Tuesday 27 October 2015

The Sinthome Score, perhaps a make believe.

Perhaps a make believe.

Among the attractions at the 56th Venice Biennale this year is a performance which is an installation by Dora García called The Sinthome Score, which comprises two performers and a transcript (unofficial translations in German or English)  of Jacques Lacan’s 1975-75 seminar Le Sinthome, on which diagrams of movements have been added such that as on performer performs the reading the other performs the corresponding movement. The performers perform to one another, and their co-presentation constitutes an installation for the public, such is García’s stated intention. There is no particular order of reading, and a claimed lack of intention of an engagement with the meaning of the words. García seems particular in seeking not to claim an interpretative framework for the artwork.

A Sinthome as discussed in Lacan’s seminar in relation to the writing of James Joyce, is a kind of solution which might orient the end of analysis, a reduction of someone’s symptoms to a kind of core which no longer imply the chains of meaning along which an analysand travels which are associated with psychoanalytical symptoms. From what is given by a symptom - a signifier which implies a knowledge, and for which an analysand goes to a psychoanalyst supposing them to have this knowledge  - we go to a sinthome, a signifier all alone, which does not imply a knowledge, and which has a consistency and stability for an analysand on which they can depend. On the one hand a sinthome is a particular solution for each, not just any old signifier, but the one that operates at the core of each’s symptoms as varied and seemingly unrelated as they may be, on the other hand the making of a sinthome is a work of fabrication. Joyce worked in fabricating a use of language not as communication, but as a way of making a consistency between the body, signifier, and what is real beyond signification such as it marks him, and for Joyce necessitated in that it is supposed that a connection between these registers was not otherwise guaranteed for him, as it is so often not guaranteed in the world as we find it now. Joyce’s sinthome is not communicable, but none the less something of it is transmitted, can be got just as the point of a joke is transmitted more than communicated as demonstrated by a joke’s failure upon explication of its point. 

We may often in a sense suppose that an artwork has a meaning - that it carries a knowledge for the question we bring to it, and most particularly when such knowledge is withheld the audience makes knowledge imputing the artwork as its cause. And indeed The Sinthome Score in its withdrawal of extraneous interpretative framework seems to offer this possibility. What we have are two elements which play against each other, we question whether the movement interprets the text or vice versa, and if so what is given? Perhaps some meaning emerges, or perhaps it is lost, neither here nor there, and the work is neither here nor there with it. We may come up with a chain of interpretations - the work lends itself to this. We may ask what of this enactment is connected to a sinthome - is there something sinthomatic for García in this? After all we know that Joyce’s text is a magnet for interpretation, read more in the university than beyond it, and despite this is also opaque and sinthomatic. But whereas a sinthome is something found in Joyce’s approach, it is something forced as a subject matter, as a meaning, a key in García work in a way that is contrary to the singularity of what might be sinthomatic - if it were a joke it’d be the kind which relies on the explanation of its point for its punchline, which would be a neat trick, a truth in a lie, reminiscent of a lie in the truth illustrated in Freud’s joke about the distrusting friends on a train one of whom responds to the other’s assertion that they’re going to Crakow, that fellow is only telling him he’s going to Crakow so that he would think that he’s really going to Lemberg, when in reality he’s going to Krakow. The viewer may however reasonably wonder whether García has read a bit of Lacan (and we suppose at least Seminar XXIII) and understood that she can make an artwork which appears to have some formal qualities in common with a sinthome as it might be given as a subject of understanding - a kind of university cultural-studies Lacanianism applied with the blank reflexivity of art.

Psychoanalyst Jacques Alain Miller has on occasion sought to use the English expression make believe in the place of the French semblant. Something of the direction of semblance, as can be sensed in making an adjective of it - semblantised - moves in the direction of a dissolution of belief, whereas make belief operates the same axis in the other direction. Miller refers to the semblant as the crossover of appearance and Being. Being in so far as Being is an effect of language and always incorporates a want of Being. If there is Being there must be a lack of Being otherwise everything would Be and the word would lack the differential characteristic of signification, and as such there would be no Being. Being incorporates its lack, is never quite entirely Being, although we may cover this inconvenience over and imagine it so, and we can see perhaps that there is a crossover between Being and appearing here. Being in so far as it is defined here in its logical differential quality in relation to not Being is symbolic, whereas appearance is of the order of imaginary - and so a make believe, in so far as we do believe, can be something which is a holding together of the symbolic and imaginary, if perhaps limited in the face of an encroaching real, working in this regard as an at least ad-hoc and impermanent solution to making the world liveable in, when guarantees of meaning aren’t what they used to be (and they aren’t). It is quite possible that in what may be the semblance of a Lacanianism, in The Sinthome Score there is a make believe which whilst not a sinthome, might at least be something to be going on with.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Questions and Answers.

I've read a few times this week the familiar refrain that art doesn't pose answers but asks questions. This may be posed as a response to seemingly didactic or polemical art, or requests that art be more readily decipherable, or reflections on art that is seen as a call upon the response to provide answers, or as a comeback to art that is read as offering the wrong answers or questions for what ever reasons.
  But it's not my experience of much art, at least the art that interests me, that it asks questions. Art which asks questions supposes an answer - this is the return one gets in the binary that is proper to a question, and I'm not well inclined to reviews that reduce a relation to an artwork to the answer to a question supposed by an artwork, in so far as such an answer sticks. After all what more would need to be said if a question were really answered? What a conversation killer, what a dampener on desire. We can consider ourselves lucky that the answers rarely offer the satisfaction that they imagine they're aiming for. Art is a different kind of call for a response than a question, I think.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

I didn't think it was art when I made it.

Here's a video produced for a show that I organised called Amerika, about the idea of America from the point of view of people who are not Americans.

That show informed the approach to art making that I'm now exploring, and when asked recently by a curator whether the Amerika show might be my art, I couldn't in retrospect say with any confidence that it wasn't. Indeed a friend who'd seen this video told me with some conviction yesterday that he thought it was a piece of my art, regardless of my opinion (albeit that my opinion is that he could turn out to be right). So here's a video which I cannot say with any confidence is not my art.

Friday 12 September 2014

You may ask me what it means, and I will tell you that the meaning is that there is a meaning.

In Plato’s Symposium, a book about the mysteries of love, there is a particularly curious passage. As Pausanias pauses his speech, the humorist playwright Aristophanes who is due to speak next, says that he cannot speak (of love) because his voice is taken with a case of the hiccups, perhaps having laughed so much at the lawyer Pausanias’ speech. With some considerable word play the Symposium relates to us that  Aristophanes turned to the doctor Eryximachus, who was due to speak after Aristophanes, to ask Eryximachus if he might have a cure for the hiccups. Eryximachus offers some possible cures but also to take Aristophanes’ place in the order, so that if the hiccups are cured by the time he’s finished Aristophanes might take his place. Arstophanes takes this offer, and is able to talk after Eryximachus. The reader is left pondering on the meaning of this interruption.

The Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan was one of those wondering what the episode of the hiccups might mean. Whilst preparing his Seminar VIII (PDF), on the theme of transference, which is nothing other than love, he sought to find out. His mentor the Hegelian scholar Alexandre Kojeve had been studying Plato, and so Lacan asked him if he had any thoughts on the meaning of this episode in the Symposium. Having not specifically studied the Symposium Kojeve did not have an answer, but offered to Lacan in place of a solution this reply - “In any case you will never interpret the Symposium if you do not know why Aristophanes had a hiccup!” This of course, for Lacan, only makes the matter more mysterious.

In his book A Voice and Nothing More, Mladen Dolar relates this story, adding on Lacan’s behalf a formula which is absent from Lacan’s telling in Seminar VIII. Dolar infers from Lacan that the settlement towards the meaning expressed by the hiccups, as a kind of voice, is that it means that it means.

The formula that the meaning is that there is a meaning, is one that at first glance seems to rely on rhetorical tautology. There are several examples of related seeming logical fallacies which Lacan thought about, for instance, the statement ‘I am telling a lie’, which seemingly if it is true, must be false, and if it is false, must be true, but which none the less we may find a way to understand in everyday conversation. In following the logic of the split between conscious and unconscious, shown clearly for instance in Freud’s short 1925 text on Negation, Lacan seeks to clarify why such statements do in fact work. He proposes that there are two subjects, the subject of the statement, and the subject of enunciation. So there is a subject who states that she is lying, and a subject who indicates in her enunciation through this false statement that she isn’t lying, or perhaps that she is - there are, after all, several ways that such a statement can be enunciated. It is at the level of statement that Aristophanes’ hiccups make no sense - there is no stated meaning. But the manner of Plato’s inclusion of this episode indicates that meaning is there, if never stated, otherwise, why else would the episode be there? The proposal that the meaning is that there is a meaning acts as a kind of meeting of statement and enunciation, whereby the non-meaning of the statement is the condition of its meaning in enunciation as meaning as such.

You may ask me what it means, and I will tell you that the meaning is that there is a meaning.

Thursday 19 June 2014

The guarantees of art.

There's a sense with Matisse of two tendencies at play in different places in his work - a stylist who creates slick and beautiful lines and shapes effortlessly in a trademark manner, as if there’s no possibility of failure - and an artist who struggles with technique and style: the Matisse who can’t draw hands very well, the one who pins, or paints or draws and re-pins, over-paints, draws over, again and again, often tentatively, who after he finds a solution that’s slick, reworks the theme again in a way that is more risky. There’s the Matisse who’s an institution, a guarantee of quality provided in advance, and the Matisse for whom there is no guarantee authorised by a name or style in a generic way, but for which the promise needs to be won afresh, or not, each time. 

With that in mind here’s some really bad Matisse hands.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

art as a sexual orientation

A comment on a friend's FaceBook page said that art might be a sexual orientation - a really disappointing one.

I enjoyed this idea. It reminded me of Lacan's idea of misunderstanding as being the basic orientation of sexual relations, reminded me of the famous phrase there is no sexual relation.

There's a truism that good art changes the way we see the world. This initially seems plausible, and perhaps as an experience of art in general it might work, but in my experience the extreme rarity with which particular art works could be described, even in a weak way, as changing the way I see the world, implies that it's not true in the particular. Art works, it works as an orientation, it has its objects (whatever they might be) around which it is oriented - but not in the way that it is represented as working, which may be to do with what is not representable about the experience of art.

Here's a PDF I've been reading on the meaning of the term "there is no sexual relation"

Sunday 5 January 2014


Here's a short essay I've written for an exhibition I've organised about what America means for people who are not Americans. The essay doesn't explain the exhibition, but is rather a side piece to it, a play on this fantastic Sergio Leone quote from an interview he did in the June 1984 issue of American Film magazine.

Amerika: idea / fantasy / dream / myth / image.

"America is really the property of the world, and not only of the Americans, who, among other things, have the habit of diluting the wine of their mythical ideas with the water of the American Way of Life. America was something dreamed by philosophers, vagabonds and the wretched of the earth before it was discovered by Spanish ships and populated by colonies from all over the world. The Americans have only rented it temporarily. If they don’t behave well, if the mythical level is lowered, if their movies don’t work anymore and history takes on an ordinary day-to-day quality, then we can always evict them. Or discover another America. The contract can always be withheld.” -- Sergio Leone (1984)

America has from its inception had a powerful mythic pull, not just for Americans, but for the world beyond. America, as well as being a place - a reality - the US - is a heady, swirling abstraction of ideas, fantasies, dreams, and myths. Forms of the imaginary and of the symbolic which belong no less to the world than to Americans, and which are not the same things for all.

A nation is always something made up of more people, places, and ways of being than can be remotely accounted for by an identity. In this way there is much about a ‘national identity’ that never fits the particular circumstances to be found in a nation. A nation is never a totality, and a national identity isn’t nearly as substantial as that - it’s a thing of vapour.

America has long been a particularly diffuse idea, no less now than ever. This idea, which is also the stuff of American identity, is not made of a myriad American images, sounds, and words, which we associate with it. It is made, rather, of some libidinal attachments, surpluses of excitation around those many moments of Americana. America in this sense is made of demands and desires - the pursuit of happiness, perhaps, but not it’s capture.  Americana is special not for what it is, in front of us, but for what we do with it, for its excitement of demands or desires for what we don’t have.

The idea of America can allow people from the US to be held in place in their sense of being Americans. It can offer a comforting semblance of fullness, that the nation is more of a totality than it is, and is something more which makes them who they are. A person can feel more well located (in more than one sense) through their national identity. The person of the US can look at their imaginary reflection in the idea of America, and see something of themselves transformed in the mirror, intimate, and yet set at a distance. They can make of themselves American subjects. This kind of imaginary settlement is one that in fixing things in place, may delimit a subjectivity. A subjectivity that demands what it thinks it needs of what already exists, and holds its subject in relation to demand.

To the extent that the mythic idea of America is about the progressive possibility of change for the better, for the well fixed American that possibility isn’t of a change in subjectivity. There is thus a limit on the radicality of America for such American subjects. Theirs is an idea of progress, only so long as subjective orientation is fixed in an imaginary fullness. A fullness that is likely to paper over the limits, the iniquities, the cracks, and the banalities of the US.

Of course the ephemera of Americana, and the possibilities to which they allude, by which people of the US interpolate themselves as Americans, are hugely varied. There is great variety in well fixed Americans. Furthermore, America is not only the stuff of an identity that might mask what is troubling in relation to the US.

A large part of the idea of America is in an appeal that is not specific to the people of the US. An appeal to those for whom America is not principally the mooring of an identity, fixing them in relation to the US. An appeal to those for whom America might be more purely a relation to ideas, fantasies, dreams, myths, and images. For many (including many Americans), the American idea in it’s affirmative, radical dimension, disrupts the sense of inevitability of the limits of the state we’re in - it is a challenge to the problems of our realities. It can be seen for an American instance, in the extended appeal to the American Dream in Martin Luther King’s most famous speech, and is not less for other people of the world than for the disaffected of the US.

This other America, rather than masking the limits of our circumstances, highlights them, and opens another space, a space aside, an object cause of our desire to actively better our circumstances, whatever they be.

There is a commonplace liberal idea now that America is synonymous with American corporate influence, but that American corporate influence is no longer that of the place of the US, since corporations are no longer nationally bounded entities. In this way we are all, in part, people of a US reality. This proximity may make the idea of America feel threatening. Threatening to engulf those around us as an identity, to fix them ‘properly’ in relation to the US. Threatening to take away their capacity to see things in other ways, ways that don’t accord with an American identity. Threatening to ‘Americanize’ them. But if we are more fervently disappointed in the failures of the US, perhaps this is because on some level we still believe in the idea of America.

America does not belong to the US, it is not contingent to the immediacy of US influence. It belongs to we the people of the world. If we of the world feel threatened by the imminence of the US, then it is all the more meaningful to take up the challenge that our America can present to its iniquities. Less than a mask, for us the radical potential of America is as a cause of our desire to refuse the restraints of what we are offered in our status quo. Not merely to demand what we need of existing conditions, but to desire what does not yet exist.