Wednesday 21 December 2011

Gather we blossoms...(or the less good taste the better)

When Gayatry Spivak wrote of catachresis - roughly, a little vulgarly(on my part) - as a critical process of the deconstruction of colonial sense, it was a small, but endlessly important shift in the distribution of rhetorical possibilities  - in a way it enabled us to become Iagos to the virtues of common sense. Of course (of course) to say this is to turn again this relation between the victim (Othello, if he was) and the perpetra(i)tor, and, indeed, to engage on a pathway where we can gather all catachresis blossoms, hyperbolically, so as to speak.

This is a way of saying that - (nothing new here, Maud Mannoni magnificently, in an autobiographical essay, writes of how she just gets on with Lacan and Winnicott and whoever, because what happens in the session is whatever happens) - when we are doing things thinkers who hardly regard one another, or who do so, even, with hostility, Gayatry Spivak, Jacques Rancière, Julia Kristeva, are so many blossoms for our gathering, just their petals, even, as we idly or attentively pull them off (he loves me, she loves me not). Our feeling free in this way is in itself, perhaps, one way in which redistributions of the sensible (visible, audible, an interesting chain of synechdoche) slowly or suddenly get staged, between fringe theatre and more grand events - (one reason why, despite all reason of my own, I Do, I do enjoy Tiqqun and Luther Blisset/Wu Ming) This is one way of introducing a little paragraph from Jacques R's new book Aistehesis, which is a series of essays on moments in art of the aesthetic regime.

P. 199, from the essay on Rodin and Rilke, 'The master of surfaces'. (I translate, roughly):

The unconscious of which the new plastique (forming process?) bears witness is not that of a raw drive of a humanity pushed to want without goal. Nor is it the great vitalist élan that the choreographies of Rudolph Laban or Mary Wigman sought to express. It is a multiplicity of gestures that are not as yet perceived, seeking for their own meaning, because they are not governed by the straight line that leads from a departure point to the point of arrival.' 
One of the glories of this book is the multiplicity of its own little gestures that reveal, momentarily, in different ways, consistently but without repetition (without even its concept) what a pensée Rancière might be. Here, in Rodin, a new idea of the worker poets, in the essay on Hegel and Murillo a new but sufficient fragment of the whole performance of the Partage du sensible.

Wonderful demonstration of what it is to think rather than to theorise.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Amateur Photography, Professional Theory ... Mutations

This piece mixes intentionally low production amateur images - my own, some of which are already up here, with a text written for Mutations book of Paris Photo - It was terribly misprinted there, so here is the original with the images in place as paragraphs.
If only - a little dream of the photographic as beyond itself....
What if, in the end, after so many (arid) discussions around the digital and the virtual, with all their little tautologies, teleologies and often disproportionally ambitious philosophical implications for the image concerning indexicality or time, photography really was redundant? And what if the lens and the screen had finally merged and annihilated one another's specificity in the gaze; and all those millions of users of the little screen, holding them up, cameras and phones,  - but without a cloth hood to protect them from the ambient light - were otherwise no distance at all from the first photographers; so that now photography does not even have a history? And what if this redundancy were photography's only persisting resource, the single strength that it has to be a kind of gesture, or diverse set of gestural practices, with its own name, a denoted something? Still. Still photography.
Then I guess that this would be what photography has achieved, in its hypertrophic and destined consumerism, to become the measure of a certain freedom from any kind of history or history's burdens, a hiding place from which we might, should we so choose, take view on the world; just as Arago or Sadi Carnot or von Humboldt might once have wished right at the beginning, or the National Geographic Magazine or the school of the Bechers might have shown us; but from a viewpoint of such radical and redeeming disintegration that, at last, the seeing of this very point will be left to chance, to luck. It's lucky that it turned out like this.
To live in this being-set-aside (écartement) demands a certain passive courage or desire to lose; a letting go, as if redundancy takes with it the apparatus of a previous glory the superfetation of accompaniments, histories, theories. I think that I would want all of this and more:
to forget La chambre claire and Roland Barthes' melancholy over his mother's death, and to retain only some of his grammar, freed from the burden of the lost or hidden cliché;

only vaguely to recall that it once seemed urgent to decide how many degrees Walter Benjamin had or had not turned in the time between his Little History  and the essay on technical reproducibility; or to leaf through Aby Warburg's Mnemosyne Atlas as if it were a comic strip without a plot and so be lost in thought;
to fail to make any significant distinction between the elevated religiosity of an Andreas Serrano, that proceeds from an emulsification of Catholic belief with  transgression according to Georges Bataille, and a self-pic located as a sexual lure in some gay fetish site on the Internet;
to accept that those dreadful images of the camps arrive at signifiance not in the anxieties of theoretical hermeneutics, but at the point they migrate into the filmic practice of an Alain Resnais or the painting of a Bracha Ettinger.
to walk past the immense photographs that furnish the contemporary art museum throughout the world today wishing only that they could be smaller; and to accept that, if there were ever an optical unconscious, it could not be more than a camouflage for the infinity of singularities that is the human unconscious, and that, as a notion, it confounds one kind of gesture with this multiplicity of traces that are left and made before they have a form.
This, I believe, and it is a matter of belief, is not too far from something that Pierre Mac Orlan once had to say in his introduction to a little plaquette on Germaine Krull, published by the NRF in 1931:
'La médiation, même spontanée, devant certaines épreuves photographiques permet de créer d'autres images, des images 'cérébrales' comme disent désormais les petits maquereaux de la rue de Lappe.'
And this too, and if I give Mac Orlan so much space in my own words, it is because I have to choose some mid point in the histories that I want to lose to show that my idea, too, already has a life:
Un mélange de candeur héréditaire et de saloperie acquise patiemment au contact des hommes donne à ce témoin gênant, qu'est l'objectif photographique, un tel choix d'expériences et de conclusions, qu'un album de photographies de famille devient quelque chose de plus émouvant que la nature elle-même, car il devient le complice de l'homme.[i]

Of course all of this is yesterday's discourse, a redundant discourse of 'man'; but the subtle prosopopoeia of the lens, its 'patiently acquired' filth or muckiness takes it aside from an ordinary notation, and drifts into a prediction of the digital age; the time of photography's prosthetic redundancy that is but one, non-tragic outcome of the ending of its chemical history. It's a curious redundancy, because now to take a photograph is neither more nor less necessary that taking a piss.
At the same time, and perhaps for the first time in its history, the photographic arrives at an immense irony which I suggested at the outset: that the confluence of its obsolescence as a single technology with its redundancy as an authorial practice frees it perhaps to engage (perhaps only) in a distribution of the sensible itself in some sense free of the authorial function: or rather as Tacita Dean once said in an interview in October:
So obsolescence is about time in the way film is about time: historical time, allegorical time, analog time. I cannot be seduced by the seamlessness of digital time, like digital silence, it has a deadness. I like the time you hear passing (...). So obsolescence has an aura: the aura of redundancy and failure...[ii]
And the immensity of the irony is this, that it is this digital obsolescence itself that frees photography from digital time, to become a record of oppression or of resistance to it, from the outside the Bank of England to Tahrir Square. This freedom is a freedom from the eminently seamless time of redemption, a time for the redundant of world capitalism that is the truly human.

[i]  Germaine Krull par Pierre Mac Orlan, Photograhes Nouveau, Paris, 1931.
[ii] Cited from: Clara Schulmann, "A Rebours, The Film as Site:  The Kodak Ghost Ship, Tacita Dean's obsolescent practices", "Memory / Media / Power", joint doctoral seminar, Creart-Phi (Université de Paris X - Nanterre) / Copenhagen Doctoral School in Cultural Studies, Nanterre, November 27th.


Saturday 12 November 2011

Art Historical Relic, Art and Society History Workshop

This is a conference session that I organised in 1980 for the annual conference of the Association of Art Historians at the University of East Anglia, home of the famous Sainsbury Centre. The highlight was Carol Duncan and Alan Wallach's paper that later became the ground breaking Universal Survey Museum in Art History Journal. Mine became Can Gramsci save Art History, on then page of gai-savoir.

 However here I have put up a leaflet produced for the Art and Society group of History Workshop as a nice flavour of the academic politics of the time - guess the anonymous author from the syntax, if you like:

Thursday 20 October 2011

I wish I wish I wish in vain ... (Dylan)

With colleagues and students in La Tartine, Paris, on barricade and revolution tracking visit circa 1979, in the context of a history course on European Revolutions at Portsmouth Poly- wonderful, long pre-modular course over three terms, time to think, time to do, days to track the barricades of 1789, 1830, 1848, 1871 - political and psycho geography as historical method. So this is now an allegory of the time for thinking. My head from behind, right hand edge: forgive the sepia, it gives an idea of the tobacco effect of the pre-gentrified Tartine

Below is a part of my pseudo-Atget series that I did while Molly Nesbit was working in Paris on her miraculously good Atget's Seven Albums, not only one of the best books on photography ever written, but one of the finest of the whole so called Social History of Art movement. I did a series on the Hotel de Beauvais in the rue François Miron, when it was still grim and unrestored and tnemented. But I was also doing a series on Parisian gay masculinities and guys on the streets, as well as in mural paintings of religious and military scenes. So in this rather simplistic collage I began a cruising-Atget series, now it would be called queering Atget. By the early 80s this was influenced by the late Nicholas Green, my first PhD student, but maître ès drague gaie, and author of The Spectacle of Nature. Somewhere I have negatives of Beauvais with him rather than this boy imported from the quais, and I will look for them.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Self Portrait 1974

More political prints

In the blogs before this I commented on the prudishness of public discourse and the regression of the right to speak, and even though some cartooning, like that of Steve Bell or others makes their target revolting, it rarely calls on a history of revolution to suggest a political solution - like this reaction to the Franco Prussian war of 1870. Captioned with the now rather horrible line of the Marseillaise 'Let an imoure blood slake our fields' - in the post colonial, post Vichy period it is a scandal that it's still there - here it calls for an internationalist solution, the decapitation of ALL the rulers involved:: Bismarck, Wilhelm and Napoléon lll.

These come from hundred of old negative I have of research done in the late 1970s around the Commune of Paris of 1871 and I will start scanning the colour negs soon. The above is a driect quotation from a print of 1792.

Below a nicely witty and direct attack on the French government of Thiers and Favre for its attack on Republican values, easy mix of the political and the sexual in the conventions of academic art forms and satire, so both levels work together.  Remember these prints could end their makers in prison and, outside the great private collections, ironically built as much by aristocrats like the Baron de Vinck as left municipalities in a later period, St Denis, Montreuil, they were systematically destroyed for over two decades after they were made...

Monday 17 October 2011

!7 October 1961 - 2011 50 years of falshood and cover up

Today is the 50th anniversary of the massacre of hundreds of French Algerians in Paris - demonstrating for the independence of their country from French colonial rule and an end to the brutal repression of their country. Covered up for years by the authorities, the bodies processed out of sight and evidence,  those who were responsible, Prefet  Papon,  were the same who had happily collaborated with and organised the deportation of the Jews to death camps under the Nazi occupation (Bousquet, Touvier) - and then doctored the archives to cover their tracks. Even the 'left' were anxious to keep it quiet. In J-P Rioux's text book on modern France the massacre got half a line as I recall. Indeed the first real exposition of the events and how they were hidden was by the crime writer, Didier Daeninckx in his brilliant novel Meurtres pour mémoire, (1984, translated by Serpent's Tale), and this while Mitterand was cosying up to his old friends - the 'distinguished' administrators who had perpetrated the horror. His publicity on Serpent's Tail states:
His 1984 novel Murder in Memoriam forced the French government to try Nazi collaborators, led to a life of imprisonment for Paul Touvier and made President Mitterrand declare 16 July a day of national reflection on fascism and racism.

Buy it - read it!!!

As I recall, even after Meurtres, it was hard to get cooperation to find documents. There was a bit of my own research that involved putting together figures of Parisian darkness, criminality and the great and the good between the 1930s and 1950s. I was trying investigate the pre-war fascistic prefet Chiappe (he died in a plane crash up to some dirty business for Vichy in 1940) and associate him with the post war 'heritage' of Papon et al, and the librarians at the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris were utterly obstructive, claiming that, if my interest was music hall, they had no reason to get me out dossiers on the Police! Daeninckx's novel, as well as being a real thriller, was an immense support.

The first really public coverage I recall was a section of the Pompidou Centre exhibition Face à l'Histoire of 1996 but by then the barrage of silence was broken.

Read Kristin Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies - Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture, 1995

However it's worth recalling that the City of Light has long been, second to none, the City of Bloodbaths.

Prudish times

The habit and indeed right to be free of standing in awe of faith as such, whether religious, scientific, political or whatever, and the command to respect feelings as such, all of which are a part of new, reactionary ideologies are a more or less dreadful sign of our times, so here is a god old satire of the Paris commune by the great draughtsman and militant Pilotell, who came to London as an exile in 1871, where he prepared the album of his work from which this is drawn:  Note well that it includes revolutionary deities such as the Supreme Being of the 1789 Revolution.

Decidedly, if god existed, it would be necessary to execute him:

Tuesday 9 August 2011

More archive pics

Invalides taken in 1959, pre Malraux's cleaning up Paris, no scraping or gilding,  so a bit of photoshop to help out in the sky, Ektachrome stock, Rolleicord 5B

1950s wallpaper and shadow of drying rack, mother's elbow, Salford, c1960

Canal St Martin, c 1980, probably Rollei 35TE

Butte aux Cailles, Rue Samson, c 1982

In return: London today; a dithyramb.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn, 
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Auden, September 1, 1939.

The evil that is done is the grotesque transformation of London into the home-ground for a mega-wealthy, semi-criminal class of robber barons and their ostentatious palaces like Number 1 Hyde park, boasting of this transformation as in Evan Davies' recent TV programmes on the economy, in the Evening Standard and elsewhere. The evil that is done is the cuts that announce the abandonment of whole swathes of the population so that this glory can expand its aureole as if a sign of progress. It is the farce of robber-barony revealed in the whole News International affair, Andy Hayman taking offence as the suggestion he took money from NI when two months after leaving the police he was on their payroll. It is the prattling of the racist, discredited police establishment about how well it has dealt with its own shortcomings of corruption and unremitting racism, and it is the vain and venal politics of Blair, Brown and Blunkett with their prattling about conscience when their judgement was never more than the execution of the requirements of robber-barony, finance, warmongering and so forth. It is the cretinous detachment of the little boys, badly educated scum now running parliament and their sucking up to any super right ideology that they can sniff out ... All of this is just to touch the daily evil that is done.

What is done in return is only evil in one respect: in that it cannot, in effect, set right what has been done already. So the riotous Londoners are not the new evil, but the difficulty of a new good in a situation in which the greatest good known in our public politics is to settle with one's own venality.

Riotous London offers a scene in which, at least, perhaps, this can be seen more clearly and where the political might be newly made - it is a politics of our time, even though it is not a theory. That is what politicians will now try to cover up with their moralising.

Some of the cranes are on a building that stopped going up on December 28 2008, a suitable hint at ruin in the now time of the capitalism of enforced debt. The rainbow is sheer conicidence.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Saw this again in April...

Mattia Preti, St Peter setting off with the keys..

One of my favourite paintings. On a lecture trip to Vienna, in the middle of April, at the invitation of Tom Holert to talk to his colleagues and students at the  Akademie on Practice Based Research, one of the pedagogic and intellectual travails of our days, I had, of course, time for the Kunsthistoriches Museum. In these times, rather than days, the Breughel looks more apocalyptic than ever, the Children's Games, as Francis remarked, an horrific exploration of the conditions for eventual massacre rather than daily pleasures, the details of torment in all its modalities, as if the surviving adults will eventually avenge the massacred innocents who hang just along the wall. But, of course, the unreasonable beauty of the work, the saturation of vision in paint to the edges of pain, of suffocation.

Preti, of course, offers a different register of pleasure in the abandonment of the museum, an affect and an allegory of the queerness of the image as the drives unsettle the fabric of theology. There is no reason, no latent homosexuality, or coded homo-eroticism in the fashion attributed to Preti's generational senior, Caravaggio. It's just that in the play of lights, hands and arrested and moving gestures, the folds and flows of drapery, as the narrative of Peter's escape unfolds to the 'right' edge, the entire combined energies of the image flow up around the angel's wing, back through the orange drape that umbilically connects Peter and his sleeping guard across the highlight on his knee and into the darkened shadow of his throat. In the closeness to the spear, my oh-so entrappèd gaze penetrates the shadow with desire and sexual longing (Preti is good at these chins); in retrospect the Church will never be founded or will founder on that desire that floods, and flows around its rules. To stay in the painting is to abide exactly in the queer space that bigotry outlaws, a kind of Eden of affect.

This is, of course, a characteristic of the best Catholic painting....and one of the reasons why I am happy to be an art historian

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Adult Content

I have an adult content check on the blog because I intend to use images classified as such, and do use such images, in the course of humdrum theoretical considerations of the marxio-post everything style to which I am an addict. So here are some that accompanied an argument that I wanted to make some years ago at Tate Modern in the context of a short conference on Exhibitionism that brought together psychoanalysts, legal theorists and media types. You can guess that it was, in part, strung out between case studies, some of them painfully hetero-normative, and Big Brother, the most idiotic TV programme ever made (Makes me long for Cilla Black). For me media types, the more effective and 'innovative' they are, the more super-con they must be, as they inevitably believe in getting what they can on the cheap and making the audience pay dear in every possible way for the pleasure they might hope to get. And while I am a fervent inhabitant of the languages opened up for culture by psychoanalysis and a believer in, I am very conscious of something Muriel Dimen once said to me about how much how many analysts will do to avoid talking about sex.

With all this in mind I decided to do an aggressively QUEER piece and it went down like a body encased in concrete in a muddy river. The respondent to the whole event was (the more than good enough) Susie Orbach, who had inflamed so many of our students in the best possible way in the late 70s, as well as becoming who she became; but in her  concluding her remarks she said that she had covered all the interventions with equal attention - while in effect she had not even mentioned mine, so maybe it was really awful or maybe Muriel was right. It - the talk - was suspended between these two images:

 and it was entitled 'Is there a Future for Alkibiades?', taking as its text the implicit, indeed explicit, relation between sexual desire and care of the self - or attending to things -, as the Loeb-Harvard translation has it, in Plato's two dialogues. The idea was to think of a queer episteme of desiring to show who one is, or what one is, as a sexual-thinking being, an in your face politics of self-representation in the world on the one hand, and exhibitionism as a method of display on the other, itself riven between revealing and concealment. Part of the idea was that  queer episteme ( not just a gay or a straight one) would ideally risk the endless aporetic of showing/concealing as the risk of building an archive of anachronistic objects or materials that would queerly drive philosophical discourse - without regard for the propriety of the materials as such, and thus taking up the challenge of Freud's Three Essays; somewhere, I hoped, on the other side of conventional ethics and without trying to redeem the consequences of the display.

More than this I cannot recall, but I do think that one's best papers (if papers they are, it's a bad word for what we do) are good because, in the end, they sustain one, simple proposition which is worth recalling. 

 The jock pic is taken from the wonderful site.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Keeping Silent, speaking out : returning to the Paris Commune of 1871 when once again we need its lesson in democracy

This photograph can be dated to 1871 - 72 and it is a representation of a roughly painted mural either on a canvas or directly on the wall of the Buvette de la Commune in the suburb of Carouge in Geneva. It was made by Gaillard fils, the son of the revolutionary cobbler and head of the Barricades, Gaillard père, in the café that the father and son set up in their exile after escaping from massacre of the Commune in May of 1871. It was a means of making a living as well as a social centre for ex-Communards and other European revolutionaries. The Thiers government in Paris kept a police spy there who checked up on almost hourly basis on who was up to what, and to whom we owe the only full description of the interior and of the paintings that decorated it; the photographs and prints made after these that were sold as souvenirs.  The spy also made a description of the name sign - writing that each letter was made up of human characters showing an episode of the Commune - I translate here the stunning ekphrasis of the the first letter that is followed by a further four pages of a detailed and loving struggle with the image, signed with a flowing L X. When I trawled these archives in the Parisian Prefecture I think I was always entranced by his reports, but also stunned by the detailed international surveillance of the ex-Communards, whether in Geneva or in London (did they consort with Marx? was a question), from breakfast to dinner,  - something more intimate and more radical that the video cameras of our time

'B is formed of a red flag topped by a Phrygian cap, the pole forms the upright with a 'Fédéré' (communard soldier) standing upright, the flag is flying stretched out held in place by the bayonet of the 'Fédéré' and thus he completes the upper section of the B. The base is formed formed by another 'Fédéré', lying wounded on the ground, his feet against those of his comrade, his head leaning on the knees a canteen woman whose upper body is stretched upright. The standing soldier by the pole receives a bullet in his chest and stretches his arms out in a cross, the right hand holding a gun to which the bayonet is affixed in the folds of the flag, the left arm, slightly above the pole. As he is hit his upper body leans slightly backward as he begins to fall, and the canteen woman supports him with her right hand to his back while with her left arm she embraces the neck of the wounded 'Fédéré' stretched out at the base. It is in this position that the 'cantinière' forms the lower loop of the B'.

Even the most recent scholarship - in its absurdo-empirical form as practiced in France - has treated these images as lost, which is a pity as, apart from his brilliant cartoons, that have appeared in many books on the Commune, they make for what was perhaps the only substantial oeuvre of pictorial work by a working class militant and amateur artist of the nineteenth century - the the sense that Marx gave to being an artist in The German Ideology, someone who, amongst other things, paints....

(scholarly-critical note - see p. 201 - 202 of Bertrand Tiller, 'La Commune de Paris, révo;uyion sans images?' for a thoroughly under-researched but 'definitive' account of all this -

I did find these images in the mid 1980s in the Bibliothèque Publique et Universitaire of Geneva, not surprisingly buried in albums of the Perrier collection - a vast collection of memorabilia and books made by this sympathiser of the Commune. In fact Perrier had acquired the whole decoration the Buvette at the end of its short life, and gifted the lot to the Musée Municipal d'Ars en Ré. his home town - which dispensed with it by public auction on 1929. End of the story until this! Or these, this collection of damaged and decayed little images that mark a singular enunciation of the I as worker, I as artist, I as revolutionary - an enunciation that shifts the visibility of all these three words into the space set out by Jacques Rancière as that of the 'rêve ouvrier'.

Lacking, I suppose, morality as a scholar, or a sense of public duty, I decided that I would keep my secret and it's only the last couple of years that I have begun to divulge it. I will post a Gaillard fils iconography here in the next few days.

So here, to follow, is a very bad scan of two cartoons, one of Thiers as the head of a venal, capitalist government, worshiped by the rich on an altar of luxury food, the other of the last struggle of the Commune. The red flag of the Commune is flying against the wind that blows back the smoke of the cannons, as if the smoke itself were a defence against the distant silhouette of Versailles with its murderous troops,  and at the same time the figure of the effacement of the Commune that Gaillard, in exile, will struggle to overcome. Aporia and oxymoron ... affect beyond the possibilities of a satire or the run of the mill cartoon - something that occurs and reoccurs in militant imagery, almost despite itself, as a surplus of the militant act itself..

And here is a cover from an ephemeral, political broadsheet that he ran during the club movement of the end of the Second Empire - see Rifkin, Thomas and Moore, 1987, 'Voices of the People' for an account of this. Minck ( he spells it wrong I guess), an early feminist, was a writer, orator and revolutionary who, amongst other things, thought that young men should not waste their energies a shop assistants - of which they formed the vast majority in 1867, but that this work should be made available to women. When I started work on Commune I was advised to look for this by the great communist scholar and historian of Communard women's organisation, Eugene Schulkind, but firmly told not to take it too seriously. This was typical of the communist historiography of the time, little apt to take on the effects of an E P Thompson, and ever rather scornful of whatever could not be taken as a true exemplar or ancestor of a virile and modern, industrial and revolutionary class. A cranky shoemaker and an effete poet son were not at the height of things and behaved with little of the nobility of self-sacrifice that is ever the attribute of the dead.  Needless to say I took it all far too seriously, and so I did find a lot of stuff in Geneva which, I the realised, they did not want to know!

And now the frontispiece and rear cover of his poetry written for sale at the Buvette.