Friday, April 28, 2006

Strawberry Switchblade

One of my favorite groups from the 80s; my friends and I tried to copy their fashion. (From what I recall, they preceded Boy George's adoption of this style. I think he was actually influenced by them, not vice-versa). Now I realize why we were picked on in high school. Remember now, it was the 80s, and we thought we were punk! Anyway, SS--from Scotland-- besides having the coolest band name ever, were also one of the first groups to combine, in innovative ways, goth and pop. They've also had a huge impact on the Japanese fashion and music scene, and there are still Japanese teens emulating their look. Most importantly their songs are amazing. I need to dig through my tapes....

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Politics of the Avant Garde

With notable exceptions, studies of the Russian avant-garde have become, in a Kuhnian sense, "normal science. And yet the work to which it adverts is anything but. This is not an insignificant matter, though it is a not very widely acknowledged one. It is a problem that has always existed and that has never gone away but just seems to have become invisible. Like some otherwise defenseless creature in a hostile environment, the question of the politics of the avant-garde has blended into the tangled undergrowth of facts and names, research grants, footnotes, and scholarly paraphernalia....
The revolutionary avant-garde is not of interest for its normativity. Aleksandr Blok wasn't joking when he summoned Europe to the "bright feast of peace and brotherhood and labor" with the "strings of a Scythian lyre": "Are we to blame if your rib cages burst/beneath our paws' impulsive ardor?" Blok's warning could doubtless be written off as a romantic evocation of the Revolution's most backward aspects--all slave girls , wild horses, and Asiatic jubilation--when the Revolution was really about tractors and planning. But a revolution is a revolution, and the academic researcher padding noiselessly through carpeted libraries or, indeed, faxing documents from one interntional center to another would do well to remember that Aleksandr Rodchenko, El Lissitzky, Varvara Stepanova, Vladimir Maiakovskii, Dziga Vertov, Gustav Klutsis, and the rest, working in conditions of privation to begin with and harsh censorship later, were all, without exception, explicitly commited to working-class revolution--out of which a new order of international socialism would arise. One should not overlook the paradox that the very research which progressively reveals the contours of the Soviet avant-garde is predicated on the defeat of the avant-garde's social vision. By whom, by just which forces, is not quite so easy to say. To echo the sentiments of a thinker little acknowledged in these late days of cultural studies: "What is to be done?"

It is an irony upon a paradox that in setting out to answer the question, in attempting to clarify the politics of the avant garde, there is no other starting point than this unglamorous one, this place where we are. Our starting point consists of these apparent conclusions, this pile of books, this trail of articles: not, after all, the soul of revolutionary Petrograd but the "soul" of the bourgeois academy. The Russian avant-garde, Constructivism, Socialist Realism even, are what they have been made to mean in these pages, in the play of their silences and their affirmations. To ponder the paradox is, in effect, a question of resistance: resisting various normalizations enforced by the history our own culture is writing.

--Paul Wood

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I changed my mind, I want to be an archaeologist

or at least go on a dig. Anyone up for it? Check this out. I mean what could be more fun than crouching for hours in the blinding sun brushing dirt off rocks? I'm serious, that sounds like a blast to me. I love rocks, or anything rocklike. And piecing together ancient shards of pottery or tools or bones, perhaps even an entire building or village and then constructing a reading of a former way of life and set of meanings, fascinating. Well, maybe that last part leans more in the direction of anthropology. Or wait, I think that qualifies as a mix of archaeology/anthropology... Yes, I googled it and found this. And then there's this very informative guide to terms and research here.


Or maybe this is another attempt to avoid paper writing? Nah, too obvious.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Writing as a woman

I too have been fascinated by this discussion at several places about women and blogging, which I think is a kind canon formation argument but w/ regard to blogs. It reminded me of this essay by Carla Harryman at However. A relevant quote:

The question is: Whose goal is it to usher anything into the canon? And how, as a writer to engage actively and publicly in literary practice without turning oneself over to false representations? I am by the way talking less about achieving public fame or notoriety than I am about fantasy structures of power that are silencing, that prevent writers for instance from addressing critically their own and other writers’ works. Women must be able to speak critically and analytically about each other’s and others’ (men’s, writers’ different from "herself," critics’, and theorists’) works or we will be misrecognized. However, if such writing about is about canon-formation, then the misrecognitions will persist along with an endless series of misnamings.

What I mean in the most simple sense here is that the writing about needs to attend carefully to difference, to awkwardness, to misfittings rather than to have as a primary goal the fitting of the "innovative" text into conventional categories. After all, the power of the "different" text lies in what it suggests about other ways of seeing and imagining writing. If one wants the implication of a vision to develop, then fitting the radical object into the square peg of patriarchal canon-making narratives is not only an inaccurate way of proceeding but one that reinforces values that the art object itself critiques. I do not mean that mediating language is not necessary for creating readings of and preserving writing but that reductive readings that are about norms and values the texts themselves reject or call into question can produce a kind of textual powerlessness.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Thoughts after reading Samuel Delany

For Michael:

The efficacies and (negative) epiphanies of public space. Squeezed out by Capital even as they are created by and through it. It's funny or ironic to be intrigued by any discussion or writing on public space and to have more than a touch of agoraphobia. Many have accused me of being a shut-in, and my most comfortable moments are conversations in my own private space. But this isn't about my neuroses...
The negotiations of space that we as collective individuals take part in -- culminating in a variety of encounters at different cultural levels, whether they be aesthetic, sexual, everyday, or for the joy of pure movement and (potential) contact with other selves, other bodies -- is, well, life. So life happens outside, a la Elsbeth Probyn's Outside Belongings. Disruptions of identity, spatial gaps, insignia, street life. I think of Style Wars.
Exhilaration occurs at the same time as desire for escape. Fantasy space and fear of recognition. Comfort, familiarity. Sickening boredom and stagnation. Um, Detroit. Post-industrial ho-hum but even worse, urban renewal. Like Delany, I too abjure nostalgia and valorization. And like Benjamin I want to ask, where are the spaces inhabited by forgotten futures? Is the image here not like Benjamin's Angel of History? It is, in fact, Detroit's abandoned image of itself, a paradoxical outline of invisibility. Delany writes of contact in semi-permeable public/private space. Recognition without (re)production; his tales of sexual encounters jibe in my memory with Acker's: "I absolutely love to fuck." And Lacan: the space of the other is the site for misrecognition of the self. The confusion of self/other is a derealization of space. Where self becomes permeable, I am marked by the other(s desire). Rimbaud's "I is an other." The urban landscape is a dystopian picaresque rendering me.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

experiencing the self

Bear with me on the following. It's a bit Philosophy/Psychoanalysis 101'ish, but i'm trying to go somewhere w/ this, eventually, in terms of, well, in terms of a lot of things: representation (mimesis), female sexuality, visuality, etc. etc.... (Actually, to digress a bit further, this is all stemming from last summer's reading of Martin Jay's Downcast Eyes and Rodolphe Gasche's The Tain of the Mirror. I've been trying to really "get" how visuality and self-reflexivity works all year, but got distracted by "real" coursework. So this post is actually an old one that I finally have time to think through...sorta....:

There is a chasm between experience and reflection (cognition, self-consciousness) at the same time that they are constitutive of one another. In the moment of experience -- provided we can call it a "moment"-- the question is: am I one? Let us say that in the experience, "I" is immersed in the moment without reflecting on it during its occurence. Is this wholeness? If I am not thinking of the experience as an experience in that very moment, then there is a lack at the heart of the presumed wholeness of immersive experience. And the something that has been left out or, perhaps, necessarily forgotten is, namely, the self-reflexive self. That part of the self that acknowledges or ruminates on or critiques (sees) the event as it is happening is, thus, absent in the immersive or absorptive experience (think of the experience of good sex as an example of an immersive moment).

If, however, I am doubly "present" in the moment of experience-- ruminating, critiquing, reflecting etc.-- then I am split off from that immersive experience. That split is then also a lack, an absence, i.e., the lack or absence of the presumably non-split self. This doubly split self is, to my mind, reminisent of Lacan's discussion of the gaze. That is to say that the chasm between experience and reflection, which determines subjectivity needs to be re-constituted, for Lacan, in a going beyond the paradoxical nature of the split self or the visible and invisible (Merleau-Ponty's "chiasm"). This is what, I think, in The Four Fundamentals of Psychoanalysis, Lacan refers to as the "derealization of space." That is, the split self is constituted in and by a mimetic space wherein the gaze is located, but not via a straight, one-to-one, (Cartesian or Euclidean) form of representation. In this derealized space the split self appears via the anamorphotic image hiding in the representative figure that slips into sight obliquely, by chance or, as Zizek says, by "looking awry." What determines the split self as the desiring subject is then the scopic drive, but the scopic drive is itself constituted by that which it fails to adequately contain, i.e., the kernel of the Real, the unrepresentable, what Lacan refers to as "the gaze."

Though it's difficult to adequately pin down the definition of the gaze in Lacan, since he seems to continually redefine it, in terms of my idea of what Lacan means by the gaze, I always return to his story of the tin can that a fisherman points out to him floating on the water. The fisherman gleefully asks: Do you see that tin can? Well, it doesn't see you!" The tin can then is the gaze, and we can say that the pyschoanalyst stands in for the tin can in that, by not returning the analysand's gaze, s/he opens up the space of lack wherein fantasy projections and ultimately transference can take place. So going back to the idea that there is a "chasm" between experience and reflection, it might be rethought, along Lacanian lines, as itself the function of the gaze. In other words, the gaze-- that which doesn't recognize the subject-- constitutes the subject as aware of itself from outside itself. (In Lacan's words: "I see myself seeing myself.") Here's a bit more Lacan on the split self and the gaze:

"In the field offered us by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, more or less polarized indeed by the threads of our experience, the scopic field, the ontological status, is presented by its most factitious, not to say most outworn, effects. But it is not between the invisible and the visible we have to pass. The split that concerns us is not the distance that derives from the fact that there are forms imposed by the world towards which the intentionality of phenomenological experience directs us--hence the limits we encounter in the experience of the visible. The gaze is presented to us only in the form of a strange contingency, symbolic of what we find on the horizon, as the thrust of our experience, namely, the lack that constitutes castration anxiety. The eye and the gaze --this is for us the split in which the drive is manifested at the level of the scopic field. In our relation to things, in so far as this relation is constituted by the way of vision, and ordered in the figures of representation, something slips, passes, is transmitted, from stage to stage, and is always to some degree eluded in it--that is what we call the gaze."