Snatching failure from the jaws of defeat

1. Viz the maxim, ‘half the failures in life arise from pulling in one’s horse as he is leaping.’ One wonders if this is the same for mares, or indeed mules.

2. ‘The most impeccable scholarship, utilizing newly verified documents, voluminous footnotes, and convincing empirical generalizations only succeeds in further indoctrinating us into the art mystique.’ (Jack Burnham, The structure of art, New York: George Braziller, 1971, p2).

3. Perhaps the crowd might be classed as a new archetype. As the epoch’s psyche changes, so does its symbology, surely. Issues like this raise questions such as the status of et al. characters? A familial complex? Or imaginary friends demanding obedience on the behalf of the audience? Personae and dramatis personae too are inadequate descriptions. Et al. are perhaps more like invocations, and the resulting work, like work dreamed.

4. ‘Capitalism was a natural phenomenon with which a new dream-filled sleep came over Europe, and, through it, a reactivation of mythic forces’ (Walter Benjamin, The arcades project, Massachussetts: MIT Press, 1982, Klla, 8). Benjamin’s expansive project (conceived in 1927 and uncompleted at the time of his death in 1940) was a study in the daily life of the collective; a ‘primal history’, in Benjamin’s words, that led to his being likened to a rag-picker. He put the nineteenth century forward as a collective dream, one which we might pore over and one day awaken from. Or at least this is how it apparently looked at the outset.

5. Jung sadly put the skids under the efficacy, and even the ethical efficacy, of group therapy situations. ‘A group experience takes place on a lower level of consciousness than the experience of the individual… The psychology of the crowd inevitably sinks to the level of mob psychology’(C. J. Jung, The archetypes and the collective unconsciousness, New York: Bollingen Foundation Inc., 1959, p125). It should be noted that et al. had abandoned any practical interest in psychodrama many years ago.

6. Jung may have had multiple personalities himself, which may go some way to explain his archetypal theories – the idea that within our psyches there are many and various entities, e.g. the shadow, the anima and animus, the mother and father, the child, the trickster, the kore, the spirit, the hero… There is no complete list, as it is a mutable sort of Greek chorus that depends on the mythology of the individual. Jung also wrote about how complexes, including familial ones, can grow to the point where they achieve their own consciousnesses. Crowds appear spectrally from time to time in theoretical writing: see, for example, Baudrillard’s description of a condition brought on by ‘uncertainty, indecisiveness, exponentially’ (Jean Baudrillard, ‘From radical incertitude, or thought as impostor’ in Sylvere Lotringer and Sande Cohen, French theory in America, New York: Routledge, 2001, p62).

7. ‘( … as if an obsessional neurotic style were capable of producing only a single question)’ (Avital Ronell, Finitude’s score: Essays for the end of the millennium, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994, p110).

8. Et al. asked that the cut-off point for work to be regarded here was to be 1993, the date of l. budd’s first invitation to exhibit overseas. The project was staged on the site of the Polish ghetto of Lodz that was walled off from the rest of the city during World War II. After their belongings were stripped, the people starved and struggled with disease until eventually being shipped out to extermination camps. The soundtrack to the budd work executed there was The Platters’ song with the refrain ‘smoke gets in your eyes’ clearly a work about failure.

9. I was reading a story in Asteroid impaired, an Art Center anthology of new Los Angeles fiction, by Alexis Hall called ‘No sweetness here’ in which she talked about envying couples, but more interestingly, being one’s own crowd: “I couldn’t draw hands or noses and I too had complained about the phenomena known as ‘couples shows’. The same group of lovers, in the same show, different name, spouting post-modem bullshit. And none of them can draw hands. How I want to be a couple and refer to thoughts by ‘we’. ‘We went to the store… We thought it was going to be…’ How quickly I would adopt that pronoun, that plurality and shed in one fluid moment that brassy ‘I’. The dark side of subjectivity could be flung off as easily as a silk raincoat. I, walking in this field, arms raised, have too much of the excess – too much I, a team of MEs. A team that is always against me. My brain is not my friend. It thinks of ways to torment me…” [Just read an interesting article about George W. and his liking for the ‘first person perpendicular’ – ed.]

10. Jack Smith spoke similarly of Uncle Fishhook, a character he created in a film that got banned, and ended up in court: “It inflated Uncle Fishhook; it made his career; I ended up supporting him. He’s been doing my travelling for fifteen years. He’s been conducting a campaign to dehumanize me in his column. There’s just a list of monstrosities … “ (Jack Smith, Uncle Fishhook and the sacred baby poo poo of art, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2001, p244).

11. The et al. project accepts art is a big experiment – with failure is a necessary part. Et al. prefer the fail-to-succeed model to more conventional ideas of aspiration, enterprise or success in art: “Cultures and traditions are no longer continuous, a fact that can either be regretted as a loss, decay and ruin, or embraced as a way of making room for invention and mobility’ (MT in ‘Question time by Jim and Mary Barr’ in Spacefictions, Wellington: Catherine Scollay Gallery, 1991, p3.)

12. ‘Themis, that lover of order, has given birth to the asylums of man.” (Holderlin quoted in David Rattray, How I became one of the invisible, Semiotext(e), New York: Columbia University, 1992, p252).

13. Much of et al.’s work uses, or channels, electricity, and employs communication devices. It often emits sounds, and there is evidence of attempts to telepathise in some of the works. There is also sometimes what might be urgent cracklings over some sort of a cosmic radio. Further to this point, spiritualism and communications technology were historically intertwined. There was a huge spiritualist scene in America, dominated by women, at the time of the telegraph’s invention by Samuel Morse in 1844 and subsequent introduction. The telegraph’s disembodied voices were linked with the occult in the minds of the population of the day. “A new age was dawning, one of electrical impulses, invisible energy, and other unseen, unexplained phenomena” (Barbara Goldsmith, Other powers: The age of suffrage, spiritualism and the scandalous, New York: Knopf, 1998, p22).

Furthermore, “Almost a century before, Benjamin Franklin had said the electricity represented the force of ‘disembodied spirits’.” (Ibid, p32.)

14. Blaise Cendrars (a pseudonym meaning something to do with fire and cinders) is also a key point of reference. In his novel Moravagine, there are three passages interest here:

a) “Woman is malignant. The history of all civilizations shows us the devices put to work by men to defend themselves against flabbiness and effeminacy. Arts, religion, doctrines, laws and immortality itself are nothing but weapons invented by men to resist the universal prestige of women. Alas, these vain attempts are and always will be without the slightest effect, for woman triumph over all abstractions.” (Moravagine, Paris: Bernard Grasset, 1926, p73.)

b) “The latest discoveries of science as well as its most stable and thoroughly proven laws, are just sufficient to allow us to demonstrate the futility of any attempt to explain the universe rationally, and the basic folly of all abstract notions.” (Ibid. p118.)

c) “I can understand your wanting to rest and get back to your books (…) but why don’t you leave that to the police archives? Haven’t you got it through your head that human thought is a thing of the past and that philosophy is worse than Bertillon’s guide to harassed cops? ( … ) Everything is disorder dear boy. ( … ) What can you do about it my poor friend? You’re not about to start spawning books, are you?” (Ibid., p215.)

15. Husserl always banging on about the carpenter. I see a clear link here to the nail in budd’s books.

16. As Albert Einstein said, don’t get too hung up on mathematics:

“Elegance is for tailors.”

17. “If art has made everything art, perhaps fictional art is the next logical step.” (Allan Kaprow, Essays on the blurring of art and life, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993, p102).

18. Further to the matter of the blurring of art and life, I made the bagels from the back of Allan Kaprow’s book and I really believe that the man has never made bagels before in his life. They were complete failures for several reasons. Unless he intended readers to make small tyre-like objects to be installed in an alley.

19. Kaprow said that art is life and life is dreamed, and Jung, that dreams are about difficulty, ergo, art is about difficulty. Dreams are often characterised by sustained attempts, eg. to overcome, establish, analyse, control, allay …

20. I had this dream where I was starting to write this essay and I decided that the grey in the work I saw is the grey of newspapers. Not normal newspapers but information bulletined by people under hypnosis or psychotropic drugs, or otherwise ‘touched’. And then the person sleeping next to me asked me if I was going to make pickles this year.

21. It is commonly thought that either one is awake or one is asleep. But no such actual division exists. There is evidence of a significant overlap; in other words we continue to dream while awake. Are you awake? Are you sure? Artaud reckoned that “Apart from a few very rare exceptions, the general tendency of the era has been to forget to wake up.” (Quoted in Nicholas Fox Weber, Balthus: A biography, New York: Knopf, 1999, p268).

22. Artaud said that all writing is shit. Author René Crevel once observed to René Char that words are shovels. With language we dig our graves.

23. Words drip in the down-the-page way we all have of writing. No wonder they love the cellar so much. So, what about the basement – is it the buried archive of Freudian analysis? Reading Sartre’s Nausea I considered that perhaps the basement is evidence of a successful portal established to the past. Brian O’Doherty said that the house of modernism has “a basement-flophouse where failed histories lie around mumbling like bums.” (Inside the white cube: The ideology of the gallery space, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976, p65).

24. “SchizophrenJa: an uncontrollable tendency to assume the personality of another person, invariably in direct contrast to the person who suffers from the condition.” (Gilbert Oakley, The power of self-hypnosis: The key to confidence, London: Foulsham, 1989, p137). Schizophrenia is therefore about trying to stave off the persona is what one is NOT, therefore it is aspirational. In other words, the so-called schizophrenic hopes to achieve a greater sense of personal power via the adoption of a more desirable or more useful relational persona. “Everyone is mildly schizophrenic in the nicest possible way.’ It is worth noting at this point that I do not subscribe to the nosological sense of the term schizophrenic. There is no clinical evidence of it being a disease, rather a socially ascribed term demonstrating how the family/modern (capitalist) society “ejects from itself all that it cannot draw into acccepting the artfully invented rules of its game.” (David Cooper, Psychiatry and anti-psychiatry, London: Tavistock, 1967, p45.)

25. “‘What is this self,” he wrote later, “that experiences what’s called being – being a being because I have a body? Mr. Habits, Mr. Nausea, Mr. Revulsion, Mr. Cramps, Mr._Dizziness, Mr. Spanking, and Mr. Slaps keeps pace with Mr. Disobedient, Mr. Reaction, Mr. Tears, Mr. Choked in a scandalized soul to make up the self of the child’” (Ronald Hayman, ‘Antonin Artaud,’ Antonin Artaud: Works on paper, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1996, p17.)

26. Lyotard too implored us to “Let go of all grasping intelligence.”

27. “Yes, he would write the book and it would be a failure and it would be read aloud in the garden and so the garden would disappear’ (Eldon Garnet, Reading Brooke Shields: The garden of failure, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 1995, frontispiece.

28. I would extend this and proffer that l. budd is the book: viz. “There is no longer a tripartite division between a field of reality (the world) and a field of representation (a book) and a field of subjectivity (the author).” (Nick Mansfield, Subjectivity: Theories of the self from Freud to Haraway, New York: New York University Press, 2000, p139.)

29. In Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s A thousand plateaus, there is also talk of preferring the idea of the pack to that of the singular entity; and that this preference is an anti-psychoanalytic act – given the way they describe psychoanalysis individualising and destroying: “We’ve only said two things against psychoanalysis: that it breaks up all productions of desire and crushes all formations of utterances.” (‘Dead psychoanalysis: Analyse’ in Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues, London: Athlone Press, 1987, p77, first published in 1977). I feel funny positively banging on about schizo-analysis, D&G’s preferred method, remembering joking about gluing the pages of A thousand plateaus together. Perhaps to fulfil its title sculpturally? Many of et al.’s books are glued together, some resined, and others sealed in suction-wrapped plastic.

30. Panopticism is the way Foucault says that we are controlled hegemonic institutions monitor us, seeking “to individualise, normalise, and hierarchise.” (Mansfield, op cit., p.61.)

Is telepathy or spiritualism, then, an attempt to break panopticism by linking us all up again? Another weapon is what Foucault called “dynamic self-creation.” “If power/knowledge works at the level of the subject, then it is at the level of the subject that it will most effectively be resisted.” (Mansfield, op cit., p63.)

31. Rimbaud: “I is someone else.”

32. French for grey is gris; and Artaud called his spells gris-gris (grey-grey). Gris­gris, a Haitian physical spell, is known as the iron fist of Voodoo. On the preponderance of grey in the work of et al., is the grey covering something or a primer? L budd said of the preponderance of grey in their work that it relates perhaps to their memories of Eastern European prisons. Grey, according to Nikolai Kublin’s sound-colour symbology, has the theosophical colour meaning of fear (according to the 1914 Charters and Declarations of the Russian Futurists). Gris­gris, it also occurs to me, could be about a double grid pattern of ritual magic drawn on by Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs (who also spoke of “the uselessness of physical colour theory”).

33. “In Burroughs’s work, magic is never far from technology, and writing is never totally divorced from magic.” (Douglas Kahn (ed), Wireless imaginations, Boston: MIT Press, 1992, p430.) The essay continues, “In spite of his cautious skepticism, however, we cannot be certain that Burroughs is speaking only metaphorically when he describes the cut-up technique as “electronic table tapping.’ (Ibid., p431). Burroughs stated that he believed that all writers are involved in ESP, and that writing and painting have common origins in ancient rituals “to produce very definite effects.” He was also known to have successfully cast a fatal spell on a rude newspaper vendor.

34. Marked in wireless imaginations, a book of p mule, was a list of G. I. Gurdjieff’s ‘Inner Octaves’ that matches each musical note with a universal meaning, i.e. C/Level of Result; D/Level of Actualisation; E/Level of Preparation; F/ Level of Small Details; G/Level of Specifics; A/Level of the Particular; B/Level of All Possibilities; C/Level of Absolute. (Ibid., p201.)

35. In seeking the absolute/one loses everything/Antonin Artaud.

36. Burroughs ‘views Western culture as ruled by a system of mass ventriloquy in which disembodied voices invade and occupy each individual.” (Kahn, op cit., p411.)

37. Common sense is no good for scientists.

38. Wittgenstein, in On certainty (Blackwell: Oxford, 1969), argues that certainty about anything is impossible – we can think something is so, believe it is so, but not know it to be so because our reception and processing devices are not of the requisite order for certainty. Consider his following points:

425. It would be completely misleading to say: ‘I believe my name is L. W.’ And this too is right: I cannot be making a mistake about it. But that does not mean that I am infallible about it.

467. I am sitting with a philosopher in a garden; he says again and again ‘I know that is a tree,’ pointing to a tree that is near us. Someone else arrives and hears this, and I tell him: ‘This fellow isn’t insane. We are only doing philosophy.’

39. Concerning the video screens in the work of et al., in German the TV is called ‘far see-er.’

40. “Thought must become a critical mass just like the system itself. No longer is it a question of making the system contradict itself, forcing it to experience a crisis as happened to critical thought (and yet we know today it is regenerating itself in the spiral of the crisis), but engage it through failure, collapse, and catastrophe.” (Jean Baudrillard, op cit, p61.)

41. ‘As for psychoanalysis and telephony, they share a notion of certain seances which will have to be brought to light (in French, the word for a psychoanalytical session is indeed ‘séance’). This eerie voice will be picked up at the other end, a kind of deep end from which Thomas Watson, who attended nightly: seances and apparently made successful connections to the dead, began cooperating on the invention of the telephone.” (Avital Renell, The telephone book, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1989, p99.)

42. On Watson’s experiments: “(the table, like a nervous horse, reared up on two legs, dialing ghosts rises to the status of ‘experiments,’ ligaturing the rhetoric of science and poetry.” (Ibid., p245.)

43. Alexander Graham Bell (reputed to be an artist of the beyond) invented the telephone, but only as a by-product of failed attempts to contact his dead brother and to help the deaf see sounds: “My original scepticism concerning the possibility of speech reading had one good result: it led me to devise an apparatus that might help the children … a machine to hear for them, a machine that should render visible to the eyes of the deaf the vibrations of the air that affect our ears as sound … It was a failure, but that apparatus, in the process of time, became the telephone of today. It did not enable the deaf to see speech as others hear it, but it gave ears to the telegraph…” (Ibid. p328.)

44. “Watson may have been the first person to listen to noise.” (Ibid., p259.) This assertion was made in reference to the way he spent hours ear cocked to the stray electrical/static currents and their snaps, grating sounds and chirping made by his device as it came to life.

45. Psychiatrists have identified proffering confusing statements as straight out passive aggressive.

46. O’Doherty also pointed out that, “Hostility to the audience is one of the key coordinates of modernism, and artists may be classified according to its wit, style, and depth. This hostility is far from self-indulgent – though it has been both. For through it is waged an ideological conflict about values – of art, of the lifestyles that surround it, of the social matrix in which both are set. The reciprocal semiotics of the hostility ritual are easily read. Each party – audience and artist - is not quite free to break certain taboos. The audience can’t get mad, i.e. become philistines. Its anger must be sublimated, already a kind of proto-appreciation.” (O’Doherty, op. cit.).

47. “Those who find advanced art without contemporary relevance ignore that it has been a relentless and subtle critic of the social order, always testing, failing through the rituals of success, succeeding through the rituals of failure. … Classic avant-garde hostility expresses itself through physical comfort, excessive noise, or removing perceptual constants.” (Ibid., pp74-5.)

48. Mary Shelley, like Eminem, created a monster – Frankenstein – which was also a story about the failure of human endeavour. Didn’t she also publish that under a pseudonym? Shelley was also the daughter of an early proponent of women’s suffrage. Marshall Mathers, like mt, developed persona/e that have taken over “I’ve created a monster/cos noone wants to see Marshall no more/they want Shady/I’m chopped liver” (Eminem, ‘Without me’ off The Marshall Mathers LP, 2001).

49. Proof is only possible in mathematics, and mathematics is only a matter of arbitrary conventions. (…) The more necessary anything appears to my mind, the more certain it is that I only assert a limitation. I slept with Faith, and found a corpse in my arms on awaking; I drank and danced all night with Doubt, and found her a virgin in the morning.” (Aliester Crowley, The Book of Lies [1913], York Beach: Samuel Wiser, 1976.)

50. “War is failure, beauty and perfection are the products of decency and consideration.” (Attributed to Donald Judd.)

51. Further thoughts on the interpretation of the chosen name Budd include, buds and arborescence. I also think of the Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose work in the Barrs’ collection (and Gertrude Stein – “a rose is a rose is a rose”, Stein’s reification of words, and how she made the idea of an indeterminate and discontinuous universe integral to her work); and about Rrose Sélavy, Marcel Duchamp’s drag name. Citizen Kane, I remember from Film Theory, starts with “Rosebud”. Citizen Kane is a great text about failure too. All the money and power in the world won’t buy happiness. Randolph Hurst, the subject of the film, was a publisher, like the book-making Lillian Budd. Furthermore, to force a parallel, Citizen Kane was made during WWII, which, in form and content, goes with et al.’s operative-behind-enemy-lines aesthetic.

52. Next time someone accuses one of being unreasonable, one might retort: “Reason is a narrow system swollen into an ideology. With time and power it has become dogma, devoid of direction and disguised as disinterested inquiry. Like most religions, reason presents itself as the solution to the problems it has created.” (John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards, Toronto: Penguin, 1992, p3.)

53. Et al.’s use of the screen as a device is vividly paedagogical, not necessarily affirmatively however. Consider the following: “The idea that a radical political efficacy does not rest on truthfulness deserves careful consideration (…) And what this means basically is that such a politics is no longer centred around the question or paedagogy, which has always been the case, for politics has always been the case, for politics has always been pedagogical. Thus, we should no longer say ‘we shall gain victory, we shall grow stronger if we manage to awaken truth which is alienated, concealed, repressed etc.’” (J.F. Lyotard, ‘On the strength of the weak’, Semiotext(e) vol. 3, No. 2, 1978, p213.)

54. “…a fundamentally pluralized space and in complex systems of mobile connexions. To us them, schizos began to appear potentially immensely rich. And the less the Oedipal pressure upon them, the more they complexified their relationship to their environment. The question, though, was no longer how to make them fit into the normal world, but how to open a breach in the normal world for the non-oedipalized schizo. It is in this sense, I believe, that schizophrenia may be considered as a revolutionary process… this has been made obvious through the effects that the whole process has had on the Machinery of State Power.” (Francois Péraldi, ‘A Schizo and the Institution’, Semiotext(e), vol.3, no.2, ’78, p28.)

55. “She knows there’s no success like failure/And that failure’s no success at all” (Bob Dylan, ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’ off Bringing it all back home, Columbia, 1965.)

56. For further reading on the subject of mules and their unavoidable neuter-al role in the nativity, see “On Christmas and Neuroses”. (Felix Marti-Ibanez, Centaur: Essays on the History of Medical Ideas, New York: MD Publications, pp245-482.)