I must explode

Why do the words of the leaves of art writing I want to keep seem to want to die? This writing seems to sense the existence of a secret, and in its groping for the door dissolves its own constructed sense (carefully and carelessly). It goes off the topic, sometimes completely, even from the outset, breathing different air. It is sometimes surprised by the sound of its own voice, and uncomprehending of its new surroundings. It accepts not knowing as much as materiality exceeds any attempt of thought to conquer.

In the main – an undertow – there is something drained and draining about the activity of writing about art above and beyond the impact of the neo-liberal incarnation of work. As a billboard in my neighbourhood declared, “Your toothpaste, like you, works 12 hours a day,” its minty wit cut-off-my-hands funny. (What happened to the socialist guideline of eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest?)

Partly because it is so often a task, as distinct from a genuine desire, there is a sense of difficulty with art writing, a wariness with the practice, that I sense in certain others of the writers, readers and artists I work with. This, too, is based in more than the awkward overlay of particularising words onto the moving horizon that is the experience of art. (And what sense of ethics characterises this uncollected group of people?)

It is based in more, also, than there being just so much writing, and in the awareness that art writing has a very particular and key role in product differentiation; grasping the art it writes about, it coopts it to the project of primitive accumulation. (“Art writing? It’s all product,” one famous art writer spat, having decided to stop her production in this area.)

The discomfort is more likely due, in part, to the way in which writing operates, and the way that its ground shifts with changes to the economic and political environment. Problems emerge as much out of the way writing has been implicated in the neo-liberal drive to render everything visible (de-privatising), and therefore subject to control and use, as it does to working out what changes to conditions have actually taken place.

The amount of research and thought involved in understanding the effect of the advance of global capital is intense, and then, further, it is still necessary to apply it to particular practice, or practices plural depending on the line of inquiry. According to Paulo Virno the post-Fordist environment – and its possession of time, work, production, language, place, self – makes all that are subject to it thinkers, purely because so much thought is involved in trying to protect ourselves from its “random blows”. 1 

One such set of effects (among a myriad) has been described by Giorgio Agamben who theorised that capitalism has made the whole world over into an image; therefore, “we are no longer able to experience ourselves in the world, for its space is now imaginary.” To counter this, he posits, a “pure being-in-language” is of vital importance. 2  But this still remains to be invented, developed, sensed, enacted, inhabited.

The difficulty of the art writer certainly relates to, as German artist Urs Fisher put it, the “endless balancing act between the pressures of work and non-work-related stress” 3  that all workers today experience; but it also arises out of having to perpetually redefine a relationship with language as the ground shifts obscurely, and to come to grips, in turn, with language’s relation to the changing status of the image.

Perhaps what needs to be applied to the practice of art writing is an ethics of communication, for I have concern about the effect that writing has on art as event. Writing unfolds at a different rate and in a different way than the experience of art, and the potential to jolt between the event of art and the event of writing must be recognised. Writing operates as stoppage to art’s undying instant, tearing itself apart from the moment it begins to speak. 4 

Sometimes it’s useful to think of art and writing as having different economies (or modes of existence or being or relating) and to liken this tension to that between thought and event. Confusion about the relationship between language and art leads to the assumption that the stuff of one (conceptual thought) is the same as the stuff of the other (not predominantly). From this comes the rough imposition of names onto the ineffable “impersonal and anonymous instant” 5  that can characterise the work of art.

Even the most robust of practices can seem gentle and suffering because, as image, its time is perpetually vulnerable to the stoppages enacted by writing’s finitudes. And further, this weakness can be seen to pervade writing, living itself: “She is not the same thing as her resemblance to herself, but she is nothing other than it. Human reality is nothing other than this infinite vulnerability, inequality-in-itself, or difference-in-itself. It is as if the face of things were another body, a body made up of fragility and that takes the place of personal presence. We may wish to say that this is an infinite vulnerability to death.” 6 

The way in which writing (even writing that honours the evental status of the work it addresses) inscribes, influences – its ideas, no matter how marvellous, pulling others this direction and that (to what effect?) – gives rise to shame as I sense the self-importance, authority or entitlement I am exhibiting to myself in the act of writing. Such is the torment of the critic discovering itself in front of its subjects with a laser-pointer, obscuring that which it values so highly.

For, if Blanchot was correct, all language obscures that of which it speaks: “it may be that all these words are as curtain behind which what happened will never stop happening.” 7  But perhaps this obscuring can also function as kindly camouflage, hiding the ever-vulnerable work – “the real is always vulnerable to stoppages of time” 8  – from the acquisitive gaze of the market?

The discomfort I feel as one who has become involved in writing about art, probably just because I would rather than actually wanting to (was this what I wanted out of writing?) is compounded by the shattering of the post-modern subject – by my efforts to die a thousand deaths and become my way out of difficulty – and having to deal with multiple idiotic and unpractised selves in public.

“With the increasingly prominent role of abstract knowledge and communication as a direct force of production,” 9  there is a terrible discomfort for the art writer. What might once have been happy speculation about the experience of art somehow wobbles in this space and becomes something like useful PR material; your writing “a means to draw attention to the artists’ work.” 10  In the face of such a relationship between artist and writer, is it any wonder that I feel a desire to burst? Or to abandon writing that produces knowledge for something more liquid?

Wilhelm Reich wrote, and the italics are his, that, “The masochist wishes to burst and imagines that the torture will bring this about. In this manner alone does he hope to obtain relief. 11  A bursting feels as if it will ease the tension, like an explosion in the psychic landscape of thought-forms – cerebral and emotional architecture or hut-structures, that are hastily erected, hurriedly detonated – gives a sense of progress or vain hope.

This is why morphine use is as much about the opiate as the needle – the suspenseful rush to the brain is the son to the busting of the skin’s lumière (vein hope?). Such supposedly destructive urges are not necessarily destructive in conception or intent, but are realistic attempts to chemically, spiritually alter something that is not right, not acceptable. This method resembles the pagan belief that suicide would bring about the death of the enemy, or at least bring down a powerful curse upon them. 12 

In Love in the Time of Cholera, there is a man who can only write in the form of the love letter – creating problems for him as a clerk – in an apparent attempt to out-run unrequited love. Márquez wrote, not necessarily of him, that it may be true “that nobody teaches life anything” 13  but it is more true, or powerful, “the conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over to give birth to themselves.” 14 

Thinking about the problems involved with art writing is one thing, but it is the thought of what this form of writing might be otherwise that allows it to transfigure itself and give an out.

“Masochism, furthermore, became a central problem in mass psychology. The question as to how this problem can be practically solved in the future seemed of decisive significance. The working millions suffer the most severe deprivations of all kinds… They are being dominated and exploited by a few people in power. Masochism flourishes like a weed. (…) It frustrates their attempts to cooperative rational action and forever makes them afraid of taking the responsibility for their own actions.” 15 

So wrote Reich in exile in England from his native Germany during WWII of the desire to have one’s skin broken, or to be dominated or victimised by a powerful other. The way in which class is described has changed greatly over the course of the decades that followed, and it is in Virno’s conception of the multitude that art writing can perhaps find a useful diagram to use in order to consider its operation and ethics. However, it seems that the difficulty in mustering agency compounds like interest, so actual action becomes increasingly difficult.

Virno puts forward that it is necessary to first “develop the publicness of the Intellect outside the realm of wage labour. (…) The general intellect only asserts itself as an autonomous public sphere only if the juncture that ties it to the production of goods and wage labour is severed.” 16  Civil disobedience and exit to him are key terms, in this respect, employed in order to subvert capitalistic relations and reinvigorate political action.

From such a point of view it is not hard to see that art writing is up to its ears in both wage labour and a state and market-driven public domain. Any way forward will require first an acceptance that there is no outside to capital, and that there will always be a sense of homelessness and fear until these are mastered by some very hardcore Zen-like habits of non-harming thought and feeling; while, in addition, conducting oneself in opposition to existing commonplaces in unfamiliar ways.

When a car starts to lose traction, the impulse of the driver is to jerk the steering wheel in the wrong direction, compounding the skid. It is difficult to force oneself to turn it in the other direction, because it just feels so wrong. This sort of inept clambering for solutions, looking for love in all the wrong places, is re-enacted over and over in our failure to grasp that, as Pierre Klossowski put it,“A thought only rises by falling, it progresses only by regressing”. 17 

Disobedience, then exit? “Exit hinges on a latent kind of wealth, an exuberance of possibilities,” 18  Virno writes. Finding a good place to flee to involves “the drawing up of a ‘new geometry of hostility’,” as Jason Smith puts it, that brings into practice “a curvature of space in which friend and enemy no longer belong to the same continuous surface and no longer square off along a single indivisible line.” 19 

There may be no outside to capital, but Virno indicates the possibility of overlapping without touching; the chance of a space for writing that is apart from the knowledge economy. Continuing to write and enact resistance from within – not impossible, just difficult – by manipulating conditions and subjective composition, a practice may once again be made valuable, liveable. A change to a relationship with writing can, then, be a suicide-like ritual of self-liberation.

There are many forms of resistance and manipulating circumstance, but I am particularly interested in the ones that evince what James K Baxter called whaka-iti, or operations that could be characterised as becoming-smaller. Just as killing the ego (egocide) may somewhat paradoxically save the life of the subject, avoiding suicide proper, a weakening of form in writing can preserve or even restore the voluntary energy of the writer.

When singularity and the illusion of completeness is shattered – and there is the formation of something more puddle-like, or web-like, that is connected to other economies, to derelict space – this takes one beyond the illusion that being dominated is being cared for. The compulsion is to move, to mutate, to escape the molar, to reach autonomous zones within capital.

By having a base on a barge, for example, one might keep sufficient independence and a sense of slow time and open space. Living on a such a floating makeshift “house” has the air of the child’s hut, and is an analogy for the way in which frugality can become an art; for the way that smallness, anonymity, slowness, vulnerability can be necessary to do something positive. Paradox is, after all at the very heart of writing that does something, if we take the meaning of the word literally: beyond the commonplace.


Convalescents to their clinics

Escaping for free by going inwards, enjoying the patterns on the insides of one’s eyelids; l’espace littéraire

Chris Kraus retreating to write in the “mountains” above The Valley with the township’s fake lake, pine trees and odd Viking/alpine chalet/log cabin architectural aesthetic

Robin Hyde to her hospital

Joelle de la Casinière living for decades on a barge

Collette to her bed to write, to her “island”, materials piled up on invalid table across the bed, safe as long as limbs do not dangle over the edge. Capote, too, wrote in this manner. (BIER = “be in eternal rest”)

Burroughs to Mexico and Tangiers, and the Amazon; his books started as letters of loneliness

Frame to a shed behind a friend’s house to live and write in

Baxter to his hut in the convent’s paddock from whence a commune grew

Hume to her beach, not far from the heron colony, and where spume-foam drifts onto the sand

Women who dive into motherhood from the world of work and learn to breathe underwater

Artists who start foolhardy but magically resilient non-financial endeavours that survive on the fresh air and sunshine of voluntary energy, shared goodwill and fellowship

Individuals self-organising into groups, and undertaking service/mahi

Trusting the kindness of strangers

Letting go of control, or the illusion of control

Fleeing to mountain retreats high above the sphere of activity in thinner air where the sound of the wind rushing over peaks sounds like water and there is a feeling of flying

Women supporting other women to do the work of women that is then inserted into power structures like balm

Writing like a fuse burning, at the same speed as recollection, following thought’s currents

Preserving zones of indeterminancy

Stalking empty houses, and not renovating

Going to ground; quitting

Quotation, for “text is a tissue [or fabric] of quotations,” drawn from “innumerable centers of culture” (Barthes)

Protracted unfaithful tenancies, and other forms of nomadism

Lessening dependence on rational thought; to plunge into the right brain, from thought back to event

Living with the dead

For art writing the issue becomes that of enacting resistances (or as Bataille had it, “Sovereignty is revolt, it is not the exercise of power. Authentic sovereignty refuses…” 20 ). This can be done with belligerence or more grace, but fundamentally I think the problem becomes one of desire and risk carried out in some writing as it is in some art. For writing to advance any kind of freedom, and to have any value outside of being product, it must enrich the kind of thought that nourishes freedoms and promotes life. What is required is a kind of writing that avoids wholesale market, speed, and knowledge-imperative impositions on art and on the-writing-of-the-being-with-art. (It isn’t really sufficient to say that art writing writes “about” art, as this seems to imply that there is some sort of palpable essence to be divined, but rather that the writer documents their experience of the work, or with even more psychic distance, writes in art’s vicinity.) Opening up such a space, finding it, or the energy to do so might be difficult, but a new challenge is often the only way that the fatigued subject can feel alive again by virtue of more turned-on brain chemistry. I think I recognise in the situation for art writing, criticism – in a certain care-worn dissatisfaction with its own flesh and capabilities between the lines – a compelling, promising suicidal energy.

I have come to think of suicidal ideation as not something to avoid. Society tends to try to quiet the subject so no crises of this sort are experienced. But this can back the subject away from possible change into a sort of timid conservatism, afraid of the explosive energy that a good crisis brings. It is as if this sort of uncertain, inelegant, shattering unfolding is inconvenient to the world of work – the ideal neo-liberal subject is one that can turn up to work every day and remain stable and passive; long-suffering. It is worth considering – as a take, a proposition – if the desire to kill oneself might not be a misinterpretation of an enormous desire for catastrophic change to the individual as he or she is presently constituted. (“I ran out of sick days, so I called in dead,” the old fax joke used to say.) Rather than wanting to be dead, some other sort of massive change might be brewing, or need to be activated, that may result in the death of certain aspects of the self or of relationships to present conditions that are intolerable. This killing could not be of the body, but a vitalist ego-cide (the ego as static fortifications that make the subject rigid and impervious to influence) necessary for phoenix-like reinventions of the self. Such explosive transformations are necessary for survival in a world that is becoming progressively hostile to those desiring freedom, and to vulnerability.

I am told that the Chinese ideogram for crisis translates to “opportunity on an ill wind,” and as such I am interested in the potential represented by suicidal ideation as a highly energised state. Crises always present options: run for the hills and avoid the challenge – do anything to dispense with the anxiety presented by the disturbance and uncertain outcome – or use the energy presented by the crisis to lend the momentum to understand the situation, discover how it relates to held politics, and choose a course of action despite the fatigue and discomfort. Whether or not this is wishful thinking, difficulty with art writing does present distinct possibilities. The opportunities that these problems present is to try to imagine another form of art writing that is more akin to art at its tactical best; that is, when it is involved in operations that are productive – in “technologies of the self,” 21  to use Foucault’s term – in an expanded, or even exploded sense.

Suicide may be a revolutionary tool in some struggles, but for the individual subject, dying marks the end of the revolution. The most important factor is obviously to stay alive; and to be unashamed of a certain amount of growing up in public.

A radical commitment to life is what is necessary. Yet so, what might writing have to do with vitalist suicides? Both Michel Foucault and Avital Ronell have theorised writing as a form of suicide, in other words a process by which radical subjective or constitutional change is wrought. Such change involves a death of sorts, as becoming is by definition becoming something else that puts an end to, explodes, a former state.

Janet Frame wrote about this sort of explosion, in reference to her last book, The Carpathians, as the effect of a transformational power she called ‘the gravity star’: “After I had written it… I felt those reading it to be within this whirlpool; the whole world with everything broken by the gravity star; but not lost. Everything was to be renewed – rebuilt, selves, thought, language, everything. It was a death, but only in the sense that death is a horizon to be travelled beyond.” 22  In her work, words are dangerous, affective, consequential; her vision attuned to sorcery, the kind of sight required to be able to see a grand piano as a trapdoor.

Frame wrote, in Beginnings, that “In my family words were revered as instruments of magic.” Ronell, also aware of the force of language, wrote that “I am the kind of writer easily left scarred, fragilized by certain textual encounters… I have to choose my texts very carefully…” 23  Julia Kristeva wrote, urging and warning at once, of “language in its heterogeneity” as an “ideational and emotional carrier of desire” that “is a powerful factor that, through unknown mediations, has an activating effect on neurobiological networks.” 24 

For resistance to be effective in writing addressing art, given how much it is needed by the market, we need to become sensitive again to language after a gross period of desensitisation. Writing opens spaces in which freedoms can be played out, its desiring energy providing the conditions for new things to form, for becomings to take place, for transformations and change to keep organisms/communities animated, happy. The nineteenth century Danish teacher, writer, poet, philosopher, historian, pastor, and politician Nikolaj Grundtvig went so far to say that, “Only words that stride onward, passing from mouth to mouth, legends and songs, keep a people alive.” 25 

Frame recognised the strength of language but also its fundamental weakness. In her work language figures as a soft tool, the narrators constantly trying in their verbal efforts to pick up custard with hands of jelly as they struggle with abstractions: “At the edge of the alphabet, words crumble and all forms of communication between the living are useless. One day we who live at the edge of the alphabet will find our speech. Meanwhile our lives are solitary; we are captives of the captive dead. We are like those yellow birds which are kept apart from their kind—you see their cages hanging in windows, in the sun—because otherwise they would never learn the language of their captors. But like the yellow birds have we not our pleasures? We look long in mirrors. We have tiny ladders to climb up and down, little wheels to set our feet and our heart racing nowhere; toys to play with. Should we not be happy?” 26 

Language, low in actual information, appears at once a strong chemical and a dissolving system of removes that connects and isolates, that generates desire on the upswing, but in the slippery down, fingers lose their grip. Brian Massumi wrote in A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia that, “Language is not a transparent medium of communication. If it were a medium in any essential way, it is in the occult sense. What language conveys are fundamentally redundant order-words, not clear and distinct messages.” 27  Considered in this way, it is possible to recognise in writing a place for silence, for stupidity (the necessary condition for poetry 28 ); for humility, not knowing, and engaging less, yet more constructively, the use of words.

As I write I have to resist an ancient enjoyment of sticking pins through things.

Language inscribes; it scratches into the surface of the subject it addresses, if that subject exists or existed in the world, but the degree to which it does, and the way in which it does, can be controlled. An abiding lesson in this sliding scale is the work of French documentary filmmaker Nicolas Philibert and the way in which his films have such astonishing gracefulness, generosity and gentle respect for what they are about. There is a potent ethics at play here in the thinking-through of what it is to document, to investigate, to study, in filmmaking, just as it is in other practices that approach the other. Philibert understands gesture in a way that is not so green it can’t be practised – he shows rather than tells.

Philibert’s 1998 film La Moindre des Choses, or Every Little Thing, regarded the famous French psychiatric hospital La Borde, known for its experimental approach to caring for the sick, and, to treasurers of French theory as the place Félix Guattari worked for many years. The hospital can be placed broadly in the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s, a community of practitioners in Europe in America inspired initially by the writings of R.D. Laing, Michel Foucault and Thomas Szasz. The model that it exhibits is that of the therapeutic community as opposed to the administering institution.

Philibert’s method was to do away with any voice-over dialogue. He maintained a quiet presence at the hospital over a summer observing and recording small daily tasks involved with the running of the hospital. Set in acres and acres of gardens with utterly enormous deciduous trees, the actual building is a former manor house turned residential home for the mentally ill. Patients will have lived here, sometimes on-and-off, sometimes continuously, for many years. The relationship between the clinical staff and the residents is strictly non-hierarchical, with all people present taking care of the daily duties such as cleaning, answering telephones, cooking, haircutting, etc. Actual therapy in the traditional sense seems non-existent, rather the way in which people find peace is not based on an idea that they must become sane, in the sense that they conform to some social standard of behaviour, but that people are cared for, as they are, or choose to become.

Days float by, interactions between people are recorded, and the sweetness of care in the environment is palpable. The biggest occupation of the summer at La Borde is their annual theatre production. This could be seen as the ostensible subject of the film, as we see the preparations and rehearsals taking place during its course. That summer the production was the Witold Gombrowicz play, Operetta, performed entirely by the residents and staff. Everyone had a role, whether an actor, musician, or stage crew. All were expected to engage as much as they were able, and surprisingly, for a viewer with less faith than I should have had, the play was successfully performed with full participation, and opened by the playwright’s daughter, to the local community on an outdoor stage under the whispering trees. To see an apparently catatonic patient deliver lines in a wavering voice was astonishing, and to see lines fluently delivered by someone who was also incontinent was utterly altering.

The trees above were a quiet protagonist in the film. There are long shots looking up into their crowns, the thousands of leaves fluttering in the summer wind; a maybe allegory for the way moments can gently and sweetly blow through a system of perception in times of acute freedom and safety. It is a sound of joy to aspire to, maybe like the way twittering synapses flatten when at peace, when dualistic thought subsides to the sound of an ocean. Perhaps these are the spaces in which the real care of the self takes place: close to the start of the film, lines float in from the rehearsal of the play: “Tell me, have you lost your use of words?” / “When human affairs cannot be crammed into words / Language explodes.”

What example does this set for art writing? Philibert’s manners are impeccable, and he does not speak for his subjects, instead gently making his experience of a remarkable transformative event and a set of living politics available, should one be interested. He seems like he could keep a secret, and is not one to ruin a marvelous functional mystery by rationalising it. Philibert’s treatment captures something of the extreme gentleness of the hospital’s kaupapa, and is in its operation marginally inscribing. There is an echo here between the method adopted by an essayist (an essay is, semantically, an attempt, or essai) sensitive to the tactical subject (which is stupid in the sense of “the absence of a relation to knowing” 29 ). The tactical subject gains a lot of its strength by establishing and protecting autonomous spaces, and this often involves anonymity, privacy of information and restricted access, so it is, in many ways, antithetical to the notion of research.

This is, however, not to say that I would not like to read a detailed history of Le Borde. What is the difference between delicacy of treatment and thoroughness of, say, an expository historical account? Both proceed from a particular ethical viewpoints, neither more objectively legitimate ultimately than the other, but exist as part of a full range of options. As Chantal Mouffe points out in Radical Democracy, 30  it is important for different positions to exist and flourish, and for one position to not attempt to destroy the other in order to gain precedence. Her preferred model is that of agonistic pluralism, whereby conflict and antagonism are active, contributing to systemic development. So, in art writing, it is important for an expository method to work alongside tactical methods in order to provide a spectrum to house the interests of a variety of practices and desires. Philibert does, however, with the chosen form of this film, ostensibly echo the open quietness and peace of La Borde, and gives a sense of convalescent time, warmed by the sun and bathed in green; a balm to the most tired of eyes.

Michel de Certeau, in The Practice of Everyday Life, marvellously describes this situation of being stuck inside something and being faced with the choice of working with or against the dominant order. He drew a distinction between ways of operating, between tactics and strategies; that is, the difference between working for power structures (the capitalist order), or trying to find ways of living in these conditions in liberating, albeit powerless, ways:

I call a ‘strategy’ the calculus of force-relationships which become possible when a subject of will and power (a proprietor, and enterprise, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated from an ‘environment’. A strategy assumes a place that can be circumscribed as proper (propre) and thus serve as the basis for generating relations with an exterior distinct from it (competitors, adversaries, ‘clientèles’, ‘targets’, of ‘objects’ of research). Political, economic, and scientific rationality has been constructed on this strategic model.

I call a ‘tactic’, in the other hand, a calculus which cannot count on a ‘proper’ (a spatial or institutional localization), nor thus on a border-line distinguishing the other as a visible totality. The place of the tactic belongs to the other. A tactic insinuates itself into the other’s place, fragmentarily without taking it over in its entirety, without being able to keep its distance. It has at its disposal no base where it can capitalize on its advantage, prepare its expansions, and secure independence with respect to circumstances. The ‘proper’ is a victory of space over time. On the contrary, because it does not have a place, a tactic depends on time – it is always on the watch for opportunities that must be seized on the wing. Whatever it wins it does not keep… 31 

An important aspect of tactical practice, as put forward by De Certeau, is maintaining invisibility. He talks of certain aspects of popular culture as tactical practices appearing as “a dark rock that resists all assimilation.” 32  This, in the context of art writing, demands a resistance to the way in which, since the enlightenment, “our world” is subject to study and the strategic ideal is to bring everything into discourse, into knowledge, rendering all visible, understandable, available. This is a pornographic situation in the true meaning of the world. All must submit, all must be visible, disclosed.

Tony Negri and Michael Hardt in their book Multitude discuss how language, by virtue of naming things, including people, makes individuals identifiable and subject to power. Language, then, might very well be in the business of blowing cover. However, this is apparently at odds with a competing idea, visible in Zen writing, for example, that language does not provide clarity, but merely muddies the water – truth not being embodied or accessible by language.

This apparent conflict might also perhaps be a productive sculptural tension, like that played out, for example, in the constant traffic in Judeo-Christian literature between God as the revealer, the creator via language, and God as the unknowable, hidden and inaccessible 33 . As explained in the 14th century Christian tract, The Cloud of Unknowing, knowledge is chimeric: “Our intense need to understand will always be a powerful stumbling block to our attempts to reach God in simple love […] and must always be overcome. For if you do not overcome this need to understand, it will undermine your quest. It will replace the darkness which you have pierced to reach God with clear images of something which, however good, however beautiful, however Godlike.”

It could be assumed that to cloud things is a bad thing, that clear visible access is ideal, but in our post-porn era – and I mean that not just in the sexual sense, but also in the informational – there are those, such as the artist-writer Liam Gillick, that “believe that a sequence of veils and meanderings might be necessary to combat the chaotic ebb and flow of capitalism (…) It is notable that those who were sceptical about the notion of transparency and a straightforward relationship between intentions and results tended to be from backgrounds where a belief in transparency was historically one imposed by the dominant culture.” 34 

Perhaps it is a way of hiding from God, or The Man.


Sometimes paragraphs look like clouds on the paper or screen’s ground.

De Certeau wrote a chapter in The Practice of Everyday Life called “Popular cultures: ordinary language” which addresses the way individuals use language to open spaces in which miraculous possibilities exist, in even the most economically oppressive conditions. This is often done, he observes, in whispers and remains off the record, because the place of “the record” is the domain of the powerful (“In this space, the strong always win and words always deceive” 35 ). The coloniser’s discourse is a master discourse, and the writer’s subject, to paraphrase De Certeau, is always the master, and his rationality, conquering. 36 

(For this reason, forays into this space must be made carefully so that appearance is surprising, and disappearance can again follow without giving the game away.)

He begins by talking about the activities of Brazilian peasants, and distinguishes between polemological space “which perspicacious country people saw as a network of innumerable conflicts covered up with words,” 37  and a utopian space perpetuated by the enactment of miraculous religious stories. The tending of this “popular” space requires, according to de Certeau, opacity and trickery: “Like the skill of a driver in the streets of Rome and Naples, there is a skill that has its connoisseurs and its esthetics exercised in any labyrinth of powers, a skill ceaselessly recreating opacities and ambiguities – spaces of darkness and trickery – in the universe of technocratic transparency, a skill that disappears into them and reappears again, taking no responsibility for the administration of a totality. Even the field of misfortune is refashioned by this combination of manipulation and enjoyment.” 38 

Tacticality depends so much on the narrowness of focus that humans experience at any given moment – we are only aware of particular things that have caught our attention or occupy our thoughts in other persistent ways. That which goes under the radar is beyond our attention, and therefore beyond our possible participation or influence. As Forbes Williams pointed out in the recent Nova Paul film The World of Interiors (2008) – its visuals a veritable technicolor trip, its audio an oral history of Williams’ experiences after going to ground and managing the psychic and psychological fallout from a serious and self-sacrificing experiment with LSD alone and determinedly apart from the mental health system – “denial is the engine-room of the universe”. If a brick looks uninteresting, we may pick it up to see what life teems beneath it. Once lifted, however, we are left with the horrible realisation that placing it back without killing anything is actually terribly difficult.

De Certeau continues with a discussion of the way in which anthropologists from Aarne to Lévi-Strauss have attempted to catalogue tactical discourses, and, in his opinion, failed because they clip the utterances from their complex historical contexts and detach them from the operations of their speakers. “Everyday linguistic practices (as well as the space of their tactics) have to be ignored in order for the scientific practices to be able to operate in their own field.” 39  His critique of social sciences bears a parallel relation to the critique of curatorial practices and museology in the way materials are transferred to places of study, display and writing. In the same way that it is impossible to separate the speech act truly from its circumstances, the art work often cannot be satisfactorily rehoused because so much of its use and significance depends on its original environment. However, there is still the museum’s hunger for the discrete art object with contained meaning: “Indeed, like Schreber’s God, who only ‘communicates with cadavers,’ our knowledge seems to consider and tolerate in a social body only inert objects.” 40 

The solution to this problem offered by De Certeau is to cease the practice of substituting artificial languages for ordinary languages. These ordinary languages maintain their inherent slipperiness – their “stylistic effects – devices, and ‘figures,’ alliterations, inversion, and plays on words”, “the ruses, displacements, ellipses etc, that scientific reason has eliminated in order to constitute ‘proper’ meanings.” He even suggests that these forms have been repressed into “literary” zones such as dreams. 41  Perhaps the way to approach tactical art work, as a writer, is to do so as if one was asleep? Or tripping?

Writing about art is to verbalise in relation to a most tactical field. Not all art is tactical, but artists’ operations on the whole can be characterised as, in De Certeau’s clever words, “an esthetic of ‘tricks’”.“Here, order is tricked by an art.” 42  Perhaps the task of the writer could be reversed so that rather than inscribe the subject they regard, to rather carve out space in the institution, to scratch into the surface of the sphere of work and profit our own experience (of art, of living) and joys. As De Certeau rightly points out, the way to reclaim ethics and pleasure from the scientific institution is to remember to use the photocopier for our own ends, to write a love letter when one should be working, to subvert the laws of the factory by reintroducing the gift, tricks and tenacity with la perruque, or the time-honoured, but threatened tradition of taking one’s own time at work. This then situates the intellectual in the space of the tactical operative once more, and enables them again to “practise an ordinary art”, “to make a kind of perruque of writing itself.”

Boris Groys pointed out in “Critical Reflections,” a singularly insightful essay about art criticism, that critics used to be pitted against the artist as some sort of external whistle-blowing conscience, in order to filter this production for the public morally and aesthetically 43 . Now it is more common, he wrote in 1997, that writers think of artists as colleagues sharing common particular political and aesthetic projects. The implication is that when one chooses to be aligned, the writers and artists could share an “ordinary language.” This way their mutual tacticality is strengthened: voices are not drowned out, agency is respected, and collaboration, even wordless complicity, can occur.

The second volume of The Practice of Everyday Life was subtitled “Cooking and Eating”. De Certeau also planned a third volume that was, at first, to be called “Logic And Ruses”, and then, later, “Saying the Other”, and then “The Practice of Speaking”. And in these proposed titles for a book that was never written, there exists somewhat of a roadmap for navigating the problem ahead for art writing. A very important aspect of becoming tactical, or effectively tactical, is the need to understand language and its relation to art adequately to make sure that effect of writing is the desired one.

Problems in the register and tone of art writing can occur because of misunderstandings about what writing does and how it is brought to experience; especially given that its ostensible subject, art, is probably the most tactical of all productions, constantly enacting slips, opacities, opening spaces and moving on again, ahead of assimilation and orthodoxies. Tactical writing may, too, employ evasions – obfuscation, camouflage, drift, stupidity, delirium, energy conservation, the erosion of authority, the dissolving of sense, destructiveness, episodic form, ambiguity, equivocality, abandonment – which contribute to a form of ordinary directness that speaks to its own community.

Taking a step back, in terms of understanding the climate in which art, and writing about it, exists, it is worth noting an odd situation in post-modern thought that seems to arise out of the structuralist and post-structuralist focus on the way in which language constructs reality: despite the enormous value of this body of philosophical thought, one might be left with the impression that there is no outside to language – everything is of language, in language, that language is primary material for everything.

WTJ Mitchell writes in his book Picture Theory of this literary turn whereby “Linguistics, semiotics, rhetoric, and various models of ‘textuality’ have become the lingua franca for critical reflections in the arts, the media, and cultural forms, Society is a text. Nature and its scientific representations are ‘discourses.’ Even the unconscious is structured like a language.” 44  He puts forward that there has been, as a consequential response, a pictorial turn, in that there is resistance to this dominance of the literary over the visual in a rich vein of contemporary art practice that could be termed post-conceptual in its embrace of gesture, event, delirium, silence. This turn is subtle, especially to those who parse everything through words, as it will most likely not be in words. It is definitely more likely to be an event than a coherent statement, and therefore outside the cluttered plane of academic discourse that leaves little space, room or time for the recognition of the pre-verbal. In art, work that enacts this pictorial turn and enjoys the tension, the gap, between the visual and the linguistic could be described as post-conceptual.

A lesson to those profoundly rooted in words, namely writers, comes from Gilles Deleuze, who, in Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, made a case for a less languaged relation to cinema that can be used in thinking about art and art writing: “Cinema, to Deleuze is not a language that requires probing and interpretation, a search for hidden meanings; it can be understood directly, as a composition of images and signs, pre-verbal in nature. Thus he offers a powerful alternative to the psychoanalytic and semiological approaches that have dominated film studies.” 45 

A useful extrapolation of this tension between art and language is also provided by Alain Badiou in Infinite Thought where he writes that there is a distinction between thought and event; thought being that which follows event. Event, something that has not been encountered before, has an arresting quality, and occurs before thought has been able to analyse what has happened. Therefore, immersion in the event, in a radical not-knowing, stupidity or openness, is the necessary condition for the production of new thought. This sort of supplement 46 , as he calls it, is not just for its own sake – the importance of the new exists in direct proportion to how much one considers change to be necessary.

Recognition of the event’s inherently plural nature requires of writing something more delirious, fragmented, and more highly differentiated in terms of concept than is traditional in art discourse. Roland Barthes describes a useful way to think about this sort of tactical writing in his differentiation between work and text in “From Work to Text” in The Rustle of Language. Work is that which occupies space in books, but Text, on the other hand is a methodological field. It is paradoxical in that it is always beyond that which is commonly accepted (para-doxa) 47 :

“The text is plural. This does not mean that it has several meanings but that it fulfils the very plurality of meaning: an irreducible (and not just acceptable) plurality. The text is not coexistence of meaning, but passage, traversal; hence, it depends not on interpretation, however liberal, but on an explosion, on dissemination.” 48 

Therefore, it follows that there is also room, rarely-used room, in art writing practice for silence, for stupidity, humility, not knowing, not engaging with what could be frowned at as general verbiage. As Bataille said in The Unfinished System of Non-knowledge, “I can’t abide sentences. Everything I’ve asserted, convictions I have expressed, it’s all ridiculous and dead. I’m only silence, and the universe is silence. Deep complicity cannot be expressed in words.” 49 

Bataille was even so bold to assert that pure happiness can only occur in an absence of language. Ronell, in Stupidity, put it that “Such self-emptying (…) is the essence of courage: being capable of complete surrender… The poet yields entirely, giving in to sheer relatedness… Poetic courage consists in talking this step towards this exposition, that of pure exposure (‘only step/naked into life’).” 50 


Pure happiness is in the moment, but pain chased me away from the present moment into waiting for a moment to come, when my pain will be relieved. If pain didn’t separate me from the present moment, “pure happiness” would be within me. But presently, I’m talking. In me, language is the effect of pain, of the need that yokes me to work.

If I want to, I must, talk about my happiness: from this fact an imperceptible misfortune enters me: this language – that I speak – is in search of the future, it struggles against pain – be it miniscule – which is the need in me to talk about happiness. Language never has pure happiness for its subject matter. Language has action for its subject matter, action whose goal is to recover lost happiness, but action cannot attain this goal by itself. If I were happy, I would no longer act.

Pure happiness is the negation of pain, of all pain, even of the apprehension of pain; it is the negation of language.

That is, in the most senseless sense, poetry. Language, stubborn in refusal, is poetry, turns back on itself (against itself): this is the analogue of suicide.

This suicide does not reach the body: it ruins effective activity, it substitutes vision for it.

The vision of the present moment subsists here, detaching the being from the anxiety of what will follow. As the succession of moments that ordain the perspective of work (actions that waiting changes by subordinating the sovereign being, which the sun of the “present moment” illuminates) were dead.

The suicide of language becomes a wager. If I talk, I obey the need to escape the present moment. But my suicide announces the leap into which the being is liberated from its needs is thrown. The wager demanded the leap. The leap that the wager prolongs is a nonexistent language, in the language of the dead, of those ravaged by happiness, annihilated by happiness.”

(George Bataille, from “Pure Happiness”)

It is important for art writers to rid themselves of the idea that art is necessarily a communication and that the writer’s role is to help the work along somehow, like finishing its sentences.

Susan Sontag in her 1960s essay ‘Against Interpretation’ bemoaned the way in which work is assumed to have content, and this content is its primary reason for being. Groys also set out to debunk the idea that art sets out to communicate; it can even be seen in some cases to shun “conventional social communication”: “The incomprehensibility of the avant-garde was not just the effect of a communication breakdown. Language, including visual language, can be used not only as a means of communication, but also as a means of strategic dis-communication or even self-excommunication: that is, a voluntary departure from the community of the communicating.” 51 

Once I decided I would like to learn to meditate and duly attended classes at the peaceful League of Western Buddhists rooms in Grey Lynn. I needed to clear several things from my mind: that I was on the former 80s premises of the Gow Langsford Gallery; the questionable term that western is now; and whether or not nit-picking runs counter to the principle of unattachment. Between sittings I was browsing the small lending library’s shelves, the tape-library to be particular, and discovered one called “no dependence on words or letters”. I borrowed it and later put it into my car tape-deck, only to discover that it was blank. Very funny, I thought. Or perhaps it had had something on it and was now faulty. I didn’t feel like asking any questions about it, however, so it will probably remain a puzzle to me.

In the effort to understand the relationship between language and art, Buddhist thinking does, however, provide a useful perspective. The key to enlightenment is, apparently, to not just quieten the mind of conceptual thinking, but to go beyond perception itself; the reason being that perception and cognition are, by nature, dualistic. As Douglas Hofstadter explained in Godel Escher Bach: the Eternal Golden Braid: “At the core of dualism, according to Zen, are words – just plain words. The use of words is inherently dualistic, since each word represents quite obviously, a conceptual category. Therefore, a major part of Zen is the fight against reliance on words. To combat the use of words, one of the best devices is the koan [language puzzles], where words are so deeply abused that one’s mind is practically left reeling…. Therefore it is wrong to say that logic is the enemy of enlightenment; rather it is dualistic, verbal thinking. In fact it is even more basic than that: it is perception. As soon as you perceive an object, you draw a line between it and the rest of the world; you divide the world, artificially into parts, and you thereby miss the way.” 52 

Perhaps, of all those involved in academic thought, it has been physicists who have hit their heads on the ceiling of dualistic thought most palpably in terms of the use value of language epistemologically. When quantum physics encountered the situation where light was found to be both particles and waves, they agonised, how could this be? The problem could be, some felt, that they were using language to study the world, and that nouns are parts of speech, not nature. Simply, the way language abstracts and over-simplifies, gives the formless form, means there are limits to its functionality.

But it is also this gap between nature and language that gives rise to the incredulity that is aroused when something is worded really well.

Bataille wrote about meditation in an expanded sense, commencing an essay entitled “Method of Meditation” with the following:

If man did not sometimes sovereignly close his eyes, He would end up no longer seeing What is worth being looked at. (René Char, Leaves of Hypnos) 53 

Silence’s inverse relation to language is written about by Bataille as “disarming!” “I am unable to speak of an absence of meaning without giving it a meaning it doesn’t have.” 54  A crucial problem when writing about art, no?

Key to the sovereign operation, as Bataille, and the delinquent, see it, is a sense of self-permission to stop, to slack off:

The apparent laxity of rigour expresses only a greater rigor, to which one had to respond in the first place.

The principle must be inverted again.

The rigor apparently affirmed here and there is only the effect of profound laxity, of the abandonment of something essential that is, in any case the SOVEREIGNTY OF BEING. 55 

Bataille is not, however, advocating an abandonment of language, because silence and speech are a necessary function of each other; each a part of the labour of sovereignty; stopping as important as starting; sleep as important as work: stupidity the sleep (death) of intelligence (the apparatus of vision) 56 :

…Some words! They exhaust me without respite: nevertheless, I will go to the source of the miserable possibility of words.

There I want to find that which introduces – in a point – the sovereign silence that interrupts articulated language. 57 

Bataille describes meditation as a refusal to, or a withdrawl from, the sphere of activity, as per the customary understanding of the practice, but he then situates it in a vital register of sovereign behaviours, all of which can lead the writer to places beyond subordination:

Other than ecstasy, these are:
—erotic effusion.
—sacrificial effusion. —poetic effusion. 58 

However, once the extra-linguistic is beheld, inhabited, valued, like a spiritual awakening only possible in a period of convalescence, there is the skulking back to language and attempts to reuse it. To do so well, without falling back into old ways that do not serve us, we must understand its effects. For there is as little point in being against language as there is in being against breathing out. A useful way to proceed from this realisation might be in embracing its failure, its flawed nature, but not discarding it. Though killing it in some respects, of course.

The key is awareness of, on the downside, language’s symbolic nature, its dualism, its reductiveness, but also its violence. In Oscar Wilde’s book The Portrait of Dorian Gray there is a deeply troubling critical subtext. The main protagonist is an aristocrat who is idle other than his hobby of subtly but cataclysmically influencing others. He knows he is doing this and he knows how dark it is and even overtly acknowledges, “All influence is immoral.”

Sean O’Reilly also addresses the potential of writing to be invasive in a pamphlet text he wrote, ‘Contra-scrawl’: “Please try not to read so much, especially that existential shit that makes you frightened for your non-existent soul. Books like that have a habit of gatecrashing the fragile parties of later life, knocking out vistas of total bleakness. Such books can stop a life in its tracks. If you must read, then go with the drunks, they are so much better at imitating your beloved rivers, something subterranean.” 59 

Urs Fischer, German artist and writer, also considered the brutality of language: “It’s awful to use words. It feels like parting a cake with a hammer.” 60  And Janet Frame, in a poem “Words,” showed that she was keenly aware of the way language invades the psyche:

The stain of words will soak through the thickest gloves.
You touch them. They bite and scratch,
Your blood mixes with theirs,
Changes colour. You never learn. The chemical process of separating them 61 

To Blanchot, writing destroys, but in a way that does not seem destructive because it is an immaterial operation: “Writing is not destined to leave traces, to disappear in the fragmentary space of writing more definitely than one disappears in the tomb, or again, to destroy, to destroy invisibly, without the uproar of destruction.” 62 

Recognising the aggressiveness of language is one thing, but it is also incredibly important to realise its weakness; and to maintain this, or convalescence is wasted. (Some unsolicited advice: aim to conduct one’s life without recourse to things which fortify the individual against various threats such as those presented by capitalist economics, emotional vulnerabilities, and the feeling of security derived from feeling that one understands or knows…) The weakness of language is in that words do not arrive naturally out of some direct relationship between them and what they seek to describe. They are in a different register, as S.I. Hayakawa explained in Language in Thought and Action: “The word is not the thing… The habitual confusion of symbols with things symbolized, whether on the part of individuals or societies is serious enough at all levels of culture to provide a perennial human problem.” 63 

From Félix Guattari’s standpoint, language could be seen as a form of agoraphobia whereby developed thought provides shelter against not-knowing; but it also is a means to come out of ourselves, to utter to others. Both silence and speech are terribly necessary as counter-depressants; to imagine new communities into existence: “It is obvious we are all suspended over the same abyss, even if we use different means not to see it. We are all at the mercy of the same stupor that can take you by the throat and literally suffocate you… This is why we each cling to our semantic scaffolding in order to continue walking down the street, waking up each day, and doing what is expected of us. Otherwise everything would stop; people would bang their heads against the wall. The way to have a lust for life, to forget oneself is not simple or obvious. ‘What for?’ has incredible power.” 64 

This protective architecture of thought is still an illusory shelter, as language ultimately fails to designate. However, Bataille suggests that it is this “very human encounter with impossibility that makes us laugh – the basis of poetry and comedy, ecstasy and sacrifice.” 65 

I am in a colonnaded courtyard swimming in a brackish pool. I am not at all bothered by the water quality and become aware that beneath the surface of the water are growing lotuses in bloom, their pink flowers about four feet beneath the surface. The water is warm and has the thick feeling of the heavily salted somewhat soupy Mediterranean. I get out and sit on the side and as I chase away mosquitoes calmly someone startles me, trying to tell me that if we drain the water we would see that the plants were planted in plastic containers. I move away from them as I really don’t want to know how it works at the expense of the pool.

Badiou wrote that it is important for philosophy, for radical thought, to break away from a fixation on language. In basic terms he opposes Wittgenstein’s assertion that the limits of our language are the limits of our world:

If philosophy is essentially a meditation on language, it will not succeed in removing the obstacle that the specialization and fragmentation of the world opposes to universality. To accept the universe and the limits of language as the absolute horizon of philosophical thought in fact amounts to accepting the fragmentation and illusion of communication – for the truth of our world is that there are as many languages as there are communities, activities, or kinds of knowledge. I agree that there is a multiplicity of language games. This, however, forces philosophy – if it wants to preserve the desire for universality – to establish itself elsewhere than within this multiplicity, so as not to be subordinated to it. If not, philosophy will become what in one way it mostly is, an infinite description of language games. 66 

How then to trace a trajectory from experience to writing?

Badiou’s thought is very useful here: “This event has taken place, it is something that I can neither evaluate, nor demonstrate, but to which I shall be faithful.” 67 

The writer encounters the work (in the spirit of valuing art as event), and it duly (or unduly) challenges and stuns. The writer has been privileged to experience something new. In order to “decide on the undecidable”, the writer (like the scientist, the lover, the activist, the artist), rather than fall back on what was previously known or familiar, might productively engage with a process that Badiou calls forcing:

I call the anticipatory hypothesis of the generic being of a truth, a forcing. A forcing is the powerful fiction of the completed truth. Starting with such a fiction, I can force new bits of knowledge, without even verifying this knowledge. (…) The construction of the truth is made by a choice within the indiscernible. It is made locally, within the finite. But the potency of a truth depends on the hypothetical forcing. It consists in saying: ‘If we suppose the generic infinity of a truth to be completed, then such or such a bit of knowledge must imperatively be transformed.’ 68 

Here is an argument for the value of speculative thought in art writing; and following this, because the truth is a product of forcing rather than based on fact. Furthermore, certainty can only really be enjoyed in familiar territory, and the key here is that the thought is new, and that encounters with art require this mobility and risk of decision-making. At this point, Badiou introduces the question of what constitutes going too far, and the problem he describes can be extrapolated to the activity of art writing easily enough:

This problem can be expressed simply: can we, from the basis of a finite Subject of truth, name and force into knowledge all the elements that this truth concerns? How far does the anticipating potency of generic infinity go? My answer is that there is always in any situation a real point that resists this potency.

I call this point the unnameable of the situation. It is what, within the situation, never has a name in the eyes of the truth. A term that consequently remains unforceable. This term fixes the limit of the potency of a truth. The unnameable is what is excluded from having a proper name and what is alone in such an exclusion. The unnameable is then the proper of the proper, so singular in its singularity that it does not even tolerate having a proper name. The unnameable is the point where the situation in its most intimate being is submitted to thought; in the pure presence that no knowledge can circumscribe. The unnameable is something like the inexpressible real of everything a truth authorizes to be said. 69 

Badiou seems to be hinting at a hunting or military-type situation where the unnameable is under threat from a dominating destructive force (the already known, and that which benefits from strengthening this static position – the market, those investing in authority of fortification of something solid and unmoving). What is at stake is the very movement of twinkling life propelled by the four horses of evental thought named by Badiou: love, science, politics and art 70 .

There lies the root of evil. Evil is the will to name at any price. (…) If the forcing of the unnameable exclusion is a disaster, it is because it effects the entire situation, by pursuing singularity itself whose emblem is the unnameable. In this sense, the desire in fictioning to suppress the unnameable frees the destructive capacity contained in all truth. (…) Finally, Evil is the desire for ‘everything-to-be-said.’ To contain Evil, the potency of the truth must be measured. 71 

The problem affecting art writing outlined earlier, that is its employment in product differentiation and market share, is brought into relief once again like a psychosomatic welt.

When my son needs cheering up, he is two, or myself for that matter, we play Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and march around to the opening song, that one that goes “everybody must get stoned”. By the time he sings “at the museum, infinity is put on trial” and “the ghost of electricity flows through the bones of her face” we are usually much more content and busy doing something else.

Badiou’s idea of fictioning and its importance in the production of new thought (revolutions of all scales), of the renewal necessary to support the growth only possible in fidelity to the event, could be placed interestingly alongside the ficto-critical tendency in art writing. Here, one might argue, a fictional approach might echo the process of forcing with all its love of chance and nomadic energy and vitality. Badiou, however, would potentially disagree based on his distrust of forms that “go too far in reflecting the physiognomy of the world itself. They are too compatible with our world to be able to sustain the rupture or distance that philosophy requires.” 72  Perhaps this is a valid criticism of tactical forms of writing, of tropes, tricks drifts, elisions, evasions, opacities…

(De Certeau and he are in agreement, however, that an undue focus on language is ultimately boring and de-energising.)

Perhaps, on the other hand, it is a matter of balance. There is an oscillation, perennially, in life and thought, between knowing and not knowing. There is an ebb and flow of sense and nonsense; or, according to Klossowski, that “thought revolves around delirium as its axis”. 73  (Here, he was referring to Neitzsche’s thought, but surely this can be applied to an understanding of all thought, subject as it is to reality’s factual factlessness. Delirium has a very particular use value to the disenchanted: when lucid thought proves dissatisfactory, we can run to the comforting arms of delirium. The only way to come back is to have hope that things will be different, better than before; altered by our leaving.)

In art writing, there is often a desire for order accompanied by a desire to stop trying to impose it; to name and then to lose our grip on the tool (if the only tool we have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, etc.); to be confidently speculative, and then to dissolve sense. Bataille was keenly aware of the way language functions to order, like the way an agoraphobic prefers to stay inside and the neurotic to tidy in the face of disorder (is there a more positive term for the chaos that is?). He encouraged us to be aware of and be happily accepting of the formlessness everywhere about us:

formless: A dictionary begins when it no longer gives the meaning of the words, but their tasks. Thus formless is not only an adjective having a given meaning, but a term that serves to bring things down in the world, generally requiring that each thing have its form. What it designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. In fact, for academic men to be happy, the universe would have to take shape. All of philosophy has no other goal: it is a matter of giving a frock coat to what is, a mathematical frock coat. On the other hand, affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit. 74 

I was once given a copy of Nancy Mitford’s Noblesse Oblige to read by my paternal grandmother, probably because it had a particularly funny essay in it about manners and their contemporary relevance (especially funny is the parody of the American fascination with etiquette and how dogmatically it has been adopted and followed). In it I remember the character of an ancient eccentric aristocrat who devoted many years of his later life to writing an epistle called “Spiders I have known.” I always felt sad that someone had made a joke of this man who had an abiding love for spiders. I imagined a house with many webs and him watching his little friends as they, the beloved other, performed their miraculous weaving.

After reading Bataille as an adult, spiders might stand for all entities that are crushed by the clumsy activities of those who seek to impose order and name the unnameable. Perhaps they are analogues for the art works that are, to paraphrase Agamben in The Coming Community, so singular in their singularity that they do not tolerate having a proper name; their webs the fragile intimacies, the pure presence that the truth does not authorize to be said 75 ?

I think for this reason I am uncomfortable with art writing that seeks to give or presume definite shape to the work it addresses. This is why Deleuze’s commitment, in Two Regimes of Madness, to highly differentiated concepts is such a valuable lesson; and by family relation, Nietzsche’s assertion that philosophers should not presume to be correct, but to offer another point of view. This is the heart of radical democracy – of having a position and expecting and allowing others theirs; and not trying to destroy that with which you do not agree, or that clutters your nice, clean, ordered environment.

I am, in this way, reminded of a chapter in Chris Kraus’ Video Green about, among other things, a Chicana student she worked with at a particular grad school and how she came to quit. It explains that the photographic work she was making, wanted to make, was criticised as sentimental, involving as subjects her small child, left behind with family in New Mexico in order for her mother to make it at art school. The way in which this student ran against particular orthodoxies of what constitutes art, of what are fashionable methods and areas of concern, was brought into sharp relief when Kraus pointed out that if only she had been able to make a defence with recourse to appropriate theory, she would have been just fine, i.e. sentimental? You want sentimental? How sentimental is Proust? Her reference to the student is slight, expedient, not over-worked, just mentioned, in an essay ostensible addressing an immigrant mail service in the Los Angeles neighbourhood she lives in. Issues of race, privilege, real estate speculation and the domination of art by discourse are raised, but float away, helium-filled in an expression of mobile powerlessness and feminist empathy, but not assistance. This is hard to admit, but what is the point of trying to stop a student quitting school and returning to her daughter? Many women leave the art world to take up other work, but their stories are seldom the stuff of art journalism as they apparently vanish. The customary subject-space of art and art journalism is repeatedly challenged and expanded in Video Green, this collection of Kraus’ column Torpor written for Art/text in the late 90s and early 2000s.

In Kraus’ art writing the texts go far beyond a discrete (nice) evaluation of the operation of the work, but rather undertake something far more complex and sprawling; the field of the collision-collusion of art, thought and capitalism. This constantly unfolding train-wreck, and the position of the writer-subject in relation to it, this constant state of crisis, emergency, is something so familiar, but not often admitted to art criticism. Enormous strength is taken to assert and maintain an abrasive view, one that can accept the schizophrenic shattering of the subject and the encounter with becoming selves that arise. What is often necessary to allow the writing to deal with this (other than Valium beside the keyboard) is a series of partial episodic view points that are intensely inhabited; and when one is present there is so much more at stake, unbuffered by layers of emotional distance or fortifications of the ego. Kraus’ habit of full disclosure is a gift, and like water to a parched throat. It models the sort of radical exposure of the self to the world (and the world to the self, and of a person to another or others) and of the degree of risk necessary to waken something ancient or invoke something new.

Kraus spoke of her first novel, I Love Dick, and how it was borne of desperation, a way of saying things that she really needed to say; and how it was written “in real time”: “the present moment always radicalises everything” 76 . This week, as markets are crashing, I watched all of Chris Kraus’ short films, end-on-end, and together they formed a gloriously discontinuous feature; a long ’80s song of many verses, a double album’s-worth of material that drives a wedge still into the understanding of female experience; of capitalism, of visual culture and resistance. And, too, in these films I could see sketched out aspects of the problem with art writing I have been considering, and that she posed to me in the first place. If all art writing is product, what is the point? How can vitality be salvaged, how can ethics and happiness be found and founded?

In Order to Pass (1982) is a 30-minute meditation on the redemptive nature of fantasy as a conduit from the past to the present to the future; of flow. Nostalgia, it puts forward, is merely a springboard to the state of feeling desired; to a desired image of oneself. In this film, there is a scene in which two men are arm-wrestling. A female theorist character is walking around them – they don’t register her because they are patriarchal subjects engaged in their duel – wondering out loud about the way that language predetermines sexuality. What happens, she ponders, when symbols break down and there is flow between them, between the sexes?

I was struck by the way that her collected films seem to offer moments where the tension between language and experience, visual or otherwise, is sensed and registered. The inherent dualism of language is also something that is leaned up against in her texts as the entity that voices the writing can also be imagined circling the work, looking, thinking, asking difficult questions; the dense series of ideas are like attempts to scale something that has an indefinite shape. The writing is done away from the work, and it is interspersed with thinking that drifts away from the supposed subject and resurfaces into the writer’s experience and practice following each rising and tumbling essay-ish thought-form.

In Terrorists in Love (1985), a young woman revolutionary, disillusioned with radical activity because she is confused about how to operate when one rejects frames of reference, lists what she desires. “What do we need? What do we want?” she asks. To a stream-of-consciousness list of material and emotional desires she adds those of ambition. “We want to do great things, and we want someone to write about them!” Here, joined with the difficulties inherent in classificatory practices is the situation of the writer being drawn into the practices of others as support person, as publicity machine.

In Golden Bowl or Repression (1984/1988) a female character voices a collective desire for happiness without a hole in it. This seems to resound through the spaces of the films as a whole, echoing in its architectural spaces. These spaces are haunting and there is a consistent longing for a home, it seems, in the way the camera stalks real estate wistfully, panning across empty, slightly dilapidated houses in out-of-the-way places – places for temporary habitation, for love enacted as tenants, squatters, terrorists, fantasists. The inhumanity of architecture to human attachment to it registers as a silence, or as room noise, is accentuated in film.

Her last film was Gravity and Grace (1991), a feature, filmed partially in New Zealand and partially in New York. (It is possible that the only reason this film was made in New Zealand was that William Borroughs cited Wellington, New Zealand as “the jumping off point”.) This film and its lukewarm-to-cold reception at the Berlin Film festival understandably put Kraus off the work of the filmmaker, later writing Aliens and Anorexia, a book that spoke of her experiences of making this “failed” film. In the early stages of the film, the young lead Grace and her friend Gravity have seduced and are toying with a German tourist who just wants sex for money. They insist on telling him stories, or fables, really. He becomes angry and asks, “what kind of country is this?” Grace replies. Wiggling her fingertips by her face in silent-movie or pantomime comedy fear, “This is not a country, it is a mystical kingdom”.

Not only is a writing problem sketched out in these films, but I think I can also see an answer in them. (They could even be seen as a particular kind of filmic writing or theorising in themselves. Her characters are given to monologues discoursing on philosophical subjects, and writing floats over the image in the epigrammatic form that Nietzsche believed was the way to establish greater subjectivity in writing.) Everything has been subsumed into capital, but this can be hated and resisted, with a resistance not of the conventional kind; rather, with a form of delusion or magical thinking (meditation, magic, prayer). Dualism, patriarchy, and PR accepted, there is still desire, and the miraculous efficacy of it to open spaces in which to live and transform consciousness and conditions. Gravity and Grace ends with the distinct written message that miracles made from the most unconventional of materials are the most lethal of weapons.

Writing indefinitely is central to an art writing practice that seeks to remain faithful to the event. There is a section of Giorgio Agamben’s The Coming Community that addresses the subject of the equivocal, and this can be applied to the task of critical writing usefully. He proposes a sort of radical uncertainty that may be related to an overarching political project, one of a community without subjects, that might lend renewed commitment to writing if voluntary energy is still flagging.

Agamben writes, in this section entitled ‘Pseudonym,’ in praise of the writing of Robert Walser, whose work, he believes, “ignores the extremes that define the domain and scope of human language”: “Every lament is always a lament for language, just as all praise is principally praise of the name.” “Lament arises when nature feels betrayed by meaning; when the name perfectly says the thing, language culminates in the song of praise, in the sanctification of the name.” Wasler’s work, he says, exhibits neither unsayability nor absolute sayability, rather “maintaining a delicate balance between ‘modest imprecision’ and a mannerist stereotype.” 77 

As a result, Agamben writes, “The semantic status of his prose coincides with that of the pseudonym or the nickname. It is as if every word were preceded by an invisible ‘so-called,’ ‘pseudo-,’ and ‘would-be’ (…) almost as if every term raised an objection against its own denominative power. If any grammatical form corresponds to this exhausted state of language, it is the supine, that is, a word that has completely achieved its ‘declension’ in cases and moods and is now ‘stretched out on its back,’ exposed and neutral.” 78 

Maybe this is why of all the paintings I learned about in art history classes, it was only Olympia that really got me, as if it was an analogy for this supine quality lacking from all the supposed rigour of the historical framing we were offered. Selling the sight of her body to a painter, when the poor female body is supposedly worthless, is a tactical tour de force, surely.

What Agamben offers is some sort of justification for writing that has a “fascination for not uttering something absolutely” in that what is born in the gap between the meaning that betrays nature, and transfiguration in the name, is “figure”. 79  The figurative nature of writing seems marvellously close to the truth, given that the relationship between art and text involves not a distillation of the truth of what is regarded, despite the sensation of intimacy, but presents a separate matter, something else entirely. And with this licence, why not write in ways that are even further away?

But what is this political project that Agamben writes of in The Coming Community? He is suspicious of the proper, like De Certeau, who sees it as the domain of the economically powerful. Agamben puts forward a case for abandoning a search for a sense of a proper identity in individuality, which is senseless and improper in itself, akin to the human habit of property. Rather, he suggests seeking “a singularity without identity, a common and absolutely exposed singularity – if humans could, that is, not be-this in this or that particular biography, but be only the thus, their singular exteriority and their face, then they would for the first time enter into a community without presuppositions and without subjects, into a communication without the incommunicable. Selecting in the new planetary humanity these characteristics that allow for its survival, removing the thin diaphragm that separates bad mediatised advertising from the perfect exteriority that communicates only itself – this is the political task of our generation.” 80 

This Arcadian writing imagines a new community into existence, one that is free of subjects, in the sense of people who are subject to the power of others. In this way it is akin to the anarchist left demand for the dissolution of all forms of government and the placing of trust back with the people themselves, which would require of people unheard of levels of selflessness, fairness and care. This too can be applied to the task, or habit, of criticism, and indeed Groys put forward that it is the task of the critic to imagine new audiences into being, 81  those which are cognisant of revolutionary ideas, of changeful winning ways.

The notion of the communication of exteriority can also be usefully applied to the task of writing about art in that much interesting production in this sphere involves the writer focussing on their experience of the work, rather than trying primarily to analyse or interpret. By proffering one’s experience of the work rather than speaking for the work, one is communicating only oneself and developing common and exposed singularities. It would no longer be the task of the art writer to fix the work of artists into biography or art history, but to develop a “non-othering” practice with all the attendant losses of privilege or remuneration involved in such a shift.

Perhaps the key to mustering as much voluntary energy as possible, and to be able to continue with an art writing practice, is to develop as much of a sense of sovereignty as possible. With this comes a sense of permission to stop and start as one sees fit, and to address subjects in one’s own improper voice; to revel in impossibility, as Bataille, bless him, put it: “Sovereign existence is in no way, not for an instant, separated from the impossible. I will live sovereignly and at the heights of the impossible… LEAVE THE POSSIBLE TO THOSE WHO LOVE IT.” 82 

What remains is a sense that stopping is very, very important, even if it is a temporary rather than permanent stop. It is the overloading perpetual motion required by professional life and the compromises to focus required that are such a drain to the spirit and the ability to engage with anything new. Fidelity to the event requires frequent stillness, frequent floundering, and frequent abandonment of former preoccupation. Only then is it possible to write anything that might really be something. Over-production is a scourge, and makes critical culture watery, like force-watered fruit. Or as Deleuze put it:

So, it’s not a problem of getting people to express themselves but of providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say. Repressive forces don’t stop people from expressing themselves, but rather force them to express themselves. What a relief to have nothing to say, the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing the rare, and even rarer, thing that might be worth saying. 83 

There is a very good argument to be made for a change in the texture of time to regain a sense of entitlement to convalesce, mentally, emotionally. Sometimes this need is lost in the urgency with which people experience a sense of a requirement for change, but it does appear here and there in philosophy, punctuating thought’s balloon and the ebullience of the philosophy’s richly oxygenated (or coffee-saturated) blood. Badiou, attuned as he is to the event, understands this: “Philosophy must propose a retardation process. It must construct a time for thought, which, in the face of the injunction to speed, will constitute a time of its own. I consider this a singularity of philosophy; that its thinking is leisurely, because today revolt requires leisureliness and not speed.” 84 

Perhaps it is cruel to write, exacting damage to the image/event, as vulnerable to stoppage as it may be. Or perhaps we are too gentle with ourselves as political subjects; and following this, perhaps my discomfort with, or concerns about the effects of writing too coddling. Antagonism plays a vital role in radical democracy, just as self-harm and risk give a way out of the status quo. (Anything, but not this…)

Art, too, if we follow Thomas Carl Wall in Radical Passivity, has a particular vampiric cruelty, “forever arrested in the task of accomplishing the act of being” 85  and, as such, can never end, never die. To Wall, channelling Blanchot, Levinas, Agamben, art, being of the real world, is undead, monstrous, inhuman, irresponsible: “art is radical passivity” “outside all labour, art beckons to us as if all life could end up on myth, in plasticity.” 86  Wall goes on to discuss his conception of the relationship between art and criticism in one of the most insightful discussions of the subject I have come across. He offers, bitingly, seductively, that, “Criticism, insofar as it approaches the artistic event as such, reintroduced the inhumanity of art back onto the world.” 87 

In this light, criticism operates as a harbinger of sorts, whispering difficult and frightening truths about how reality coldly and dumbly exists, and how language has its own tumbling space in which we keep dying (stopping, naming, saying). In different registers, of different time-economies, the undead meets with the perpetually dying activities of the writer. Here, showing and telling meet, and between these – for art is not just interested in image and writing is not only interested in words 88  – there is “the imaginary space left empty and inhabited by no-one.” 89 

This espace littéraire “is ambiguous space and it is the most subtle of bodies, for it is neither substance nor image but rather the liquidation of the elemental distance that separates the two. The space belongs to neither art nor philosophy, neither to the image or the concept. In contrast to the philosopher, the artist is allied with the weakness of the space itself: communication or sheer communicativity.” 90  Wall wonders if Blanchot has done more, gone further, than any other writer in our time to making this place speak. Perhaps this could be a good Diana-goal for art writing other than producing protective clothes for works of art? (Groys had it that we need to get beyond the idea, as critics, that “images without text are embarrassing, like a naked person in a public space.” 91  We should rather be engaged in writing that is actually meant to be read.)

From this standpoint, when I find myself thinking about ethics, I wonder whether my concern is really about what damage I might be doing. (Does art need the care I am imagining I ought to accord it, and, further, am I over-estimating my power to disturb the event with my writing? It is weak but indifferent to me?) My concerns are more probably about my own shape and existence; wanting to understand what is happening to me spatially as I write, so I can be where I feel like being in relation to that which I am writing about. And to fathom how I come to exist through and by writing.

For example, if, as Blanchot has it, that “writing takes the place of the real in order to say it,” 92  when I write I am spatially in the way of the work. What I can do to shift my position, as I choose to come in and out of view, is to change the angle of my focus from directly addressing the work, to write about something else, either tangentially, or at a complete remove. I can also shift registers from the essay voice, to the subjective-disclosing or recollective, or to the ficto-critical. Going on or off the topic at will can mediate the impact of building out the view with my writing – when I want to frustrate this effect in my own work I can erect a structure off to one side, or open another space entirely. Ficto-critical methods have the advantage of not directly relating to the real in the first instance, and have the effect of dissolving pre-existing former structures. The same truth-move can be achieved within directly critical writing by dissolving sense after it has been established. Such a dissolve is not original – materiality, after all, always exceeds authority. 93 

The most motivating aspect of Wall’s discussion was, however, his recognition of the bind that the human animal is in: there is nothing other than the world, yet existence takes place in poetry. 94  Perhaps this is the key to why art and writing need each other. In language, existence is touched. 95 

“What,” writes Agamben, “in short, is a language that does not condemn human being to a State, a Sacer, a destiny?’ This gives rise to a “hope for a never-have-been, an extreme youth or an absolute infancy such that human being would not yet have been born! Such a being – who never has been – would speak a language that does not presuppose work, meaning, or articulation.” “The voice,” he says, “must die.” 96 

I often wanted to be small enough to fit inside someone’s pocket. This desire is not essentially, as a therapist might consider it, a will to return to the womb to abdicate responsibility, or to sexually burrow, but might emerge to be a response to a problem with language. (If all painting is wrestling with vision, what is all writing? Some sort of function of struggles with comprehension?) To follow this manner of thinking, suicidal behaviour might not be a will to cede to hopelessness, but quite possibly the opposite – a brutal hope for change to my facility for language; for a new language entirely that exists in the space between existence and essence, “neither shown or said.” 97 

Antonin Artaud, who said all writing is pig shit, wrote in accord with the idea that suicide is “fundamentally an attempt at exorcism” 98 : “Suicide will be for me only one means of reconquering myself, of brutally invading my being, or anticipating the unpredictable approaches of God. By suicide I reintroduce my design into nature. I shall for the first time give things the shape of my will. I free myself from the conditioned reflexes of my organs, which are so badly adjusted to my inner self, and life is for me no longer an absurd accident where I am told what to think. But now I choose my thought and the direction of my faculties, my tendency, my reality. I place myself between the beautiful and the hideous, the good and evil. I put myself in suspension, without innate propensities, neutral, in the state of equilibrium between good and evil solicitations.” 99 

The fall is the most delicious imaginable: “Reality (…) is dual – it is itself in its truth (idem) and in its image, ‘like a torn sack that spills its contents.’” 100  The desire is to travel back to before our first contact with a world that only supports the synaptic connections of the most pragmatic and mundane nature. All the connections that were possible at birth – psychic, synaesthetic – die, the reasonable ones that enable participation in the world of work remain. Gifts are visible for a short time in babies, but even parents who want to see these skills remain in their child are woefully under-equipped and supported to facilitate the infant remaining able to live with the dead; to live what adults fearfully refer to as hallucinations.

Horribly, even our ability to learn decreases with age. It is so hard to learn what suicide is the analogue for, and so to find that which is really the goal other than a dimly-chosen death of the body.

The suicidal behaviour of the adult – for suicide is a set of behaviours drawn out over a lifetime, a vocation 101  – is to tear down the nice wallpaper of sense to see what is beneath, and driven to tear further and further, determined to find a secret door. When writing, a ghostly feeling comes over me and there is this desire to step out of the way, or to stay there but to be less visible, less opaque, less of a protagonist, more anonymous, fading; to exist and assert myself less, and for sense to run down the smooth surface to gather in a sticky pool. To fall back into the void that sleep provides practice for.

Literature surveys are a bit like swimming underwater. As the study of the other begins to fall apart, as identification with a sense of knowing fails, resurfacing is necessary in order to breathe air; to be in the moment again. Or I could stay down and become one with a fantasist’s special underwater world of talking fishes, Neptune’s necklace and tridents. Perhaps I can breathe water.

Perhaps what remains – to find this new writing, to chart new spaces – is to channel the sadness in another way than flirting with ending it all. Perhaps take up the piano again and play plaintively slow pianoforte versions of speed metal. Consider new propositions, like, if the greatest work is done in the smallness of life, how might this be achieved? With renewed motivation, there is the happy task of changing one’s relationship to writing, to time.

When the self is treated gently, it is then strong enough to not feel compelled to over-protect itself, which would stunt its growth worse than cigarettes (even if the smoke of cigarettes confirms the smoker’s existence). Writing imagines a new community into actuality that solves problems, or even exists in a space after problems are solved. Despite the sadness of the relation to language, rather than playing dead, there is a point to persisting with writing to play a part in laying the ground for a coming community.

If the self is treated too gently it is insulated against all shock, change, challenge and antagonism. It is paralysed by the fear particular to the multitude, feeling that arises from perpetually, permanently and irreversibly not feeling at home (and also results in confused desires relating to architecture and its possessed double, real estate). As Virno pointed out there is a choice involved between uniting to sedate the fear and insulate against perceived dangers, or uniting to support one another to take risks and be exposed in the world.

Have you noticed that when people leave each other, instead of just saying goodbye, they tend more and more to say “Take care of yourself,” or “Look after yourself,’ or just “Take care”? They say this because, perhaps, they sense that care is in shorter and shorter supply to the point where it is becoming somewhat radical due to the sacrifices that people must make to take care of anyone, or to create the conditions for change that would make care more achievable.

Chris Kraus simply said the key is “getting myself to a certain pitch where I can write well, where I can have ideas, where the ideas feel right.” 102  This is no mean feat; the subtext is that heaven and earth must be moved to find a way to write that is comfortable, manageable and productive, ideally outside an economy of time-efficiency and PR. If this is not yet possible, adoption of an expedient form or method will be mandatory. Clear and open space, some sort of magic mountain, is certainly required – perhaps this is the gift given once the willingness to disclose is mustered.

Is the way writing obscures a hint at the way a problem can be made to disappear in the same way that cubists conceived of camouflage (their greatest invention) to make the war disappear? Rather than social or political or poetic analgesia, art writing needs to recognise the logic of change that art has provided it with as an example all along. Difficulty dissolves when ordinary language is mobilised in a reconfigured public sphere where there can be new languages, new ways of being in community. Some writing may want to die, but this willingness to fall apart, to find new voices and forms, is a sign of preliminary health.

May birds of paradise fly up your nose.

  1. Paulo Virno, “A Grammar of the Multitude” in Pataphysics Holiday Resort, 2003, p13.
  2. Thomas Carl Wall, Radical Passivity: Levinas, Blanchot, and Agamben, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999, p29.
  3. Urs Fischer quoted in Kir Royal, Kunsthaus Zurich/JRP Ringier, 2004, p52.
  4. Wall, op cit., p85.
  5. Ibid, p22.
  6. Ibid, p23.
  7. Ibid, p76.
  8. Ibid, p23.
  9. Jason Smith, “A New Geomoetry” in Artforum, January 2008, p248.
  10. Dennis Cooper in “Downtown Publication Roundup: An Addendum” in Stosuy, Brandon (ed.), Up is Up But So is Down: New York’s Downtown Literary Scene, 1972-1992, London and New York: New York University Press, 2006, p476.
  11. Wilhelm Reich, The Function of the Orgasm: The Discovery of the Orgone, New York: Noonday Press, 1961, p224.
  12. Al Alvarez, The Savage God: The Study of Suicide, London: Penguin, 1974, p67.
  13. Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera, London: Penguin, 2006, p210.
  14. Ibid, p197.
  15. Reich, op cit., p230.
  16. Virno, op cit., p14.
  17. Pierre Klossowski, Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997, pxvii.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Smith, op cit., p248.
  20. George Bataille, The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2001, p96.
  21. Michel Foucault, Technologies of the Self in Martin, L.H. et al, Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. London: Tavistock, 1988, pp.16-49.
  22. Michael King, Wrestling with the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame, Counterpoint, Washington, 2000, p487.
  23. Avital Ronell, Stupidity, Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, p65.
  24. Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p36-7.
  25. Michel De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984, p131.
  26. Janet Frame, The Edge of the Alphabet, Christchurch: Pegasus Press, 1962, p224.
  27. Brian Massumi, Capitalism and Schizophrenia: A User’s Guide, Cambridge, Mass., and London: MIT Press, p41.
  28. Ronell, op cit., p5.
  29. Ronell, op cit., p5.
  30. Chantal Mouffe (ed), Dimensions of Radical Democracy: Pluralism, Citizenship, Community, London and New York: Verso, 1992.
  31. De Certeau, op cit., pxix.
  32. ibid, p18.
  33. From correspondence with Allan Smith, December 2008.
  34. Liam Gillick, “Contingent Factors: “A Response to Claire Bishop’s ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’” in October 115, Winter 2006, p106.
  35. De Certeau, op cit, p16.
  36. Luce Giard, Michel De Certeau and Pierre Mayol, The Practice of Everyday Life: Living and Cooking, Volume 2, translated by Timothy J. Tomasik, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998, xxxvi.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Ibid, p18.
  39. Ibid, p20.
  40. Ibid, p20-1.
  41. Ibid, p24.
  42. Ibid, p26.
  43. Boris Groys, “Critical Reflections” in Artforum, October 1997, p81.
  44. WTJ Mitchell, Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation, 1994, p11.
  45. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986, cover note.
  46. Alain Badiou, Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return to Philosophy, London: Continuum, 2003, p62.
  47. Gavin Butt, After Criticism: New Responses to Art and Performance, London: Blackwell, 2005, p5.
  48. Roland Barthes, The Rustle of Language, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989, p59.
  49. Bataille, op cit., pxxii.
  50. Ronell, op cit., p9.
  51. Groys, op cit., p81.
  52. Douglas Hofstadter, Godel Escher Bach: the Eternal Golden Braid, New York: Basic Books, 1979, p251.
  53. Ibid, p77.
  54. Ibid, p79.
  55. Ibid.
  56. Ibid, p85.
  57. Ibid, p90.
  58. Ibid, p94-5.
  59. Sean O’Reilly, ‘Contra-scrawl,’ Overcoming Loathing pamphlet series: Natural Selection 6(b), 2007.
  60. Urs Fisher quoted in Kir Royale, op cit., p174.
  61. Janet Frame, ‘Words” in The Goose Bath: Poems, Vintage, Auckland, 2006, p168.
  62. Wall, op cit., p85.
  63. S.I. Hayakawa_,_ Language in Thought and Action, New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1964, p28.
  64. Felix Guattari, Chaosophy, Semiotext(e), New York, 1995, p12.
  65. Bataille, op cit., p21.
  66. Badiou, op cit., p47.
  67. Ibid, p62.
  68. Ibid, p65.
  69. Ibid, p66.
  70. Ibid.
  71. Ibid, p66-7.
  72. Ibid, p50.
  73. Klossowski, op cit., pxv.
  74. George Bataille, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1938, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991, p31.
  75. Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, Minneapolis and London: The University of Minnesota Press, 2005, p65.
  76. Chris Kraus #4, interview with Martin Rumsby, youtube.com.
  77. Ibid, p59.
  78. Ibid, p60.
  79. Ibid.
  80. Ibid, p65.
  81. Groys, op cit., p81.
  82. Bataille, op cit., p89.
  83. Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations: 1972-1990, translated by Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997, p129.
  84. Badiou, op cit., p51
  85. Wall, op cit., p22.
  86. Ibid, p25.
  87. Ibid.
  88. Ibid, p26.
  89. Ibid.
  90. Ibid, p27.
  91. Groys, op cit. p80.
  92. Wall, op cit., p65.
  93. Ibid, p74.
  94. Ibid, p66.
  95. Ibid, p72.
  96. Ibid, p130.
  97. Wall, op cit., p131.
  98. Alvarez, op cit., p132
  99. Ibid, p153.
  100. Ibid, p134.
  101. Ibid, p147.
  102. Chris Kraus #8, interview with Martin Rumsby, youtube.com.


Agamben, Giorgio, The Coming Community, Minneapolis and London: The University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Alvarez, Al, The Savage God: The Study of Suicide, London: Penguin, 1974.

Anon., The Cloud of Unknowing, Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.

Antonioni, Michelangelo (dir.), Zabriskie Point, MGM/Trianon, USA, 1970.

Badiou, Alain, Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return to Philosophy, London and New York: Continuum, 2003.

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