Saturday, May 15, 2010

here and there

The margins of my notebook from the past weeks contain phone numbers, instructions to self, shorthand knitting patterns, arrows, reminders, and squared off, boxed in words. The pages, similarly referential, pointing to things that should take me somewhere else, consist of notes from Sara Guyer's Romanticism after Auschwitz (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2007) and Brigid Doherty's lecture, "Rosemarie Trockel's Monsters" (UCLA, May 10, 2010). I can't decide whether this represents the paucity of my own intellectual work, a desire to return to old work after writing out some notes for a paper on Fatih Akin's Auf der anderen Seite, or the emergence of new connections between both, all, none. Not that it's necessary to decide, it's more a matter of enumerating possibility at a point when it seems incredibly slim. And more, perhaps, it seems to signal, on my own behalf, the deep and riveting need for continuity, for a sense that there is in fact a getting from here to there.

At the end of her winding, suggestive, and image-laden discussion of the artistic works of contemporary German artist Rosemarie Trockel, I asked Brigid Doherty, if she could say a litttle more about the relationship between her own development of a logic of ambivalence (or the value of ambivalence) throughout, something akin to the logic of disavowal that she described or even the logic of liquidity which she alluded to at the outset in her introduction of Trockel's wool works, and her discussion of animism at the end of the lecture. I am not reading my question as one which simply asks for some elaboration on how the here to there was gotten. I think that the question was just like the one asked before it (about the relationship between the wool pictures and castration), which underlined the need to have continuity underlined. So Doherty's response, which among other things, struck me as the conveyance of a kind of deep-seated belief in referentiality, continued this vein of my thinking by indicating that Trockel's work "frames sites at which subjectivity comes to a stop." The suspension of subjectivity occurs through the works' play between artifice and convention, which effects the ambivalence of the boundary between discursive and non-discursive moments, what might also be called the referent. Doherty, who described animism as where live objects equal death, characterized Trockel's work as reminding us that "we can lose the capacity to make contact with live objects." What, in her response, she describes otherwise as the "metaphorical concept of the castration complex [that] takes us to the threshold of certain experiences." The limits for experience are also what is at stake the opening parts of Sara Guyer's book, although differently. The coincidence of these two texts lies not just in their discussion of the figure of the Gorgon, the Medusa's head, but in the attention given to the details of figuration: on the one hand, the artistic and technical aspects of construction that play at the art object's artifice; and on the other, the prosopopoetic nature of testimonial language which designates its ultimate conjoint with lyric poetry.

Guyer begins by linking lyric and guilt, after Auschwitz, and already here the relationship between the performative and referential functions of language is at stake: "Levi's poem can be understood, on the one hand, to incorporate the performance of a guilt for which the poem accounts, correlating the guilt of a survival with the guilt of writing poetry (even poetry about Auschwitz); and on the other hand, it can be understood to dramatize the claim that there can be no poetry after Auschwitz in an altogether different sense: poetry belongs to another time, for "from now on" poetry will be from before Auschwitz" (4-5). The correlative passage follows some thirty pages later: "Yet, de Man also recognizes subjectivity as a tropological structure, that is to say, as an initially substitutive structure (i.e. I as referent, I as referee, whose substitution marks autobiography) that confounds the distinction between performative and referential language" (37). I think it is a similar shift (perhaps not in nature, but in tone) that Doherty wants to effect for the spectator of Trockel's art, that is, to suggest that the liminal experience of her artwork is a reimagination of spectator and author that correspondingly emphasizes the way in which the id/es/object world impinges upon the identity of the second-person "you" in poetic, artistic, testimonial texts.

picture: Rosemarie Trockel, Eisberg (1986)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


A few weeks ago, it was Philomena's 14-month birthday. Reminding myself that it was okay to still count things with this in mind, I took her picture, thinking "Philomena: 14-month-old." More a title than a descriptor. The truth is, I don't know where I am anymore. This title seemed to be the most accurate and comprehensive sense I could get of being somewhere, in a way that I have not felt I needed to for quite some time. It makes little sense to me to make an account or to take account of all of the factors that have pushed me overwhelmingly into this situation, but in lieu of such a thing, which also always comes in as a matter of course in conversation, I wonder if there is something that can be said for images that work, not to account, but to give a sense.

picture: Philomena, at Chango Coffeehouse in Echo Park. April 23, 2010.