Me, Myself, I?(and him)
While , the last word
remaining and the first of the old first paragraph. While I think about what to say, to replace what was here, while, I do think that the problem is one, as ever it was, of the relation between I and he, him and me, except that, now, the story itself, of both of them, is rather dated, in its exhausted ambitions or lack of ambition (him and me, me and him), as in the world as it is just now. One might wish to say that the problem of Dante’s warning against hope, is not that of having to have abandoned it, but of ever having taken it under one’s wing, hope, this deadly enemy of the here and now from which the next, in which the next arrives, (more extreme tendencies to do a bit of tacking on the oceanic fluxes of Augustine and Maimonides with a rather queer portrait of Wittgenstein on the sail: an idealised picture of him reading the American SF magazines he loved so much, while Henry the Navigator rots in the hell of the massacred hopes, if that category had been there, or was imported anyway as a colonial plague, of those who lived in what was to come to be named as ‘third world’…
so To hold on, for a moment
a little piece written for Eros:
Self-love; or something
on putting the hyphen sous rature.
he loves me he loves me not he loves me he loves me not he loves me, always, desperately and completely ….
Andromaque je pense à vous, yes, of you, sad widow of your sorrows, rather than just of me, of myself, of you and of the swan stumbling through puddles and through dust
he loves me
(oh living flame of love, how you wound me with your tenderness: andromaque je pense à vous..)
loved me most of all, I think, in those days when I did my bench presses, risking all, balance, back, muscles, tendons to twist my vision to catch a passing glance, a perfect, hairy calf, a half-tensioned armpit … I loved him because he did indeed and truly believe that a good body was a by-product of the gaze, his own, or some other’s that had settled on him, even unperceived…
I loved him most when he lay down, once, steam soaked, on a well used couch in some Parisian sauna (Andromaque je pense à vous, and the sad poet who wrote your name…) and asked a young man, who was lying, slim, dark skinned, beside him, what was the code of the strange band around his biceps, and was so taken aback when the boy replied, oh that, and combing one hand through his immense, indomitable afro, said that that’s to put round my hair.
Cuando tú me mirabas,
tu gracia en mí tus ojos imprimiám;
por eso me adamabas,
y en eso merecían
los míos adorer lo que en tí vian.
Yes, Andromaque, I’ll try
to think of only
(she loves me, she loves me not)
thanks to Baudelaire and St John of the Cross (when you were looking at me your eyes imprinted me with your grace and by that means you seduced me and in that mine became worthy to adore what they saw in you)
this is in many senses the where
or part of the where I can find him, now, where we can speak to and of on another, but
so, differently is this little piece written for Vivienne Koorland, for her last exhibition at the Leyden Gallery: they exist in different times of his mythologised histories, from the deep veins of ecstatic Kabbalah to the disengagement with Baudelaire in the steam rooms of a 90s gay gym.
We won’t agree on the beginning, no, whether it was a word or a void or a blank, or even an invisible veil drawn between what was to become above and what so became below. Here, certainly, there was no blank to begin with, no veil, everything seems as if made out of something left over, used rather than begun, in the very first place substantial: sacks and sacking, rough thread and rougher underpainting, scrawls and scratches, seams and drips, all materials, meaning nothing, nothing at all, but allowing a signifier to become, to come to be seen, if you like. Here are some words I saw in a book: they tell us almost all we need to know about what this artist has put on these walls, they were written in the later thirteenth century by the prophetic Kabbalist Abraham Aboulafia. (1)
We know that the letters of our alphabet can be classified in terms of individuals, species and types. As for the individuals they can be perceived and conceived by the eye as being made up of matter and form at the moment they come to be written. Their place is symbolically the support on which they have been scored, their matter is ink, the form of letters as such being their configuration. Each letter is affected by accidents either in their matter or in their form. The agent is the scribe who writes and draws them on the support; he thus and in different ways informs this matter-ink which is the first matter and the matter near to all others. Knowing that all matter is one while, in their multiplicity, forms follow one another, the matter-ink is thus ready to receive all forms.
I saw another page that reminded me of you, of things I have said to you, but my words don’t have the elegance of this page, hardly adequate for this exhibition to be, soon enough, written and being written, or painted, or drawn, drawn out, stitched, stretched, hacked. It’s not funny though some things are funny enough, the geography is funny enough, queer, dreary. But in what way, in this way, maybe:
A pleasantry is above all welcome to me when, without being trivial, it takes the place of a serious thought, all at once the pointing of a finger and a wink. (2)
I tried to say this myself, why can’t you be funnier, although I hate fun in art, a painting never made me laugh that I did not hate. Why can’t you be more like Ernst Lubitsch I said, or Max Ophuls, and walk a line so that watching makes one almost laugh or even laugh out loud, but without triviality or any meretricious pleasure for, after all, their lot was as odd a one as yours, but it’s true that when I saw another painting, half finished in your studio, a painting that is not in this show, I lost my breath, which is one of laughter’s outcomes. I gasped, and, later, wondered if it was the same gasp when I saw the ceiling in Würzburg,
or the Carpaccios
of St George or a rather simple video of Anne Tallentire, and I wondered what is the iconography of a gasp, of my gasp, and how many artists and ages does it take to find one, if there is. And after all, after all indeed, these works are full of lines, full of materials … enough to make a kind of art work of ourselves as viewers, composing relations and readings and uncertainties, lines to think on and to fall away from, the slapstick of indecision, after all what would be funnier that the juxtaposition of going to Wodj, and staying in Karlsplatz, a comedy of signifiers, if ever there was one, and a kind of tragedy of European space and history, Theo goes to Wodz and a poplar stays in Berlin, which are but two forms of the survival of which art becomes, sometimes, the sign and the relic, and I wonder which is the traveller, along the lines and in the drips and accidents of these rude confections?
When I saw you, just after the gasp, I sat down on a banquette and from its safety I glanced along the lower shelves of a glass fronted bookcase, the kind where the door squeaks, and I thought about which lines link us, so that I see the paintings along and across and beside them? And I saw some of those books, of which I still have many, and some of which were there too, and which I hate to sentimentalise; art-books, ‘fifties ones with tipped in fine grained colour plates, and black and white reproductions, so contrasty that it looks like the black lines are scored on the page; the great two and a quarter square slides like line engravings or sometimes copperplates or woodcuts of my first art history course, when real professors still claimed that tonal balance was more accurate than colour and that we can learn from them.
And so I saw your roughness as a line that brings us together on the edge of a recognition that the works cannot but undo if only because, as Aboulafia showed us, the only signifier is the letter.
Thank you, and much love, A
Abraham Aboulafia, L’Épitre des sept voies, 1270s?
Friedrich Nietzsche, from Human, too Human, posthumous fragments, 1878 -1879
And then after a decade of trying to set out new, paratactically structured or unstructured enunciations of words and images, beginning with dropping a green enamel tea tray and finishing by dropping the 1917 Revolution, you may as well see the last one, when I found that he, looking at the audience, could bring himself to begin to stop. It takes 30 minutes. Endless thanks to RAQS for setting this up for us.
Take a breath.
Little by little, then, to write away everything that follows as it is now radically out of date, if not redundant, badly kept text, full of weeds, poor timing, out of timing, as I did stop employment on 31 December 2013 exactly 43 years to the day after starting in Janary 1970 when Gavin Bryars trailed me down to Portsmouth to see if I would fit in with the Fine Art Department at the Poly; in whatever the section was then called, theoretical studies, complementary studies, whatever studies, the names changed with startling frequency as national and local regimes of educational power rose and fell … a past with its own future, but a future that is still vexing art schools today as if it were their own.
So this site has been re-jigged and moved to wordpress, and I took a lot of stuff down, including the Then page of old essays. This is because many can be found on line, but also because Steve Edwards edited a large collection of them called Communards and Other Cultural Histories, published by Brill with a long introduction by himself, and now in paperback from Haymarket – happy to be in such a good leftist press. Steve’s essay is a marvel of effecting the third-personhood I have desired, to merge into the general of designated subject matter, in other than his own name or that of his synonym or double. This thirding is taken to an extreme here,
OARPLATFORM.COM ISSUE ZERO. Whatever the troubling matter of transmission might beslow palimpsestic effacement or being-plundered works ok.
Over what is now nearly – in fact over – five decades – (It gets longer as i write and postpone writing this page again, long from a sunny summer of 1967, reading in the library at the Victoria and Albert museum, the hot summer air blowing through the windows, exciting the edges of intellectual curiosity and sexual desire, walking endlessly around London, discovering the city, the Arts Lab, beginning to trail round the archives of the French provincial museums, oh bliss it was…) – my research, NO, just MY WORK, I stop calling it research today, May 1, 2010 -, has followed a number of paths; some of them concerning quite specific historical archives (e.g. The Paris Commune and Parisian urban formation in the c19 and c20, the Parisian Judicial Archives, the Archives of the Institut de France or the Bishopsgate Institute) and some of them driven by conceptual and theoretical issues of different orders of abstraction (e.g. the object of art history, the subject as a breathless or a waiting subject, queer studies and the narcissus myth, incompletion, endless return.) However I see its main characteristic as being the interweaving of these approaches so that a concept can be refigured or critically deployed within different fields of cultural materials or a historical thematic can become a theoretical question of disciplinary formation. In the last few years I have shifted to the more abstracted end of the spectrum as a means of reconstituting an archive of specific knowledges and aesthetic problematics. I prefer to think of being a-disciplinary rather than trans- or multi-. At the same time I’ve come to have a disregard for the idea of research, when most of the interesting things that I come across I trip across, or they happen to me, or they turn out to be some old baggage in a new disguise.
At the same time, now, these days, this tendency to more abstraction or fantasy always sets out from an image, from a description which interrogates it for an idea, a reflection of something i want to form into words, a feeling that needs a shape. There are a lot of images I could put here to show what this means to me, and their diversity might suggest a certain high/low culture vulgarity, were it not for the ways in which the singular affect is out of our control. There are two paintings by Giovanni Lanfranco that make me work quite well, thinking about twisting, illusory verticals, the large scale or micro contraposto as a form of self-reflection, envy, argument and speculation. One is his Saint Augustine discussing the Holy Trinity with the Infant Jesus, the other is Moses Receiving the Spies from the Promised Land, I will post them here soon….and explain myself. But equally the finding of a fragment of Dan Dare wallpaper that I had on my bedroom wall as a child, or youtubes of the Incredible String Band and the sound of their astonishing melisma are starting or turning points as well. (Their Half Remarkable Question, they are more than Heideggers of acid folk can at least be sampled on iTunes and the youtube link is: actually far more interesting than Heidegger, or any other existenz types for that matter!
Anyway my Ingres then, and now (2000) combines modes of archival investigation into the languages of late c18 and early c19 aesthetics and art education with speculative reflections on the contemporary subject as a theoretically and sexually specific viewer in such a way as both to elaborate and undermine the possible nature of historical narrative within a framework of contemporary cultural theory. While in an article ‘Freud’s Rome, Benjamin’s Paris, Whose London?’ (in The Metropolis and its Images, ed. Dana Arnold 2000) I set Lacanian theories of the beginnings of language, Ealing Comedy and the experience of riding the 253 bus route in London side by side to think through the psycho-geography of theoretical models as well as materials and artefacts in specific figurings of a city’s history. This in turn is being extended in some current work on Paris, concerning its adequacy as a paradigmatic concept of the urban in contemporary figurings of the city – oh that I could escape Paris, as Molly Nesbit has so wonderfully done, having set out the magnificent structure of her Atget’s Seven Albums (il miglior fabbro) and then totally moved on. (http://www.e-flux.com/projects/utopia/about.html)
But moving on is very hard to do, as it means sorting through the baggage, reviewing it and pushing in front of oneself again. I am I think forever stuck with Ingres, he, or it, has become a thinking machine for me, returning to haunt and to be rethought. In a lecture I gave at the Louvre in March 2006, in the context of the big Ingres show, and thirty nine years after my first Ingres exhibition, I began to feel that I would like to rewrite the book. You can download the lecture here, it gives some idea of how all the fragile certainties of that book unravelled as I spoke. It is this lecture that reappears, again rethought, in Dancing Years.
While I work with film and cinema, classical and popular music, canonical art and mass imagery, literature and pornography, I do not see myself as being in ‘French studies’ or ‘film studies’ or ‘queer studies’, nor, for that matter ‘art history’. Nor for that matter even remotely interested in high culture versus low as such. In a recent article on Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut I address the theme of the anthology in which it appeared, Art and Thought, (Blackwell, 2002, edited by Dana Arnold and Margaret Iversen) to explore Julia Kristeva’s writings on Giotto and early Renaissance art and the ways in which this film throws light on their more complex appropriation by other modes of art historical and cultural studies. Recently, and for the first time, though I read him long enough ago, one or two lines of Deleuze have popped up as illuminating and appear at the front of a new article – to be in the first special issue of Art History in 2009 – entitled Writing as Way out, or The Dancing Years. I turned over another conference paper from some time ago which was manifestly about Andres Serrano, early Victor Burgin and Internet cruising photographs on Gaydar, suggesting that it is in Victor’s early conceptual pieces such as Instructions for an Installation, which I saw atAttitudes Become Form at the ICA in 1969, that you see sex the most clearly. It’s called Apart from Sex, and appears this year in the Journal of Visual Culture, and beyond the manifest it’s more or less about the untimeliness of theoretical models when they become models, especially Barthes’ non-theories of photography. My piece, which also deals with these issues of virtuality, has nown been finished for the now page – it was the Leeds Lecture, but the new title signals its true sucject which is the work of David Haines, in particular his Gaydar based video, THREE MONTHS.
It is this kind of work that is addressed to a broad constituency that might as well include the study of French philosophy as a semiological or psychoanalytic art history or a post-Lefebvrian cultural geography and so on – struggling agains a disciplinary space leads to some odd contortions. The above mentioned discussion of Paris today (published in Contemporary French and FrancophoneStudies (Vol 8, issue 3), and somehow summarising years of thinking with Alice Kaplan and Kristin Ross) looks at the adequacy of this City as a model for urban studies that is both a critique of the Benjamin industries and an attempt to see how one might configure the local as a relatively autonomous vector of the forces of globalisation. Looking at both rap and contemporary gay writing in Paris I set out to specify a new articulation of the frenchness of Paris that is not dependent on a nostalgic anti-globalisation such as that of the peasant movement, but that is both in dialogue with international movements of cultural formation and highly individual, attuned to the unfolding of a cyber-urbanism. At the same time it is in working critically with this trace of what one might call the ‘national’ that leads me to reinforce the tendency of my research to run counter to country or subject based disciplinary formation.
Currently I am working on a number of fairly long term research projects of which two are as follows. One is under the general heading of Hyperventilation – gay poetics, which entails a comparative study in the rhetorical articulation of dejected masculinity and the masculine subject ‘beside itself’ in work ranging from mid seventeenth century baroque painting (martyrdom, the fault lines of religious diegesis, perversions of the classical) to certain aspects of Baudelaire’s poetry (enslavement) and finally recent gay sm pornography. The focus of some of this work is a baroque painter who is above all not-Caravaggio, but Mattia Preti.
The point of this work is to detach the findings of queer theory in the last decade from its grounding in an academic sexual politics and to re-implicate it in a history of apparently alien rhetorics and to translate it into a more effectively radical critique of disciplinary formation. Early essays from this work are Collecting Men or my Next Duchess (in Other Objects of Desire, Collectors and Collecting Queerly, eds. Camille and Rifkin, 2000) and Sexual Anaphora (in Umbr(a), a Journal of the Unconscious no 2, 2002 and expanded here on the Next page).
The other, which is distantly but crucially related, represents an extension of my previous interests in music (Street Noises, Carmenology [in New Formations,1987]) into a series of critical essays concerning writing on music in cultural studies through an analysis of Kracauer’s Orpheus in Paris and a critique of Adorno in his relation with Wagner’s Ring. The theme of hyperventilation also enters here as a means of apprehending the relation between the duration of the score on the one hand and the duration of the subject as enunciated through listening on the other. This sets a critical musicology in a space after Adorno, a more deconstructive mode of understanding the listening subject, and it is also in part drawn towards the interest in contemporary techno and rap cultures in the Paris piece above. It also comes out of other themes in my previous work concerning German ness, Jewish-ness and French culture.(e.g. Parvenu or Palimpsest, some tracings of the Jew in modern France, in The Jew in the Text, eds T Garb and L Nochlin, 1995 – Tamar managed to get me to write a Jewish piece, though if, as Henri Meshonnic suggests, there is no Jewish thought, I may have written more than one!!)
First recording of Portsmouth Sinfonia (I was first violin)
This is a brief commentary on my work over 30 years.
Between 1979 and 1986 I published some four articles on the Paris Commune, popular print and the social organisation of the arts in France in Art History, Block, and Oxford Art Journal. All of this came from an undergraduate History module at Portsmouth Poly that I taught with Roger Thomas. Out of these came a short series of pieces comparing art education and social formation in England and France between the late eighteenth century and the 1850s, published in Les révoltes logiques, Oxford Art Journal, The Journal of Design History and the proceedings of the Louvre bicentennial conference on the French Revolution, David contre David, 1989. All of these were methodologically marked by my collaboration with Jacques Rancière and Les révoltes logiques. They were extended theoretically through an essay ‘History, time and the morphology of critical language, or Publicola’s choice’ in Art criticism and its institutions in nineteenth century France, ed. M Orwicz, Manchester, MUP 1994. In 1983 I published my ‘Ingres and the Academic Dictionary’ in Art History, and article that received a great deal of attention and that allowed me to re-build my old thesis work into the book on Ingres.
In 1983 I began the work on Street Noises, which first resulted in the article ‘Musical Moments’ in Yale French Studies (1987) and in four broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 in 1987 – 88, three on Parisian popular song and its topographies, and one on Gustave Flaubert – a short radio play. During this period I also wrote ‘Carmenology’, a piece that regrouped the themes of these different research projects.
Throughout my work I have cultivated a thread of art criticism, mainly concerning the work of artists or curators who are personally close to me, but including John Baldessari, Roxy Walsh, Pierre Imhof and Ingrid Kerma, Louise Bourgeois (in MOMA Oxford papers, Vol 1, 1996) and Gérard Fromanger (Photogenic painting, my analysis of Deleuze’s and Foucault’s essays on Fromanger, Black Dog, 1999). I have written three short catalogue essays for Rafael von Uslar’s work in curating international queer/post-colonial exhibitions in Sydney, Munich, Amsterdam and Cologne, and I am planning a new essay on Mark Fairnington and another on an exhbition called A SHort History of the Image for Antwerp Mukha. Rafael and I are beginning to plan an exhibtion based on the archives of the Leather Museum in Offenbach. An aesthetics of deferred action is unfolded in my ‘…respicit Orpheus’ written for the Drawing Centre’s Drawing papers, no 24, ed de Zegher and Massumi, NY, 2001 – Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger, The Eurydice Series. Essays on Pierre Imhof,Roxy Walsh and Jochen Flinzer either appear or will appear soon on this site.
My essays on gay poetics, such as ‘Do not touch: Tom with Sebastiano, Kant and others’ (Versus 5, 1995), first published in Texte zur Kunst (1994), ‘Slavery/sublimity’ in The Eight Technologies of Otherness (ed. Sue Golding, Routledge, 1997), and ‘A Roman Holiday’ (Parallax 25, 2002) are closely related to this mode of the short analytic essay as well as being sketches for my future project online.
My last piece for Block, (1991) ‘A Down on the Upbeat: Adorno, Benjamin and the Jazz question’, extended the work of Street Noises into critical theory and resulted in my essay ‘Total Ellipsis’ written for Parallax 2, 1995, an interrogation of the absence of Zola as a reference in Benjamin’s Passagen Werk, worked through the redevelopment of Les Halles in our own time. This question of a critical topography, bringing together the urban subject with critical theory and a gendered epistemology, characterises my work on gay Paris such as ‘Travel for men: from Claude Lévi-Strauss to the Sailor Hans’, in Traveller’s Tales, ed. G Robertson et al, Routledge, 1994: ‘The poetics of space re-written: from Renaud Camus to the gay city guide’, in Parisian Fields, ed, M Sheringham, Reaktion, 1996: ‘Gay Paris: trace and ruin’, in Hieroglyphics of Space, ed N Leech, Routledge, 2002.
New lines of thinking are worked through in my ‘Waiting and Seeing’, in the Journal of Visual Culture, Vol 2, Number 3, December 2003.
An account of my intellectual formation can be found in my essay on Jean-Louis Schefer, ‘From Structure to Enigma: Schefer and signification side by side’, in a forthcoming festschrift for Schefer, ed. S Bann, POL, Paris. His Scénographie d’un tableau(1967) remains a work of extreme enigma, and Jeffrey Steele and I used to try to teach it to undergaduate artists in the early 1970s, after which our incipient Maoism pushed this kind of theory rather to the side!!! See also my interview ‘Inventing Recollection’ in Interrogating Cultural Studies, Theory Politics and Practice, ed. Paul Bowman, London, Pluto, 2003, the aftermath of my actually working on the construction of a cultural studies programme with Barbara Engh and Griselda Pollock in Leeds. Yet no account of these kinds can itself account for the effect of the endless conversations that carry on and echo after time, even when one fails to see a friend for years on year.
But fundamentally my lasting beliefs in an overarching marxian sociology on the one hand, and its complementary other in the aleatoric practices of the late 1960s and early 1970s visual and musical avant- gardes have endured, while weaving themselves through the warp and weft of Lacanian and Kristevan and Derridian theoretical fields. With Gavin Bryars and a group of students at Portsmouth Poly(sic) I helped to set up the Portsmouth Sinfonia, and if you check upwww.miserablemelodies.com I think, hope, that the Richard Strauss extract may be one that has me on the French Horn.
That reminds me CV stuff, from 1970 – 1992 I lectured in the Fine Art and then Design Department at Portsmouth Polytechnic, from 1992 – 1999 I was Professor of FIne Art at the University of Leeds, from 1999 – now, November 2007 as Professor of Visual CUlture at Middlesex University, and from now on I am a Professor of Art Writing in the Department of Art at Goldsmiths, London University. If you are interested in our new Masters in Fine Art in Art Writing, go here:http://www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/pg/mfa-art-writing.php
Street Noises: Parisian Pleasure 1900 – 1940. Manchester, MUP, 1993
Ingres then, and now, London, Routledge, 2000
Voices of the People: the social life of ‘La sociale’ in Second Empire Paris, with Roger Thomas, London, Routledge, 1987.
About Michael Baxandall, Oxford, Blackwell, Association of Art Historians, 1998.
Fingering Ingres, with Susan Siegfried, Oxford, Blackwell, Association of Art Historians, 2001.
Other Objects of Desire, collectors and collecting queerly, with Michael Camille, Oxford, Blackwell, Association of Art Historians, 2001
A complete listing including radio programmes will soon be available, perhaps with some mpegs.