31 December 2016

comedy as prophecy

“Can a nation organized and governed such as ours endure?
That is the real question.
Have we the nerve and the will? Can we carry through in an age where we will witness not only new breakthroughs in weapons of destruction, but also a race for mastery of the sky and the rain, the ocean and the tides, the far side of space, and the inside of men's minds?
That is the question of the New Frontier.”
John F. Kennedy,
1960 Democratic National Convention Acceptance Address
delivered 15 July 1960, Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles

Off topic, but on topic: When are we going to begin the Beach Boys
article? I guess it is just up to the first step. In a way it is
over-tardy, it goes without saying it is like Dan Graham pastiche.
Would there be any way of bringing it up to date? I guess American
fascism is up to date, but certainly not in the Wilsonian sense. After
your historic recreation of the record collection, which speaks to
certain current artistic practices of locating historical facts, how
could this piece of writing take a similarly reflective stance toward
its material?

well, one way would be to look at environmental devastation, the beach(boys), new orleans, sri lankan, tides destroying things, surfing, Walter Benjamin's 1936 artwork essay warning against societies fascination with their own destruction.
maybe i am overly optimistic that Wilsonian fascism is more than just a fascination with having the right north american speed demon.

the text can be an artwork, not necessarily something that fits a program of academic inquiry - thus a poetic free association might work. 


And of course Smithson, within that environmental lament. Perhaps the
Beach boys to him represented a melancholic coastal utopia that he
knew was quickly and with the force of amnesia plummeting into a
future pre-history. And so he could not bring himself to listen to

Brian Wilson, although considered the leader, probably shouldn't be the target of our scorn, rather the entire beach boys band pre- Pet Sounds.

I like the picture you paint of Smithson.

maybe Fillip review would be a good place to submit a proposal for it?

I don't know how to start this though.



It's a good idea. There are reviews which are 1500 words or so, and
essays which are twice that. this is obviously not a review, unless it
is a review of your piece in the Triennale, but it would be nice to
have the space to meander anyway. We send them a 250 word abstract or
something. The rules are on the website. I never got my 75 bucks from


perhaps we could do a 'site-specific' version for the Fillip review, bring in some polemics about that nonsense statement by Lawrence Weiner comparing nova scotia to british columbia, coastal dialectics.

or not.


Did the Beach Boys ever play in Halifax, I wonder. Although how much
impact do they make on a 'sophistication' register. Fuelling a
regionalist art feud could be fun. We could pose as being based in


perhaps an abstract could be :

we propose an artistic "site-specific" article, starting from the claim made by Lawrence Weiner in the last issue of Fillip review that Vancouver was(is?) more sophisticated than Halifax and how that might play out in the pages of a Canadian magazine published in Vancouver by Vancouverites.  We will look at the intertwined relationship between The Beach Boys' fascistic impulse,  post 9-11 environmental histeria, economies of production in Vancouver and Halifax, 2010 Olympics, destruction, Vancouver artists obsession with Conceptual art, the piece 'an object tossed from one country to another', and 'island of broken glass' controversy Vancouver Island.


alter as you may


instead of saying obsession with conceptualism, i wonder if we could make the claim that Vancouver artists suffer from a certain Dan Grahamitus, or Robert Smithsonitus;  a little detourné of the Smithson line that artists of the 1960s suffered from Duchampitus.



aside from the at first glance, very tenuous relationship between the Beach Boys and fascism, there is the more close relationship between california style minimalism of Larry Bell and John McCkraken, Craig Kaufmann and the beach boys which was acknowledged by that curator who did the show on B. Wilson.   I think the car culture and high gloss paint fashions was the link.  Ed Ruscha often makes the statement about the tendency of allowing your love of cars to enter your artwork. Now, where's the fascism? i have no idea. even hippies love cars in california, evidenced by Father Yod and others.

I've often wondered what the relationship is between the Bush regime and the puritan yankee Minimalism of Richard Serra, Robert Ryman, Donald Judd.  When you go to Dia Beacon you feel like there has been some eerie like placement of things.  when does the dominant high culture become entwined with the dominant political culture? Then there is John Chamberlain with his busted car allegories; frightening sublimity.

thank you for entertaining my insanity for a minute.

i believe there is a picture of michael circulating out there wearing a plaid number.

this reminds me that pendletons plaid shirts were the item of choice for surfers.


That's a sweet idea- our own line of surf wear (as illustrations).

surfer's also meaning, Robert Smithson!

Neil Young might be the dialectical synthesis though, with Smithson opposing Brian Wilson and Young at the resolved mid point.  Neil Young isn't particularly futuristic, nor entirely nostalgic.  Merlin Carpenter suggests Young's guitar on rust never sleeps deals in the same analysis of geological time as Smithson's work.

or maybe i am fantasizing about an already made artwork by Sam Durant.



"Wouldn't It Be Nice" is a goldmine on this topic."Wouldn't it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn't have to wait so long" - death drive, anyone? (This has always been K's reading of this song).
Then there's the homespun kitchen facism of "We could be married/Then We'd be Happy".

20 December 2016

The Juggalo President

Justin Trudeau's airplane

The "return of the repressed" is of course a "bad" (read: "regressive") thing—whereas sublimation is what founds civilization. Sublimation, however, is also, according to Freud (Sigmund) a psychic mechanism that is most appropriate to men, who are the "founders" of civilization. Leo Bersani reads a very interesting moment in one of Freud's footnotes (the "lower body" repressed from the "upper body") toward the end of Civilization and Its Discontents. Bersani refers to this footnote as a moment of "textual embarrassment," when Freud argues that one of the first acts of civilization was man's conquest of fire, accomplished through collective urination, interpreted as a form of competition between men, experienced as sexual pleasure and hence symbolically homosexual. For Freud, women are anatomically capable of such a "conquest"—hence their relegation to the hearth, the tending of the fire. This "fantastic sounding conjecture," attempts to accomplish the task of consigning "women" to an act that precedes civilization, rendering them incapable of sexual pleasure, and positioning them as the bearers or upholders of civilization while eliding their ability to participate in its making.
— Lynda Hart, Between the Body and the Flesh

5 November 2016

coming community

He continued down a list of narrow additions to his consortium of what might be called life-style Republicans: “The Uber driver. The Lyft driver. The labor unions don’t like this. They think you should have to be an employee and work eight hours a day, and have this regulated. But if you say, ‘That’s not me. I’ve got a second job,’ well, you’re out,” he said. “In New York, Airbnb has been outlawed except in rare circumstances. So the Uber driver, the Lyft driver, the Airbnb person, the vaper, the concealed-carry person. Homeschooling was illegal in forty-eight states thirty years ago. Concealed-carry permits didn’t really exist in any meaningful form thirty years ago. Vaping didn’t exist ten years ago. Airbnb and Uber didn’t exist ten years ago. This is a new collection of people.”
— Evan Osnos, quoting Grover Norquist

22 October 2016

Back in Alt Sachsenhausen

 "We had weeks and weeks of meetings with these men and she totally unnerved them because she knitted all the way through. It was extraordinary to watch these big, powerful bureaucrats having temper tantrums, only to be met with a look of disdain from the stony face of Kathleen Shannon and the rhythmic clacking sound of knit one, purl one. ... When it was clear that we had won, Kathleen looked at me and smiled and said, "Well you've got your film and I've got a new sweater!"

— Terre Nash, "Against the Grain: In 1974, when Kathleen Shannon Founded Studio D." This Magazine. Vol. 31, no. 6 (May-June 1998)

6 October 2016

Coal Rolling

"A principal speculation of the medical experts in this era was that the masculine “will” or “instinct” to reproduce had been somehow affected by the spread of degeneracy. As the “active” agent in reproduction, men were assumed, both in biological science and in popular culture, to be the efficient cause of lowered natality. The contemporary campaigns against wet-nursing and infanticide are clear testimony that women were held responsible in some measure for the depopulation problem, but most of the responsibility fell on males. While women might be “sterile” (though this possibility was badly understood until after 1914), their “impotence" (frigidity) was only a partial barrier to pregnancy. Male sterility was better understood and documented, but male impotence was generally assumed to be the major cause of childless marriages, and had been so regarded since the old regime.

The nineteenth-century understanding of male impotence was linked to a venerable principle in French (and European) physiology, which held that sexual function, like all other bodily activities, was dependent on the maintenance of an equilibrium of vital forces, a sort of biological “golden mean” among the various functions of the organism (nutritive, reproductive, etc). According to this concept, the overall “animal economy” could be depleted by an excessive expenditure within any of these autonomous systems. Indeed, the experimental criterion for deciding on the biological norms of the normal and the pathological was the rate of energy expenditure. Moderate (average) rates of expenditure were deemed normal, and excessive or insufficient rates were judged to fall in the range of the pathological.

With respect to the sexual function-and this precept held equally for women—excessive sexual activity exhausted the organism, destroying the dynamism characteristic of sexual function and leading to impotence or, in more severe cases, to sterility. As the “genital” instincts, as they were called, drained from the organic structures that housed them (the genitals), it was believed that the organs themselves were altered, together with all the secondary sexual characters of the individual. This process produced anatomical abnormalities that doctors believed to be the stigmata of degeneration. Though excessive copulation could bring about this result, medical specialists from the late eighteenth century on believed that the most likely explanation was masturbation. Both activities, by making pleasure rather than reproduction the end of sexual activity, disrupted the “normal” and intrinsic aim of the genital instincts and led directly to exhaustion and premature death.

Most medical specialists in the early nineteenth century, in keeping with the principle of the old humoral medicine that men embodied the qualities of heat and dryness and women those of coolness and moistness, believed that men “spent” far more in the sex act than did women. Men were therefore especially prone to exhaustion and functional impotence. This basic distinction between the sexes was maintained throughout the nineteenth century, assuming the form of evolutionary discourse after 1870 or so. The evolutionary explanation for the differences between men and women was that a woman was more biologically primitive than a man, a case of arrested embryological development.

Women were therefore more “instinctive” (read “natural”) than men; women’s animal economies functioned more smoothly than those of men because less of their vital energy was directed away from the organism and toward the cerebrally based function of higher reason. Engaged as they were in the world of affairs, so the argument went, men had a far greater opportunity to exhaust themselves in overwork, where their superior capacity to reason was an ironic liability in the struggle for survival. Males’ “genital instincts” (“sexual instincts” after 1880 or so) were therefore less reliable, less certain in aim and duration than those of women, despite the apparently greater short-run violence of their sexual behavior."

—Robert A. Nye

22 September 2016

"We can’t allow our problems to stop us from dreaming"

"Plato was about to Strike his Servant, and while his hand was in the Ayr, he checkt himself, but still held it in that Menacing Posture. A Friend of his took notice of it, and askt him what he meant. I am now, sayes Plato, punishing of an Angry Man" - Seneca

8 September 2016

The Frosted Curtain

“Because New York City, the main target of the terrorists, is the nation’s arts center, the impact of September 11 on artists and cultural institutions was felt nationwide. Immediate action was taken by the Heritage Emergency National Task Force to assess structures and collections in the areas of the 9/11 attacks. Within hours, the American Association of Museums reported that all New York museum staff were accounted for and museum collections safe.
However, on the 105th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, the Cantor Fitzgerald investment firm had suffered the horrific loss of hundreds of employees. The world’s largest corporate collection of works by sculptor Auguste Rodin and numerous works by Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein, and Louise Nevelson were destroyed. Next door in the South Tower, the National Development and Research Institutes Library was completely wrecked, as were the offices of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. The Broadway Theater Archive, with 35,000 photographs, that stood a block from the World Trade Center was also lost, and 13  other historically or architecturally significant structures, including the Federal Hall National Memorial, were damaged.
In the days and weeks immediately following September 11, Americans turned to the arts, especially to music and poetry, to express their grief. Media focused on the dark stages of Broadway and paid little attention to the blight of the nonprofit arts community. Congress debated how to expedite relief to New York City while arts groups navigated eligibility requirements to secure loans from the Small Business Administration and aid from the Federal Emergency Preparedness Agency.
The economic impact of the terrorist attacks on each of the arts fields was assessed by the NEA. There was a dramatic downturn in year-end giving to nonprofit arts organizations as donors directed giving to 9/11 charities. Revenues were lost from cancelled performances and low attendance at arts events. The general economic slump, decline in tourism and travel, and reduction in state tax revenues brought about cuts in state and local arts budgets. New York City announced a 15 percent across-the-board cut in funding for cultural organizations. Insurance costs rose, in part because of increased security needs at public performances.”
National Endowment for the Arts: A History, 1965–2008

“Yet anyone who has witnessed the art events of the past decade carefully might come to a very different conclusion. On the one hand, there has been an intensification of the critique of art's institutionalization, a deepening of the rupture with modernism. On the other hand, there has been a concerted effort to marginalize and suppress these facts and to reestablish the traditional fine arts categories by all conservative forces of society, from cultural bureaucracies
to museum institutions, from corporate boardrooms to the marketplace for art. And this has been accomplished with the complicity of a new breed of entrepreneurial artists, utterly cynical in their disregard of both recent art history and present political reality. These newly heralded "geniuses" work for a parvenu class of collectors who want art with an insured resale value, which will at the same time fulfill their desire for mildly pornographic titillation, romantic cliche, easy reference to past "masterpieces," and good decor. The objects on view to celebrate the reopening of MOMA were made, with very few exceptions, to cater to this taste, to rest easily over the sofa in a Trump Tower living room or to languish in a bank vault while prices escalate. No wonder then that McShine ended his catalogue introduction with the very special hope "to encourage everyone to be in favor of the art of our time." Given what he has presented as the art of our time, his currying of our favor could hardly be at odds with that of the sponsors of the exhibition, the AT&T Corporation, who mounted a new advertising campaign to coincide with the show. "Some of the masterpieces of tomorrow are on exhibit today," reads the ad's banner headline, under which appears a reproduction of one of Robert Longo's recent glorifications of  corporate style, now in MOMA's permanent collection. That corporate interests are in perfect accord with the art presented in MOMA's inaugural show is a point underscored in the catalogue preface written by the museum's director, whose long paragraph of praise and thanks to AT&T contains the following statement: "AT&T clearly recognizes that experiment and innovation, so highly prized in business and industry, must be equally valued and supported in the arts."”
— Douglas Crimp, The Art of Exhibition

25 August 2016

Cave Youth

 How he sees himself, and by association the artist, anywhere, anytime, is part of the mystery of his late works, and can only be disentangled from the web of consideration at peril of losing the real meaning of a lifetime's work. "I must quote you something from an essay by Evgeny Zamyatin," he writes in September 1974:

No revolution, no heresy, is comfortable and easy. Because it is a leap, it is a rupture of the smooth evolutionary curve and a rupture is a wound, a pain. But it is a necessary wound: most people suffer from hereditary sleeping sickness, and those who are sick with this ailment (entropy) must be allowed to sleep, or they will go to their last sleep, the sleep of death.
This same sickness is common to artists and writers: they go contentedly to sleep in their favourite artistic form which they have devised, then twice revised. They do not have the strength to wound themselves, to cease to love what has become dear to them, They do not have the strength to come out of their lived-in, laurel-scented rooms, to come out in the open air and start anew. To wound oneself, it is true, is difficult, even dangerous. But to live today as yesterday and yesterday as today is more difficult for the living.

Guston adds: “I jumped out of my skin, as you can imagine, when I read this.” But, he says, and but again…

— Dore Ashton, A Critical Study of Philip Guston 

3 June 2016

This represents not simply a process of social conditioning; it normalises those incestuous corporate relationships that are part of the web infrastructure. It neutralises our ability to find alternative communication routes beyond the restrictive realms of Facebook/Twitter/Microsoft etc. It dulls our critical capacities to be able to mediate the relationships between corporate and public space. To be able to think critically and creatively beyond the insular and asocial boundaries of neoliberal social space.

Subject: Your Response From Liberté - 2016/05/31-1639CA

Jun 1 (1 day ago)

to me

Dear Mr. Knowles Eddy Knowles,

Thank you for contacting Liberté.

Unfortunately, we do not offer tours of any of our facilities. It was necessary to discontinue the tours in order to meet our stringent standards for product quality and protection. 

We appreciate your inquiry and are sorry we are unable to assist you in this instance.


Consumer Response Representative

Subject: Danone

May 31 (2 days ago)

to me

Hello Mrs. Knowles,

Thank you for taking the time to communicate with us.

Unfortunately we do not allow any facility visit at any time for safety purposes.

Thank you for contacting Danone.


Danone Consumer Service

Subject: Service aux consommateurs   


May 30 (3 days ago)

to me

Dear N/A Eddy Knowles,

We acknowledge receipt of your question regarding the possibility of having a guided tour and would like to thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Ultima Foods is not set up for tours, as it is a production facility, and we are unable to escort people through a working plant with all the equipment while maintaining health and safety. 

Thank you for your interest and be assured that Ultima Foods is continuously working to offer consumers innovative products of the highest quality.


Agent, Consumer Engagement Services


29 May 2016

Apotropaic images

"But what of those more intangible aspects of the New World—the inscrutability of Native American religious practices, for instance, or the uncertain future of the Virginia colony as an object for investment? What of this deferred content that eluded the engraver's net of rationality, that could not be captured by an outline and set into measurable space, that could not, in short, be made to signify within the rules of the perspective system? I do not raise these questions to ask where in the engraving we might locate these unknowns. I have already suggested that the formlessness of de Bry's smoke provides a space, for such projections and thus for the constitution of the viewer's own subjectivity. I ask these questions, rather, in order to begin considering the structural role that de Bry's smoke might play vis-a-vis the perspective system, for the kinds of ambiguous readings this smoke provokes—readings grounded in uncertainty, doubt, speculation-arc: precisely the kinds of meaning perspective will not admit. The formlessness of smoke serves as a negation of the perspective system: smoke is not any particular meaning but instead signifies all that cannot be contained by contours and orthogonals. By approaching de Bry's smoke in this way we can begin to grasp its semiotic function as the indefinable remainder of the perspective system (a function that must be understood as being prior to any attempt to read smoke). Smoke is the exception that defines the rule, the excluded term that makes it possible for perspective to cohere as a system."
—Michael Gaudio, Engraving the Savage

2 May 2016

A female artist wrote to me in an email about her experience, five years ago in New York, of “dorky, angry white guys streaming down from Columbia University, immigrating back from their stint at Staedl,” “circle jerking each other to the tune of French theory” and “giggling about 4chan.”

Where was the woman who said she'd come. She said she would come. Erdedy thought she'd have come by now. He sat and thought. He was in the living room. When he started waiting one window was full of yellow light and cast a shadow of light across the floor and he was still sitting waiting as that shadow began to fade and was intersected by a brightening shadow from a different wall's window. There was an insect on one of the steel shelves that held his audio equipment. The insect kept going in and out of one of the holes on the girders that the shelves fit into. The insect was dark and had a shiny case. He kept looking over  at it. Once or twice he started to get up to go over closer to look at it, but he was afraid that if he came closer and saw it closer he would kill it, and he was afraid to kill it. He did not use the phone to call the woman who'd promised to come because if he tied up the line and if it happened to be the time when maybe she was trying to call him he was afraid she would hear the busy signal and think him disinterested and get angry and maybe take what she'd promised him somewhere else. 

She had promised to get him a fifth of a kilogram of marijuana, 200 grams of unusually good marijuana, for $1250 U.S. He had tried to stop smoking marijuana maybe 70 or 80 times before. Before this woman knew him. She did not know he had tried to stop. He always lasted a week, or two weeks, or maybe two days, and then he'd think and decide to have some in his home one more last time. One last final time he'd search out someone new, someone he hadn't already told that he had to stop smoking dope and please under no circumstances should they procure him any dope. It had to be a third party, because he'd told every dealer he knew to cut him off. And the third party had to be someone all-new, because each time he got some he knew this time had to be the last time, and so told them, asked them, as a favor, never to get him any more, ever. And he never asked a person again once he'd told them this, because he was proud, and also kind, and wouldn't put anyone in that kind of contradictory position. Also he considered himself creepy when it came to dope, and he was afraid that others would see that he was creepy about it as well. He sat and thought and waited in an uneven X of light through two different windows. Once or twice he looked at the phone. The insect had disappeared back into the hole in the steel girder a shelf fit into. She'd promised to come at one certain time, and it was past that time. Finally he gave in and called her number, using just audio, and it rang several times, and he was afraid of how much time he was taking tying up the line and he got her audio answering device, the message had a snatch of ironic pop music and her voice and a male voice together saying we'll call you back, and the 'we' made them sound like a couple, the man was a handsome black man who was in law school, she designed sets, and he didn't leave a message because he didn't want her to know how much now he felt like he needed it. He had been very casual about the whole thing. She said she knew a guy just over the river in Allston who sold high-resin dope in moderate bulk, and he'd yawned and said well, maybe, well, hey, why not, sure, special occasion, I haven't bought any in I don't know how long. She said he lived in a trailer and had a harelip and kept snakes and had no phone, and was basically just not what you'd call a pleasant or attractive person at all, but the guy in Allston frequently sold dope to theater people in Cambridge, and had a devoted following. He said he was trying to even remember when was the last time he'd bought any, it had been so long. He said he guessed he'd have her get a decent amount, he said he'd had some friends call him in the recent past and ask if he could get them some. He had this thing where he'd frequently say he was getting dope mostly for friends. Then if the woman didn't have it when she said she'd have it for him and he became anxious about it he could tell the woman that it was his friends who were becoming anxious, and he was sorry to bother the woman about something so casual but his friends were anxious and bothering him about it and he just wanted to know what he could maybe tell them. He was caught in the middle, is how he would represent it. He could  say his friends had given him their money and were now anxious and exerting pressure, calling and bothering him. This tactic was not possible with this woman who'd said she'd come with it because he hadn't yet given her the $1250. She would not let him. She was well off. Her family was well off, she'd said to explain how her condominium was as nice as it was when she worked designing sets for a Cambridge theater comp any that seemed to do only German plays, dark smeary sets. She didn't care much about the money, she said she'd cover the cost herself when she got out to the Allston Spur to see whether the guy was at home in the trailer as she was certain he would be this particular afternoon, and he could just reimburse her when she brought it to him. 

This arrangement, very casual, made him anxious, so he'd been even more casual and said sure, fine, whatever. Thinking back, he was sure he'd said whatever, which in retrospect worried him because it might have sounded as if he didn't care at all, not at all, so little that it wouldn't matter if she forgot to get it or call, and once he'd made the decision to have marijuana in his home one more time it mattered a lot. It mattered a lot. He'd been too casual with the woman, he should have made her take $1250 from him up front, claiming politeness, claiming he didn't want to inconvenience her financially over something so trivial and casual. Money created a sense of obligation, and he should have wanted the woman to feel obliged to do what she'd said, once what she'd said she'd do had set him off inside. Once he'd been set off inside, it mattered so much that he was somehow afraid to show how much it mattered. Once he had asked her to get it, he was committed to several courses of action. The insect on the shelf was back. It didn't seem to do anything. It just came out of the hole in the girder onto the edge of the steel shelf and sat there. After a while it would disappear back into the hole in the girder, and he was pretty sure it didn't do anything in there either. He felt similar to the insect inside the girder his shelf was connected to, but was not sure just how he was similar. Once he'd decided to own marijuana one more last time, he was committed to several courses of action.

He had to modem in to the agency and say that there was an emergency and that he was posting an e-note on a colleague's TP asking her to cover his calls for the rest of the week because he'd be out of contact for several days due to this emergency. He had to put an audio message on his answering device saying that starting that afternoon he was going to be unreachable for several days. He had to clean his bedroom, because once he had dope he would not leave his bedroom except to go to the refrigerator and the bathroom, and even then the trips would be very quick. He had to throw out all his beer and liquor, because if he drank alcohol and smoked dope at the same time he would get dizzy and ill, and if he had alcohol in the house he could not be relied on not to drink it once he started smoking dope. He'd had to do some shopping. He'd had to lay in supplies. Now just one of the insect's antennae was protruding from the hole in the girder. It protruded, but it did not move. He had had to buy soda, Oreos, bread, sandwich meat, mayonnaise, tomatoes, M&M's, Almost Home cookies, ice cream, a Pepperidge Farm frozen chocolate cake, and four cans of canned chocolate frosting to be eaten with a large spoon. He'd had to log an order to rent film cartridges from the Inter-Lace entertainment outlet. He'd had to buy antacids for the discomfort that eating all he would eat would cause him late at night. He'd had to buy a new bong, because each time he finished what simply had to be his last bulk-quantity of marijuana he decided that that was it, he was through, he didn't even like it anymore, this was it, no more hiding, no more imposing on his colleagues and putting different messages on his answering device and moving his car away from his condominium and closing his windows and curtains and blinds and living in quick vectors between his bedroom's InterLace teleputer's films and his refrigerator and his toilet, and he would take the bong he'd used and throw it away wrapped in several plastic shopping bags. His refrigerator made its own ice in little cloudy crescent blocks and he loved it, when he had dope in his home he always drank a great deal of cold soda and ice water. His tongue almost swelled at just the thought. He looked at the phone and the clock. He looked at the windows but not at the foliage and blacktop driveway beyond the windows. He had already vacuumed his Venetian blinds and curtains, everything was ready to be shut down. Once the woman who said she'd come had come, he would shut the whole system down. It occurred to him that he would disappear into a hole in a girder inside him that supported something else inside him. He was unsure what the thing inside him was and was unprepared to commit himself to the course of action that would be required to explore the question. It was now almost three hours past the time when the woman had said she would come. A counselor, Randi, with an i, with a mustache like a Mountie, had told him in the outpatient treatment program he'd gone through two years ago that he seemed insufficiently committed to the course of action that would be required to remove substances from his lifestyle. He'd had to buy a new bong at Bogart's in Porter Square, Cambridge because whenever he finished the last of the substances on hand he always threw out all his bongs and pipes, screens and tubes and rolling papers and roach clips, lighters and Visine and Pepto-Bismol and cookies and frosting, to eliminate all future temptation. He always felt a sense of optimism and firm resolve after he'd discarded the materials. He'd bought the new bong and laid in fresh supplies this morning, getting back home with everything well before the woman had said she would come. He thought of the new bong and new little packet of round brass screens in the Bogart's bag on his kitchen table in the sunlit kitchen and could not remember what color this new bong was. The last onehad been orange, the one before that a dusky rose color that had turned muddy at the bottom from resin in just four days. He could not remember the color of this new last and final bong. He considered getting up to check the color of the bong he'd be using but decided that obsessive checking and convulsive movements could compromise the atmosphere of casual calm he needed to maintain while he waited, protruding but not moving, for the woman he'd met at a design session for his agency's small campaign for her small theater company's new Wedekind festival, while he waited for this woman, with whom he'd had intercourse twice, to honor her casual promise. He tried to decide whether the woman was pretty. Another thing he laid in when he'd committed himself to one last marijuana vacation was petroleum jelly. When he smoked marijuana he tended to masturbate a great deal, whether or not there were opportunities for intercourse, opting when he smoked for masturbation over intercourse, and the petroleum jelly kept him from returning to normal function all tender and sore. He was also hesitant to get up and check the color of his bong because he would have to pass right by the telephone console to get to the kitchen, and he didn't want to be tempted to call the woman who'd said she would come again because he felt creepy about bothering her about something he'd represented as so casual, and was afraid that several audio hang-ups on her answering device would look even creepier, and also he felt anxious about maybe tying up the line at just the moment when she called, as she certainly would. He decided to get Call Waiting added to his audio phone service for a nominal extra charge, then remembered that since this was positively the last time he would or even could indulge what Randi, with an i, had called an addiction every bit as rapacious as pure alcoholism, there would be no real need for Call Waiting, since a situation like the present one could never arise again. This line of thinking almost caused him to become angry. To ensure the composure with which he sat waiting in light in his chair he focused his senses on his surroundings. No part of the insect he'd seen was now visible. The clicks of his portable clock were really composed of three smaller clicks, signifying he supposed preparation, movement, and readjustment. He began to grow disgusted with himself for waiting so anxiously for the promised arrival of something that had stopped being fun anyway. He didn't even know why he liked it anymore. It made his mouth dry and his eyes dry and red and his face sag, and he hated it when his face sagged, it was as if all the integrity of all the muscles in his face was eroded by marijuana, and he got terribly self-conscious about the fact that his face was sagging, and had long ago forbidden himself to smoke dope around anyone else. He didn't even know what its draw was anymore. He couldn't even be around anyone else if he'd smoked marijuana that same day, it made him so self-conscious. And the dope often gave him a painful case of pleurisy if he smoked it for more than two straight days of heavy continuous smoking in front of the Inter-Lace viewer in his bedroom. It made his thoughts jut out crazily in jagged directions and made him stare raptly like an unbright child at entertainment cartridges — when he laid in film cartridges for a vacation with marijuana, he favored cartridges in which a lot of things blew up and crashed into each other, which he was sure an unpleasant-fact specialist like Randi would point out had implications that were not good. He pulled his necktie down smooth while he gathered his intellect, will, self-knowledge, and conviction and determined that when this latest woman came as she surely would this would simply be his very last marijuana debauch. He'd simply smoke so much so fast that it would be so unpleasant and the memory of it so repulsive that once he'd consumed it and gotten it out of his home and his life as quickly as possible he would never want to do it again. He would make it his business to create a really bad set of debauched associations with the stuff in his memory. The dope scared him. It made him afraid. It wasn't that he was afraid of the dope, it was that smoking it made him afraid of everything else. It had long since stopped being a release or relief or fun. This last time, he would smoke the whole 200 grams—120 grams cleaned, destemmed — in four days, over an ounce a day, all in tight heavy economical one-hitters off a quality virgin bong, an incredible, insane amount per day, he'd make it a mission, treating it like a penance and behavior-modification regimen all at once, he'd smoke his way through thirty high-grade grams a day, starting the moment he woke up and used ice water to detach his tongue from the roof of his mouth and took an antacid — averaging out to 200 or 300 heavy bong-hits per day, an insane and deliberately unpleasant amount, and he'd make it a mission to smoke it continuously, even though if the marijuana was as good as the woman claimed he'd do five hits and then not want to take the trouble to load and one-hit any more for at least an hour. But he would force himself to do it anyway. He would smoke it all even if he didn't want it. Even if it started to make him dizzy and ill. He would use discipline and persistence and will and make the whole experience so unpleasant, so debased and debauched and unpleasant, that his behavior would be henceforward modified, he'd never even want to do it again because the memory of the insane four days to come would be so firmly, terribly emblazoned in his memory. He'd cure himself by excess. He predicted that the woman, when she came, might want to smoke some of the 200 grams with him, hang out, hole up, listen to some of his impressive collection of Tito Puente recordings, and probably have intercourse. 

He had never once had actual intercourse on marijuana. Frankly, the idea repelled him. Two dry mouths bumping at each other, trying to kiss, his selfconscious thoughts twisting around on themselves like a snake on a stick while he bucked and snorted dryly above her, his swollen eyes red and his face sagging so that its slack folds maybe touched, limply, the folds of her own loose sagging face is it sloshed back and forth on his pillow, its mouth working dryly. The thought was repellent. He decided he'd have her toss him what she'd promised to bring, and then would from a distance toss back to her the $1250 U.S. in large bills and tell her not to let the door hit her on the butt on the way out. He'd say ass instead of butt. He'd be so rude and unpleasant to her that the memory of his lack of basic decency and of her tight offended face would be a further disincentive ever, in the future, to risk calling her and repeating the course of action he had now committed himself to.  He had never been so anxious for the arrival of a woman he did not want to see. He remembered clearly the last woman he'd involved in his trying just one more vacation with dope and drawn blinds. The last woman had been something called an appropriation artist, which seemed to mean that she copied and embellished other art and then sold it through a prestigious Marlborough Street gallery. She had an artistic manifesto that involved radical feminist themes. He'd let her give him one of her smaller paintings, which covered half the wall over his bed and was of a famous film actress whose name he always had a hard time recalling and a less famous film actor, the two of them entwined in a scene from a well-known old film, a romantic scene, an embrace, copied from a film history textbook and much enlarged and made stilted, and with obscenities scrawled all over it in bright red letters. The last woman had been sexy but not pretty, as the woman he now didn't want to see but was waiting anxiously for was pretty in a faded withered Cambridge way that made her seem pretty but not sexy. The appropriation artist had been led to believe that he was a former speed addict, intravenous addiction to methamphetamine hydrochloride1 is what he remembered telling that one, he had even described the awful taste of hydro-chloride in the addict's mouth immediately after injection, he had researched the subject carefully. She had been further led to believe that marijuana kept him from using the drug with which he really had a problem, and so that if he seemed anxious to get some once she'd offered to get him some it was only because he was heroically holding out against much darker deeper more addictive urges and he needed her to help him. He couldn't quite remember when or how she'd been given all these impressions. He had not sat down and outright bold-faced lied to her, it had been more of an impression he'd conveyed and nurtured and allowed to gather its own life and force. The insect was now entirely visible. It was on the shelf that held his digital equalizer. The insect might never actually have retreated all the way back into the hole in the shelf's girder. What looked like its reemergence might just have been a change in his attention or the two windows' light or the visual context of his surroundings. The girder protruded from the wall and was a triangle of dull steel with holes for shelves to fit into. The metal shelves that held his audio equipment were painted a dark industrial green and were originally made for holding canned goods. They were designed to be extra kitchen shelves. The insect sat inside its dark shiny case with an immobility that seemed like the gathering of a force, it sat like the hull of a vehicle from which the engine had been for the moment removed. It was dark and had a shiny case and antennae that protruded but did not move. He had to use the bathroom. His last piece of contact from the appropriation artist, with whom he had had intercourse, and who during intercourse had sprayed some sort of perfume up into the air from a mister she held in her left hand as she lay beneath him making a wide variety of sounds and spraying perfume up into the air, so that he felt the cold mist of it settling on his back and shoulders and was chilled and repelled, his last piece of contact after he'd gone into hiding with the marijuana she'd gotten for him had been a card she'd mailed that was a pastiche photo of a doormat of coarse green plastic grass with WELCOME on it and next to it a flattering publicity photo of the appropriation artist from her Back Bay gallery, and between them an unequal sign, which was an equal sign with a diagonal slash across it, and also an obscenity he had assumed was directed at him magisculed in red grease pencil along the bottom, with multiple exclamation points. She had been offended because he had seen her every day for ten days, then when she'd finally obtained 50 grams of genetically enhanced hydroponic marijuana for him he had said that she'd saved his life and he was grateful and the friends for whom he'd promised to get some were grateful and she had to go right now because he had an appointment and had to take off, but that he would doubtless be calling her later that day, and they had shared a moist kiss, and and he had gone and moved his own car to an underground garage several blocks away, and had run back and drawn the clean blinds and curtains, and changed the audio message on his answering device to one that described an emergency departure from town, and had drawn and locked his bedroom blinds, and had taken the new rose-colored bong out of its Bogart's bag, and was not seen for three days, and ignored over two dozen audio messages and protocols and e-notes expressing concern over his message's emergency, and had never contacted her again. He had hoped she would assume he had succumbed again to methamphetamine hydrochloride and was sparing her the agony of his descent back into the hell of chemical dependence. What it really was was that he had again decided those 50 grams of resin-soaked dope, which had been so potent that on the second day it had given him an anxiety attack so paralyzing that he had gone to the bathroom in a Tufts University commemorative ceramic stein to avoid leaving his bedroom, represented his very last debauch ever with dope, and that he had to cut himself off from all possible future sources of temptation and supply, and this surely included the appropriation artist, who had come with the stuff at precisely the time she'd promised, he recalled. From the street outside came the sound of a dumpster being emptied into an E.W.D. land barge. His shame at what she might on the other hand perceive as his slimy phallocentric conduct toward her made it easier for him to avoid her, as well. Though not shame, really. More like being uncomfortable at the thought of it. He had had to launder his bedding twice to get the smell of the perfume out. He went into the bathroom to use the bathroom, making it a point to look neither at the insect visible on the shelf to his left nor at the telephone console on its lacquer workstation to the right. He was committed to touching neither. 

Where was the woman who had said she'd come. The new bong in the Bogart's bag was orange, meaning he might have misremembered the bong before it as orange. It was a rich autumnal orange that lightened to more of a citrus orange when its plastic cylinder was held up to the late-afternoon light of the window over the kitchen sink. The metal of its stem and bowl was rough stainless steel, the kind with a grain, unpretty and all business. The bong was half a meter tall and had a weighted base covered in soft false suede. Its orange plastic was thick and the carb on the side opposite the stem had been raggedly cut so that rough shards of plastic protruded from the little hole and might well hurt his thumb when he smoked, which he decided to consider just part of the penance he would undertake after the woman had come and gone. He left the door to the bathroom open so that he would be sure to hear the telephone when it sounded or the buzzer to the front doors of his condominium complex when it sounded. In the bathroom his throat suddenly closed and he wept hard for two or three seconds before the weeping stopped abruptly and he could not get it to start again. It was now over four hours since the time the woman had casually committed to come. Was he in the bathroom or in his chair near the window and near his telephone console and the insect and the window that had admitted a straight rectangular bar of light when he began to wait. The light through this window was coming at an angle more and more oblique. Its shadow had become a parallelogram. The light through the southwest window was straight and reddening. He had thought he needed to use the bathroom but was unable to. He tried putting a whole stack of film cartridges into the dock of the disc-drive and then turning on the huge teleputer in his bedroom. He could see the piece of appropriation art in the mirror above the TP. He lowered the volume all the way and pointed the remote device at the TP like some sort of weapon. He sat on the edge of his bed with his elbows on his knees and scanned the stack of cartridges. Each cartridge in the dock dropped on command and began to engage the drive with an insectile click and whir, and he scanned it. But he was unable to distract himself with the TP because he was unable to stay with any one entertainment cartridge for more than a few seconds. The moment he recognized what exactly was on one cartridge he had a strong anxious feeling that there was something more entertaining on another cartridge and that he was potentially missing it. He realized that he would have plenty of time to enjoy all the cartridges, and realized intellectually that the feeling of deprived panic over missing something made no sense. The viewer hung on the wall, half again as large as the piece of feminist art. He scanned cartridges for some time. The telephone console sounded during this interval of anxious scanning. He was up and moving back out toward it before the first ring was completed, flooded with either excitement or relief, the TP's remote device still in his hand, but it was only a friend and colleague calling, and when he heard the voice that was not the woman who had promised to bring what he'd committed the next several days to banishing from his life forever he was almost sick with disappointment, with a great deal of mistaken adrenaline now shining and ringing in his system, and he got off the line with the colleague to clear the line and keep it available for the woman so fast that he was sure his colleague perceived him as either angry with him or just plain rude. He was further upset at the thought that his answering the telephone this late in the day did not jibe with the emergency message about being unreachable that would be on his answering device if the colleague called back after the woman had come and gone and he'd shut the whole system of his life down, and he was standing over the telephone console trying to decide whether the risk of the colleague or someone else from the agency calling back was sufficient to justify changing the audio message on the answering device to describe an emergency departure this evening instead of this afternoon, but he decided he felt that since the woman had definitely committed to coming, his leaving the message unchanged would be a gesture of fidelity to her commitment, and might somehow in some oblique way strengthen that commitment. The E.W.D. land barge was emptying dumpsters all up and down the street. He returned to his chair near the window. The disk drive and TP viewer were still on in his bedroom and he could see through the angle of the bedroom's doorway the lights from the high-definition screen blink and shift from one primary color to another in the dim room, and for a while he killed time casually by trying to imagine what entertaining scenes on the unwatched viewer the changing colors and intensities might signify. The chair faced the room instead of the window. Reading while waiting for marijuana was out of the question. He considered masturbating but did not. He didn't reject the idea so much as not react to it and watch as it floated away. He thought very broadly of desires and ideas being watched but not acted upon, he thought of impulses being starved of expression and drying out and floating dryly away, and felt on some level that this had something to do with him and his circumstances and what, if this grueling final debauch he'd committed himself to didn't somehow resolve the problem, would surely have to be called his problem, but he could not even begin to try to see how the image of desiccated impulses floating dryly related to either him or the insect, which had retreated back into its hole in the angled girder, because at this precise time his telephone and his intercom to the front door's buzzer both sounded at the same time, both loud and tortured and so abrupt they sounded yanked through a very small hole into the great balloon of colored silence he sat in, waiting, and he moved first toward the telephone console, then over toward his intercom module, then convulsively back toward the sounding phone, and then tried somehow to move toward both at once, finally, so that he stood splay-legged, arms wildly out as if something's been flung, splayed, entombed between the two sounds, without a thought in his head.

—David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

27 April 2016



Of all human nudity — and there's no other kind of nudity — the penis is the only part that reveals more than, or something other than, nudity. It isn't skin, or it is no longer only skin, but is as uncovered as skin. There's nothing to push aside, neither hair nor lips, in order to expose the penis that the patch of hair presents and doesn't hide. It's there to be seen, not suspended between the thighs, as is it is often said to be, but in front, flanked by its family jewels. Nudity here lacks any reserve of modesty. The skin is not the luminous transparence of the body: it is only an organ and an additional limb. In truth, the body is left behind: we are before another presence that is singular, independent— and hanging out. Either the penis falls, almost shapeless and crumpled, an awkward pendulum, or it's erect, swollen, huge, powerfully in action, with meaning and presence only in ejaculation.

The mimesis of the body is struggling here, even broken. One can only paint a penis by nesting it in the hollow of thighs that are close together, like a little ball caught in the fleece of pubic-hair. That's the way it is often depicted in classical painting when vine leaves or shells are not used. One might say this shows the great beauty [venuste] of the penis (and therefore its feminization). But the erect penis can't be painted (or photographed) without being pornographic, that is to say, without revealing a methexis without mimesis, a contact, a contagion that dissolves the representation. The penis is the joker of the naked — but an uncompromising joker, forever too improper really to be put into play. 

Yet Carracci succeeds in treating the unbeatable. Polyphemus the Cyclops has just caught Galatea, the object of his romantic-desire, in the arms of Acis. He raises the rock that he is going to throw at the young man. Polyphemus s penis is thrust forward by the movement of his entire body (just as the piece of loose fabric to the right reveals his penis in its nudity). Although it's raised, the penis isn't erect: in this instant, it is held in the middle between its two possibilities. However, its tip is open: a lighter circle there makes this clear. Corresponding with his shining orifice are the nine mouthpieces of Pan's flute that the giant carries on his back. Ovid's text specifies that it is "an enormous flute, composed of a hundred reeds." 14 One hundred could be represented by ten, the tenth reed therefore being the penis. It isn't going to ejaculate; it's going to sing or whistle while Polyphemus shouts (polyphemus literally means "one who has many voices"). This musical sexual organ is raised like a little trumpet that has just escaped the embarrassment of being a misshapen trunk or a rubicund cudgel. Polyphemus has a harmonious boner, and for once the penis can exhibit itself right in the middle of a painting. However, this harmony is ironic: changed into a sonorous pipe, the penis misses out on the sexual pleasure it was after.

The irony is made even stronger by the presence of the volcano on the slopes of which the scene takes place (Etna, as Ovid specifies). To the right of the giant's head, we can make out a spurt of fire on the mountain, while to the left of his thigh, at the same height as his penis, a second crater holds open its fuming mouth. Sonorous or gaseous, this penis only spurts air.

There is more. Open, in the center of the scene, the phallic mouthpiece is eye-catching, but perhaps it also plays the role of an eye turned toward the spectator, as so often appears in painting. The Cyclops's one eye looks up at the sky; Galatea's eye, looking back, rolls upward; and Acis protects his eyes. But the penis offers to us a blind and obscene orbit, a sort of comic menace. It is as if to the spurt from the rocks beneath which the crushed Acis's blood will gush out to form a river, there corresponded a spurt of paint in our eye, which is nothing but Polyphemus 's furious spasm and the painting of desire, which cannot be represented.

— Federico Ferrari and Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Nude

23 April 2016

Metallic Luther

     She drove on downtown, being extra careful because she felt like doing harm to somebody, found a liquor store with a big Checks Cashed sign, got the same turndown inside. Running on nerves and anger, she kept on till she reached the next supermarket, and this time she was told to wait while somebody went in back and made a phone call.
    It was there, gazing down a long aisle of frozen food, out past the checkout stands, and into the terminal black glow of the front windows, that she found herself entering a moment of undeniable clairvoyance, rare in her life but recognized. She understood that the Reaganomic ax blades were swinging everywhere, that she and Flash were no longer exempt, might easily be abandoned already to the upper world and any unfinished Business in it that might now resume ... as if they'd been kept safe in some time-free zone all these years but now, at the unreadable whim of something in power, must reenter the clockwork of cause and effect. Someplace there would be a real ax, or something just as painful, Jasonic, blade-to-meat final — but at the distance she, Flash, and Justin had by now been brought to, it would all be done with keys on alphanumeric keyboards that stood for weightless, invisible chains of electronic presence or absence. If patterns of ones and zeros were "like" patterns of human lives and deaths, if everything about an individual could be represented in a computer record by a long string of ones and zeros, then what kind of creature would be represented by a long string of lives and deaths? It would have to be up one level at least — an angel, a minor god, something in a UFO. It would take eight human lives and deaths just to form one character in this being's name — its complete dossier might take up a considerable piece of the history of the world. We are digits in God's computer, she not so much thought as hummed to herself to a sort of standard gospel tune, And the only thing we're good for, to be dead or to be living, is the only thing He sees. What we cry, what we contend for, in our world of toil and blood, it all lies beneath the notice of the hacker we call God.
      The night manager came back, holding the check as he might a used disposable diaper. "They stopped payment on this."
     "The banks are closed, how'd they do that?"
      He spent his work life here explaining reality to the herds of computer-illiterate who crowded in and out of the store. "The computer," he began gently, once again, "never has to sleep, or even go take a break. It's like it's open 24 hours a day. . . ."
     –Thomas Pynchon, Vineland

24 March 2016

Robbie just did not have a passion for labels

        In November 2002, then immigration minister Denis Coderre put forward a recommendation for a national debate on the issue of identity cards for all Canadians. Proposing that such a card would be similar to the PRC [permanent residence card], Coderre noted that “identity has taken on new prominence” since the events of 11 September 2001. He also suggested that debating an identity card would provide the opportunity “to clarify what it means to be a citizen, a Canadian” (Coderre, 2003). Coderre’s call led to the Biometrics: Implications and Applications for Citizenship and Immigration forum held by CIC in October 2003. Government officials, participants from the private sector and other “experts” attended this by-invitation-only forum. Coderre’s suggestion of a national identity card was met with critique. The former Privacy Commissioner of Canada in his Overview of the Annual Report to Parliament declared, among other things, that a national identity card would create “Big Brother dossiers” that could “open the way to being stopped in the streets by police and required to identify ourselves on demand” (Radwanski, 2003, p. 3). The national identity card did not move beyond debate, however Coderre’s recommendation was not the first instance of such a call. One occasion in particular had certain elements in common with Coderre’s, namely, the suggestion that the card would thwart terrorists. A Notice of Motion was filed in October 1971 in the House of Commons considering the “Compulsory Carrying of Identification Cards” for Canadian citizens and immigrants. Filed by Member of Parliament Fernand Leblanc, this motion was in response to the 1970 events known as the October Crisis involving the Front de Libe ́ration du Que ́bec (FLQ), the kidnapping and killing of Quebec Justice Minister Pierre Laporte, the kidnapping of British Trade Commissioner James Cross and the invoking of the War Measures Act by the federal government. Leblanc noted that “such a card could ensure the protection of the community in case of riots and terrorist acts”, while one MP argued that the motion be “examined from every angle with very long tongs, and then dropped into a furnace and burned” (Leblanc, 1971).

— Simone Browne "Getting carded: Border Control and the politics of Canada's permanent resident card"

8 March 2016

Unsubscribing from Akimbo

aborted proposal for a public art commission in Mississauga, © 2015

I am drifting, adrift. No matter how much we talk about drift as method, no matter how powerful the bonds of affection become on these trips – not just between spouses and lovers and children but also between friends – there remains a sour note. Something in the ecstatic feeling of travel together remains shiftless, rootless and untrustworthy. Maybe that is part of its charm. We show up in the middle of the night at run-down motels. We burn hundreds of gallons of gasoline extracted from the Alberta tar sands whose pipeline system my small family is tracing in this particular drift. We sneak photographs out the passenger window and poach wireless in hotel parking lots. In Detroit, I encounter women from a neighbourhood organization fighting the construction of a refinery to convert tar sands oil into the gasoline that I will burn in my car as I drive home. They are neither drifting nor adrift, and they don’t need me to articulate the tar sands’ spatial politics or elucidate the relationship between the micro and the macro of petroleum production. But if given a chance to contribute full-time to the ‘front lines’ of a movement, to become ‘embedded’ in a specific place and campaign, I am pretty sure I would shy away. In the United States, there are relatively few examples of ‘militant research’ – the situated, collective knowledge production that animates social movements and enhances a collective capacity for political imagining.

The term itself originated in a particular context – the Argentinean crises of the early 2000s – and can only in its broadest outlines be applied to an American reality of political fragmentation, professionalised activism, and the containment of radical intellectuals in the academy. It’s not just that it is very difficult to work in this way (though it certainly is); it’s also that many people in the Compass come from an art background in which questions over the wisdom of committing to a cause versus leveraging art’s purported autonomy for critical ends still provoke heated debate. There is something I trust about my untrustworthy drifting; it is just hard to articulate what it is and far easier to recognise what it lacks. Though the group has called for a ‘longer, slower, deeper’ engagement with geography and the infrastructures of transnational capitalism, we rarely spend more than a few days in any place and often no more than an afternoon. While the conversations we have may be meaningful and the observations perhaps astute, they are limited, and not just in an ‘all knowledge is partial and contingent’, post-structuralist sort of way. The duration of our engagement allows some impressions to be gathered but prevents the slow filtering of multiple, contradictory streams of information that staying in a place over a longer time, say months or years, might permit. From time to time, we visit places in the Midwest that point to liberating, sustainable futures and are inspired by what we find. We describe these drifts as knitting together a Midwest Radical Culture Corridor, a real-and-imagined place built of relationships between divergent, but sympathetic, oppositional political, aesthetic and life practices. When we return and speak to friends working full-time in areas in which we only dabble (permaculture, ‘natural’ building, local food systems) it sometimes uncovers wildly divergent points of view about the same parallax people and places. By dropping in for a day or week, we may see only what we are primed to see and what our local hosts and guides would like to show. 

If this critique sounds familiar, it should. Tourism has been discussed and criticised in strikingly similar terms. Bashing tourists has a long and proud history among intellectuals, from Daniel Boorstin’s classic indictment of their pursuit of spectacular inauthenticity to Zygmunt Bauman’s less-than-flattering portrayal of the tourist as a signal figure of postmodernity. Even those whose critique is more nuanced, notably Dean MacCannell, acknowledge the challenge of ‘ethical sightseeing’. Perhaps the Compass drifts romanticise and exoticise those we visit as much as heritage parks and living history museums do for more mainstream tourists. How different is it, really, that my ‘tourist gaze’ is directed at cooperative solar energy systems, barter economies, and homemade aquaculture tanks? My ability to sustain a belief in these efforts is bolstered by my mobility: shielded from the often discouraging and mundane details of day-to-day operations, I am free to remain ‘inspired’. That this sort of mobility is largely an artefact of both class and race privilege is so obvious as to seem beneath comment. It helps explain why most of us on these drifts have graduate degrees, faculty positions, or neo-bohemian lives of voluntary (and mostly gentle) poverty. Our privileged mobility parallels the mobility of capital that produced the rust-belt cities, megafarms, and supply chains we trace in an attempt to know.

If this critique seems rather damning, it certainly feels that way to me, and it’s levelled against myself most often. But it also feels too easy, absolute and disabling. It makes me feel helpless in my sadness and isolation, and guilty in turn for feeling impotent. Like many discussions of privilege by people on the American left, it remains mired in a zero-sum, almost Catholic identity politics whereby privilege is a sin to be disavowed and expiated at all costs. Compass friends Maribel Casas-Cortes andSebastian Cobarrubias wrote, ‘the category of privilege can limit the potential activities or alliances of social movements, or dismiss those that already exist’.
They suggest that a more helpful approach might be to remain conscious of how privilege operates while considering how the subject positions it produces might be used. This ‘non-categorical politics’ demands a rigorous practice of inquiry, action, and self-reflection, ideally connected to concrete political activity but also calling into question the constitution of subjectivities and experiences. ‘By attending to the microscopic elements of everyday life, research can connect with people’s experiences, allowing for mutual recognition and the discovery of previously unthinkable combinations and possibilities.’

In other words, what do our distinct positions within interlocking systems of oppression, capitalisation and socialisation enable us to experience, think, know and do? What do our sometimes contradictory, sometimes overlapping positions allow us to occupy, subvert and create? This shift of emphasis from privilege to position accomplishes several important tasks. First, it makes visible the ways that mobility is not a function of privilege but rather a function of the capitalist present, which distributes forms of mobility unequally according to privilege. People and forces with different positions within the capitalist present experience and use mobility in different ways. Some of them are exploitative, others liberating, but all are intellectually and politically productive. Second, it favours a dialectical approach over the dichotomy of inside/outside on which conventional forms of tourism – as well as disabling identity politics – are based. If tourism traditionally functioned to create a field of the exotic other against which one’s own culture might be understood, thinking positionally suggests that these relationships are multi-dimensional, overlapping, shot through with contradiction and in constant motion. The form of mobile research that the drift represents is therefore, in part, an attempt to understand our own positions in dialogue with others’ subjectivities and as part of broader institutions and infrastructures. As Casas-Cortes’ and Cobarrubias have written in the context of the drifts practiced by Precarias a la Deriva, ‘“field research” is a temporary expedition into singular experiences. Precarias’ project searches for commonalities and fosters singularities’. This recognition of positioning within systems – our singular commonality – and shared experience among individuals also sets apart these forms of artistic practice from a neo-avant-garde approach hinging on alienation, distance and shock.

Thinking about the drift this way, my self-critique becomes less damning, enabling me to ask the more open-ended question, ‘What, ultimately, is produced by our drifting?’ We know our drifts and gatherings create affection, most durably among ourselves but also for and with those we encounter and visit. They help us overcome isolation and sadness and enlarge our capacity to care. We believe drifting produces knowledge, however incomplete, of social and economic systems as manifest and contested by localised efforts. We hope it initiates relationships, however tenuous, between ourselves and the places and people we meet on our travels. Rather than making some grandiose claim for this method, or dismissing it as self-indulgent and lazy, can the love, knowledge and relationships we know we build be recast as something meaningful and politically necessary, if necessarily incomplete?

—Sarah Kanouse

2 March 2016

Rankin Family

"More than ever today, nature has become inseparable from culture; and if we are to understand the interactions between ecosystems, the mechanosphere, and the social and individual universes of reference, we have to learn to think 'transversally'. As the waters of Venice are invaded by monstrous, mutant algae, so our television screens are peopled and saturated by 'degenerate' images and utterances. In the realm of social ecology, Donald Trump and his ilk - another form of algae - are permitted to proliferate unchecked. In the name of renovation, Trump takes over whole districts of New York or Atlantic City, raises rents, and squeezes out tens of thousands of poor families. Those who Trump condemns to homelessness are the social equivalent of the dead fish of environmental ecology."

—Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies

1 March 2016


My point isn't to split hairs around definition and semantics but rather to underscore the emerging buzz around social practice art. And by "buzz" I also mean "money." SPArt, a grant-making organization based in LA, recently awarded three $10,000 grants that they themselves characterize as social practice art. Winning projects include an art-making workshop with former inmates, an interactive broadcast at an LA swap, and a collective that will create a "new space for women to learn and create."

The big question moving forward isn't whether social art projectsor whatever you'd like to call themwill proliferate. As this astute piece in Art News makes plain, the movement is gaining momentum and shows no signs of abating. Rather, the more pressing issue is whether larger, richer foundations will climb aboard and funnel money toward arts organizations that roll out more collaborative and interactive programming. Conversely, it will also be interesting to see if arts organizations, looking for a piece of the social practice funding pie, will radically alter their programming or adroitly place existing programs under the social practice rubric.

We'll keep you posted. But you already knew that.

28 February 2016

Pantone 448C

FS: "Reconsidering the Object of Art: 1965-1975" (Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, October 1995) caused a stir in part due to its perhaps ironic affiliation with Philip Morris as a sponsor (considering the loaded leftist-based political imagery on display), and your subsequent withdrawal from the show. When were you made aware of Philip Morris' sponsorship of the exhibition?

AP: Not until pretty late, there was a period when I was taking care of my mother and dealing with her estate afterward and I was basically not there. It was not until Hans Haacke faxed me some of the material and I just lost it so I faxed the head of the museum, saying "get me out of here" and actually they were really very good about it. They kind of got it, as to why it was important for me to pull out, but that would have been one to two months after the show opened and from what I understand from Hans is that they were not aware of the Philip Morris sponsorship until the opening of the show.

FS: Haacke and yourself have been outspoken in the discussion about corporate use of the arts for their own public-relations purposes. Tell me, how do you think corporations actually influence the production of visual art? Especially among younger artists?

AP: I think it's very, very scary. I think I finally realized why Philip Morris is so much behind Jesse Helms, because Helms is trying to get rid of the National Endowment for the Arts and of course without the NEA there would be basically no government funding. So everyone would have to go to Philip Morris, or something else like Philip Morris and the thing is, Philip Morris is one of the few corporations that is clearly and visibly and simply evil. It's not a complex moral issue here, it really is just killing people, and if it were not in control of all this art funding it would be such an easy target, but course, younger artists are right to think that they are not going to be able to get funding if they don't take advantage of these funds. Things are already difficult enough as it is, and of course we have postmodernist doubt but, then it makes things so much harder for people to see clearly when their self interest is at stake. I've actually heard really good, concerned, left-thinking friends of mine say, "Well, they haven't really proved a connection between smoking and cancer." So it's scary because the corporations have so much power and they really are able to silence younger artists from protesting in effective ways and also they cloud people's moral perceptions, which I think is very scary. So I think they are the devil.