Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Ecriture Feminine and the Petit Mort of Writing

Where one of my classmates was talking about dying little deaths, small deaths along the way of writing, this made me think of the petit mort, which is French for orgasm. And as I read Cixous and think about her ecstasy in writing, talking about the flesh at work in a labor of love, I think more and more about the petit mort as a form of women's writing . This is all over Cixous. Her writing is full of ecstatic phrases about what it is to write. She does not fear the death of the author, either actual or metaphorical. Nor does writing, for Cixous, promise immortality. It is an in the moment activity. In “The Author in Truth,” Cixous writes about “striking out for the unknown, to make our way in the dark. To see the world with the fingers: isn't this the act of writing par excellence? ” In her manifesto “Coming to Writing,” there are extended passages that are about losing yourself in mad love (amour fou, as Andre Breton wrote of), to writing, to a feminine writing. This is not a nihilistic death, as might be seen in Foucault or Barthes, but a joyous celebration of what it is to write. “The text, already the lover who savors the wait and the promise,” she explains in “The Author in Truth .”

“Text: not a detour, but the flesh at work in a labor of love” . As if she were taking the death of the author literally, then, she says “in the beginning, there can be only dying, the abyss, the first laugh. ” In Cixous' definition of the text, I do not feel the need to repudiate stupid Derrida. I can accept that there is nothing outside of this text, this ecriture feminine in which all things live as long as they live. It is not a hedge against death . . . . . . . . . . . . . . nor
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . a headlong dive into death.
. . . . . . . . . .It is not about immortality and “what survives.”
. . . . . . . . Writing is its own joy, . . . . . . . its own reward . . . . .its own pleasure.
. . . . . . . It is a petit mort that is meant to be shared.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . It is a revolution in language that is meant to liberate.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . It is a private moment, expressivist and confessional.
. . . . . . . It . . . . . . . . . is . . . . . . . . everything.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Death of the Author: God and Mother, A Parable

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the text, the word, is sacred. We cannot seem to get out of the tradition. For all of their post-modernism and the agnosticism that frequently comes with that, Barthes (and Derrida) also come out of a French tradition which was very very Catholic. Thus, I am going to make the story of the death of the author, male and female, into a comparative parable.

In Christianity, Jesus (the author) must die and be resurrected so that believers (readers) can have safe passage to heaven (the text). This is the male-centered conception of the author as the all-knowing keeper of the text and of meaning. And in fact, Barthes speaks of “the ‘message’ of the Author-God” and says that “to refuse to fix its meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases – reason, science, law."

Women, however, have historically had a different relationship to birth and death, with many medieval women dying in childbirth. In this model, the woman (author) dies so that her child (the reader) may be born, but that child will be orphaned, with no one to guide her through life (the text). There is a “death/not death,” a voluntary withdrawal that happens here that can be seen as Cixous’ metaphor for the author. Cixous also talks about the (female) author as continuing “to have what she has eternally, to not lose having, to be pregnant with having is . . . the text, already in the child, in the woman . . . ” The woman is birthing the text, bringing it into being, and like giving birth, some of herself with leave her along with the text. But that text will not necessitate a death for the author. If the reader is a co-creator in meaning, as with Barthes, the author-mother will do so in conjunction with, not opposed to, the reader and the text.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

1984: Liberal Politics in a Post-Human World

Many professionals in other fields feel that literature has much to teach us about ourselves and about the society we live in. In Black Sun, Lacanian psychotherapist and linguist Julia Kristeva utilizes literature by Gerard de Nerval, Dostoyevky, and Marguerite Duras, among others, to talk about female melancholia. Political writer and literary critic Irving Howe writes about Solzhenitsyn, Andre Malraux, and George Orwell to talk about politics and the novel. Philosopher Richard Rorty also discusses the writings of Orwell in addition to Proust and Nabokov as well as a number of literary theoreticians such as Derrida and Nietzsche. By looking at a writer like George Orwell through the eyes of Richard Rorty and Irving Howe, we can see just how necessary literature is in its ability to show us aspects of where our society and government may go if we are not careful. Orwell's 1984 is a cautionary tale about what it means to lose our humanity and how stripping away our language contributes to that loss of humanity.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, books like Pamela by Samuel Richardson or Julie by Jean-Jacques Rousseau were said to strengthen our ability for truly inclusive democracy by teaching us to empathize with people different from us, in these cases, men empathizing with women. Literature has changed, however, in the 20th and 21st centuries. With mechanized warfare and now with technology that could not have even been imagined in earlier centuries, novels have changed to reflect a very different social reality. The early 20th century saw the perversion of the revolutions in Russia followed by what we now commonly refer to as the “horrors of World War II” and many writers in the post-war era were rightfully disheartened and cynical. Theodor Adorno asked if it was even possible, ethically, to write poetry after Auschwitz, saying ultimately that it was, indeed, barbaric that poetry was still necessary. Adorno says that suffering, “demands the continued existence of art while it prohibits it; it is now virtually in art alone that suffering can still find its own voice, consolation, without immediately being betrayed by it” (8). In the midst of all of these discussions about what had happened and what might happen, came George Orwell's most famous novels, Animal Farm and
1984, a fable and a cautionary tale, both focused on democracy betrayed.

One of the major aspects of democracy is the concept of the self. Literary and political critic Irving Howe wrote that ”the idea of a personal self, which for us has become an indispensable assumption of existence . . . [is] a cultural idea” (178). Growing as it did out of the liberal era, “it is susceptible to historical growth and decline and may also be susceptible to historical destruction” (178). Arthur Mizener describes

Orwell himself as a result of the cultural/liberal idea(1) of the human, saying that Orwell represents

“the great liberal tradition of western civilization at its best, the informed, sceptical [sic], compassionate mind, able to use the insights of any doctrine without fanaticism, completely unaffected by the lure of submission to cheap creeds . . .” (687)

At least one strain of literature was emerging, that of science fiction and dystopian fiction, focusing not on the positive, on empathy for other humans as an important part of the democratic mindset. In dystopian novels the focus was on cautionary tales of ways that we might end up losing our selves and our humanity. Rorty further echoes this when he says that while Orwell “was not the first to suggest that small groups of criminals might get control of modern states and thanks to modern technology, stay in control forever” that he was the first to ask how intellectuals would deal with a situation where “it had become clear that liberal ideals had no relation to a possible human future”(171). Howe takes it a step further, saying that “Orwell is trying to present the kind of world in which individuality has become obsolete and personality a crime [emphasis mine]” (189). “The whole idea of the self as something precious and inviolable is a cultural idea and as we understand it, a product of the liberal era,” which presumably, in the world of 1984, is now over.

Richard Rorty talks about Orwell as being “of his time” and in fact quotes Howe as well, saying that “Orwell is one of those writers 'who live most significantly for their own age'” (169). But ask anyone who has read 1984 for the first time, and they will tell you it is as true now as it was in 1948. 1984 was one of those novels on the cutting edge of what we now call “dystopian” literature, which abounds plentifully in science fiction. There are a number of novels that are not read much anymore except for their historical significance, but I think it is wrong to place 1984 among those just yet. And in fact, Rorty himself is quick to say that “his description of our political situation remains as useful as any we possess” (170). Rorty talks about Orwell's “earlier warnings against the greedy and stupid conservatives together with his warnings against the communist oligarchs” (170), but what makes 1984 such an enduring model is the stranglehold that both technology and language hold over our society now more than ever. We are closer to the Orwell's world with our 24/7 news media, with media outlets that cannot be trusted, and with advertising language that tells us what is hot is cold, what is up is down, ignorance is strength, war is peace, freedom is slavery.

Orwell's “Politics and the English Language” is frequently seen as the essay in which Orwell was working on a theory of language that would influence, if not become, Newspeak in 1984 . Philip Rahv says that “Newspeak is nothing less than a plot against human consciousness . . . to reduce the range of thought through the destruction of words” (182). In “Politics and the English Language” Orwell talks about the way the language becomes dull and flat and in doing so, makes us not only duller and flatter ourselves, but makes us indifference to the actual perversion of language. This is a form of contracting the language, as in Newspeak, and limiting our own range of language and therefore thought. He writes, for example, about dead metaphors that cease to have any meaning, pretentious diction, abstract words, which he calls meaningless words, like democracy, patriotic, realistic, justice. These are words that have no objective referent (146). Orwell is against what he calls “ready-made phrases” (147) suggesting instead that an ethical writer will ask himself “is this image fresh enough to have an effect” (148). If it can't have an effect, it can't produce thought in either the writer or the reader. Orwell then uses these examples to talk specifically about political speech, saying, for example, that “a comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism cannot say outright ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results in doing so.’” He must instead say:

While freely conceding that the soviet regime exhibits certain features with the humanitarian may be inclined to deport, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavaoidable concomitant of transnational periods and . . . “

By inuring ourselves to ugly language that says nothing, we will be that much desensitized to ugly convoluted language that actually says horrible things, justifies cruelty. Collateral damage and acceptable losses come to mind.

George Kateb describes the way in which all of this can be rationalized in the name of group identity (8), which in 1984 must be preserved at all costs. “The group is a we [emphasis his]” Kateb says, “an incorporated self that is oneself enlarged to include everyone else or that is oneself and everyone else diminished” (8). We can think, here, of the “two-minute hate” that occurs everyday in Oceania against one of the other two countries in the world of 1984. It doesn't matter which country they are currently fighting against and thus currently hating. What is important is to maintain the group identity by having an enemy to hate. Kateb talks about “the preservation of group identity through group pride and xenophobia” (8). Kateb is concerned with morality and the world of 1984 is decidedly immoral. Rahv reminds us that “‘Doublethink’ is drilled into the Party members, which consists of the willingness to assert that black is white when the Party demands it and een to believe that black is white, while at the same time knowing very well that nothing of the sort can be true” (182). Few of the workers in 1984 have the conscience or consciousness, let alone the language, to express any kind of disagreement with the official policies that they live under. Kateb tells us that “aesthetic motives help to animate the pursuit of ideals . . . that are loved more than morality of are so loved that the moral const does not break into consciousness with any force” (11). The “two minutes hate” is an aesthetic practice that leads to group identity, much like cheerleading to urge on your team. To challenge the “two minutes hate” would not only damage moral, but would also constitute a thoughtcrime. As Rahv says, the goal of restricting language is make “thoughtcrime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it” (qtd in Rahv, 182). It is literally unthinkable.

Rorty further echoes this when he says that while Orwell “was not the first to suggest that small groups of criminals might get control of modern states and thanks to modern technology, stay in control forever” that he was the first to ask how intellectuals would deal with a situation where “it had become clear that liberal ideals had no relation to a possible human future”(171). Howe takes it a step further, saying that “ Orwell is trying to present the kind of world in which individuality has become obsolete and personality a crime [emphasis mine]” (189). “The whole idea of the self as something precious and inviolable is a cultural idea and as we understand it, a product of the liberal era,” which presumably, in the world of 1984, is now over.

So what role does the novel have to play if we are indeed at the end of a liberal era where we are not talking about the individual self anymore, but instead are talking about being “post-human?” Does being post-human mean that we have lost empathy, lost our humanity? In “History as Nightmare,” Irving Howe talks about the way that “Orwell has imagined a world in which the self . . . is no longer a significant value, not even a value to be violated.” Like 18th century novels, Rorty contends that Orwell, among other things, means to create or at least remind us of, our humanity, of our ability to empathize with others.

Works Cited
Adorno, Theodor. “On Commitment.” Trans. Francis McDonagh. Acessed April 10, 2009.
Howe, Irving. “The Fiction of Anti-Utopia,” The Orwell Reader: Text, Sources, Criticism. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1963.
Howe, Irving. “Orwell: History as Nightmare.” The Orwell Reader: Text, Sources, Criticism. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1963.
Kateb, George. “Aestheticism and Morality: Their Cooperation and Hostility,” Political Theory, vol 28, no 1, Feb. 2000, pp. 5-37.
Kristeva, Julia. Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia. New York: Columbia University Press,1989.
Mizener, Arthur. “Truth Maybe, Not Fiction.” The Kenyon Review, vol. 11, no. 4, 1949, pp. 685–688.
Orwell, George. 1984. The Orwell Reader: Text, Sources, Criticism. Ed. Irving Howe. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1963.
Orwell, George. “Politics and the English Language,” The Orwell Reader: Text, Sources, Criticism. Ed. Irving Howe. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1963.
Rahv, Philip. “The Un-future of Utopia,” The Orwell Reader: Text, Sources, Criticism. Ed. Irving Howe. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1963.
Rorty, Richard. Contingency, Irony, Solidarity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mallarme I?

In the end, much of the avant-garde comes back to Mallarme. Every book I read, whether by Breton in the 1920s or from a contemporary writer like Barrett Watten, James Harding, or Anna Lovatt, they all mention Mallarme. “Crisis in Poetry,” starts off by saying that as a reader, Mallarme had “the feeling of having read it all twenty years ago”1 I think of Eugene Ionesco who said in an interview that he started writing plays because he found the theatre to be so stale. He started writing plays that he himself would want to see.

"I still could not see quite how to get rid of that positive feeling of malaise produce by my awareness of the “impurity” of acted drama. I was by no means an agreeable theatregoer, but on the contrary, sulky, grumbling, always discontented. Was this due to some deficiency in myself alone? Or was it something lacking in the theatre?"

In a similar way, Mallarme speaks of poetry that is “extinct, or rather worn threadbare by repetition”3 because it is not of its time, tries too hard to imitate 17th century French poetry. I, too, started writing avant-garde poetry because it all had that “been there, done that, feeling.” Dada and Surrealism were like a breath of fresh air to my 21 year-old mind and have captivated me every since. Since I can't really get out of meaning though, try as I may, I keep collections of words and images that I occasionally go through. I pull out phrases that feel like they go together. In this way, I avoid writing about one specific thing, because when I try to write about something in particular, the poems suck. They are terrible, as are most poems that try to be about something4. Rather than trying to write about things, I try to write avant-gardely. Because the avant-garde in poetry, theatre, and art makes me happy. I like art that I don't understand, that I don't get on a conscious level, that I either have to work for or just let my mind go and appreciate the disparate images.

This often gets me in trouble with academic writing, because I have a high threshold for writing that I don't understand. I don't get hung up on meaning.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Thought Language Language Thought Thought Thought Language Language Thought Writing

Week 11 - Language and Writing

It is impossible, or nearly impossible, for me at least, to talk about writing without talking about language. The two for me go hand-in-hand. I think of language as the atoms of writing.

After at least a century of searching actively for a revolutionary function of poetry, (why) have we given up? (why) have we abandoned the incomplete experiments of the past? Where and how can poetry function uniquely, in other words, what are the unique functions of poetry, as a revolutionary practice? I prefer instead to think of the avant garde as the “first wave,” the ground work of consciousness, preparing the field. The change of consciousness, overused and virtually emptied of meaning as that idea may have become, is what necessarily must predate genuine social change. It is not up to poets (or even activists, politicians or “leaders”) to proscribe where that change needs to go, but to empower the imaginations around us to imagine something new, to dream our way out of the current world, which works only for a very few people.

To restructure language is to restructure thought, to restructure possibilities. To scramble, if not permanently, which is impractical and will not lead to the world we want, but temporarily, the world as we (think) we know it, the language that binds us to the now, to put new ideas, new juxtapositions into play, new planets into orbit. This is the revolutionary work of the poet.

To. . . . . remake . . . . . language. . . . . to . . . . find. . . . . .new
. .. .creative . . . . .imagistic . . . . .practices . . . . . of language
. . . . is to make . . . . . .resistance . . . possible . . . . . . to move us
. . . . . . toward our vision . . . . . . . . . . . . . . to have visions
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . never . . . before . . . . possible

I am talking here about a language that speaks outside of the dominant discourse, whether racialized, patriarchal, class-based, etc., an un-discourses or non-discourse, a paradiscourse, that brings with it the chance to step outside, run alongside, that does not attempt to use the tools of power that already exist, but to forge new tools that could create new structures, new edifices not previously imagined. The techne, the tool, in many ways prescribes what can be built. We know that with new technology new ways of thinking emerge.  So why would we not want new mental and imaginative linguistic tools of our own?  As Sol Lewitt says, “rational thoughts repeat rational thoughts.” The way we think perpetuates itself, we continue to think only in the ways we've always thought.  I'm not looking then for a feminine language per se, except insofar as it might offer a resistive language, a paralanguage that we can frolic in and search for something unknown, a Dada language a non-sense that leads to sense a zaum a de-formed formalism that will birth new forms. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Conceptualism and the Politics of the Art Object

“The editor has written me that he is in favor of avoiding ‘the notion that the artist is a kind of ape that has to be explained by the civilized critic.’ This should be great news to both artists and apes.”

--Sol LeWitt, “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art”

As we move through the art of the 20th century (and beyond), from Dada forward, we move increasingly toward the dematerialization of the art object—from breaking apart the object in Cubism, to abstracting it in Abstract Expressionism, to eliminating it as a criteria altogether in movements such as Fluxus, which favored experience over the sacredness of the object, and Conceptual Art, which favored the idea of the object over its actual execution of lack of.

As with many “movements” within art, there is some contestation around Conceptual Art, including its origins and its time lines. Charles Harrison, former editor of Art-Language places Conceptual Art within a very specific time frame of 1967-1972, during which time he sees the existence of a “critically significant conceptual art movement.” (29) A 1998 exhibit, Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, organized by the Queens Museum of Art, placed the movement globally within a much broader frame from the late 1950s into the present day. Likewise, Harrison traces the inception of Conceptual Art back to minimalism, with its anti-formal tendencies, a claim that Sol LeWitt, in his “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” denies by saying that no one he knows will admit to being a minimalist.

Dick Higgins’ “Intermedia Chart” is a useful reference, because it shows a number of contemporary cointerminous art movements and the way in which they intersect with one another. In it, we see Conceptual Art linked with both Fluxus and Happenings, and indeed, a number of artists’ work did fall into both Fluxus and Conceptual art, most notably Yoko Ono, whose performance pieces such as “Cut Piece” and “Piece to Hammer a Nail” emphasize the interactive, experiential nature of the work to the audience, whereas works such as the “War is Over! (if you want it)” billboards and Grapefruit fall into the realm of Conceptualism. In fact, I would alter Higgins’ chart to bring concrete poetry, visual novels, etc. closer to Conceptual Art in the matrix.

Without getting too bogged down in debates over origins and timeline, however, we can look at the tendencies that define historical and contemporary Conceptual Art, particularly as set forth by LeWitt himself in his “sentences” and “paragraphs” on Conceptual Art as well as looking at some of the politics of the dematerialization of the art object itself.

At its most basic, Conceptual Art privileges the idea over the object. In fact, according to LeWitt, whether the object is actually ever created or not is incidental. Point 10 of “Sentences on Conceptual Art” asserts that “Ideas can be works of art; they are in a chain of development that may eventually find some form. All ideas need not be made physical.” While talking about an art made of ideas and language may at first blush sound very cerebral and based in logic, “LeWitt is quick to emphasize the intuitive nature of Conceptual Art and desire to work against “rational art.” The logical exists only to be subverted.

“Logic may be used to camouflage the real intent of the artist, to lull the viewer into the belief that he understands the work, or to infer a paradoxical situation, such as logic vs. illogic.”

While there are many examples of objects created by Conceptual artists, including the prolific LeWitt himself, pieces that have come to be known as “instruction pieces” such as Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit, or text pieces with few, if any, visual elements that we have come to associate with “art” are what we generally reference when talking about Conceptual Art. In fact, textuality plays a major role in Conceptualism, both in the art works and in the works of the artist. At the most basic level,
Conceptual Art works have a tendency to be include text. “Since no form is intrinsically superior to another, the artist may use an form, from an expression of works (written or spoken) to physical reality, equally.” (Sentence #15). “If words are used, and they proceed from ideas about art, then they are art and not literature; numbers are not mathematics.”

Harrison calls Conceptualism a movement of “artists who write” and there is a strong anti-critic streak within the movement. Even though LeWitt acknowledges that the artist may or may not fully understand his or her own work, LeWitt also criticizes the “secret language of the critic” [13]. By conceptualizing the art from the outset, the artist becomes a sort of self-critic, eliminating the critic as mediator between the audience and the art. Writing about the art was as important as creating it and vehicles such as Art News, where Lewitt’s sentences and paragraphs were first published, as well as Art-Language, offered forums for conceptual artists to show themselves as critics. Even using a format such as sentences and paragraphs which sets up a grammatical, language-based approach, rather than invoking the form of the manifesto, which previous avant-garde movements relied upon, shows a break with past ideas of art objects as separate from language.
Conceptual Art reacted against Abstract Expressionism as not pushing art far enough away from the object, still privileging the art object as self-contained and as more concerned with its internal relationships than with the object’s relationship within the world. Abstraction, then, questions the image, but not the architecture of positions or the social relationship of the object. (Harrison, 31) Seeing painting, sculpture and traditional art forms as rigid and hegemonic, signs of an imperialist culture (41), Conceptual Art, as a movement of opposition, was self-conscious about its position among historical avant garde revolutions. Moreover, according to Harrison, the artists were not so much concerned with overthrowing, but to “reformulate and revalue modernism so as to validate their own enterprise as artistic . . . . clear[ing] a space for themselves to work.” (42) In fact, he contends that modernism needed to be current in order for the Conceptualists to establish themselves as avant garde. (42)

It is on this critique of the art object and of the architecture it inhabits that I would like to linger and focus for the remainder of this piece. Among the hegemonic institutions that Conceptualism was reacting to was the art museum itself. I’d like to go out on a limb and borrow from Peggy Phelan’s ideas about the politics of representation to talk about the politics of the art object and of removing the object from the gaze of both spectator and critic.

LeWitt distinguishes, first of all, between perceptual art, being art for the eye, and conceptual art, in which the concept is the most important aspect. Art that exists for the eye alone is subject to “the gaze”. Harrison describes the art object as “something contained within the ambient space of the stationary spectators gaze, its means restricted to whatever that gaze could pick out and animate.” In Unmarked, Peggy Phelan describes “the institional effect of the gallery” as putting the art object “under house arrest, controlling all conflicting and unprofessional commentary about it.” In this way, the gallery is able to maintain a degree of critical control over the work, and through controlling the placement and architecture of the piece, directing the gaze in certain ways.

In discussing art and representation within a feminist frame, Phelan suggests that “it can be effective to politically and aesthetically deny representing the female body imagistically, psychically, to bring about a new form of representation itself.” (164) 1 I contend that we can substitute the art object for the “female body” as a way of looking at the art object in this context of politics and representation.

Phelan draws a link between the gaze and commodification, and here, there can be no denying that Conceptual artists, concurrently with artists in Fluxus and other parallel movements, were indeed reacting against commodification of their work, and consequently, I would argue, against the gaze of institutions that wield power. As we can see in current political conditions, art is frequently on the front lines of political battles, either standing with or in opposition to, powerful institutions. Phelan describes an aesthetics of representation as offering a “pleasure of semblance and repetition [that] produces both psychic assurance and political fetishization.” (3) She further describes visibility politics as “compatible with capitalisms relentless appetite for new markets . . . The production and representation of visibility are part of the labor of the reproduction of capitalism.” (1)

Harrison talks in a parallel way about beholding as problematized by Conceptual Art. Specifically, how is the “beholder” qualified to view and judge the art object, to what end does “beholding” lead, and under what conditions is it taking place? (33) This gets to the heart of the gallery/critic system, in which experts decide the architecture and placement of the work as well as its aesthetic and critical interpretation. Indeed, this is what situates the gallery as a hegemonic, anti-democratic institution from which art had to be freed.

By emphasizing the idea of the object as primary over its execution, Conceptual artists bring into question the “value” of every piece of art that hangs in a gallery or museum. Sometimes refusing to create objects at all, they then sidestep the commodification of their ideas and their creativity. Some artists set up tables and sold small items themselves, including “selling” intangible objects or concepts for whatever their “buyers” were willing to pay for them (Camnitzer) and in the process, democratizing and subverting the system of selling art altogether.

Of course, it is the nature of the capitalist gaze to create commodities, which fits hand in hand with the nature of artists and their movements to want to be remembered. Consequently, Conceptual Art has not been able to completely escape the traps of representation. While they may have initially confounded the gallery system, the writings of many original Conceptual Artists and the textual nature of the work lend themselves to book publishing, and what objects do remain from previous moments of Conceptual Art now find their way into museums and traveling exhibitions. This is a tension that the avant garde has not been able to free itself from completely as it moves from present moment to retrospective. Nonetheless, Conceptualism has provided the opportunity for visual artists to challenge the very bases of their work: both the gaze of the spectator and critic, and the gallery system in which they encounter the art object. In its current practice, Conceptualism remains an art form that through its use of text and idea, lends itself easily to political and activist contexts and in doing so, continues to struggle with and confront these very issues.

1 While I don’t know that I am willing to argue that the art object itself is inherently female at this point, it cannot be denied that the subject of many masterpieces has in fact, been the feminine form. Thus the art object in those cases becomes directly implicit in the relationship of the gaze to the female body. And in fact, a number of feminist artists have turned to Conceptual art to produce works that confronted the male gaze outright. See Camnitzer et al.


Alberro, Alexander, and Blake Stimson. Conceptual art : a critical anthology. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1999.
Camnitzer, Luis, Jane Farver, Rachel Weiss, László Beke, Queens Museum of Art, Walker Art Center, and Miami Art Museum of Dade County. Global conceptualism : points of origin, 1950s-1980s / foreword by Luis Camnitzer, Jane Farver, Rachel Weiss ; introduction by Stephen Bann ; essays by László Beke .. New York: Queens Museum of Art : Available through D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 1999.
Harrison, Charles. Essays on Art & language. Oxford [England] ; Cambridge, Mass., USA: Blackwell, 1991.
Higgins, Hannah. Fluxus experience. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
LeWitt, Sol. “Sentences on Conceptualism.”, Referenced February 25, 2004.
Munroe, Alexandra, Yoko Ono, Jon Hendricks, and Bruce Altshuler. Yes Yoko Ono / Alexandra Munroe with Jon Hendricks ; with essays by David A. Ross, Murray Sayle, Jann S. Wenner ; contributions by Bruce Altshuler .. New York: Japan Society ; Harry N. Abrams, 2000.
Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked : the politics of performance. London ; New York: Routledge, 1993.

Appendix 1: Intermedia Chart
Appendix 2: Sentences on Conceptual Art

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Gender and Genre Continued

I have journals due in one of my current MA classes, but the instructor is only going to glance at them. I have done all of this work for very little return. I know, a journal is often written only for oneself, but I also wrote it as a conversation with the instructor which now will not happen. So as to make this a more fruitful endeavor, I am going to post some of the journals here. Enjoy and feel free to respond so as to make these truly a conversation.

I got this article out of a book called Feminist Theory and Folklore, and so it is, indeed, about both of those subjects, but again, any kind of feminist approach to academia must also, or should also, in my mind, deal with boundary crossing. Right away on the first page of the article she talks “how people negotiate the categories that are imposed upon them” (71). Many of the restrictions of academic writing predate women’s mass entrance into the academy and represent patriarchal categories of what “counts” as academic writing, what “counts” as academic publishing, etc. I have underlined at least half of the first page because it says so much that I have come to love and agree with.

“Theories of gender and genre converge in their exploration of the problems of classification and the disruption of boundaries. Genre is often (emphasis mine) gendered . . . . Gender scholarship questions how cultural categories are reproduced and under what conditions women are complicit with or resistant to the reproduction of conventions.”

Schuman continues, talking about the way that “genre classification systems could represent the values of a culture” (72), and the way that “genre systems are as much about disputes, maintenance, and shifting of boundaries” (73). Thus, it is no wonder that feminists coming to academic would question those kinds of boundaries.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Martha Nussbaum: Poetic Justice

I have journals due in one of my current MA classes, but the instructor is only going to glance at them. I have done all of this work for very little return. I know, a journal is often written only for oneself, but I also wrote it as a conversation with the instructor which now will not happen. So as to make this a more fruitful endeavor, I am going to post some of the journals here. Enjoy and feel free to respond so as to make these truly a conversation.

I am reading an excerpt from a book for one of my classes by Martha Nussbaum. The book is Poetic Justice and the chapter is on the literary imagination. I am reading about the mistrust of literature as subversive by people who are only interested in economics and science and my mind started to wander. (This is actually why it takes me so long to read a book anymore, because for every 250 words I read I write 500). Is there really any way for human beings to get away from purpose? Do we automatically ascribe purpose to every single thing we do, even writing literature? Is there really such a thing as purposeless human activity and what is it in our drive to make meaning that even after the fact, even when we might have thought we had done something purposeless, that we have to assign a purpose to it. I like to think that some writing is just an end in itself, but other times, if I am challenged and on the defensive about “what use is poetry” which I think was originally proposed by Amiri Baraka but I know from my friend in Minneapolis, performance poetry J. Otis Powell! as he used to stand up in front of a 3-piece jazz combo and declaim and question it, I can always assign a purpose to poetry, even avant-garde Dadaistic poetry.

And since we are talking about purpose, I can bring this all the way back around to my BIG paper for this class. The point of my thesis is that Dadaistic avant-garde poetry can liberate the imagination and get us out the quagmire of thought that we find ourselves in and that in this day and age, relevant to Derrida’s law of genre, poetry is in the unique position not to have to be linear anymore the way it was in Aristotle’s day, when it was the only literary game in town. Now poetry can be pure flights of fancy, which is not to say that it is purposeless. Quite the contrary, is the argument that I would make.

And I notice that I start all of my sentences, my paragraphs, or at least most of them, with conjunctions, which is actually how I write when I am free associating, like I do in journals. And I start thinking again about my paper and what purpose I want it to serve, if I want it to be an exploration of something I haven’t explored enough of, like Helene Cixous, if I want it to be about someone that I have studied before and develop expertise on, like Shelley Jackson, or if I want it to be “in service to” my thesis. And so I have written or argued myself right back where I started.

But, I could add, at least having put it down on paper, it is in my mind now and I can start trying to narrow it down somewhat. Thus, I have accomplished something “of purpose” with these ramblings.

Better luck next time.