Le Merle

vol.0 no.0, Fall 2011
Download PDF

The figure of the artist is associated with an imaginary of salvation. Unstable, this figure is associated with transformation no less by its meditations and Dionysian games than by its pirouettes on the side of negativity. As an inheritance, it is at once delicate and heavy, a source of constant self-questioning, a shuttling between ecstasy and dispossession. Now that it’s our turn, what of this figure’s promethean imaginary can we salvage? What of it do we want to set down before we keep on moving? Edited by François Lemieux, this pilot issue, volume 0 of Le Merle, is a compilation of pieces: words and gestures that patch together attention, vulnerability and desire, as well as packing some joys.

The Role of the Artist in Today’s Society (1973)

Hans Haacke

The assumption that artists are humanitarians is a beautiful but dangerous myth. Experience tells that artists are not better than other people. As landlords, they exploit their tenants as much as others. They rip off things and ideas as much as others; they are certainly not less, maybe even more concerned about their careers than others; and when there is a choice between monetary gain and truth to professed ideas, the pro­portion of artists opting for the bank-account is also not considerably different from other people’s. The idea of the artist as a priest or saint is a cherished holdover from 19th-century romanticism. It creates an atmosphere that makes it a sacrilege to analyze the artist’s economic and ideological position and the role he actually plays in society’s superstructure. I am afraid the assumption that art, and in particular, so-called avant-garde art, is, by definition, something of high moral value is also erroneous. To declare art a value per se fosters a devo­tional rather than a critical attitude and ends up in pseudo-religion. Like accepted art, so-called avant-garde art is part of society’s superstructure and does not deserve to be called revolutionary simply because it might be rejected temporarily. What I have said extends to the propagation of art as well, the institutions engaged in this enterprise, and the individuals associated with these institutions. It applies to schools, to museums, to galleries, to art dealers, to critics, in short to everybody who in one way or another has something to do with the distribution of or the information and commenting about these peculiar products called “art.” The whole art syndrome is part of society’s superstructure. To a considerable degree it reflects the political, ideological, and economic situation of any given society. We are told the mass production of art objects, so-called multiples, is a means to democratize art or to give a greater number of people access to art. I believed that until a few years ago myself. I came to see that, at least as it has been handled until now, this was actually a misunderstanding. Although the multiplication of works of art has been undermining the myth of the unique, almost religiously revered object, it seems to have more to do with opening new markets than with democracy. In order to receive the message of a work of art, either the message intended by the artist, or for that matter the message it carries due to its inevitable participation in the superstructure, in neither case does one have to own the work. Both messages are available as long as the work is accessible to the public. This is a point that was very beautifully stated by Norbert Wiener in his book The Human Use of Human Beings, where he says that the enjoyment of and the reception of information from a work of art does not depend on possessing it. None of us owns a Tatlin, a Mondrian, or a Duchamp, for example. And still they can say as much to us as to those who have a work at home or administer one in a museum. Another issue raised in Athena Spear’s letter was the proposal that artists, being an economically and consequently politically weak group in society should unionize so that they have clout and could impose their ways of proce­dure and their ideals on the distribution system of art. In general, I am sympathetic to such an idea. It was one of the reasons why I myself and a number of other artists have participated in the activities of the now defunct Art Workers’ Coalition. Unfortunately, again, I had to un­dergo a disillusioning learning process. I found that Western artists (I do not know how it works elsewhere) seem to have a psychic make-up that by its very nature is so competitive that an organized group effort is doomed to remain a short-lived affair. It doesn’t matter how much you appeal to an individual to overcome his or her nature; that person will not shed it-it simply can’t. I have become very skeptical about the possibilities of getting such a group of extremely ego-oriented people together in a union, as desirable as this may be. A union can only be effective if you forget about your ego for the sake of the political strength gained from solidarity. Another troublesome aspect, not so much a practical one but an ideological one is this: in the Art Workers’ Coalition (and it applies to any artists’ group I’ve heard of) there was rarely, if ever, a sufficient coherence of ideas. What one wants, the other objects to strenuously; e.g., one wants to destroy museums, the other wants to reform them or wants to use the museums as they are for his own artistic ends, and the third simply wants a piece of the pie. These are mutually exclusive positions. One could quote numerous other examples of conflicts that go beyond disagreement on tactical and strategic questions and are of an ideological nature. The bread and butter issues all artists are facing are probably not enough to bridge the ideological conflicts between, let us say, the interests of a corporate artist and an artist critical of the corporate state. In New York we have a union vaguely comparable to a potential artists’ union; I am referring to the teachers’ union. What an ideologically fos­silized and dictatorially run union could do to the educational process can be studied in this example. It is not too difficult to extrapolate what consequences an artists’ union would have, if it is running a tight ship and is steering a fascist course. Now, all of this sounds very depressing. What can be done in such a situation? The only thing I could suggest (in certain ways I am doing that in my work now) is to create a critical rather than a devotional atmosphere, an attitude that questions the premises of the whole art phenomenon in all its aspects. Why art is made, what kind of art is produced, by whom, under what circumstances, for what audience, who in fact uses it, for what ends and in what context?1

  1. Hans Haacke (1973) The Role of the Artist in Today’s Society, Author(s): Carl Andre, Hans Haacke, John Perreault, Cindy Nemser Source: Art Journal, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Summer, 1975), pp. 327 – 329 Published by: College Art Association

Manifesto for Confusion, Struggle and Conflicted Feelings

Jacob Wren

I’ve been making art for my entire life and I’ve never felt more lost.
In this, I believe I am not alone.

Do we care enough about art, meaning, the world to admit there is no obvious or effective way forward? That we’re going in circles with an ever-lessening effect? That we’re going in circles but are unwilling to admit it?

The grand excitements of art – the modernist breaks, the new movements, the cataclysms – are long behind us. More recent trends are fleeting at best. The belief in originality is utterly depleted and, more importantly, no longer feels like a worthy goal. All we have now is A LOT, far too much, of everything. A LOT of art, theatre, dance, performance, music, installation, painting, liter­ature, cinema, internet: of every possible type and gradation of quality. More stuff than you could pos­sibly expe­rience even if you lived for several million years. But we don’t live for even a million years. Our lives are brief and what it means to seize the day is by no means clear. Why must we pretend that we know what to do? Politics have lost the plot – right wing governments and the ascendancy of the super-rich are the order of the day – and artists are of little assistance. On our current environmental trajectory we believe the planet will not survive.

But, if we keep hurtling forward, in fact it is we who will not survive, as the planet steps in to take care of itself. (Then again, is it likely at least a few of us will survive to sort through the wreckage. But we can’t make art for them. They’re not born yet. We must make art for now.)

With this present, and this future, how can one feel that bold artistic moves have any real energy? Conflicted feelings rule the day. Daily confusions of every stripe. Ambivalence is king. Where is the art that strikingly knows it’s own futility but stumbles forward compellingly, anyway, because as an artist you have no choice?

To change anything you have to work together with other people. This is the essential logic behind an art movement, behind a manifesto. To work together with other people you need to line up behind a potent conviction, agree to all run in the same direction, at least until you score the first few goals. There is power in numbers, in clans, clubs and mafias. So why can’t all the artists in the world who feel as lost as I do come toge­ther, think about what is left to do and how? There may be no convictions to unite us, but why can’t we unite in the potency of our contemporary ambivalence? In the desire to be honest and vulnerable about where we actually stand?

(An artist who is little more than an advertisement for him or her self is so lost there might be no way back towards meaning. I live in constant fear that this is what I might become.)

I dream of energy, content, value, meaning. Effective left wing populism. The end, or reduction, of alienation, consumerism, war and stupidity. But when you dream you are asleep, and right now I would prefer to be as awake as possible. And to be awake means to admit I have almost no idea how to bring such dreams closer to reality. All roads seem blocked. I have no idea what strategies – in life, politics or art – might be genuinely useful or poetic. I want to be awake, while not losing touch with the knowledge that to stay sane one must continue to sleep and dream.

In fact, I wish to write a manifesto that will admit to everything: ambivalence, conflicted feelings, doing things only for money, humiliation, cynicism, confusion, not being able to tell my friends from my enemies. To admit to everything and find out if anyone agrees. If anyone out there is with me. If such honesty and confusion can mean anything in the current world. If there can be any integrity to it. If it can transform itself into a useful truth.

An artist doesn’t need conviction. An artist doesn’t need to know which way to go. An artist needs talent, naiveté, community and life experience. None of these things are incompatible with feeling lost. (I would someday like to write another manifesto about how art that is not intrinsically connected to life is of no value. But I feel too lost to enter into life. I’m an extreme case. I can’t find the way in.)

Of course, about such things one doesn’t write manifestos. But perhaps we should find a way to start.


    Oriol Vilanova

    09  ISABEL I
    12  HENRY VIII
    15  ROD LAVER
    17  NERO
    20  SALOME
    26  TICIANO
    27  MARK TWAIN

      El trozo de oreja.
      Atracción del museo de Vladivostok.

      Oriol Vilanova

      Vladivostok. Ubicada en el Extremo Oriente ruso. El puerto más importante del Pacífico. Sede de la Flota de Pacífico de la Armada de la Federación Rusa. Antiguo Museo de Ciencias Naturales. Exposición de la oreja de Vincent Van Gogh. Más exactamente. El lóbulo de la oreja derecha. Blanca. Iluminada artificialmente. Una vitrina de madera. Una pequeña sala. Vacía y sin interferencias. Escucha las conversaciones de los transeúntes. Distintas versiones del altercado. Arles. 23 de diciembre de 1888. Pérdida de la oreja. Dos meses de convivencia entre Van Gogh y Gauguin. Van Gogh amenazó en cortarle la oreja izquierda. Por la noche. Después del disgusto. Con una navaja. Se mutiló la derecha. Automutilación. Un corte limpio. Otras teorías. Una agresión de Gauguin con su daga. Una apuesta de bar. Borracho. Afirmaba que no concebía dolor alguno. Un camarero le cortó con unas tijeras. Estudios forenses. La herida no puede deberse a una automutilación. Pintor atormentado. “Mi juventud fue triste, fría y estéril”. Un artista romántico al uso. Manía persecutoria. Salir del infierno. Envol­vió el lóbulo en un pañuelo. Fue al burdel. Se lo regaló a Rachel. Una prostituta con nombre artístico. Morena. Anastasiya Solovióv. Ilusionada. Conservó el trozo de oreja del pintor. Pote con formol. Estaba segura que sería un gran artista. A su muerte. 13 de marzo de 1941. Dejó en testamento el preciado fragmento. Su ciudad natal fue la heredera. Vladivostok tiene una joya local. Casi desconocida. Reconocido después de su muerte. Pelirojo célebre.

        mark in conversation

        le merle mark

        In the months leading up to the 2011 Triennale québécoise, entitled The Work Ahead of Us, the Musée d’art contem­porain de Montréal insisted on keeping secret the identities of participating artists. This approach was undoubtedly a marketing ploy designed to create media hype and boost the public’s expectations. Regardless of whether or not this gambit was successful, it had the rather more significant side-effect of establishing a new protocol in terms of the way the Musée deals with artists. In response to the situation, I decided to turn to mark. The following interview was initially published in the Triennale catalogue as one of the three parts of the piece I realized for the exhibition. — fl


        le merle

        Your art practice emphasizes care, attention and discussion of the circumstances in which you are invited to work. Could you tell us more about the practice you develop as a group?


        Our focus lies in pointing to the inner reality and circumstances surrounding the making of exhibitions. What remains invisible or undisclosed within that framework is something that we are familiar with as artists, exhibition makers, and sometimes as viewers. We reveal this framework as a starting point through which our artistic practice is developed, which also allows us to discuss our general attitude towards the “spectacle” of big performance shows. No need to mention that we do not necessarily make friends through our work. We are often perceived as inconvenient. In turn, collaborating with mark involves a form of risk and requires a conscious decision.


        Instead of talking about context-specificity and site-responsivity as if they were tactics, might you instead characterize these approaches as integral to your artistic practice?


        It has a lot to do with the pacing of how we process information. The discussions we engage in as a group allow us to slow down both the creative act, and its reception. Subsequently, the work carries a similar pace: a deceleration in consumption that holds the potential for beholders (including organizers and curators) to think about familiar circumstances from new and/or different directions. That may then lead to an acceleration in his / her own developments. We offer the spectator / beholder to break away from prior concepts and understandings towards new modes of questioning.


        Can you explain in greater detail this collective shift in speed, and its repercussions?


        Pragmatically, there is a big difference between working individually and working within a group. Within the group dynamic the necessity to act and to position oneself is of greater importance. During the development of a piece, our work is continuously reassessed and reflected upon by all members.The aforementioned processes of “slowing-down” describes our approach and its effects quite well. Working as a group of five means each of us brings her own professional specialization, experience, and perspective. This is why we have to work through things to crystalize an understanding of the given parameters of a project – the most time consuming aspect of our work. We discuss and reject ideas, essentially becoming critics of our own work. Through this process, we mutually enrich each other’s perspectives and kindle the collective enthusiasm at the same time. The resulting work, or that which the public experiences as an artwork by mark, though distilled from our individual perspectives, is perceived as the work of one single artist. Our verve becomes five-fold once it is aroused…


        We might get back to the idea of consensus later. For now, bearing in mind what we’ve already discussed, could you talk about your work for the 6. Kunstfrühling 2009 exhibition that was held in the metropolitan area of Bremen / Oldenburg?


        This exhibition was set up to be like an industrial fair. It was organized in two parts: first, a guest curator was invited to organize a group show; second, Bremen’s cultural institutions were asked to showcase themselves by curating their own selfcontained program.


        And mark was invited to present in the large group show, right?


        Yes. After receiving the Kunstfrühling curator’s invitation and discussing his offer amongst ourselves, we proposed taking over the exhibition’s ticket counter as the basis of our intervention. We first had to complete the employment application procedure. After individually submitting scaled-down versions of our resumés, we got the box office jobs. This process enabled us to earn an income for the duration of the exhibition in exchange of our services, all while conducting our artistic intervention.


        So you worked in shifts selling tickets?




        What were the reactions within the organization?


        For the organizers of the exhibition our position wasn’t easy to handle: the box office activity becoming part of an artist’s work within the exhibition meant that mark had first-hand access to delicate information, such as the financial proceedings of the event. Our intervention was obviously a critical statement in opposition to the widespread con­vention of artist’s unpaid labour in the production of these kinds of big public events and exhibitions. The piece allowed us to explore that while at the same time fulfilling a shared desire among us to have one-on-one contact with every single visitor of the Kunstfrühling exhibition.


        What about the other artists? How did they react to mark getting paid for their intervention?


        Of course, some of them were personally offen­ded at our “profitable” idea. Some thought that we might pocket all of the money for ourselves. Which would have been a pretty ingenious, but dangerous idea…


        Could you tell me about your second intervention in the Kunstfrühling exhibition in 2011? If I remember correctly, the conditions were different. Instead of being invited for the large group show you received an invitation from a guest cultural institution. Is that right?


        We were invited in 2011 due to our 2009 box office intervention. One of Bremen’s institutions decided to invite mark based on the critical position we had developed for the 2009 edition. It was under these circumstances that we developed the new work.


        They wanted to somehow propose a critical project in that specific context? And you were filling this role, in a way?


        From our perspective, nowadays criticality is highly praised, especially in artistic discourse. It feels as though it has become a delight for curators to invite artists that present an incisive critical stance. This is something we are both sensitive to, and cautious about. In this case, the second invitation came from a curator who had little to do with the organization of 7. Kunstfrühling 2011. She invited us based on our previous work, expecting it would express somehow her own attitudes towards the “spectacle”. We found ourselves having to find a balance between a certain pride because our work was being recognized and an unease in light of its potential instrumentalization by a third party. We accepted the invitation and subsequently made a work using the 2009 piece as our frame of reference. We took into account the fact that we were speci­fically invited to deliver critical content. “What mark was about”, or the expectation of criticality, became what needed to be addressed. Generally, the fact of not meeting expectations is manifest in our project drafts and works – not as a default attitude or principle but rather as a development within our negotiation with the work.


        What did the resulting work consist of?


        We made an audio guide that included 76 tracks of material dealing with the organization and the governing decisions for the exhibition that involved the spectators’ positions, expectations, hopes, and the role of the artist. As always in our works, our objective with this work was to develop an artistic form from which we could be challenged.


        And how did it work out financially, if you don’t mind me asking?


        Although most art institutions rent out their audio guides, the Kunstfrühling organization didn’t allow us to ask for money.


        Because it is was piece of art?


        Yes, that was the main argument. But well, we wanted to ask for a symbolic amount, something like €2 per rental. The viewer having to pay for the piece would involve a decision being made on their part. In the end, we did not charge anything and absorbed costs with the small production budget from the guest cultural institution that had invited us. This was a different situation from 2009 when artists were paid nothing at all. The Kunstfrühling organization even requested that all participating artists must pay for the group catalogue which was produced to promote the event. But our combined salaries at the ticket counter ended up being the same amount as our budget the second time around.


        If criticality is increasingly understood as symbolic currency within the visual arts, where does that leave us in terms of practice, in your view?


        There is no doubt that we are involved in the art market economy, whether we benefit from it or not. Therefore, we always somehow have to deal with a kind of absorption. So, we develop a practice which can also absorb the particular conditions as a framework, a system of rules, and parameters that we can work from. In Andrea Fraser’s work, for instance, you can see that in the visual arts you can try to be ahead of your time or create practices you think cannot be merged into any market strategies, but in reality these practices will even­tually be fully incorporated into the art market. It must be exhausting to always feel the desire to be outside or ahead of one’s time. With our inheritance of conceptual art we don’t really see ourselves as ahead or outside, and sometimes we even forget that critical conceptual art is not as familiar and established for others as it is for us. We work from this general understanding and a broad knowledge-base.


        Would you qualify mark’s approach as somewhat speculative – organized around the challenges of what is possible, and not necessarily what is plausible?


        Our critical practice involves studying ways of raising awareness, not just arguing about the pros and cons. It is our need and desire to work with reduced aesthetic forms and to restrict ourselves to sensitive gestures rather than throwing grandiose images / gestures into the “space”. It can be seen as old-fashioned or as pointing towards the future – in any case, for us these sensitive gestures are the appropriate mode of expression. We wouldn’t exclu­de other techniques if they became necessary, but we can hardly imagine not working from a concrete context. It might seem naive, but while developing a work, we are quite focused on the moment and do not spend time worrying about our professional future – this might also be an advantage of our position as a collective. We feel a remarkable dif­ference, anyway.


        What is mark’s favorite color1?


        Are any colors better then others? So far we learned: “Some girls are bigger than others” (The Smiths).

        1. mark is a German art collective of women artists, mothers, yoga instructors, architects, graphic designers and teachers who have been working together, every now and then, over the last fifteen years.

        Introductory note to le contrepoint académique (sic)

        Marc G. Couroux

        le contrepoint académique (sic) is / was a noisy work. A performance situation instead of a purely musical event. A nuisance in the context of the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, for which it was concocted in 2000. It dragged the orthodoxies of classical concert music – through the invocation of an academic, dusty, textbook, archaic, idealized counterpoint, essentially impossible and unrealizable – into the vanguard of free music which Victo prides itself on representing. That unwanted transplantation revealed unsuspected similarities on a political level between these two seemingly antagonistic contexts, especially regarding the position of submission the listener-viewer assumes as a matter of course, and the willingness to accept an unchanging system of address which fails to open up a process of active interro­gation and critical inquiry. Concert music constantly reinforces its boundaries by actively denoting and excluding the “extra-musical” (music being one of the rare disciplines to have coined such a negativity) and demanding an unproblematically centered listening free of distracted valences. Indeed, concert music and much of what goes on at Victo (there are exceptions) depend on an unwavering faith in the modes of transmission and reception of their respective contents. While there may be dissonances (noises) to contend with, and even the occasional non-cochlear noise produced by a work which fails to live up to its expectations, or which the performer fails to bring across convincingly (more noise), the ubiquitous conventions which frame the work even before it has begun fail to attract significant scrutiny.

        le contrepoint académique (sic) is a noisy work through genre confusion. Its musical content acts as if it is the fragmented (and delayed) outcome of an increasingly rarefied type of counterpoint which anxiously and repeatedly interrupts its own becoming; in a context where concerted confidence is expected, endless dithering and barely repressed insecurities are substituted. The work embeds a private outside-time inspection of materials and their actualization through rehearsal into the inside-time of the live performance, noisily confounding the recipient’s “natural” expectations of a performer in full possession of his powers, communicating faithfully and legitimately. It is noisy by its refusal to settle into a stable relationship with the listener, through a kind of real-time “editing” which propels the discontinuities and multiple times endemic to the recording studio into a context where a guarantee of coherent projection and temporal unity implicitly ground the listener’s experience. It also functions squarely outside of music, by forcing the instabilities inhe­rent to certain types of performance art situations into a feedback loop with musical material, now subjected to and unmoored by an undisciplined (willfully or not), shaky body. It bores holes in a presumed uniform and continuous temporal fabric (necessary to the practice of “structural listening”) by a general waning of intent and the necessary skill to support it, a loss of the “will to teleology”, a cultivation of a sameness through infraperceptible difference, all contributing to encouraging the viewer by extension to periodically disconnect from the proceedings.

        And yet, for many (critics among them), the work passed the litmus test with flying colors. It was acclaimed as a heroic struggle. Its various noises could be in­corporated under the rubric of a heightened mannerism (Jarrett, Gould, Helfgott…), its stylistic bifurcations as products of an internal, personal conflict (with an inner demon, perhaps?). Wishful thinking? Willful obliviousness? Others had to look away, close their eyes, to engage in “reduced listening” (cf. Pierre Schaeffer) to minimize extra-musical contamination. (While still others claimed that the recording – the only extant documentation of the complete event – now purged of its visual component, nevertheless donated a sense of impending collapse and anxious tentativeness which pointed (however awkwardly) to a situation outside the framework of music proper.)

        le contrepoint académique (sic) was intended to intervene in (without resolving) the situation of highly conditioned (yet taken as a given) and idealized perception which takes place in the “concentration machine”1 of the concert hall. A tactical intervention which redirected awareness, if momentarily, to possible alternate levels of engagement, self-reflexivity and agency within and around the mutually sustained binds between listener and performer. To forestall closure, categorization and systematization by letting noise into the encounter.

        1. A term coined by composer and theorist eldritch Priest.

        le contrepoint académique (sic)

        Marc G. Couroux

        aggression is an essential
        characteristic of the avant-garde
        the whole story de-evolved from the ego-centre
        of the protagonist exploding the interface
        forcing certain musical situations into cabaret
        playing in straight rhythm but only
        hitting notes part of the time
        imposing paranoid disposition on blues-like music
        focusing in on something that’s not really there
        you think you’re hearing something?
        a sequence of abortions
        the so-called feedback-loop
        Gould’s vacuum cleaner story
        a totally out-of-control blues
        a gradual loss of interest in the thing
        i would rather not summarize what i’m doing
        I’m probably a little more tired
        hey, that’s an idea
        make a very pregnant one
        end it way before it gets there
        maybe it was fractured all along!!!!
        I find this material boring
        isn’t that a little cliched?
        the counterpoint is obviously NOT WORKING
        do we still have hope for it?
        a kind of “mambo”
        this reverb is acted out physically
        the swaying produces the blues feel
        I knew just how Charles Ives must have felt
        almost like playing on a synth
        zoom in on a sound-mass
        the romantic paradigm is essentially monolithic
        is this a violent gesture?
        remember MY father’s reaction
        they ARE grotesque!!!
        the final parameter of serialism
        is physical impracticality
        what’s the primal layer though?
        if that’s the message, what’s left???
        why do I like apocalyptical terrains?
        we’re not told what will happen between them,
        but it’s pretty bad
        Cassavetes is about to get REAMED OUT by his wife.
        ok, we have the storybook ending
        the playwright has been fucked over
        it went over wonderfully on the audience
        in order to be creative, you have
        to mutilate the work of others
        dead ends are extremely inspiring
        some fake, imaginary “other”
        I wasn’t in the best frame of mind
        the possibility for harmonic reconciliation
        the idea is not to be clever
        it had certain problems translating into reality
        “unsound” counterpoint
        a sicko waltz
        i’m often on the floor, kneeling
        three times the whole thing trips over itself
        something has been lost in the transfer
        lots of rag attitude
        lightning in the background and spooky
        mad scientist effects
        you know they happened but WHAT HAPPENED???
        you can hit stuff you had NO intention of playing
        it always starts with a small deadline
        Is my music too avant-garde?
        …you have the helfgotts and the
        goulds and the jarretts…
        I’m being continuously short-changed
        of any development
        sometimes the body is disposed normally
        a kind of carpal-tunnel, tennis-elbow music
        that would be the next logical step
        as it gradually gets older, fingers get a little tired
        does this mimic a traditional process?
        something could actually go TOO WELL
        is he going to complain like keith jarrett?
        does he require applause now?
        all these things can be engineered
        the lack of confidence is REAL!!!
        we shouldn’t have this kind of image
        in our living-rooms
        in a concert hall, where things like this
        aren’t supposed to happen
        they ARE there, aren’t they?
        the right hand is nothing but confusion
        careless work or high revelation?
        he plays well but, man!, with the WRONG technique
        the piano is the most stationary of instruments, if one excepts the church organ
        the chords played are just plain UGLY
        the ladies morning musical club would be shocked
        you need a kind of semiotic glue
        i was lamenting about the fact that maybe the surface was TOO dissonant
        call it fauré, call it sorabji
        the boogie was deduced as if hiding behind a curtain
        this sound mass is not of the Polish-school variety
        channel them into a bigger and better counterpoint
        you get a kind of involuntary stochastic distribution!
        They say it affects the next note. OK!
        no suffering, just experimentation
        it never really worked in the first place
        this whole thing is in really bad faith
        they always bounce back to something
        equally weird, but different
        Mr. Don Music on a WHOLE other existential level
        this is the most cardiovascular section
        it’s impossible to play “pretty” standing up!
        it’s almost a Zen thing…but why now?
        it’s never clear why in fact this counterpoint
        MUST exist you can tense up at will
        i tried to maintain the academic side for
        as long as I could
        the tranquilizing drugs start to WEAR OFF??
        something really bad just happened to the structure
        this is great material, but not here
        of no “contextual“ value whatsoever, in other words
        totally unqualified for entrance
        we’re at the end of a medicated séance
        looking at the keys from the depression angle
        it’s good when things go “in and out” that way,
        rather than a one-way deterioration
        still, the goal is to produce the counterpoint.
        gestures fly everywhere.
        it’s like Francis Bacon stating that the swastika
        was there just to provide a color contrast
        you think it’s over and then, “bang!”…another
        visionary harmony
        he can’t recover now, can he?
        a few minutes ago it looked like curtains for this dude
        with the grandmal seizures
        even felt some sleep coming on as I was doing it
        you’re not allowed to become remotivated
        try to really get the romantic thing going
        almost as if clarity is being avoided at all costs
        they creep out and spook the whole texture
        you’re de-evolved to practically nothing — UH-OH!!!
        i thought later that this was a kind of “country music”
        …really easy going
        all alone, wanking off to the whirring
        of his own fantasies
        the dream has ended and you have to deal with that
        life is one big seized-up MESS…no way out.

          Memories of Overdetermination
          ( Sedimental Education )

          Marc G. Couroux

          a betrayal of material
          a subversion in order to get inserted into
          the “canon” ASAP
          packaging my own music in a commercially
          acceptable way
          remixing? more like DE-mixing!
          titillating rhythm
          the dumbing-down of material
          cop-out solutions
          weird self-fulfilling popularity /
          mass marketing fantasy
          sick concessions to intelligibility
          done with a sick heart and bad conscience
          yanked out of the “canon” wholesale
          more synthetic, plastic and more insertable
          a music which exists in the ineffectual zone
          musak-like substance, almost Indian-raga
          meditative but also dangerous
          remember those religious condemnations
          of backwards-masking in rock and roll
          which made an impact on me in 7th grade…
          what a turn-on!!
          confusing each other mutually
          are they friends or foes???
          make the backwards-ness the subject of the thing
          play into the satanic-religious side of it
          using the most basic techniques of “manipulation”
          traditional music pronounced badly
          the performer has now been absorbed
          into the weirdness
          it’s like talking to someone who you
          don’t know that well
          the patina is always on the verge of detaching itself
          this almost makes him feel competitive and
          the Beethoven comes out of that
          getting in the way of the performer’s persona
          yes, in a clichéd layer-revealing sense
          as if a mechanical piano pedal pressed down
          regularly but nervously
          continuous rotating squabble
          without “distortion”…the man-made kind, of course!
          some kind of “Mahler Adagio” (???)
          in the background of all this CRUD,
          STALACTITE material
          it’s almost an accident that this kind of thing
          could be revealed in the first place
          “zero-in” on detail and clog-up with reverb
          layering (piling up) until its “mambo-ness” is annulled
          but it should always be FLAT
          the pianist might almost be “incidental” to the action
          AWOL, MIA, picking his nose unawares
          the Hindemithian neo-classical and its backwards
          the ultimate desire for conformity
          seeing what you want to see, hearing what
          you want to hear
          The Social Climbing of an Ordinary Material
          But he works very much in the dark.
          actual words, not moaning grunting à la Jarrett
          the baroque infatuation
          These are lofty subjects.
          sort of an “erasable” mambo with lots
          of incidental harmonic activity
          the two yin and yang Nudist materials
          DUB: muddy sound
          the CD should occasionally be “badly made”
          the murder of mediatized reality
          parallels between the actual videoed burglary
          and the musical burglary in progress
          block the video proceedings physically
          you can take out the external noises and amplify them
          EXISTENTIAL slithers in rather larger units
          ultimately shifty, incredibly intelligent and manipulative
          instructions remains hopeful and naive
          and somewhat puritanical
          the air-raid siren in Jabbering-Sousa
          Sensuality is important to me…but contextualized
          That doesn’t mean you can’t be bluffed
          through the nose
          the victim of a serious cover-up
          working with digital tools is somewhat
          like sculpting anyway I amplify its anonymity to drastically
          exaggerated proportions
          an epigrammatically elusive statement
          a strange unexplainable ICON
          a nondescript picture
          Anonymously pompous
          (It’s my first orchestra piece.)
          It’s just a strange little construction,
          which happens and then goes away.
          “This is what’s gonna happen, folks!!”
          an Oliver Twist sort of story
          My dreams are often geographical
          some concrete, basement-like structure,
          painted white walls, pipage everywhere
          Concert ritual does involve after all,
          a before and after too.
          the dreams one has for greatness
          making a mountain out of a molehill
          Of course it won’t happen in any kind of traditional
          proliferation technique.
          Frankly, Part I just exposes these potentials and
          it doesn’t amount to much.
          the performer repeatedly demonstrates his
          “ABILITY” (or “TALENT”)
          (this could also include some picnic materials
          in a sub-strata level)
          it really is background music for a
          Public Service Announcement
          the idiosyncrasies of Bacharach especially would
          be leveled out, flattened
          That doesn’t sound like much of a tribute, put like that!
          Even his saddest songs are upbeat
          If you begin distorting tempo, you get something
          quite removed from Bacharach
          something rather less positive
          just below the threshold of “sprightliness”
          You know…quick is positive, slow is negative?
          forcing one category into another
          remove the defining characteristics of a thing
          and then examine what you’re left with
          He seems to be steering Bacharach towards
          the darker side
          he amplifies everything, pulls every emotion
          to its breaking point
          until you eventually wind up with the vocals
          and the stand-up routine
          Material doesn’t matter
          But we know now that even the drone isn’t rock-bottom,
          it’s actually copyrightable
          This material wasn’t meant to emanate from that piece
          in that re-contextualised bubblegum way.
          it’s reformatting itself down to the original idea
          these private moments which no-one
          was ever meant to see
          there certainly isn’t enough humor in today’s music
          I’m fed up with what Grant Applications
          force me to do with my work
          Maybe a kind of novella? A tract? A love story?
          I like that moment in What the World Needs Now,
          where you only have the piano chords
          short barrages of destroyed soundfiles
          the Gamelan reality
          like playing on a synth
          backwards versions of all this material
          “mocking the mud”
          Can do the Serial Satire!
          the so-called “deconstructed mambo“ material
          this is the third level of material
          Forget incorporating that into the tape part.
          The primeval goop
          which seems impossibly essentializable
          (But wait!)
          It’s not a good place to be in.
          What I DON’T WANT is some kind of pseudo
          Reynolds-like über-structure
          avoiding dealing with others head-front
          he can do things really proficiently, but chooses
          not to sometimes
          …or is he just a bad pianist…
          a really broad satire on IRCAM
          which is why The Wrong Technique can happen
          It couldn’t be a worst time to be centrestage
          Make no mistake: this entire piece is also a metaphor
          what community I have I’m about
          to completely alienate
          That doesn’t make those little incremental steps
          any easier to swallow.
          he’s really the little commercial devil inside all of us
          The fact is, I always consider selling out but with clauses
          (which would still allow me to make my statement
          about selling out)
          completely acceptable, but completely WRONG
          an elaborate SEDUCTION sequence
          an incredibly creative, sleazy, manipulative,
          charismatic, persuasive SEDUCTOR
          an unwitting modernistic, intense,
          “artistic” SEDUCTEE
          confused as to his veritable purpose in life
          Maybe it’s really only MUD. And mud eventually
          washes away…it is only dust.
          pentimento green-curtain multileveled language
          it’s like my bread and water
          I could live on it forever, at least I think I could
          I’m actually considering though dropping
          the whole schtick
          never looking the material straight in the eyes
          which play are you talking about?
          Refusal to follow through on anything
          Sliding down this irredeemable, entropic path
          towards diversity again?
          his reluctance to package himself is funny to watch
          he doesn’t care about the Bumblebee
          just working through the changes man
          take THAT, David Mamet!
          the pedal-blues is pleasant enough
          the pedal sound is so much more interesting than
          what he’s doing underneath
          redoing the “mud of Ives mambo”
          like making fun of a cripple basically, that BASE.
          He’s just too stuck in his ivory tower
          to begin understanding
          what it means to “reach out commercially”
          this work is not so NEGATIVE after all
          his first attempts are painfully awful
          coming to life is a violent thing, no?
          The CD becomes intensely pushy
          though he’s REALLY charismatic
          maybe he’s not all that BENEVOLENT
          a register which no-one can hear anyway
          (my preferred register)
          come with me, I’ll show you a whole BAG of tricks
          you can use to get into the groove, bud.
          transpose way down some chorale material
          Give up dude. Whatever you can do, I can do better.
          But listen, have I got a whole array of goodies for you
          that you can use!
          he’s really an impotent dude who flashes his lights
          and effects
          but really is a PHONY
          He can do the really obvious magic tricks
          Me and Prospect Down By the Schoolyard.
          This paradigm shift on the part of the pianist…
          is it healthy?
          Look at how stupid he looks!
          devoid of any kind of REAL commercial manipulation
          Dark or light? Hard to say.
          you need an instructions sheet to figure out what to do
          with this raw choral material
          The weird shit you can make with LEGO
          the preplanned condos they set out for you
          liking the wartime devastation, thinking
          these ruins are beautiful.
          building is better, just build, build, build,
          forget the past, let ruins decay
          can make noise out of a file if the window is small enough
          this is an unsanctioned version of
          the Theatre of Eternal Music
          this makes the pianist want to GO FOR
          the big gesture
          “OK, bad example” — lemme try something else
          on yah“
          chipping away at his block of granite
          “is modernism the only way to be truly alive??”
          it’s really a private RITUAL, which you (the audience)
          are not invited to
          There should always be a “Laurel and Hardy” side
          Start having a good time
          a whole lotta nothing, just to get the piece going
          in the right direction
          just like all those bad salesmen
          in the way their stressed-out defeated
          soul radiates outwards
          See, the CD wants to commercialize the pianist.
          always looking out for what’s “best” for his kid
          what I do is completely inconsequential
          and deliberately anti-social
          I am happy in the dark chipping away at my reality
          look at the misfit, the mutant in front of you
          trying to be polite, social
          if anyone were interested enough to ask,
          which I can’t assume they are unfortunately
          The CD’s frequent boring attempts
          he is essentially good, but misled
          He is like a parent, come to think of it: he wants
          what he never had.
          his reality is STILL good!
          you either melt or you get the fuck out and fast
          The pianist makes the bad decision to jump in
          but is it truly bad?
          chipping the modernist marble
          “And where are we, but further into this morass…”
          this could mean a LOT of transposition
          you can USE this, not be used BY it
          getting lost in the implications
          come on, that’s not really how it happens!
          two types of attention manipulation
          run of the mill stylistic cereal-box-toys
          He’s concentrated, you’re not…your society forbids it
          it’s a REAL STRUGGLE
          we’ve been faked to the hilt by now
          just a bunch of singles floating along
          it was at the beginning of my experiments with
          bodily impulses
          I think you really can hear the conventional
          …with CODA tagged on at the end
          I think you could also tag “modern” onto it
          sensitive dependence on initial conditions maybe?
          where the Prayer musics can coexist
          don’t do this for EVERY Bacharach tune
          the computer who loses his temper, gets pissed off
          loses his usual Zen demeanor
          his shiftiness oozes out uncontrollably
          I have a real alchemical perspective on material.
          Anything can be transformed into gold….
          or shit if that’s what you’re into.
          They hit you regardless of what they’re made of
          19th century European baloney
          personalized, monogrammed material
          I think he called them “waves” or something
          the one that you have at the grocery store
          my materials are not worth talking about
          it wears it on its sleeve in a very macho way
          finding your “voice” and other such cliches
          there is sort of a climax about 3/4 of the way through…
          the “ragtime”
          he continues plodding along with his David metaphor
          But he IS taking it in!
          The pianist really takes the CD seriously
          more meta-structure…as if we really needed any
          A whole miniature city preserved in formaldehyde.
          WHAT is going on in that little sub-neighborhood?
          Ominously lit school buildings.
          What is “The Boulevard”??
          were wars fought on that grassy knoll?
          It’s limiting, but in the way I want it to be.
          within the Ladies Morning Musical Club for instance
          where they would probably all be throwing up
          in the first 10 minutes
          or vacate the premises.
          the outward-demonstrations of Zorn
          a strait-jacketed, suit-attired “concert pianist”
          who may or may not have some serious impediments
          It’s a counter-paradigm work.
          I made sure it always happened within a glorified,
          ecstatic context.
          Victo is no different from the Ladies Morning
          Musical Club
          Concert music is dead! Dead as a doornail.
          More power to those who DON’T
          understand something!
          The Brahms audience had to basically
          doubt everything they heard
          clearly fake emotional displays are almost
          universally rejected
          the insincere paradigm, which occurs repeatedly
          in counterpoint
          The two are not synchronized,
          they fall apart constantly
          What about oral tradition? Answer: it takes time.
          I’m much more interested in blurring boundaries
          who is this person on stage in front of you?
          Down with well-oiled systems!
          Sure, they can be useful. But now we have DVD.
          But the polemics continue…
          and the resistance is ever present
          PART I is almost a thesis-defense!
          but tainted by showmanship
          an entropic mudslide away from his potential client
          If I could, I would forever live on that mudslide.
          It’s a great place.
          “did I just have a stroke or did the lights
          really go down?”
          you get the whole piece for a song actually…
          getting absorbed into preexisting strategies
          When did concert music die?
          I always take the path of MOST resistance
          like your mind is turning to sludge
          it’s the zapper’s nightmare
          it’s like he’s been patient for so long
          and then he shoots his wad all at once,
          wastes everything.
          covering up his embarrassing activities of the last
          20 minutes
          We’re talking content again.
          Then the message becomes “expressive” and
          “descriptive”…and “programmatic”
          the composer is trying to put one over on you
          McLuhan anyone?
          dumbed-down for your average Joe…who by the way
          isn’t that stupid
          not a trap door into a mollycoddling environment
          Once you step on stage you’re committing
          a political act
          whether you LIKE it or not
          inhabitants of another century
          the screeching car noise / ventilation system
          of the Disabled School
          I cringe at the tactics that this salesman is employing.
          But OK, the pianist IS advocating!
          yes, maybe I AM the salesman…or perhaps
          I was once the pianist.


          (October 2001)


            Art for the End of a World:
            Towards a Politics of Contraction

            Erik Bordeleau
            “Two tasks at the beginning of life: to always narrow your circle more and more, and to frequently make sure that you are not hiding somewhere outside your circle.”
            —  Kafka



            Contemporary artistic practice can perhaps be conceived of as a form of ascesis, or to put it another way, as an exercise in self-shaping [ mise en consistance de soi ].1 In his study of contemporary forms of ascesis and life exercises, You Must Change Your Life, Sloterkijk qualifies artistic practice as being the repetition of attempts at “somatizing the improbable”, emphasizing its counter-natural, or “acrobatic” character (the acrobat being he who literally walks on his toes). Not unlike a high-level athlete, the contemporary artist can thus be conceived of as a figure that is ontologically activated [mise sous tension] and produces him/herself without recourse to any form of transcendence – a kind of post-metaphysical practitioner of “godless verticality”.2 Boris Groys, another bonze from Karlsruhe’s ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie), poses the question of art in a similar fashion, by way of its ethopoetic and anthropotechnical dimensions. From the “obligation of self-design” to the task of the “production of sincerity”, Groys posits the contemporary artist as being engaged in a process of self-production which manifests itself as pure subjectivity or the embodiment of a void (see Agamben’s “artist without content”). Indeed, in Groys’ work, artistic production is invariably presented as a practice of active demarcation that allows us to feel the internal or “historical” curvature of a world – its design. For example, in his recent remarks on the design of the modern soul, he states that if, since the death of God, design has become the medium of the soul, the modern artist-designer is now paradoxically casted as an agent of apocalyptic revelation:

            “The modern designer does not wait for the apocalypse to remove the external shell of things and show them to people as they are. The designer wants here and now the apocalyptic vision that makes everyone New Men. The body takes on the form of the soul. The soul becomes the body. All things become heavenly. Heaven becomes earthly, material. Modernism becomes absolute.”3

            Groys goes even further, and concludes his unsettling characterization of the contemporary artist as a designer of the soul in attributing to him/her a “weak” messianic power:

            “The avant-garde artist is a secularized apostle, a messenger of time who brings to the world the message that time is contracting, that there is a scarcity of time, even a lack of time. (…) Contemporary art’s visibility is a weak, virtual visibility, the apocalyptic visibility of contracting time.”4

            In keeping with this surprisingly spiritualizing cha­racterization of the artist, the questions that I would like to pose in this essay might be formulated as such: What can be said of our capabilities to locally contract time today? How do we trace out the lines of our world-making? Or how – in a world that begins and ends with the individual – can we experience and elaborate the necessity for a common intensifying closure? As Jacob Wren highlights in his manifesto on the deep ambi­valence and confusion that seems to be part and parcel of the role of art nowadays (also published in this edition of Le Merle), what is essential at this moment in history is for the individual to be able to pose, as intimately as possible, the difficult question of his or her vulnerability. It is with this in mind that I have put together these fragments and thoughts on the ideas of ascesis, closure, art, and contraction.


            In her commentary on how neo-pagan witches use magical techniques to the end of self-empowerment, Isabelle Stengers points out that “they have learned (again) the necessity of casting the circle, of creating the closed space where the forces they have a vital need for can be convoked.”5 This way of conceptualizing the production of a transindividual yet concrete locus finds a parallel in Foucault’s studies on the care of the self in antiquity. He observes that “the care of the self cannot appear and, above all, cannot be practiced simply by virtue of being human as such, just by belonging to the human community, although this membership is very important. It can only be practiced within the group, and within the group in its distinctive character.”6

            I am writing this in the early morning hours. The alleyway behind Hutchison Street is bathed in clear autumn light, and I catch myself hoping that Le Merle and its discriminating and sophisticated readership (!) might constitute a collective sufficiently dense and distinct to be able to carry out the kind of spiritual and ethical work that Foucault alludes to. Something like the joy we experience in “giving ourselves the time”, in itself a collective political responsibility of the first order, it would seem to me. In the sense that the political can be conceived of as a degree of contraction within the ethical sphere, doesn’t all ascesis ultimately suggest a world which follows suite, constantly contracting itself and taking shape? I am reminded of Artaud’s words: “I would have simply avoided falling ill, and in so doing, prevented the whole world I know from falling ill with me”. Wordly thought [pensée du milieu] at its best, preparing the ground for a localized, transindividual empowerment. For whoever thinks by the middle, there is only ever the local. Joy.


            Ascesis conceived as a contraction presupposes a form of autopoetic closing and with it, the political problems of closure, or the relative imperviousness of a given life-form. From a vitalist point of view, one might want to avoid the concept of the form, however, as it necessarily implies a relatively static dualism with matter.7 Commenting on Bergson, Deleuze describes the failure inherent in every material form: “Life as movement alienates itself in the material form that it creates; by actualizing itself, by differentiating itself, it loses ‘contact with the rest of itself’. Every species is thus an arrest of movement; it could be said that the living being turns on itself and closes itself.” 8  In the question of closure are at play the ideas of becoming and reducing oneself to an abstract line, where “the event, once willed, is actualized on its most contracted point, on the cutting edge of an operation. (…) It is at this mobile and precise point, where all events gather together in one that transmutation happens.”9 From an immanentist perspective then, and according to the situation or inclinations that affect us, we might either want to concentrate on the politico-ontological contractions put in motion when the line is followed along, or to celebrate the endlessly renewable eventhood of the potential processes of emergence. My somewhat bellicose disposition leads me to foreground the ethopoetic aspects of becoming, with its sedentary and localized elements, often at the risk of head-on collisions with the actual – a hellish claustrophobia that can be translated in Chinese as 无 间 道, wu jian dao, the eighth of the buddhist hells, literally, the “way without exit”, or “without interstice”. At the other end of the spectrum, we find something like a “theology of Process”, one that proposes a cosmological conversion where the key-words are opening, creativity, newness, and emergence. 10 At the end of the day, everything depends on whether we choose to concentrate on the relatively speculative descriptions of the élan vital, with its potentiality and multitudinal manifestations, or on the realization of the processes of movement, concretization, and substantiation. Incidentally, the Chinese word for becoming, 变 成 biancheng, brings together these two poles of expe­rience. The first character expresses the idea of change, variation, and transformation. It is used to construct the word for “chameleon”, for example. As for 成 cheng it suggests a process, a completion, the final step in of a state of becoming, its entry into effect, or the end of its unfolding. It is contained in the words for “adult”, “mature”, “proverb”, (成语, cheng yu, a “built-up saying”), “success”, in the sense of a deal being reached between two individuals, as in the exclamation cheng le! – it’s a deal! Grammatically speaking, cheng is considered a complement of potentiality – a formulation that suits our purposes quite well.


            In the conclusion of Time-Image, discussing Syberberg’s cinema, Deleuze opposes the time-im­age and the creative fabulation to the realm of in­for­ma­tion. Quite surprisingly, he evokes the idea of redemption: “redemption, art beyond knowledge, is also creation beyond information.” 11 This passage finds a strange – one might say apocalyptic – echo toward the end of Difference and Repetition, where art’s highest possibility is defined as the production of a repetition or contraction, that is, “a freedom for the end of a world”. Incidentally, when they want to discredit the political relevance of Deleuze’s thought, Hallward considers counter-effectuation as a “redemptive gesture”, and Rancière describes Deleuze’s history of cinema as a “history of redemption”. Each time, redemption refers pejoratively to a break “out of this world“ and a form of apolitical passivity, in an attempt to reduce Deleuze to be a mere “spiritual” thinker, simply renewing that “Oriental intuition” which Hegel found at work in Spinoza’s philo­sophy. In the conclusion of Out of this world: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation, Hallward claims that “by posing the question of politics (…) in the apocalyptic terms of a new people and a new earth (…), the political aspect of Deleuze’s philosophy amounts to little more than utopian distraction.”12 For Hallward, Deleuzian phi­losophy should be understood in light of a late renaissance of post-theophanic thought, that is, a conception of the world where God is expressed in everything, and everything is an expression of God.

            To a certain extent, I cannot entirely disagree with Hallward, in the sense that Deleuzian politics does have a strong apocalyptic element. One might think of Difference and Repetition’s foreword here, with its somewhat cryptic affirmation that this book “should have been an apocalyptic book (the third time in the series of times)”; or again, in the conclusion of What is Philosophy?, where we read that as the brain plunges into chaos, “in this submersion it seems that there is extracted from chaos the shadow of the “people to come“ in the form that art, but also philosophy and science, summon forth (…).”13

            But instead of interpreting these passages in terms of ethereal or utopian dissolution, I believe we should read them in terms of ethical, aesthetical, political and, ultimately, (in)temporal contractions. Redemption? A limit happens – and in its tracing, a virtual becoming-line.

            In this regard, and as far as a “people to come” is concerned, I would suggest, following Agamben’s distinction in The Time that remains, that the word “messianic” is more accurate than “apocalyptic” to des­cribe this process of temporal-liminal contraction. For aren’t we intimately confronted here with the very necessity of a time-image, that is, not an image of the end of time (apocalypse proper), but rather an image to bring (chronological) time to an end – messianic or contracted time that can be thought of as the time we give ourselves to (collectively) actualize a time-image? Considered from this angle, the problem of believing in the world becomes crucial, politically speaking, and should not be confused with run-of-the-mill wilful action. What matters here is how value is introduced in the world, or in other words, how a certain mode of existence is intensified and brought to its creative limit. To believe in the world then, is indiscernibly active and passive; it is to contemplate – and be contracted. Believing in the world, believing in this world anyway, necessitates envi­sioning its singular end – its eternal return, in the language of Différence et répétition. A singular or imag­inal end, thus, so that “Difference may at last be expressed with a force of anger which is itself repetitive and capable of introducing the strangest selection, even if this is only a contraction here and there – in other words, a freedom for the end of a world.”14


            I like this dramatic and relatively unknown passage from Différence et répétition because it expresses a marked differentiation from the pervasive tendency, especially among North-American Deleuzians, to endorse becoming a beautiful, liberal soul, cosmopolitan and open to the world. It is naturally quite easy to imagine oneself slipping into this cornucopia of the virtu­al, celebrating the multiplicity of becomings, all while brandishing half-heartedly from time to time a vulgarized and oddly disembodied version of Deleuze and Guattari’s plea for deterritorialization and the nomadic production of subjectivities.

            Deleuze himself recognized this kind of danger present in his philosophy of affirmation and pure difference. In the prologue to Différence et répétition, he gives a warning that, 40 years later, seems more relevant than ever:

            “There are certainly many dangers in invoking pure differences which have become independent of the negative and liberated from the identical. The greatest danger is that of lapsing into the representations of a beautiful soul: there are only reconcilable and federative differences, far removed from bloody struggles. The beautiful soul says: we are different, but not opposed…”15

            It would not be particularly useful here to elucidate upon how a vulgar understanding of Deleuze’s philosophy of difference can easily be confused with the ubiquitous liberal existentialism so familiar to us, with its smiley-face relational aesthetics and its economically-driven need for incessant communication; or how the revival of the Nietzschean critique of resentment could little by little give way to the management mindset and pop psy­chology’s positive thinking and abhorrence of anything remotely negative. Here, we can’t help but think of Zizek’s celebrated characterization of North-Americans as “natural-born Deleuzians“, where he takes to task the yuppies and other hipsters of global capitalism that are perpetually lagging behind their own presences, aesthetically speaking, at least. “Y’know, I’m not really who you think I am,” purrs the slithering metropolitan creature while it deconstructs itself into your bedroom…

            Deleuze wards off the danger of the beautiful soul, highlighting not only the affirmative, selective, and potentially aggressive power of difference, but also the contractive power of political anger: “We believe that when these problems attain their proper degree of positivity, and when difference becomes the object of a corresponding affirmation, they release a power of aggression and selection which destroys the beautiful soul by depriving it of its very identity and breaking its good will.”16 Ultimately, the political potentiality of anger as it is envisioned in Deleuze’s philosophy of difference has a proper name: “differences, nothing but differences, in a peaceful coexistence in the Idea of social places and functions… but the name of Marx is sufficient to save [the philosophy of Difference] from this danger.”17


            At the core of the problem of contraction and belief in the world, of ascesis and becoming-line, a strong materialist exigency is at work – a “mattering” or entrer en matière. We might say that contracting an image of thought and connecting it to the power of a believ­ing defines what a certain mode of breaking through to the Outside might be. Each image of thought configures a given subjective disposition and precipitates an exis­ten­tial activation, a verticalization – a style. By way of con­clusion, I would like to more precisely characterize the dangers of the beautiful soul, its ostensible openness and its proverbial “good will” via a comparison between two diametrically opposed ways of thinking and imagining the experience of the Outside and the chaosmic plunge. Or, to model our question on Hamlet’s celebrated query: “to open up, or to be opened?” In “being opened”, an outside agency is suggested – to be opened like a can of beans, or like the tearing open of its victim’s chest by a bird of prey.18 The alternative brings us back to the ambivalence of mystical accounts, where the point of inversion between subject and object or between activity and passivity becomes indiscernible. We know of Deleuze’s predilection for these thresholds of namelessness, where life in the “fourth-person singular” allows us to sink into the marrow of anonymity. For those that hold on stubbornly to the powers of the reason-that-dictates, this paradoxical zone seems to be some sort of unfortunate “mystification”, but I believe that we can conceive of it as something entirely rational and heuristic, that is as the driving force of a well-thought out investigation executed beyond the reach of represen­tation – a sound use of paradox, at the end of the day.19

            Take for example Jane Bennett and William Connolly. These two long-time friends and respected figures of the American post-Deleuzian community, both recently published remarkable and enlightening books, Vibrant Matter, and A World of Becoming, respectively. With wisdom and decidedly liberal inflections, each in their own way describes the beauty of the pluriverse that we find ourselves immersed in, inviting the reader to be more open and sensitive to the complexity of the world around us. For Connolly, the goal of this sort of speculative exercise is to ultimately make us “more alert to our mo­dest participation in a much larger world of temporal force-fields marked by an element of real creativity. (…) Such processes help to mobilise actions and ethical sensibilities, and – when collected and amplified through micropolitics – to infuse the ethos of politics embedded in institutional settings in one way or another.”20

            The metaphor of micropolitical infusion efficiently evokes the type of ethical subtlety that Connolly and other advocates of immanent realism appeal to, a delicate opening up onto the world and its non-human inhab­itants that could potentially lead to a deep change in the way we approach politics. Similarly, for Jane Bennett, descriptions of phenomena such as power outages, mor­bid obesity, or the behaviour of earthworms within a political ecosystem aim to examine the consequences of a “(meta)physics of vibrant materiality for political theory.”21 The “naive” ambition of the vitalist materialism that she purports to represent ultimately manifests itself as an ethical undertaking on the self, one that might allow us to develop our ability to “detect the presence of interpersonal affects”, which, concretely, would necessitate putting an end to a certain tendency towards criticality and suspicion, and “to adopt a more open-ended comportment”.22 This appeal to openness and sensitivity and to a culture of the self that Mencius would have certainly appreciated presents itself as a positive alter­native to a politics of resentment that has in recent years wreaked havoc in the West. Connolly pushes in this direction even further, to the point of engaging a dialogue with Charles Taylor and the exponents of a spirituality of radical transcendence: “Too many devotees of radical transcendance, perhaps impressed with the productive power of transcendance as they experience it, miss the spiritual intensification as we experience it. This is a shame, for it is precisely at this juncture that generous devotees of both traditions can foster positive political assemblages.”23

            In a certain sense, Connolly is lamenting the lack of epistemological generosity exhibited by most of those engaged with radical transcendence, who tend to emphasize being open through (such as in the concept of grace for Christians, or with predestination in Islam). He entreats them to open themselves up to an inter-faith dialogue the experience of moments of “fertile duration”. It is difficult to criticize the good faith and deeply civili­zing nature of Connolly’s approach. At the same time, I cannot help but feel somewhat uneasy when reading his grievances; he seems to essentially repeat over and over again the same liberal mantra, invoking an existential disposition that seems beyond any suspicion: be more open!

            By way of a response to Connolly, or rather to point out the practical requirements of the type of ascesis that might allow us to truly enter into the matter at hand, and/or into the Outside, I would like to conclude by handing the talking-stick over to Reza Negarestani, who, with his book Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials, deploys a materialist post-Deleuzian arsenal as insubordinate as it is irreducible towards the vibratory well-wishing material liberalism endorsed by Bennett and Connolly. An über-paranoid jihad-fiction anchored in the horror of an apocalyptic Islam, expressing its own ideas of what it might mean to be open to – or rather be opened by – the world…


            Openness is certainly not made for social dynamics or lifestyles instrumentalized within liberal societies. Openness is what turns the very body of the free world upside down throughout human history. (…) Openness can never be extracted from the inside of the system or through a mere voluntary or subjective desire for being open. Openness can never be communicated by liberalism (not to mention the “free world”). (…)

            Openness is not ultimately, so to speak, the affair of humans, but rather the affair of the outside (…) Openness comes from the Outside, not the other way around. Nietzschean affirmation was never intended to support liberation or even to be about openness at all. It was an invocation of the Outside. (…)

            Radical openness has nothing to do with the cancelation of closure; it is a matter of terminating all traces of parsimony and grotesque domestication that exist in so-called emancipatory human openness. The blade of radical openness thirsts to butcher economical openness, or any openness constructed on the affordability of both the subject and its environment. The target of radical openness is not closure but economical openness.

            Radical openness devours all economic and political grounds based on “being open”. (…)

            Economic openness is not about how much one can be open to the outside, but about how much one can afford the outside. Therefore, openness, in this sense, is intrinsically tied to survival. (…) “Being open” is but the ultimate tactic of affordance, employed by the interfaces of the boundary with the outside. (…) Affordance presents itself as a pre-programmed openness, particularly on the inevitably secured plane of being open (as opposed to being opened). (…)

            “I am open to you” can be recapitulated as “I have the capacity to bear your investment” or “I afford you”. This conservative voice is not associated with will or intention, but with the inevitability of affordance as a mesophilic bond, and with the survival economy and the logic of capacity. If you exceed the capacity by which you can be afforded, I will be cracked, lacerated and laid open. Despite its dedication to repression, its blind desire for the monopoly of survival and the authoritarian logic of the boundary, the plane of “being open to” has never been openly associated with paranoia and regression. Such is the irony of liberalism and anthro­pomorphic desire. (…)

            To become open or to experience the chemistry of openness is not possible through “opening yourself” (…) but it can be affirmed by entrapping yourself within a strategic alignment with the outside, becoming a lure for its exterior forces. Radical openness can be invo­ked by becoming more of a target for the outside. In order to be opened by the outside rather than being economically open to the system’s environment, one must seduce the exterior forces of the outside: you can erect yourself as a solid and molar volume, tightening boundaries around yourself, securing your horizon, sealing yourself off from any vulnerability… immersing yourself deeper into your human hygiene and becoming vigilant against outsiders. Through this excessive paranoia, rigorous closure and survivalist vigilance, one becomes an ideal prey for the radical outside and its forces.24

            1. Translated from the French by Simon Brown.
            2. Peter Sloterdijk, Tu dois changer ta vie. Maren Sell, Paris, 2011, p. 62
            3. Boris Groys, Going Public, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2011, p.27
            4. Boris Groys, Going Public, p.108; 118
            5. Isabelle Stengers, La sorcellerie capitaliste, La découverte, Paris, 2007, p.187
            6. Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutic of the subject, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2005, p. 117
            7. For a genealogy of the leftists and rightists interpretation of Aristotle’s hylomorphic schema, see Ernst Bloch, Avicenne et la gauche aristotlicienne, Premières pierres, Saint-Maurice, 2008
            8. Gilles Deleuze, Le bergsonisme, PUF, Paris, 2008 (1966), p. 108
            9. Gilles Deleuze, Logique du sens, Éditions de minuit, Paris, 1969, p. 175, 179
            10. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema II: Time-Image, The Athlon Press, London, 1989, p. 270
            11. Gilles Deleuze, Cinéma II: l’image-temps, Éditions de Minuit, Paris, 1985, p. 354
            12. Peter Hallward, Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation, Verso, New York, 2006, p. 162
            13. Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, Éditions de minuit, Paris, 1991, p. 206
            14. Gilles Deleuze, Différence et répétition, PUF, Paris, 1969, p. 375
            15. Gilles Deleuze, Différence et répétition, p. 2
            16. Gilles Deleuze, Différence et répétition, p. 3
            17. Gilles Deleuze, Différence et répétition, p. 268.
            18. The image of the bird of prey is not insignificant. In the more unsettling passages in the mystical poetry of Saint John of the Cross or Teresa of Ávila, we vacillate between moments of mystical rapture and others where the mystic seems to dive at God, in a carnal and amorous game where the roles of prey and predator become interchangeable. We could also evoke the Castaneda’s descriptions of the Nagual’s rule: The power that governs the destiny of all living beings is called the Eagle, not because it is an eagle or has anything to do with an eagle, but because it appears to the seer as an immeasurable jet-black eagle, standing erect as an eagle stands, its height reaching to infinity. (…)The Eagle is devouring the awareness of all the creatures that, alive on earth a moment before and now dead, have floated to the Eagle’s beak, like a ceaseless swarm of fireflies, to meet their owner, their reason for having had life. The Eagle disentangles these tiny flames, lays them flat, as a tanner stretches out a hide, and then consumes them; for awareness is the Eagle’s food.“
            19. In this sense, Massumi highlights how “vague concepts“ are sometimes necessary in order to understand what he calls “ontogenetic indeterminacy“: “Generating a paradox and then using it as if it were a well-formed logical operator is a good way to put vagueness in play. Strangely, if this procedure is followed with a good dose of conviction and just enough technique, presto!, the paradox actually becomes a well-formed logical operator. Thought and language bend to it like light in the vicinity of a superdense heavenly body. This may be an example of miraculation.“ Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual, Duke University Press, Durham, 2002, p. 13
            20. William Connolly, A World of Becoming, Duke, Durham, 2011, p. 5
            21. Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter. A Political Ecology of Things, Duke, Durham, 2010, p. 94.
            22. Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter. A Political Ecology of Things, p.XV
            23. William Connolly, A World of Becoming, p. 75
            24. Reza Negarestani, Cyclonopedia. Complicity with Anonymous Materials, Re.Press, Melbourne, 2008, p. 195 – 199