Me, Myself, I?

updated state of mind, idea to help rewrite all of this........

updated state of mind, idea to help rewrite all of this……..

While you read this I would like you to hear a bit of Bach’s first cello suite, played in a way that spins out the historical time of deferred action – that is a declaration of allegiance, though there is some techno that would also do what I want….well a lot of stuff, recently I would want to replace this sound with that of the Canons on the left hand opening theme of the first Goldberg, that really to help to think forward and backward at different speeds, at once or in different times, as well as to understand, in the end, how little material one really needs…

Little by little, then, to write away everything that follows as it is now radically out of date, if not redundant, badly kept text, full of weeds, poor timing, out of timing, as I did stop employment on 31 December 2013 exactly 43 years to the day after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 1970when 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 is editing a large collection of them to be called Communards and Other Cultural Histories, to be published by Brill with a long introduction by himself.

Over what is now nearly – in fact over – four 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 conceptual 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:

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. (

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 up  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:

Street Noises: Parisian Pleasure 1900 – 1940. Manchester, MUP, 1993
Ingres then, and now, London, Routledge, 2000

Edited Collections:
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.