school; they are both who and what is taught.” (3)

Derrida speaks after Kant on the Parergon: that “outside which is called to the inside of the inside in order to constitute it as an inside.. the limit between work and an absence of work”. Whilst Derrida is in the frame and we in the inside of the inside Singerman points out that language has displaced both manual craft skills and traditional academic ones. What has this new language (this International Art English, some might say) displaced technique within the contemporary university? What, then is the technique of the new art, or is art itself displaced in the practise of criticism.

For it is true, the word PROFFESIONAL has been a chip on the artists shoulder for many a year (here I think of Carl Andre and the Art Workers Coalition campaigning for artists to be paid as ‘art workers’ – and a plethora of new organisations that have sprung up in a similar vein).

Throughout the book then Singerman sketches out the difficulties with making ‘art’ an autonomous subject within the American University and how this led to a production of “liberal artists” – a focus here on Unity being more important than breadth – the ability to have a holistic understanding, to be a humanist (oh yeah, and to be Male, sorry Ladies). “A young man must take from the college of liberal training, the contributions of philosophy, of humanistic science, of natural history and of literature.” President Meiklejohn of Amherst College, 1912. “So far as knowledge is concerned, these at least he should have, wedded together in some kind of interpretation of his own experience” The mission then of the teacher “is not the specialized knowledge which contributes to immediate practical aims, but the unified understanding which is INSIGHT”. But this unity was predominantly understood in visual terms of mastery, where to grasp meant to encapture within the gaze, to control.

How did it end up that most teachers were female yet the mantra “man-as-artist” held so much sway?

What do artist’s do all day? Are they comparable to scientists, researchers in laboratories as Singerman finds as the model for university visual arts (and humanities in general!) programs, thus making them “problem solvers” and inevitably in pursuit of PROGRESS – whatever that means…I feel a rant coming on! Craftsman/technician-artist, production, fabrication driven, in all sense practical, fits easiest into a pedagogic enterprise. Then there’s the peripatetic artist-professor-communicator journeymen type Singerman finds sympotamtic of MFA programs. And of course the Renaissance humanist polymath genius, verging on the looney, manic…ain’t so professional, but eh, the rejoinder: “she/he’s an artist”…not so witty!

Check out the BBC Four series What Do Artists Do All Day? “Film crews accompany various prominent painters as they go about their daily schedules and share insights into their working lives and creative processes.” Part 1 of an episode on artists Jake And Dinos Chapman (2014):

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Characters, Figures and Signs – an event at Tate

Rogoff on Arendt’s “Space of appearence” made me think about Michael Jackson’s The way you make me feel, or if you prefer, remember this crowd. By the way, more should be said about sport.

Lessons In Modesty

Way to go Jan Verwoert for telling it like it is…

“Lets be clear about one thing right from the start: The most characteristic thing about art academies is that no one there can really tell you what they are doing.”

Yes, we do all exist in a state of limbo, and yes, Janitors are popular figures,

In raising the ethics question on page 4, what are the ethical implications when your “work is concerned with the communication or production of knowledge, for how can you ever claim the right to make others listen to what you believe they should know?”

This reminds me of a picture a tutor once showed a group of us in a parody of his style of teaching (shown below) and of course the story I mentioned a few weeks back of Joseph Jacatot that Ranciere conjures in The Ignorant Schoolmaster and summarizes later at the beginning of the emancipated spectator. Which I have actually just re-read and realized how pertinent it is for us. (attached is the entire book in PDF form but if you get the chance the first 8 pages contain everyone barring Fried, but I mean, who even was that guy?)


I would like to hear from Chiara and Graham on this point, your different approaches within seminars and perhaps the struggles you have had with this over your career.

It is this ‘position of authority you inevitably assume when you make others listen’ that will become an interesting standpoint when we take Fried into the Museum, for what does happen when it is subverted for instance when “they who shall not be named” walk in and are able to ‘out-Fried’ us. Indeed our Archimboldian mask will be removed and our status as ‘imposter’ on show for all to see. Perhaps then the entanglement we find ourselves in with the ‘tedious oedipal power games of forced loyalty and adolescent rebellion’ becomes a generative awkwardness, one to work through. But tactics for how to do this must be practised. Indeed in the next paragraph what we are getting at becomes clear “The mirage of authority is bound to vanish when, facing a pressing problem at hand, the teacher or engaged artist has to acknowledge that they know as much and as little as any other person confronting the problem.” It is only from a level playing field that we are able to use our performance to generative ends. Yes Jan we will need to create ‘momentary shared mutualities’ which come ‘into being fleetingly as we negotiate a problem, a mood, a textual or cultural encounter’. Indeed we will have to think about the ‘space of appearance’ we create, but out of a very different situation ththen what Hannah Arednt articulates.

In his work on the history of the Slide Lecture Robert Nelson refers to a ‘performative triangle’ which consists of ‘speaker, audience, and image”.[1]

Speaker / Audience / Image

What are the rhetorical and technological parameters of the lecture format and how are arguments constructed and orchestrated. What is the role of the visual within this? For Didi-Hubermann this visual pedagogical mode is important for ‘its way of discovering and constructing a whole world of hitherto unseen affinities and conflicts’. (Images in Spite of All).

In Irit Rogoff’s Looking Away she mentions the ‘cordoned off’ and ‘barred from view’ spaces of the Courtold Institute. This reminded me of Michael Asher’s 1974 show at the Claire Copley gallery where he removed the wall separating the office from the exhibition space. What did this gesture imply for Asher? It was certainly different to the effect of the Courtold’s exhibition as noted by Rogoff. In laying bare the mechanisms that sustained the gallery he blurred the lines of private and public spaces… this got me wondering what wall are we pulling down (although hopefully not quite as literally) with our performance?

Related happening: Slavs and Tartars gave a performance (I have some hesitation about “performance” at present…) lecture this evening


(Image from discussion following lecture)

Some overarching concepts presented:

  • Religion/mysticism is vinegar in the oil of contemporary art (my phrasing, still pondering) and modernity—consumed in a “secular rage”—in general
  • Art as contemplation in action
  • Religion, action, and art on a continuum
  • How can we understand modernity otherwise, eg. through the mystical, metaphysical, irrational, bewilderment, “beyond sense” (“Beyonsence”…yes a picture of Beyoncé did grace this presentation!)
  • Historical resuscitation

A few points from the discussion:

  • Catalogues are insider trading in the art world
  • Liberating ideas can also be prisons
  • Books as evidence of research vs creations (commissions) / works of art
  • One of the interlocutors asked if “conversation” was a thread through their work.
  • Creating a space of culture in the form of a white cube is horrible (experience of the body), we are forgetting basic stuff, how to create a space that is conducive to contemplation and thinking
  • How to inhabit “incompatible” identities, to keep separate but perceive how they resonate [hmm, implications re: acting?!]


  • I was considering the aesthetic of the artist lecture. Is a professional, highly polished look too “theatrical” to be a “lecture”? Would such an aesthetic be an inherent critique of the academic lecture format.
  • A lack of “finish” relates to the “deskilling” of contemporary practice (?)
  • Throughout the lecture, a continuity was maintained from one subject, object, or idea to the next, yet there was also the sense of “free-association” and the ability to pull from any time, place, discipline, etc. Is this the particular “allowance” offered to the artist in the realm of academia? Kentridge’s Six Drawing Lessons (2014) also seems to be dream-like, yet “contained” (given a composition), in the array of associations, allusions, and symbols the artist (is allowed?) to wield. (why is this the case?) It certainly smacks of Benjamin’s constellation and Foucault’s interventions on history. Returning to the dream state in which transitions are illusive, I felt a kind of trance-inducing movement from concept to concept.


How is knowledge foregrounded in and our presentation method? What does the role of conversation as medium have for us. Falke Pisano suggests “the act of speaking about something or someone, in the cultural field as much as in other fields, necessarily involves reflection on one’s own position  and consequently on the conditions in which the utterance is made”. Her artists books (again why do we feel the need to put the word ‘artist’ here – denoting it as different somewhat from a plain ole’ simple book) mix sculptutre, illustration, her utterences all making the way into her piece Sculpture Turning into a Conversation (like the way we are heading, substituting Sculpture for Fried and bracketing [somewhat scripted] before conversation).

Toastmasters: an American organization promoting arts of public speaking (for businessmen). Carey Young’s Speechcraft picks up this model…. Which reminds me of course of The Yes Men and they’re wonderful lecture ‘performances’ in which an artist does become a professional, but only for a few minutes, enough time to destabilise whomever may be their target.

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After today’s intense discussion of the readings, particularly the Singermann, I wanted to share the following narrative-essay, which is a bit long and winding in its story, but is about precisely this divide within art departments, between the discipline and the profession, that we’ve been worrying over and struggling with. I don’t agree with everything in it, and it certainly comes from a different time (and place: a lot of Californian, or rather Nothern Californian, artists that one hasn’t necessarily heard of), but it’s also worrying about I think a lot of what we’ve been thinking over and might be interesting to read as a complement to the Singermann.
I’m not totally clear on why the text seems to be in a not quite finished state, but luckily the typos aren’t too inhibitive to the understanding; I should also note that it’s by my grandfather. I feel slightly weird about sharing it, but I stumbled across it a little while ago and realized suddenly in class that it was talking about, in a microcosm, exactly what Singermann is concerned with.

DGB: this is quite an amazing piece of family lore — strikingly on-point.