Guided, goaded, led on by William Hogarth, Samuel Beckett, Ron Silliman, and other latter-day unsaintlies, ‘To Assemble’ introduces some of the themes recurring across the collected texts of ‘Art’s Plight’. It proposes that, across the contemporary arts, to commit oneself to ‘make-for-‘art’ is to assemble whatever-materials around a specific sense of ‘art’s’ ‘difference’ to all other forms of everyday activity: assembling entails a leap towards an ‘elsewhere’ that is ‘other than’ the worlds of everyday life. Making assembles its materials in ways, hopefully, that allow it to gather (to assemble) around this ‘difference’.
‘To Plight’ introduces art’s contemporary plight as the split between the promise and the predicament of making-for-art, some of whose consequences are explored across the subsequent texts.
As both verb and noun, ‘plight’ is offered to open up the defining dilemmas of making-for-art now in a global culture of technoscientific representation and knowledge.
‘To Set Out For’ considers making’s challenge to responsive writing.
Hopefully the voice of Blanchot can be heard echoing from the far nearby between the words of this text.
Writing is challenged to refuse external models, methods, and authorities in its response to making’s gests.
‘To Converse’ offers a wandering conversation between two voices, one seemingly a maker seeking to hold to the context-specificity and uniqueness of both the event of making-for-art and its resulting gest, and the other trying to articulate the task of a writing striving to write from within making’s interests and commitments while eschewing any claim to be either its ‘representative’ or its ‘critic’. This second responsive voice challenges itself to respect making’s retreat into unsayability.
‘To Make Out Under Representation…’ offers making, across the contemporary arts, as a paradoxical struggle to survive while trying to reconcile irreconcilables: how to cling on to elements of the modern arts’ legacy in the face of a general aestheticisation of culture managed according to the interests of global representing institutions.
Under the systematics of representation (embracing the complex of relations between capital/state/technoscience’s knowledges/calculative information and communication systems/common sense) Art’s Body becomes a mutant, a hybrid undergoing continual re-modelling in the spaces set up for it under the rule of the info-spectacle.
‘To Make-for-Art as a Not-working…’ pursues further the question of making-for-art’s ‘difference’. The focus is on art-making’s paradoxical relations to both ‘work’ and ‘place’ under the representing institutions of techno-capitalism. Cultural conventions about work and play as they are routinely applied to art are suspended here in favour of alternative terms for approaching making’s generative activities.
‘To Autonomise’ asks how making’s current plight might engage with the modern arts’ legacy. The schism between the creator’s approach to making’s task and audience response (‘aesthesis’) to it and its upshots (gests) focuses a consideration of making’s response to its predicament. It places particular emphasis on making’s need to cut itself away from the commonsense knowledges at work in everyday life.
As Agamben proposes in ‘The Man without Content’, making’s vital interest is to situate itself elsewhere to that of its audiences. This discussion explores some of the implications of pursuing this vital interest for both making and responses (especially written) to it.
‘To Give’ is divided into four sub-sections exploring contrasting aspects of contemporary making’s relation to ‘offering’ and to ‘giving’, and specifically to the ‘gift’ and the ‘given’. The questions turn around what making takes as a ‘given’ with particular reference to interpretations of art’s past (‘tradition’ and pre-positions) and future (making for, extremity, leaping-beyond).
Duchamp’s paradoxical sense of the ‘hinge’ and his recurrence on the term ‘Given…’ open onto questions of ‘source’, the ‘other’, and ‘medium’ in the performing process.
‘To Refrain’ takes Kafka’s last stories as acute diagnoses of making’s plight under the catastrophic conditions engendered in the emergent continuously self-transforming techno-capitalism. In particular, ‘Josephine the Singer’ is taken as the key bearer of the way the making-body – the small all-too-human body making for Art’s Body – is written all over by the terms of its own disappearance.
‘To Listen Out For’ proposes that, through an interruptive call that making can’t refuse, would-be performers are summoned to make towards Art’s Body and withdraw from representation. This discussion turns through some of the processes and terms through which makers position themselves in relation to this hazardous leap away from everyday life.
Withdrawal from the permeating modes (waves…) of representation entails an embodied turning back through and away from the everyday via the transforming flows (particularly breath/spiration as ‘inspiration’, blood, scenting) whose resources integrate and bear this process along.
‘To Perform’ considers some of the implications of a sentence by Celan juxtaposing the self’s imposing and exposing as they bear on the tensions of making. Following Celan I suggest that making has no option now but to lay itself open, become abjectly patent. But simultaneously its tactical astuteness has to find ways of carrying this patency away from the appropriating calculative placing language-work of the culture-managing institutions.
‘To Gest’ takes performing’s relation to language as its recurring concern. The outcomes of performing’s infinitely varied gestures are offered as ‘gests’ that are cast towards a region – Art’s Body – where such a variety might just find ways of surviving techno-representation’s means.
In modernity’s nascency it was Alfred Jarry who recognised that art’s survival under techno-representation would depend on the performance of gests that confronted technoscience’s ever-expanding rule over performing’s venture. Here Jarry’s ’Pataphysique becomes a key for opening out performing’s complex relations with technoscience’s machined metamorphoses-without-end.
‘To Mobilise…’ considers whether performing’s task now turns around the challenge of making something that the representing cultural machinery cannot recognise or place. Is this what the leap towards Art’s Body requires of performing and its gests?
The text proceeds via a brief consideration of Wagner’s gesamtkunstwerk – ‘total work of art’ – and the subsequent emergence of a global system of thoroughly aestheticised info-entertainment. The latter’s machinery surrounds and invades performing by bearing directly on its relations to its materials.
‘To Risk…’ proposes that making-for-art, as a not-working aside from both economic and aesthetic valuing, risks itself to wasting – it wastes itself away. Performing is offered as a ‘decreation’ that is always enacted at extremities where conventions of value and valuing are set aside and substituted solely by the hope for and trust in the ‘elsewhere’ of Art’s Body.
Performing experiences ‘value’ and ‘valuing’ as the sites of an excruciating tension because it is both ‘in’ and ‘outside’ the enveloping culture.
‘To Leap’ proposes leaping – saltation – as performing’s necessary and defining move. The leap’s aim (its identifying drive and purpose) is to take the performer away from the machinery of representation and general aestheticisation. It attempts to make towards that ‘outside’ where it has already projected and gathered Art’s Body.
It performs this while acknowledging, of course, that there is no Body-as-such but only a boundaryless open collection ‘over there’ that it has itself assembled as its own desired destination. This is the Body towards which performing’s saltation casts itself off.
‘To Leap Fictively’ focuses specifically on a selection of writers (‘novelists’) whose writing is driven by a questioning relation to the everyday life of language as it is inhabited and ‘used’ in a culture saturated by media-representation and the construction-dissemination of information.
In making-for-art they have recognised that they have to find and make ways through and out of the culture’s language binds in order to disclose the possibility of different relations to and within language (to be extra-ordinary to the current forms of language’s ordinariness).
Text 17 – To Affirm Art’s Potential For Intimate Difference Under Digitisation : Re-Gathering Performing’s Relation To Medium
‘To Affirm…’ considers aspects of performing’s relation to its ‘medium’/‘media’ in the light of its permeation by and involvement with the endless mutation process characterising contemporary techno-representation: the conjunction of electronic power and digitisation constitutes the contextual demands faced by performing. But an essential element of the modernist legacy stands as a continuing challenge to performing: to make patent and to push to their limits a medium’s specific defining qualities. To take on the implications of this legacy becomes even more pressing where the boundaries between and merging of media are continually volatilised through technoscientific innovation.
‘To Confront…’ explores some of the possible implications for making-for-art of the fate of ‘embodiment’ under the rule of technoscience. The text focuses particularly on those performers gathering themselves around matters/materials/processes other than written/spoken words. How might the technoscientifically re-modelled ‘body’ be brought (if at all…) into a hopeful relation with Art’s Body?
Alongside everything else, performing and Art’s Body are caught up within and drawn onwards through continuous mutations induced by technoscience’s body-transforming machinery.
‘To Pass Through…’ asks how a hybridised performing, now partially integrated into a machinery for the systematic production of commodities, might make its way through technoscience and pass into the hinterland of Art’s Body. Moving in the obscure zone between ‘culture’ and ‘art’, where decisions about a gest’s ‘difference’ are made, Warhol opened out some of its implications for performing’s response to techno-representation. It has to find a way of both taking on (starting within) and slipping away from the languaging processes (now digitised in and as the flow of information) of the appropriating machinery. The challenges this presents to performing focuses the text’s remaining discussion.
‘To Sound Out…’ explores the challenge of reproductive representation to those musical projects that have art – Art’s Body – as their desired destination. Suspended between chaos’s ‘noise’ and Language’s ‘meaning’ those musical performances seeking to make-for-art have to live with and find ways of resolving the challenge of music’s defining difference – the near instant disappearance of music’s sounding out in mechanically/electronically unaided performance.
‘Codetta’ returns to ‘Art’s Plight’s’ guiding theme: how making-for-art across the contemporary arts makes its way through the challenges posed to it as it struggles to create paths through the institutions of a culture organised around the representing machinery of capitalised technoscience.
The intertwining of ‘power’ with ‘electronics’ under the rule of ‘technical’ knowledges infiltrates all zones of activity, including making-for-art’s leap toward Art’s ‘elsewhere’ Body, and sets the terms for their performance.