Tuesday, November 9, 2010


To try and describe how things are right now seems like an over-tired or daunting task. I can't quite get over just how bad I feel and I can't quite make adequate connections between this feeling and the state of my academic work, or of academic work in general--which has been (or had been) the defining feature of my life for the past ten, twelve, fifteen years. I wonder now where to look in people's writing for this issue of when to continue along and when not to continue along, as if it would be possible to find something that might suggest not so much yes or no, but how to read this problem as one other than self-worth, merit, or vocational aptness. Sheer proliferation is often seen to be the answer, as if in this case "doing thinking" needed to be necessarily different from thinking about thinking. But here I am, I feel, getting nowhere thinking about thinking, and thinking about writing and about the visual. Unlike the eloquence of Rei Terada's recent writings on the University, on student activity and minority existence, on the plight of radicals during the Vormarz, on Klein and negative states, and on Deleuze and cinema, postwar, the dullness of my writing indicates the collapse of the space of my mind inwards, rather than moving along various iterations of the problem of institutional, academic life in the twenty-first century. I can't get past it. I mean, I think that that is the most resounding return I've gotten from the resonant absence of returns that have come my way: all of my efforts to put myself out there, in the world of academia, so to speak, return to me with the message that there is something to get over.

Bela Balasz wrote that the close-up produced a contradiction between "spoken word and hidden thought." The phenomenal effect of the close-up can be read as a description, therefore, of one of the early cases for the particularity of film, and for its appeal over and against other forms of art. I think rather, as Balasz also does, that it attached to the divergence of word and thought an ever-present human head, the image of a figure. The irony of the close-up / is / in its seeming to be all about the human, whereas the close-up moves in the realm of the psychological aesthetic, or something like that. The point would be that many things register this discrepancy and are evocative of dimensions of activity, such that it is worthwhile to think about how these discussions relate to the non-contradiction of word and thought and to the realm of the political more properly.

Rosemarie Trockel raised this question in relation to her use of knitting in the field of fine art: the question of whether the medium issues a specific form of appeal against itself. She said, in a 1980's interview, that her purpose in using wool and knitting was to bring up the question of whether the negative cliches of female handicraft lay in the medium itself or in the way that the medium was handled. In her "wool-paintings [Strickbilder]," the question is figured apparently in the play of ground and form, or of canvas and work done on the canvas, a relationship inverted, reversed, neutralized and unified. The question obviously has political and aesthetic valences, and serves to disrupt or trouble the categories that it invokes, such as the history of art and painting, gendered labor and the process of artistic creation. But the involuted form of these issues is different; it signals the questions touched by these aesthetic and political concerns, but it becomes invested in the way that, for example, Trockel's stated concern with media is related to aspects of this question that linger at its surface, such as whether pattern [Muster] and instinct [Trieb/Instinkt] are equivalent powers.

picture: Squall [woolwork, by author]

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