Friday, November 28, 2008

The Obligation to Self-Design

Design, as we know it today, is a twentieth-century phenomenon. Admittedly, concern for the appearance of things is not new. All cultures have been concerned with making clothes, everyday objects, interiors of various spaces, whether sacred spaces, spaces of power, or private spaces, "beautiful and impressive."
The history of the applied arts is indeed long. Yet modern design emerged precisely from the revolt against the tradition of the applied arts. Even more so than the transition from traditional art to modernist art, the transition from the traditional applied arts to modern design marked a break with tradition, a radical paradigm shift. This paradigm shift is, however, usually overlooked. The function of design has often enough been described using the old metaphysical opposition between appearance and essence. Design, in this view, is responsible only for the appearance of things, and thus it seems predestined to conceal the essence of things, to deceive the viewer's understanding of the true nature of reality. Thus design has been repeatedly interpreted as an epiphany of the omnipresent market, of exchange value, of fetishism of the commodity, of the society of the spectacle—as the creation of a seductive surface behind which things themselves not only become invisible, but disappear entirely.
Modern design, as it emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century, internalized this critique aimed at the traditional applied arts and set itself the task of revealing the hidden essence of things rather than designing their surfaces. Avant-garde design sought to eliminate and purify all that had accumulated on the surface of things through the practice of the applied arts over centuries in order to expose the true, undesigned nature of things. Modern design thus did not see its task as creating the surface, but rather as eliminating it—as negative design, antidesign. Genuine modern design is reductionist; it does not add, it subtracts. It is no longer about simply designing individual things to be offered to the gaze of viewers and consumers in order to seduce them. Rather, design seeks to shape the gaze of viewers in such a way that they become capable of discovering things themselves. A central feature of the paradigm shift from traditional applied arts to modern design was just this extension of the will to design from the world of things to that of human beings themselves—understood as one thing among many. The rise of modern design is profoundly linked to the project of redesigning the old man into the New Man. This project, which emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century and is often dismissed today as utopian, has never really been abandoned de facto. In a modified, commercialized form, this project continues to have an effect, and its initial utopian potential has been updated repeatedly. The design of things that present themselves to the gaze of the viewing subject is critical to an understanding of design. The ultimate form of design is, however, the design of the subject. The problems of design are only adequately addressed if the subject is asked how it wants to manifest itself, what form it wants to give itself, and how it wants to present itself to the gaze of the Other.
This question was first raised with appropriate acuity in the early twentieth century—after Nietzsche diagnosed God's death. As long as God was alive, the design of the soul was more important to people than the design of the body. The human body, along with its environment, was understood from the perspective of faith as an outer shell that conceals the soul. God was thought to be the only viewer of the soul. To him the soul was supposed to look beautiful—that is, simple, transparent, well constructed, proportional, and not disfigured by any vices or marked by any worldly passion. It is often overlooked that in the Christian tradition ethics has always been subordinated to aesthetics—that is, to the design of the soul. Ethical rules, like the rules of spiritual asceticism—of spiritual exercises, spiritual training—serve above all the objective of designing the soul in such a way that it would be acceptable in God's eyes, so that He would allow it into paradise. The design of one's own soul under God's gaze is a persistent theme of theological treatises, and its rules can be visualized with the help of medieval depictions of the soul before the Last Judgment. The design of the soul that was practiced for God's eyes was clearly distinct from the worldly applied arts: whereas the applied arts sought richness of materials, complex ornamentation, and outward radiance, the design of the soul focused on the essential, the plain, the natural, the reduced, and even the ascetic. The revolution in design that took place at the start of the twentieth century can best be characterized as the application of the rules for the design of the soul to the design of worldly objects.
The death of God signified the disappearance of the viewer of the soul, for whom its design was practiced for centuries. Thus the site of the design of the soul shifted. The soul became the sum of the relationships into which the human body in the world entered. Previously, the body was the prison of the soul; now the soul became the clothing of the body, its social, political, and aesthetic appearance. Suddenly the only possible manifestation of the soul became the look of the clothes in which human beings appear, the everyday things with which they surround themselves, the spaces they inhabit. With the death of God, design became the medium of the soul, the revelation of the hidden interior. Thus design took on an ethical dimension it had not had previously. In design, ethics became aesthetics; it became form. From where religion once came, design has emerged. The modern subject now has a new obligation: the obligation to self-design, an aesthetic presentation as ethical subject. Modern design is ethics become form. The ethically motivated polemic against design, launched repeatedly over the course of the twentieth century and formulated in ethical and political concepts, can only be understood on the basis of this new definition of design; such a polemic would be entirely incongruous if directed at the traditional applied arts. Adolf Loos' famous essay "Ornament and Crime" is an early example of this turn.
From the outset, Loos postulated in his essay a unity between the aesthetic and the ethical. Loos condemned every decoration, every ornament, as a sign of depravity, of vices. Loos judged a person's appearance, to the extent it represents a consciously designed exterior, to be an immediate expression of his or her ethical stance. For example, he believed he had demonstrated that only criminals, primitives, heathens, or degenerates ornament themselves by tattooing their skin. Ornament was thus an expression either of amorality or of crime: "The Papuan covers his skin with tattoos, his boat, his oars, in short everything he can lay his hands on. He is no criminal. The modern person who tattoos himself is either a criminal or a degenerate."1 Particularly striking in this quotation is the fact that Loos makes no distinction between tattooing one's own skin and decorating a boat or an oar. Just as the modern human being is expected to present him or herself to the gaze of the Other as an honest, plain, unornamented, "undesigned" object, so should all the other things with which this person nust deal be presented as honest, plain, unornamented, undesigned things. Only then do they demonstrate that the soul of the person using them is pure, virtuous, and unspoiled. According to Loos, the function of design is not to pack, decorate, and ornament things differently each time, that is, to constantly design a supplementary outside so that an inside, the true nature of things, remains hidden. Rather, the real function of the modern design is to prevent people from wanting to design things at all. Thus Loos describes his attempts to convince a shoemaker from whom he had ordered shoes not to ornament them.2 For Loos, it was enough that the shoemaker use the best materials and work them with care. The quality of the material and the honesty and precision of the work, and not their external appearance, determine the quality of the shoes. The criminal thing about ornamenting shoes is that this ornament does not reveal the shoemaker's honesty, that is, the ethical dimension of the shoes. The ethically dissatisfactory aspect of ornament is concealed and the ethically impeccable is made unrecognizable. For Loos, true design is the struggle against design—against the criminal will to conceal the ethical essence of things behind their aesthetic surface. Yet paradoxically, only the creation of another, revelatory layer of ornament—that is, of design—guarantees the unity of the ethical and the aesthetic that Loos sought.
The messianic, apocalyptic features of the struggle against applied art that Loos was engaged in are unmistakable. For example, Loos wrote: "Do not weep. Do you not see the greatness of our age resides in our very inability to create new ornament? We have gone beyond ornament, we have achieved plain, undecorated simplicity. Behold, the time is at hand, fulfillment awaits us. Soon the streets of the cities will shine like white walls! Like Zion, the Holy City, Heaven's capital. Then fulfillment will be ours."3 The struggle against the applied arts is the final struggle before the arrival of God's Kingdom on Earth. Loos wanted to bring heaven down to earth; he wanted to see things as they are, without ornament. Thus Loos wanted to appropriate the divine gaze. But not only that, he wanted to make everyone else capable of seeing the things as they are revealed in God's gaze. Modern design wants the apocalypse now, the apocalypse that unveils things, strips them of their ornament, and causes them to be seen as they truly are. Without this claim that design manifests the truth of things, it would be impossible to understand many of the discussions between designers, artists, and art theorists over the course of the twentieth century. Such artists and designers as Donald Judd or architects such as Herzog & de Meuron, to name only a few, do not argue aesthetically when they want to justify their artistic practices but rather ethically, and in doing so they appeal to the truth of things as such. 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.
Loos' essay is, famously, not an isolated phenomenon. Rather, it reflects the mood of the entire artistic avant-garde of the twentieth century, which sought a synthesis of art and life. This synthesis was supposed to be achieved by removing the artistic both from art and from life. Both were supposed to reach the zero point of the artistic in order to achieve a unity. The artistic was understood to be the "human, all too human" that obstructed the gaze of the true form of things. Hence the traditional painting was seen as the thing that obscured the gaze of the true material composition as a combination of paints on canvas. And shoes made in the traditional way were understood to be the thing that obscured the gaze of the essence, function, and true composition of the shoe. The gaze of the New Man had to be freed of all such obstructions by the force of (anti)design.
Whereas Loos still formulated his argument in rather bourgeois terms and wanted to reveal the value of certain materials, craftsmanship, and individual honesty, the will to absolute design reached its climax in Russian Constructivism, with its "proletarian" ideal of the collective soul, which is manifested in industrially organized work. For the Russian Constructivists, the path to virtuous, genuinely proletarian objects also passed through the elimination of everything that was merely artistic. The Russian Constructivists called for the objects of everyday communist life to show themselves as what they are: as functional things whose forms serve only to make their ethics visible. Ethics as understood here was given an additional political dimension, since the collective soul had to be organized politically in order to act properly in accordance with ethical terms. The collective soul was manifested in the political organization that embraced both people and things. The function of "proletarian" design—at the time, admittedly, people spoke rather of "proletarian art"—must therefore be to make this total political organization visible. The experience of the October Revolution of 1917 was crucial for the Russian Constructivists. They understood the revolution to be a radical act of purifying society of every form of ornament: the finest example of modern design, which eliminates all traditional social customs, rituals, conventions, and forms of representation in order for the essence of the political organization to emerge. Thus the Russian Constructivists called for the abolition of all autonomous art. Art should rather be placed entirely at the service of the design of utilitarian objects. In essence, it was a call to completely subsume art to design.
At the same time, the project of Russian Constructivism was a total project: it wanted to design life as a whole. Only for that reason—and only at that price—was Russian Constructivism prepared to exchange autonomous art for utilitarian art: just as the traditional artist designed the whole of the artwork, so the Constructivist artist wanted to design the whole of society. In a certain sense, the artists had no choice at the time other than to announce such a total claim. The market, including the art market, was eliminated by the Communists. Artists were no longer faced with private parties and their private interests and aesthetic preferences, but with the state as a whole. Necessarily, it was all or nothing for artists. This situation is clearly reflected in the manifestos of Russian Constructivism. For example, in his programmatic text entitled "Constructivism," Alexei Gan wrote: "Not to reflect, not to represent and not to interpret reality, but to really build and express the systematic tasks of the new class, the proletariat... Especially now, when the proletarian revolution has been victorious, and its destructive, creative movement is progressing along the iron rails into culture, which is organized according to a grand plan of social production, everyone—the master of color and line, the builder of space-volume forms and the organizer of mass productions—must all become constructors in the general work of the arming and moving of the many-millioned human masses."4 For Gan, the goal of Constructivist design was not to impose a new form on everyday life under socialism but rather to remain loyal to radical, revolutionary reduction and to avoid making new ornaments for new things. Hence Nikolai Tarabukin asserted in his then-famous essay "From the Easel to the Machine" that the Constructivist artist could not play a formative role in the process of actual social production. His role was rather that of a propagandist who defends and praises the beauty of industrial production and opens the public's eyes to this beauty.5 The artist, as described by Tarabukin, is someone who looks at the entirety of socialist production as a ready-made—a kind of socialist Duchamp who exhibits socialist industry as a whole as something good and beautiful.
The modern designer, whether bourgeois or proletarian, calls for the other, divine vision: for the metanoia that enables people to see the true form of things. In the Platonic and Christian traditions, undergoing a metanoia means making the transition from a worldly perspective to an otherworldly perspective, from a perspective of the mortal body to a perspective of the immortal soul. Since the death of God, of course, we can no longer believe that there is something like the soul that is distinguished from the body in the sense that it is made independent of the body and can be separated from it. However, that does not by any means suggest that a metanoia is no longer possible. Modern design is the attempt to bring about such a metanoia—an effort to see one's own body and one's own surroundings as purified of everything arbitrary, tasteful, and earthly. In a sense, it could be said that modernism substituted the design of the corpse for the design of the soul.
The corpselike quality of modern design was recognized by Loos even before he wrote "Ornament and Crime." In his text "The Poor Little Rich Man," Loos tells of the imagined fate of a rich Viennese man who decided to have his entire house designed by an artist. This man totally subjected his everyday life to the dictates of the designer (Loos speaks, admittedly, of the architect), for as soon as his thoroughly designed house is finished, the man can no longer change anything in it without the designer's permission. Everything that this man has bought or done must fit into the overall design of the house, not just literally but also aesthetically. In a world of total design, the man himself has become a designed thing, a kind of museum object, a mummy, a publicly exhibited corpse. Loos concludes his description of the fate of the poor rich man as follows: "He was shut out of future life and its strivings, its developments, and its desires. He felt: Now is the time to learn to walk about with one's own corpse. Indeed! He is finished! He is complete!"6 In his essay "Design and Crime," whose title was inspired by Loos', Hal Foster interpreted this passage as an implicit call for "running room," for breaking out of the prison of total design.7 It is obvious, however, that Loos' text should not be understood as a protest against the total dominance of design. Loos protests against design as ornament in the name of another, "true" design, in the name of an antidesign that frees the consumer from dependence on the taste of the professional designer. As the aforementioned example of the shoes demonstrates, under the regime of avant-garde antidesign, consumers take responsibility for their own appearance and for the design of their daily lives. Consumers do so by asserting their own, modern taste, which tolerates no ornament and hence no additional artistic or craft labor. By taking ethical and aesthetic responsibility for the image they offer the outside world, however, consumers become prisoners of total design to a much larger degree than ever before, inasmuch as they can no longer delegate their aesthetic decisions to others. Modern consumers present the world the image of their own personality—purified of all outside influence and ornamentation. But this purification of their own image is potentially just as infinite a process as the purification of the soul before God. In the white city, in the heavenly Zion, as Loos imagines it, design is truly total for the first time. Nothing can be changed there either: nothing colorful, no ornament can be smuggled in. The difference is simply that in the white city of the future, everyone is the author of his own corpse—everyone becomes an artist-designer who has ethical, political, and aesthetic responsibility for his or her environment.
One can claim, of course, that the original pathos of avant-garde antidesign has long since faded, that avant-garde design has become a certain designer style among other possible styles. That is why people continue to assert that our entire society today—the society of commercial design, of the spectacle—is presented as a game with simulacra behind which there is only a void. That is indeed how this society presents itself, but only if one takes a purely contemplative position, sitting in the lodge and watching the spectacle of society. But this position overlooks the fact that design today has become total—and hence it no longer admits of a contemplative position from the perspective of an outsider. The turn that Loos announced in his day has proven to be irreversible: every citizen of the contemporary world still has to take ethical, aesthetic, and political responsibility for his or her self-design. In a society in which design has taken over the function of religion, self-design becomes a creed. By designing one's self and one's environment in a certain way, one declares one's faith in certain values, attitudes, programs, and ideologies. In accordance with this creed, one is judged by society, and this judgment can certainly be negative and even threaten the life and well-being of the person concerned.
Hence modern design belongs not so much in an economic context as in an aesthetic and political one. Modern design has transformed the whole of social space into an exhibition space for an absent divine visitor, in which individuals appear both as artists and as self-produced works of art. In the gaze of the modern viewer, however, the aesthetic composition of artworks inevitably betrays the political convictions of their authors—and it is primarily on that basis that they are judged. The debate over headscarves demonstrates the political force of design. In order to understand that this is primarily a debate about design, it suffices to imagine that Prada or Gucci has begun to design headscarves. In such a case, deciding between the headscarf as a symbol of Islamic convictions and the headscarf as a commercial brand becomes an extremely difficult aesthetic and political task. Design cannot therefore be analyzed exclusively within the context of the economy of commodities. One could just as soon speak of suicide design—for example, in the case of suicide attacks, which are well known to be staged according to strict aesthetic rules. One can speak about the design of power but also about the design of resistance or the design of alternative political movements. In these instances design is practiced as a production of differences—differences that often take on a political semantics at the same time. We often hear laments that politics today is concerned only with a superficial image—and that so-called content loses its relevance in the process. This is thought to be the fundamental malaise of politics today. More and more, there are calls to turn away from political design and image making and return to content. Such laments ignore the fact that under the regime of modern design, it is precisely the visual positioning of politicians in the field of the mass media that makes the crucial statement concerning their politics—or even constitutes their politics. Content, by contrast, is completely irrelevant, because it changes constantly. Hence the general public is by no means wrong to judge its politicians according to their appearance—that is, according to their basic aesthetic and political creed, and not according to arbitrarily changing programs and content that they support.
Thus modern design evades Kant's famous distinction between disinterested aesthetic contemplation and the use of things guided by interests. For a long time after Kant, disinterested contemplation was considered superior to a practical attitude: a higher, if not the highest, manifestation of the human spirit. But already by the end of the nineteenth century, a reevaluation of values had taken place: the vita contemplativa was thoroughly discredited, and the vita activa was elevated to the true task of humankind. Hence today design is accused of seducing people into weakening their activity, vitality, and energy—of making them passive consumers who lack will, who are manipulated by omnipresent advertising and thus become victims of capital. The apparent cure for this lulling into sleep by the society of the spectacle is a shocklike encounter with the "real" that is supposed to rescue people from their contemplative passivity and move them to action, which is the only thing that promises an experience of truth as living intensity. The debate now is only over the question whether such an encounter with the real is still possible or whether the real has definitively disappeared behind its designed surface.
Now, however, we can no longer speak of disinterested contemplation when it is a matter of self-manifestation, self-design, and self-positioning in the aesthetic field, since the subject of such self-contemplation clearly has a vital interest in the image he or she offers to the outside world. Once people had an interest in how their souls appeared to God; today they have an interest in how their bodies appear to their political surroundings. This interest certainly points to the real. The real, however, emerges here not as a shocklike interruption of the designed surface but as a question of the technique and practice of self-design—a question no one in the regime of modern design can escape anymore. In his day, Beuys said that everyone had the right to see him- or herself as an artist. What was then understood as a right has now become an obligation. In the meantime we have been condemned to being the designers of our selves.

Boris Groys

Translated from the German by Steven Lindberg

What does new and interesting mean?

Akrithakis, Le Roi, 1966

“What does new and interesting mean?” presents major works by leading contemporary Greek artists together with works by younger ones.
Works by Nelly’s (1953), Caniaris (1969, 1970), Kessanlis, (1957, 1971, 1986), Kounellis, (1965), Samaras (1971, 1982), Steve Gianakos, (1981, 2007), Akrithakis (1966, 1982) are juxtaposed with works by Nikos Markou, Savas Christodoulides, Kostis Velonis, Georgia Sagri, Christos Charissis, Yannis Theodoropoulos, Nikos Papadimitriou, Stephanos Tsivopoulos.

Every new generation of artists creates its own language within the social and cultural context of its era through dialogue with the national and international, semantic and notional endowment which is diffused through schools, important exhibitions, books, magazines and discussions.

Therefore, we can recognize elective affinities between the artists in terms of language, methodological approach or poetics in their works.
Assemblages by Christodoulides and Velonis dialogue openly with works by Caniaris with regards to their content and interpretations. A similar conversation occurs with Sagri’s drawings and the works created by Kassanlis while in Rome or the self-referential world of Samaras and Theodoropoulos, again with the series of meta-structures by Kessanlis with the last works by Papadimitriou and so on.

AD gallery, Athens
until 24th of January 2009

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Man Cloaked in Malice

Abraham Bosse, The Man Cloaked in Malice, etching (ca. 1630).

Friday, November 21, 2008


John Stezaker
Mask LXV, 2007
Collage, 25.5x20cm

Approach gallery, London

Lutefisk Sushi Bento boxes

Vers de nouveaux rivages

Gustav Klutsis
Le sportif doit être un tireur d’élite, 1928
Carte postale des Spartakiades de Moscou
dans le cadre de l'exposition « Vers de nouveaux rivages. L’avant-garde russe dans la collection Costakis ».

Fondation Dina Vierny-Musée Maillol, Paris
Curator: Maria Tsantsanoglou, Yves Kobry

I Shall Preserve my Only Love

I Shall Preserve my Only Love
162 x 96 x 112
wood, acrylic, spray

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Valie Export
Action Pants: Genital Panic, 1969, Munich

Love is Essential

Love is essential.
Sex, mere accident.
Can be equal
Or different.
A man's not an animal:
Is a flesh intelligent,
Although sometimes ill.

Fernando Pessoa
translated from Fernando Pessoa by J.Griffin.

Kulturfabrik Kofmehl

Kulturfabrik Kofmehl
Architects: ssm Architekten ag
Location: Solothurn, Switzerland

Shadows of the Stone

Ulrich Rückriem, Shadows of the stone
National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens
Curated by: Tina Pandi
30/09/2008 -30/11/2008

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Thank you god

Malevich, Running Man, 1932-34

Letter from the Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.
I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe. This is a matter of great urgency. We need blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance.
My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Friday, November 7, 2008

Poster for Tourism

Poster for Greek Tourism by Freddie Carabott, 1963

The Plant that is Bored and wants to see More of the World Around

Actually, the sculpture goes for a walk...

Carsten Holler, 1994


Detail, 2008, Villa à Garche, by J. M. Legrande et J. Rabinel, 50’ France,

Detail,2008,House at Weissenhof by Le Corbusier at Stuttgart, Germany, 1927

Maria Papadimitriou : Corbu
Zina Athanassiadou gallery, Salonica

Female Animal Trainer and Leopard

Vallecita's leopards, 1906

The Unboring Boring and the New Dream of Stone

The Unboring Boring and the New Dream of Stone, or, if literature does politics as literature, what kind of gender politics does the current literature of the boring enact?

Christine Wertheim

[T]here's a certain kind of unboring boredom that's fascinating, engrossing, transcendent, and downright sexy. And then there's the other kind of boring: let's call it boring boring. Boring boring is a client meeting; boring boring is having to endure someone's self-indulgent poetry reading; boring boring is watching a toddler for an afternoon; boring boring is the seder at Aunt Fanny's. Boring boring is being somewhere we don't want to be; boring boring is doing something we don't want to do. [...] By the 60s and 70s in art circles this type of boredom-boring boring-was often the norm. [...] It's no wonder people bailed out of boredom in the late 70s and early 80s to go into punk rock or expressionistic painting. [...] And then, a few decades later, things changed again: excitement became dull and boring started to look good again. So here we are, ready to be bored once more. But this time, boredom has changed. We've embraced unboring boring, modified boredom, boredom with all the boring parts cut out of it. Reality TV, for example, is a new kind of boredom. [... But o]ur taste for the unboring boring won't last forever. I assume that someday soon it'll go back to boring boring once again, though for reasons and conditions I can't predict at this time (Goldsmith, 68-69).

The philosopher and literary geneologist Jacques Rancière argues that there is a specific link between "politics as a definite way of doing and literature as a definite practice of writing," (2004b,10). In fact, literature qua literature "does politics" all by itself, for its ways of organizing what can be seen and what can be said are the aesthetic foundations on which politics is necessarily erected. The aim of Ranciere's project is less to change our ideas about literature per se, than to shift our understanding of its relationship to politics, which, he argues after Foucault, constantly changes to produce different aesthetico-political "regimes." This project has profound implications for feminist studies of culture, for if every political regime includes gender issues, by Ranciere's reasoning so must every aesthetic. Though Ranciere himself only comments briefly on the gendered aspect of aesthetics-when he links the birth of modern literature to nineteenth century (male) writers' critique of women's reading habits, e.g., Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Balzac's The Country Parson (2004b)-his colleague in letters Christine Buci-Glucksmann focuses explicitly on this problem.

In the introduction to "L'Utopie féminin,"1 the second part of her Baroque Reason, Buci-Glucksmann argues that the current aesthetic paradigm, in which Art is characterized by the always new that is always the same, is specifically linked to a symbolic redistribution that transforms women into the principle figures through which masculine anxiety deciphers its own 'castration'. This paper draws on the work of both Ranciere and Buci-Glucksmann, to argue that as a contemporary heir to Flaubert's Bouvard et Pécuchet, Kenneth's Goldsmith's "unboring boring" is supported by the same symbolic order. The point here is not to criticize Goldsmith's work, but simply to argue that, just as we cannot have a classical form of art in a democratic era, so also we don't yet have one free of gender anxiety, however neutral it may appear on the page.

Partitions of the Sensible: The Chorus, the Theatre and the Page

For Ranciere the aesthetic core of politics "should not be understood as the perverse commandeering of politics by a will to art" (2004a, 13). It is a delimitation of the senses that determines both what can be seen as art, and what will be accepted as politics. Ranciere calls these delimitations "partitions of the sensible" to highlight the fact that they are neither solely physical nor solely conceptual, but apply to the boundaries where Sense meets the senses in the phenomenon of human intercourse. Partitions of the sensible are forms of communication and relation whose main function is to determine the constitution of a community, or the shape of a polis. Ranciere's theory is thus essentially an extension of Kant's idea of a priori forms to the realm of cultural experience, with a genealogical or Foucaldian twist, for if the partition of the sensible is the foundation on which the form of a community rests, this partition is neither universal nor ahistorical, but changeable. Ranciere identifies three main partitions linked to three aesthetico-political regimes: the ethical, the representative or poetic, and the aesthetic, each of which is based on the dominance of one of Plato's three main modes of making/doing2.

For Plato, 'art' as such did not exist. There were simply different ways of making and doing, each of which had different political implications due to the inherent differences in the way they relate bodies to space. Identifying three main forms of making/doing, which Ranciere dubs the "chorus," the "theatre," and the "page," Plato both defines, and ranks, the different ways artistic forms help constitute different kinds of community or polis. For Plato, the ideal community can only be constituted when the choral form of making/doing, defined as the "choreographic form of the community that sings and dances its own proper unity" (2004a, 14), with its own proper voice and its own proper body, is taken as the model of society. The catch in Plato's paradigm is that it demands such clarity in the partition of identities and places that each body may have one and only one position, apparently always. A carpenter makes furniture and a midwife births babies. Being otherwise engaged, neither of these laborers is in the position to devote themself to the business of governance. The political analogue of the choral community in Plato's schema is thus a body of persons devoted exclusively to the problems of the state, that is to say, a separate political class. Ranciere names the social and aesthetic order built on this paradigm the ethical regime, and shows that, in the Platonic schema, it is strictly opposed to the reign of democracy.

The next best, or second worst, artistic mode on which a community may be based in this scheme is known as the "theatrical," even when it is practiced in the mediums of paint and ink. When this mode dominates we have what Ranciere calls the representative or poetic regime. In the Platonic view, the problem with theatre is that it causes a form of identity-confusion; theatre splits people (both actors and spectators) by introducing a glamorous fantasy with which they can identify, thereby overriding their real experience, of being in a particular social space communing with other particular living bodies. Even more than the poison of the simulacra, in the Platonic ideology of essences the duplicity engendered by theatre is what most endangers the soul. Though theatre has clearly existed throughout the ages, it became the paradigm of the arts in the Renaissance, when theatrical methods of representation were transferred to the page, the canvas and the wall.

The represenative regime is based on the dual principle of mimesis/poesis, which is not, Ranciere insists, prescriptive, but rather grants artworks, (paintings or writings), the ability to act as if they could actually stand in for real events-acts of living speech, or decisive moments of action and meaning. On the mimetic side, classical poetics thus "established a relationship of correspondence between speech and painting, between the sayable and the visible" (2004a, 16), which gave imitation its own specific space. On the poetic side, the representative regime is built on the Aristotelian idea that life is a disordered succession of events which are only endowed with meaning when they are arranged into plausible causal chains by poets. In this distribution of the sensible meaning is not inherent in the world, but is forged in the Sense given it through its composition into a poetic structure. Within this system not only can high (mimetic) art be distinguished from low (decorative) art, but there is a specific criterion for distinguishing between good (high) art and bad (high) art. This is the criterion of adequation, under which every position in the order of things is deemed to have its own unique character, its own unique style of speech and look. A monologue by one of Shakespeare's fools is thus better art than the words of God as penned by a hack, for what makes the "art" is not the subject matter itself, but the fit between the subject and the manner in which this is represented.

In opposition to the ideology that modern Art distinguishes itself by its focus on medium-specificity and (inscriptional) surface, Ranciere argues that the representative regime is already possessed by an obsession with surface. However, he argues, this "surface" is not essentially defined as a geometric object, but rather as an interface, a space in which the representational "purity" of high art has always been infected by the non-representational "abstractions" of the decorative. The Sistine Chapel and Leonardo's notebooks bear witness to this fact. From this perspective, the modern regime is defined not so much by its turn towards abstraction, as by the arts' final realization of themselves as Art though their complete capitulation to the lack of distinction between the figurative and the decorative, and their unification as a singularity through their wholehearted embrace of the infrathin, interfacial nature of their proper space, that is, "the page," which encompasses both painting and writing. Ranciere calls this the aesthetic regime, and, as stated, in the Platonic schema, it is strictly identical with the reign of democracy.

For Plato, painting and writing are united by their common use of an inert surface as the ground upon which they stand, the place from which they speak. Even more than theatrical mimesis, Plato hated arts inscribed on a page because he conceived of this surface as a dead thing that "wanders aimlessly" without knowing who to speak to or who not to speak to. In the philosopher's eyes, this futile wandering of inert sign-surfaces destroys every legitimate foundation for the relationship between the effects of language and the positions of bodies in shared space. That is to say, under this aesthetico-political regime, in which Plato saw only dead letters and mute images, there is no adequation between ways of speaking and socio-spatial positioning: anyone may speak to anyone, in any way, from any place, and all utterances have the same (lifeless) value. For Plato, the aesthetic formation built around such inert sign surfaces is strictly identical with the reign of democracy, which is defined in the Platonic schema as a form of community based on illegitimate relations that lead to indefinite partitions of identities. Plato's diatribe against writing was thus essentially driven by his political reaction to the Democracy; his work on aesthetics being just another part of his political campaign to topple what was then a fragile new form of community, and set in its place a form that would more completely embody his ideal polis. But democracy has returned, and with it, the indiscriminate, wandering page.

The Contradictions of Literature as 'Literature', or Copying as Medicine for the Disease of Literariness and its Politics of Disorder.

I've transformed from a writer into an information manager, adept at the skills of replicating, organizing, mirroring, archiving, hoarding, storing, reprinting, bootlegging, plundering, and transferring. I've needed to acquire a whole new skill set: I've become a master typist, an exacting cut-and-paster, and an OCR demon. There's nothing I love more than transcription; I find few things more satisfying than collation (Goldsmith, 68).

Citing Flaubert as an exemplary case, Ranciere argues that the "art" in modern literary practice is demonstrated by the deliberate lack of artistry displayed by the writer. Furthermore, this literary lack of literariness is specifically opposed to the "romantic" beautification of life now widely practiced by the masses, especially women. This opposition between Art and non-Art is best exemplified in Flaubert's masterpiece, Madame Bovary.

The aim of the writer was to make art invisible. The mistake of Emma Bovary, by contrast, was her will to make art visible, to put art in her life ­ ornaments in her house, a piano in her parlor, and poetry in her destiny. [On the other hand,] Flaubert would distinguish his art from that of his character by putting art only in his book, and making it invisible. [...] That new kind of mute writing [...] would fit the radical muteness of things, which have neither will nor meaning. [...] The prose of the artist distinguished itself from the prose of everyday life insofar as it was still muter, still more deprived of "poetry" (2004b, 21-22).

Thus is the modern conundrum in which Art both wants to dissolve itself in (a) life (now conceived as 'feminine"), and to radically distinguish itself from it.

Here we arrive at the essence of the aesthetic regime, as defined by Ranciere, that, contrary to much contemporary theorizing, Art's muteness and lack of (classical) artistry is not the result of an allegiance to abstraction, medium specificity, or any other "formalist" principle. It is not even essentially determined by the infrathin space of the page in which it first spawned. For Ranciere, the only essential quality of (modern, or aesthetic) Art is that its form, or mode of being, is divided against itself.

In the aesthetic regime, artistic phenomena are [...] inhabited by a heterogeneous power, the power of a form of thought that has become foreign to itself: a product identical with something not produced, knowledge transformed into non-knowledge, logos identical with pathos, the intention of the unintentional, etc. (2004a: 22-23), [emphasis added].

From the earlier Madame Bovary, in which the author distinguished his own aesthetic aesthetics from the anaesthetic aesthetics of (romanticized feminine) everyday life by making his writing even more deprived of poetry, Flaubert moved to a final demonstration of Art's self-alienation in his novelette, Bouvard et Pécuchet.

Written near the end of his life, Bouvard et Pécuchet is the story of two copy-clerks who, after quitting their jobs for a life of self improvement through reading, wind up returning to copying when their aspirations turn out to be just another species of romantic fantasy.

Instead of trying to apply the words of the books in real life, they will [now] only copy them. This is good medicine for the disease of literariness and its politics of disorder. But this good medicine is the self-suppression of literature. The novelist himself has nothing more to do than to copy the books that his characters are supposed to copy. In the end he has to undo his plot and blur the boundary separating "art for art's sake" from the prose of the commonplace. When art for art's sake wants to undo its link to the prose of democracy, it has to undo itself (2004b: 22).

Copying their characters copying themselves copying the characters that others writers' wrote, for both Flaubert and Ranciere "the life of literature is the life of this contradiction (2004b: 23). For art to be Art, it must undo itself. Is this not also Goldsmith's claim?

Let me go into more detail about Day. I would take a page of the newspaper, start at the upper left hand corner and work my way through, following the articles as they were laid out on the page. If an article, for example, continued on another page, I wouldn't go there. Instead, I would finish retyping the page I was on in full before proceeding to the next one. I allowed myself no creative liberties with the text. The object of the project was to be as uncreative in the process as possible. It was one of the hardest constraints a writer can muster, particularly on a project of this scale; with every keystroke came the temptation to "fudge," "cut-and-paste," and "skew" the mundane language. But to do so would be to foil my exercise. [...] Everywhere there was a bit of text in the paper, I grabbed it. I made no distinction between editorial and advertising, stock quotes or classified ads. If it could be considered text, I had to have it. Even if there was, say, an ad for a car, I took a magnifying glass and grabbed the text off the license plate (69-70).

But if the dominant rhetorical trope, indeed, the essence of Art itself, in the aesthetic regime is the oxymoron, why has this form, and thus the regime, come to the fore in modernity?

Christine Buci-Glucksmann and the Feminine as Allegory of the Modern

Literature is the act of writing that specifically addresses those who should not read (Ranciere, 2004b: 15).

I don't expect you to even read my books cover to cover. It's for that reason I like the idea that you can know each of my books in one sentence. For instance, there's the book of every word I spoke for a week unedited. Or the book of every move my body made over the course of a day [...] Or my most recent book, Day, in which I retyped a day's copy of the New York Times and published it as a 900 page book. Now you know what I do without ever having to have read a word of it, (Goldsmith, 69).

The Wikipedia Encyclopedia defines an oxymoron as "a figure of speech that combines two normally contradictory terms (e.g. "deafening silence")." The root of the word is a Greek term derived from oxy meaning "sharp" and moros meaning "dull." In other words, an oxymoron is a figure (of speech) in which difference collapses. The derived adjective, "oxymoronic," also highlights the appearance of idiocy associated with this disaster. For Buci-Glucksmann the sudden flowering of this contradictory and idiotic trope within the space of writing is linked to a transformation in the symbolic division of gender brought on by the specific nature of the space that arose with the modern industrialized city.

Since Baudelaire, the space of modernized urbanity has been defined by poets as a labyrinth of commoditiy-fetishes. This fetishized maze, Buci-Glucksmann argues, produces a modification in the flow of desire, for here the sexual drive meets the way of mankind that does not wish to know. The principal object of desire is now no longer The Woman, but the cessation of desire itself. And this new undesiring desire produces a perpetual anxiety that is the same as the Baudelarian image of life, the one "that knows no development." Here, as Plato well knew, signification is linked to death, the loss of aura, and a nihilistic emptying of meaning and values. Along side the progressive aspect of modern democracy, there is thus a catastrophic shadow based on the power of absence, which inscribes in writing a blank space that masculine desire begins to decipher in the image of the female body. In the modern partition of the sensible the feminine thus becomes visible in an altogether new kind of way, as the ultimate ground on which men decipher/inscribe the catastrophe of their perceived loss of power, meaning and love. This is how the myth of "castration" plays itself out in the modern world. Here, however, the (anti-)hero is not a prince, but a flaneur, the wandering poet barely glimpsed in the intoxified city. And the (m)other is not The Woman, but the ultimate commodity-fetish, whose being frames his gaze, the prostitute.

According to Buci-Glucksman, this masculine desire, which radically separates eros and love, and deciphers contingency, mortality and man's own "castration" in the feminine form, is not just caused by men's (sense of) loss, but takes this impotencyality as its ultimate goal. Hence the uncreative creativity of Ranciere's aesthetic regime. However "post-modern," the unboring boring is simply one more phase in this poetics of impotency, an anaesthetic that continuously stages its own disappearance without (its) ever coming.

If Plato and Ranciere are right, and democracy is linked to a singularized Art whose essence is ontologically given in the form of an irresolvable contradiction, and Buci-Glucksmann's account of its arousal is correct, then a literature of the "boring with all the boring taken out" is linked to a symbolic order that places men as itinerant voyeurs, coldly copying the ephemera of a meaning- and creativity-sucking figure they really can't confront, for they always abject it into the feminine form. Buci-Glucksman calls this the "tragedy of the modern woman-body" (1987). Though, unlike Flaubert, Goldsmith does not allegorize women, his aesthetic of the unboring boring has its roots in the same dialectic state of arrest, the dream of the stone that is always the new and always the same.

Published in English as "Catastrophic Utopia: The Feminine as Allegory of the Modern."

2Though one is likely to dominate at any given time, these aesthetico-political regimes are not coincidental with historical epochs, for all three have been in play across the ages.

Buci-Glucksman, Christine. "Catastrophic Utopia: The Feminine as Allegory of the Modern." In The Making of the Modern Body: Sexuality and Society in the Nineteenth Century. Eds. Catherine Gallagher and Thomas Lacqueur. California: University of California Press, 1987. 222-228.

__. La Raison Baroque: De Baudelaire a Benjamin. Paris: Editions Galilée, 1984.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Cited from, 11.01.05.

Goldsmith, Kenneth."Being Boring." Séance. Eds. Christine Wertheim and Matias Viegener, Los Angeles: Make Now Press, 2006. 67-72.

Ranciere, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics. Trans. Gabriel Rockhill. London and New York: Continuum, 2004a.

"The Politics of Literature." Substance 103. Ed. Eric Mechoulan.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004b. 10-24.

Source : Open Letter. A Canadian Journal of Writing and Theory
Twelfth Series, Number 7, Fall 2005

Monday, November 3, 2008

You got A good one!

The piece consists of cardboard mailing envelopes used for transporting vinyl records. The main idea of the exhibition deals with the process of collecting through the use of the ‘useless’ objects (mailers), byproducts of the actual collection, which is absent from the show. Dimitris Ioannou covers the exhibition space walls with 514 cardboard boxes- mailers for 12” vinyl records that he bought mainly from ebay and online music stores due to his activity as a dj.

Dimitris Ioannou
“You got A good one!”
Exhibition Space, Konstantinoupoleos 44, Athens