As he entered the house he noticed that the large television was on in the sitting room but no one was watching. Two hours latter on leaving the television set was still on but no one was watching. Apparently it was switched on at six everyday and left on it case anyone wanted to see something. Mostly it stayed in the background of attention, alone but self-sufficient. One day it will be replaced by a bigger, better model but until then it will carry on being half way between absence and presence.
I remember as a child how everyone would crowd around TV sets and watch almost anything in rapt attention. The technology appeared like or closer to a form of magic then. It is as if when they first appear objects such as TV have a shine and that this gradually fades until they start to simply acquire a status of background.
Everything falls under the spell of contemporary culture now. Sometimes it is difficult to separate contemporary life from cultural forms that are generated. Art is no longer a remote event divorced from everyday life or at least this is one of the assumptions of contemporary critical reflection. Art appears to circulate around everything but is also its own circulation. In a sense it simply circulates around itself and it is this that provides it currency (money and spectacle). Its circulation is both rhythmical and counter-rhythmical or discontinuous. Perhaps it is touched by a delirium of not quite being able to pass through itself therefore it is not able to experience spacing that would offer distinction.
In the work My Bed (1989-2015) by Tracey Emin it might be understood of as yet another variant of the found object mixed up with personal narrative. Equally it could be dealing with the aspiration of closing the gap on art and life. So what is it we being presented with? Perhaps a record of a passage of life in the form of a simulation, a ready-made in the form of an unmade bed, an installation that evokes a portrait of an artist, a real object with aesthetic modes of elaboration, a gesture closer to theatre or an act of abject provocation. Possibly it is all of these things, depending on vantage point because of the way that it works directly on the process of gaining attention. It is one of the most iconic objects of contemporary art because of the way that this outcome is inscribed into its very fabric and rhetoric inscribed in its staging.
Chairs have a generic quality, which imply that they disappear into their use. In this respect we take them for granted to the extent that we provide little by way recognition whereas a bed shares similar properties to chairs in general but it has a quality assumed from its use, in that we might spend as much of a third of our lives in it. To a large extent, processes such as sleeping and dreaming occur with its space. We also might be conceived, be born and die in bed. In effect beds are excessive objects unlike so many other which facilitate single use. Is this work closer in its abstract features to Heidegger's hut, as opposed to Duchamp's urinal? Both are physical entities supplemented by a speculative discursive element or in terms of Deleuze, different forms of diagram.
The work My Bed displays something that cannot be seen. The bed lies awake in the light but the sense that it captures is in the dark. What is in the dark is also in the past. The past haunts the present but the work itself is not a spectre. Something is moving, in circulation: the play of memory and oblivion perhaps. The bed is unmade, left to itself, but non-the-less composed. The work explores the space between being unmade and composed, thus it sits between chaos and will full organisation. Life is on the side of the unmade whereas art is on the side of the composed. The bed is the site for the collision of these two forces. This is the stage of a tension. Someone has occupied the bed: the bed is weighted by the memory of this. Memory is a body that is either light or heavy. This implies that visibility is provided alongside of weight. The measurability of such things remains obscure. Who might provide knowledge of such things? The bed is the private being made public. It is made up with things cast aside or to be thrown away. Oblivion is the casting aside of memory. An imaginary net is thrown over the bed as if the detritus of experience might be assembled. Depression, drunkenness, nightmares, boredom, lack, repression, forgetting, confusion, loathing, anger are like vapour touching these objects, an accumulation of the evidence of unhappy consciousness unable to symbolise because self-sufficiency is lacking. This sense of lack is in turn sublated and in the process the negativity is preserved. This implies the impossibility of closure, even if one by one everyone has left the scene. Not a lot to show but a lot to tell. Without telling, nothing much is there because we are dealing with a scene that is incomplete. Yet the telling simply is in circulation around the bed and thus cannot leave the scene. The work is thus closer to vapour of things that by choice, we do not wish to see. Just enough seen, enough said: do we get the picture or equally, do we get the text? Just what is made up here and what is unmade? Is what is presented the desperation that comes with a desire to simultaneously remember something and forget others, experiencing in the wake of this the slippage of memory into fictional reconstruction? Is what is made (art) at the expense of what is unmade (the subject) and are we caught in the in-between of these two modes of attention?
When Araki photographed the work Bed it portrayed only a trace of absent bodies. The bed thus becomes a site of loss. Something or somebody is missing but nonetheless a trace or impression is left. Something is in the air, like a scent: the scent of memory perhaps. The bed becomes a site for thinking over or overlooking. (Could it also be that the bed turns you over?) Between this thinking over and overlooking a mood passes through. It is clear then that something has passed through even though the scene is still. Silence is persuasive almost in the sense that it is gathered. The Bed refers both to a place (the bedroom) and an object (a double bed). It also references subjects (absent bodies). It is shot from above: a looking over that actualises exteriority (a looking in). Subjects take their place in the world, thus are embedded there. Beds are like recording machines gathering impressions or moments of passage. Even after death an impression is left even if these impressions are of the most transient kind. Araki suggests that death is a half-life, closer to being a bridge. Perhaps it is the most tender of all of his photographs because of the way interiority and exteriority are locked into an embrace.
The philosopher Martin Heidegger built a small three-room hut at Todtnauberg in the Black Forest and it was built in time to complete the final draft of Being and Time. Whereas the city opens out spaces for loneliness it is the place afforded by the remoteness of the hut that solitude might be experienced. This opposition of these two figures is not only actualised by the difference between the city and the countryside but also evokes an anti-modern stance. There s within this experience of solitude a letting be of things so that something might be gathered in. The city is a place of forgetting of the presence of things, a place of multiplicity and flickering images. Modernity is thought through as an experience meshed together by a series of lapses. The experience of thinking and writing for Heidegger was clearly marked by place and rootedness that enables connection to occur.
In 1354 Ni Zan painted Empty Pavilion in a Pine Grove. The empty pavilion depicts the abandoned home due to the war torn condition of China in the period of the Yuan dynasty. In another context such a depiction might have Taoist or Buddhist connotations, remote emptiness indicating enlightenment but here the setting calls forth a mood of lament and perhaps stoical resistance. The empty hut (a non-place) stands adrift from dwelling, becoming in turn an image of something that cannot be directly represented (non-being). The painting deals with heavy matters, but disguise is also there within the lightness of touch that actualises the painting itself. The artist assumes two positions, one of an outsider looking in and one of being adrift in time following traces of memory within the empty terrain.
The term representation relates the making of something present and thus open to repetition as opposed to presentation, which is coming into presence that implies an event or exhibition. Whereas the faculty related to conception is at the root of representation, imagination is conceived as the faculty of presentation.
It would make little sense to connect different beds with different huts, TV's, urinals and pottery vessels but the spacing between such things facilitates resonance outside of empirical connection and yet traces appear in the never region of the play of absence and presence. The trace is the indication of enigma that connects an inside to an outside and with this their intertwining. Something occurs with this, a becoming in which foreground and background, interior and exterior and time and space occasion new modes of accord.
An event is when something occurs as if for the first time and thus it is connected to the surprise. Surprise is linked to discontinuity or suspension of sense. The introduction of the found object is a form of syncope that in turn leads to a change in rhythm on the level of perception and designation.
In 1917 Duchamp presented a standard urinal signed R.Mutt. The urinal is in many respects an indifferent object, mass produced and functional. Placed in the context of being a work of art it functions as a gesture aimed at the habitual taste of the time as to what constituted a work of art. Duchamp called the work Fountain that added or even shifted its signification by folding a mental image onto a physical object. The signature adds to the investment in the object so we are given over to reading a triangulation of object-title-signature, but not only this triangulation but on a even more abstract level the triangulation of The imaginary (Fountain or mental image), the symbolic (the signature and act of designation or naming) and the real (the materiality of the urinal, the hard kernel). As opposed to unified object there are instead a series of disjunctive gaps between each of the different registers. Something is simply set before us but with a new angle of vision from that of everyday use, in fact everything is errant or amiss, at least on the level of identity and recognition. This shift of view restores the object to its sensual quality of white porcelain, yet not a restoration based on the recalibration of taste or beauty Are we simply invited to see double and alongside this reading double and is there congruence between these different processes? If there were not congruence, then instead there would be a gap, shock or disjunction? Is it then the gap serving as the irritant that then provokes the outrage on the grounds of obscenity? Does everything go amiss in the sense of not adding up? This is a shocking work in the sense that it presents the shock waves born out of sublation or the change from one quantity (a porcelain urinal) to quality (art). There is no graduation in this process instead the gaze turns inwards, towards itself, thus creating within this the idea of becoming its own object that produces distance.
The urinal is not plumbed in therefore it cannot function. Thus the urinal is castrated or stands for castration (the relationship of the phallus and logos striated). It casts everything into a state of loss therefore adrift, dislocated and therefore in a state of passage that points towards the aesthetics of movement as opposed to that of the static. The male no longer fits in, therefore cannot piss. If the male cannot piss, can he instead sublimate? What becomes of the subject position in the process of this passage and does it imply another passage from knowing one's place to losing such a place? Is sublimation a throwing to the wind and hence is the fountain a sublimation of pissing? Whatever, Duchamp disconnects the plumbing that leads to a sensuous shining or the beautiful, to the plumbing designed for the operation of the schema that mediates the passage from the image to the concept allowing different registers and mediums to reconfigured in the process. On the level of a rapid sketch of this process, what is at play is a relationship between plumbing (deep structure) and punning (the switching of devices close to the surface).
In considering Duchamp’s employment of found objects and the reduction of this gesture to the notion that objects of the world might be deemed works of art if both designated as such and placed within the context, namely the gallery, which would affirm the status of being art. The question might be posited on many levels, for instance do we now simply take this as a fact of modern art, does it keep alive the border region between art or non-art within the framework of modernity or is the gesture a serious error, which instead of demarking the border between art and non-art, demarks philosophy (propositions) with non-philosophy (commands). On a more fundamental level Duchamp indicates a slippage – and we can understand from Duchamp that he was interested in the idea of slippage (and stoppage) – not only between art and non-art, philosophy and non-philosophy – but also between the being and the knowing of a thing or entity.
(With Kant the things-in-themselves cannot be known because knowledge is limited to possible experience. Yet it can be thought as a pure concept hence its designation.)
Morandi's still lives have a seeming sense of serenity in that they really appear still, yet they circulate (within and over) the same modest vessels over and over again so that is a sign of some form of invisible excess or restlessness. Withdrawn from the public world of political fascism, standing alone, apart from and thus detached they simply stand in their own light. There is nothing to be said, equally nothing that can be said. They propose themselves whilst being a proposition emptied of content, offering instead, the quietest mode of democracy founded on the principle of silence. On a literary level they are like empty writing that assume the freedom of combination. Ethically they do not justify or negate anything other than the appearance out of which they are issued and take place. In this sense they simply invest in the power to look back.
"If beyond appearance there is nothing in itself, there is the gaze." Jacques Lacan
Whereas we might stare blankly at the TV screen, Morandi invites us to look closely at his depicted objects despite there being nothing much to see. There is a feeling that it might not be possible to get close to the essence of such things. They might simple take their place in the word each providing spacing for the other. Perhaps that is all they do. Part of this attention to space is an operation of shifting what is background and what is foreground. Such an implication of such a shift comes to us slowly hence the process of returning again and again to the same objects. Is this a case of art undoing a condition that appears at first to be necessary for it to exist? Is it also this undoing that is the foundation of the gaze?
If Morandi tells us nothing about the world in any substantial sense yet they do probe the elsewhere of knowing. This elsewhere of knowing is in the question of being. This then resides not so much in what the thing is but rather in the question of what is a thing. In the case of this work it might be posed as what is it that is coming into presence of being?
The word ontology originates from Parmenides positing “on” (being) as the arche (the origin of nature or first cause of things). “On” is also translated as “what is” which also leads to the word “einai” that is translated as “that it is.” Both the Chinese word for being, “sonzai” and the Japanese word “aru,” carry both meanings. In the modern context Heidegger called “what is” an entity (Seinedes) and contrasted this with “that it is” as Sein (being). Aristotle develops his theory of ontology in order to classify all that exists in the world as well as conceiving of their ways of being. What is at stake here is the state in which the thing-event exists (the mode of being of “what is”). Heidegger simply shifts the “what is” (the meaning of being) into “that it is” (the event of living).
Returning here to the case of the found object, we are confronted with what might be viewed as a conflation of both cases, the “what is” with the “that it is.” This in turn might be seen as a conflation of epistemology and ontology in regard to the work of art. We have the case the objects of the world might under certain conditions become works of art (base material transposed into gold) alongside the condition of something being a work of art open to judgement as such. Let us say for the moment that Duchamp was concerned with opening out the gap between the material case (the object of exception) with the speculative case of the work. If the speculative case is over-determined and the material case to some degree marginalised, then under what conditions might this case qualify as a work of art because most conditions of aesthetical judgement have best been relegated. If the speculative condition of the work becomes the solely determining factor then we are left with a proposition of a case. “That it is” a work of art, or the event of it being so, overrides the case of “what is” the work of art.
The artwork is both an object (even if an object of attention) and a speculation of what this object might become. It is the edge between the being of something and the state of non-being. This is because the artwork is or describes its own process of becoming. On the level of temporality, it both touches the present but anticipates the future or the yet-to-come. This is why art explores its own edge, sometimes described as shudder or trembling. The idea of limit experience is related to this exploration. If the artwork is always in a state of becoming, then this implies the notion of exposure and in then this sense of exposure is connected to risk. Partly risk arises because art arises as a condition of discovering its own rule. The discovery of its own rule is in turn the advent of the new. The new is the furthest edge of imaginative projection opening onto the yet-to-come.
I stood there watching so many walk on by, or for a moment just looking, then taking a snap as if too affirm that they actually saw this painting or that. I used to call this clocking a painting, like clocking in for work in the morning affirming the fact of arrival or in this case having been in front of. In this context nothing occurs other than a glance, perhaps a quick snap and a turning away. On the one side there is so much too know but equally daunting, so much that is outside of this which might be termed the affect.
In one way it all makes sense but then it is necessary to entertain the thought that it might be sense annulled.
Martta Heikkila, At the Limits of Presentation (Peter Lang 2008)
Michael Inwood, A Hegel Dictionary (Blackwell 1992)
Jacob Zdebik, Deleuze and the Diagram (Bloomsbury 2012)
Jeff Malpus, Heidegger and the Thinking of Place (MIT 2012
JONATHAN MILES is a writer both of theoretical essays and fiction as well as being a painter. Miles has exhibited in White Columns (New York), Venster Museum (Rotterdam), Gallery House, Riverside Gallery, Civic Room and DomoBaal Gallery (all London). In the early 1980s, he was the London Editor of ZG Magazine (London and New York). Recent publications include catalogue essays for Haris Epaminonda, Daniel Cramer, Mustafa Hulusi, and texts for Material Magazine (Los Angeles) and Undo (Cyprus). He is on the Editorial Board of Material Magazine, Los Angeles.Recent publications and exhibitions include: The Mystics, Civic Room, London, 2010 ‘The Dazzle of the Last Image’ Material Magazine, Issue 2 (Los Angeles), 2009, Reading at the Whitechapel Gallery, 2010, broadcast.
Susan, an astute businesswoman, sits at a glass-topped desk in a glass-walled office in a large city that, from altitude, gives the impression of a recognisable somewhere. Ken, her coworker, enters. Susan casts a glance in his direction, then, eyes back on the lined paper in front of her, says, There’s no need to pitch to me, I’ve already read what you sent and the project is a total non-starter. Ken opens his mouth.
Really, Ken, says Susan. I mean it.
It is 5 pm. Ken shuts the door. Over the evening Susan allows their brief conversation and the strong shapes of the city to disappear into shadow and more shadow across glass until darkness and then she descends. When the buildings and the sky behind them are indifferent to each other the lightboxes testifying to continued human activity float as in a snapshot of water, buoyed and still. Susan knows one of these is a woman’s office, another a man’s, another another person’s with another unsolvable life, a bankruptcy, an affair, a cough that does not go away or gets worse, and the pavement scurries by underneath as the imagination fills with rust-colored sputum and then the rattle of public transportation until she is home.
Loss has a televised effect. The long notes of the piano make time forward. On YouTube there is Cedric Tiberghien and also Lang Lang not to mention Horowitz and then Argerich reflected 1966 in the open top of a Chopin Scherzo piano, pale partial arm gesturing into the image of music. Susan has learnt the names as they have come up in searches: classical piano concert. It is good that there is YouTube so that you can easily find this sort of thing. And there is night out the window. Next a soft fond face presses into the mind and the pillowand whispers into fitfulness. Dawn happens alongside clumsy disbelief. Susan, an astute businesswoman, dresses.
It’s a non-starter, she said to him. I took this to mean it wouldn’t start. Non- meaning that which isn’t whatever follows after it. So not a starter. Non- meaning something like—tough to stretch out a little particle into verbiage, isn’t it, and we all know that non- does it better anyway—meaning something like that which isn’t whatever follows after, or from whose possible identities whatever follows after must be excluded. So, for example, a non-cat excludes cat, can be anything other than a cat because non- excludes what follows (cat andonly cat) from consideration as the referent of this noun-amalgamation. We only know that cat is what it isn’t. Similarly non-interventionist, non-operational, non-tame, non-representational, non-dog,non-goat, non-seeing, non-image, and perhaps even nonsense. Non-starter.
A non-starter: it’ll never get going, won’t go anywhere, won’t work, is of no interest, no point trying. It won’t get off the ground, as it were, because its engine or its engine analog, engine cognate, won’t start. Non-aviatory. Or perhaps: were this it a horse or a greyhound, itwouldn’t make a speedy exit from the gate, the better to speedily round the track, the better to finish first.
I am writing. I am writing a text on non, and this text is also about the image. I know where I want it to go, but it won’t start. It won’t get off the ground. Mired, I cannot get to the thing I want to tell you, which is to suggest that non- can be a condition of the image rather than an exclusion of it, that the non- in non-image offers something fundamental about the image’s operation.
I draw out the text, I work with an idea of its structure. I picture it. I picture its way of making what it will say intelligible and of making meaning that pushes at the edge of intelligibility. I write into the differential between this image and what is on the page. Writing happens in the jetlag of intention. I am deeply uncomfortable.
A writer, alone, imagines an audience, which is to say a writer constructs an image of an audience. A writer imagines an audience that reads a description of an idea and puts down the book, closes the webpage. Eyeroll, gossip, alternatives.
Have you now imagined multiple versions of a non-starter? My suggestion, reader, is that you consider them as test cases, useful possibilities, helpful fictions. And from these possibilities the question comes: what does the non- do?
See version 3: non- meaning not whatever follows after it, non- starter meaning that which doesn’t start, that which does something other than start. I intuit this rule from habits of writing and speech; later, I familiarise myself with the rich history of names that make use of non’s logical possibilities and are therefore called indefinite or infinite.(i) So a non-starter isn’t a starter; the non- removes ‘starter’ from any possibility of starting.
By the same logic, a non-image cannot be an image. A non-image may be anything else, but an image is what it can’t be, what is excluded from the field of possibility that the word non-image brings into being. And yet something’s recurrence as not itself, as non-itself, is exactly the image’s condition. Maurice Blanchot writes that the image is ‘the thing as distance, present in its absence, graspable because ungraspable, appearing as it disappeared. It is the return of what does not come back, the strange heart of remoteness as the life and the sole heart of the thing.’(ii) If we call ‘distance’ that which separates, then the thing as distance is the thing as an index of separation. Like distance, non- marks a differential, in this case from the presumed identity of the following word’s referent. I am therefore tempted to align the two, to read in Blanchot’s text a correlation between the image’s work and the indefinite.
And it is true: when I stand in front of an image, I have the sense that its imaginary quality isequal parts exclusion and presentation. In representation, for example, I may see an apple, a knife, a family as they are when there is no apple, knife, family. They are as excluded from themselves, and yet they are presented. Or, if the work shows no intelligible object, I may see, in the image, a segment of the world in which the world departs from recognition, a non-everyday visuality. Non- is indisputably at play, and attention to the logic of the indefinite brings greater clarity to Blanchot’s description of the image’s nature:
But what is the image? When there is nothing, the image finds in this nothing its necessary condition, but there it disappears. The image needs the neutrality and the fading of the world; it wants everything to return to the indifferent deep where nothing is affirmed; it tends toward the intimacy of what still subsists in the void. This is its truth. But this truth exceeds it. What makes it possible is the limit where it ceases. (iii)
Indeed, the image and the indefinite are both made possible by the limit where they cease. The condition of possibility of the non-starter or non-cat or non-what-have-you is starter, cat, what have you. That which is excluded, i.e. the limit, gives rise to these indefinite—what? Indefinite what, exactly? Neither concepts nor designations is apt. Heller-Roazen writes that ‘in On Interpretation, the word “indefinite” constitutes less the name of a concept than the index of a difficulty, which troubles the theory of terms, sentences, and the regularities of truth and falsity that are to hold between forms of stated opposition.’ (iv) The relationship between the image and the indefinite is born of attention to the stubbornness of this continued difficulty inherited from Aristotle, attention to its persistent abdication of fixity and to its refusal to become a term. It would not be wrong to say that when there is nothing, the indefinite finds in this nothing its necessary condition, and that there it disappears. Non-shares an impulse with negation, without which it cannot do its work; however, it loses its intelligibility when subsumed into no. I contend that this position is similar to that occupied by the image. My task in this text is to explore via image, gesture, and explication a few further commonalities between the image and infinite logic.
version 1, reprise
Susan gets to the office early; it is empty. No one is in the conference room, no one is getting coffee. In a long ream of paper someone is willing to lend someone else money forthe creation of a new something, someidea, somestartup, an eventual acquisition of someconglomerate sometime perhaps.
Someconglomerate Sometime was the employer perhaps of a dying man who, sometime earlier, noted a persistent cough and red sputum. Sputum is the doctor word for the gunk that comes out with the cough and the hacking and heaving. This is what was noted. Then bright lights and waiting times and antiseptic spurred the officiation of diagnosis. Papers were printed. Before long a certificate, songs and flowers, fire. In Susan’s mind dust brings to peace a body that isn’t. Her father father in the lost body that thinking makes irrecuperable. In lost body dust hacking still happens, laps are sat on, hands are held, rough from work for some company. This is long ago and letting go must happen.
Faced with Fra Angelico’s Noli me tangere, Georges Didi-Huberman notes red dots that, according to an iconographic reading of the painting, ought to depict Christ’s stigmata, alongside other red dots that, according to the same iconographic reading, ought to depict flowers in the garden. He further notes that these dots are exactly the same, that the flowers and the stigmata are painted in exactly the same way, and that this allows for an indiscernability to arise between wound and blossom, an indiscernability that is crucial to the way in which the painting delivers its meaning. (v) Didi-Huberman writes that the logic of the imaginary is associative and based on ‘signa translata,’vi ‘signs or operators of conversion.’ (vii) Images cannot be read in terms of stable motif; imaginary thought ‘structures itself by shifting.’ (viii)
Signa translata allow meaning to arise in the slippage between two associated points, in the translation or conversion between them—and yet it would be a misunderstanding to suggest that one point is converted or translated into the other, that one point is expressed in terms of the other, for example, that Fra Angelico suggests that a wound is like a flower or that, symmetrically, a flower is like a wound. Such a suggestion relies on the misconception that all image is essentially metaphor, the expression of one thing in terms of another via a link that, while poetic rather than literal, is solid. What happens here, instead, is the deployment of something properly called figural, (ix) of something that functions as a destabilisation of discourse rather than mere turn of phrase obeying essentially discursive imperatives of logic-construction. For example, a theologian could argue Christ’s wounds are the flowers of his body in that they are beautiful embellishments that result from the natural unfolding of time and of God’s plan for salvation; however, this does not capture the imaginary power of the confluence of flower and wound in thought and in vision: more bluntly, their confluence in red. It does not capture the power of the confluence because it removes its fluidity; this logic wants to make a stable joint. All very well, but the image is not interested.
The association of two signa translata occurs in the indefinite, which is the imaginary’s sphere of activity. Consider that it is the fact that the wound is non-wound (i.e. an image of the wound) that allows it to become associated with the flower understood as non-flower, after which a play of energetics can present itself in and to vision. For Didi-Huberman, gazing at Noli me tangere, the iconic quality of the spots gives way to their status as index, (x) opening new possibilities for what reading in images can be. Non- is the first impulse of this movement’s flexion. Without non-, the extension and torque that allow for the experience of signa translata cannot occur. Without an acknowledgment of the indefinite, language in its communicative function struggles to open towards the visual; the intimation then remains that when a visual object takes up the place allotted to it in language it surrenders its mutability and sinuousness, resigning itself to the task of self-defence in the face of discourse’s voracity. And yet there isa sympathetic position—and position is still not the right term, albeit the closest—that hides defiantly in language’s midst, stubbornly slippery. Non- is the shiver that opens meaning to and in the image.
version 1, reprise reprise (eight months later)
On the internet sad people have interpretation problems. Susan resolves next year to volunteer more; they (the knowing, healthy they) say that people who do charity work are happier.
Ken, having quit, is doing well. He has raised a considerable amount of money on KickStarter for Blotto Life, a mobile networking-based luxury event-organisation app that takes its inspiration from the Gilded Age. The last time they messaged he told Susan yet again he couldn’t see how she hadn’t seen the potential.
No but really, she texted back, who needs this? What do you do with it?
It’s like Gatsby but Uber, he wrote.
Anyway, Susan is now disillusioned, yes, ungilded, as it were, and looking at painful well-filtered Instagram posts in which Ken extols his wife and his love for his wife. They go together to beautiful places, those two and the daughters. Susan could not love Blotto Life. Familial InstaKen is unforthcoming and at any rate not obligated to justify anything.
Another vision: Virtue is quadrilateral, (xi) proffers Salomon Maimon as an example of an indefinite statement. Maimon derives his understanding of the indefinite from his principleof determinability, a core feature of his philosophical work and of his understanding of the construction of synthetic thought, (xii) developed from the action that logic and grammar ordinarily call predication. According to this principle, a statement is composed of two parts, one of which can be ‘thought without the other (thought in itself)’ (xiii) and the other of which cannot; this first is the ‘determinable,’ (xiv) which is determined by the other, the ‘determinant,’ in the resulting statement, a ‘real’ synthesis (xv) or ‘absolute concept.’ (xvi) ‘For example,’ writes Maimon, ‘a triangle or space enclosed by three lines can be thought just as well in itself, without reference to its being right-angled or oblique-angled, as it can be thought disjunctively.’ (xvii) Therefore, in the sentence ‘the triangle is right-angled or oblique-angled,’ the determinant ‘right-angled or oblique-angled’ determines ‘triangle;’ this determination gives rise to a new idea of the right-angled or oblique angled triangle. (xviii) For Maimon, when a real synthesis occurs, the ‘determination becomes a determinable’ (xix) and therefore both a concept in itself and, potentially, the condition or ground of further concepts.
In Maimon’s indefinite statement, one part doesn’t determine the other in this manner, that is to say, such that ‘determined means not merely posited, but determinately posited.’ (xx) There is no aspect of the concept virtue to which quadrilaterality might sensibly attach; as such, the concepts ‘admit of no real synthesis.’ (xxi) The statement creates no new idea that can be conceptualised as an independent unit. (xxii) However, it isn’t a negative: elsewhere, Maimon considers the negative judgement, which results in an exclusionary determination, such as ‘An equilateral triangle cannot be right-angled.’ (xxiii) In an infinite judgment like ‘Virtue isquadrilateral,’ by contrast, ‘no new object is determined;’ however, ‘it is also true that nothing thought in virtue is eliminated.’ (xxiv)
Something else: the stirring of something. I notice a slippery commonality.
Virtue is quadrilateral is an image. The logic that results from it—the logic of non- —is the logic of an image, logic in which one part doesn’t determine the other, in which a wound doesn’t determine a garden, in which the search for confirmations and denials is a path of primrose certainty and blindness to red spots.
Reader, I’m asking you to accept that Susan and the image don’t determine each other, nor do red spots or rectangles or rhombi. I am asking you to explore connections without thereby creating a unitary construction with stable and immobile joints. I am asking you to consider imaginary reading: generative nondetermination. And then to think with non-.
So there was, on a beach, a man with an unknowing woman, with children, yes, and the children put their small feet in the water and were loved. And they were joyous in front of the iPhone camera, they laughed and made faces. They showed their new teeth. Rainbow sprinkles wound up on their cheeks and smudged red yellow green blue pink into their cheek apples and into the momentary infolds of swift grins. When they went whale watching the ocean opened out around their vessel in little jagged waves; their mother, seasick and sheepish, was a good sport and posed also. In this picture there is a white railing, there iswater and sky and a gull and a dark-haired woman whose expression makes her discomfort in front of the camera into a testament of love, yes, there is something in the eyes, today there has been no surfacing animal. The caption says they are still waiting to see one but enjoying themselves in the meantime. It is nice to be together on the water.
To say that in the statement virtue is quadrilateral the concept quadrilateral doesn’t determine virtue so as to create a new concept (quadrilateral virtue?) is not to say that one can’t say anything about the possibility of virtue’s being quadrilateral. We can still, for example, say that the idea—the image—of virtue’s being quadrilateral (and this possessive is tenuous, for how can the fact of being quadrilateral belong to virtue if this image arises between the two points, rather than as a determination of one by the other?) suggests an evenhandedness, asymmetry that evokes fairness. If virtue is quadrilateral, the virtuous will probably also be just, reasonable, predictable. And yet I write this with anxiety, deeply sensitive to the fact that I am building ideas on an image, that is, on a shifting foundation. If I take a step, I do soon slippery ground.
Put differently: I’m not putting virtue into the terms of quadrilaterality (how could I?) but rather allowing the associations, vectors, and energies that arise between virtue and quadrilaterality to create meaning outside of signification. And yet if the image operates in the indefinite how can one take it as any basis for speech that does make determinations?
With uncertainty. Unabashed uncertainty. The element of my writing that is discursive is distinct from the image’s own operation, or non-operation, which is not inoperativity but rather operation’s exclusion, the failure of operation to obtain. I must feel the discomfort of this distinction and I must not lie to you about it.
Do you ask how non-operation and operation can be the same? For Maimon, ‘virtue is non-quadrilateral,’ like ‘virtue is quadrateral,’ is an indefinite statement; he writes that ‘so-called infinite judgments may be said to be those whose subject contains as little reason for the affirmation as for the negation of the predicate.’ (xxv) There is no more reason for virtue to be quadrilateral than there is for it to be non-quadrilateral; between a and non-a indiscernability takes hold. And this indiscernability shifts my understanding of representation. If we accept that the indefinite and the imaginary share a logic, then we can understand the workings of the image anew.
Our first impulse, supported by ancient philosophy, (xxvi) traditional art history, and popular opinion, is to consider the representational image as a flat replication or icon (xxvii) of what it represents. This borrows from the assumption that a and non-a cannot be the same; in short, that if the object represented is a, then the image, as non-a, must be distinct from its referent in representation. We consider this assumption to be borne out by the fact that a picture is not, of course, literally identical with its referent, and so we organise our thinking about representation around a play of absence and presence: Someone paints a picture of a knife because the knife is not there, and thus he desires to represent it. (xxviii) He must desire other things as well, of course, but the representation part is thought along these lines, as an accounting for the fact of something’s being elsewhere, alongside which other painterly qualities have the opportunity to exhibit themselves. This understanding of representation splits the operation of the image and does little to account for its terrifying power, for its sway over the heart, the gut, and the small hairs on the back of the neck. It cannot explain how a painted knife is both a knife and not a knife, nor does it touch on the clear rhythm of reflected squares, the full part of the glass, the empty part of the glass, the edge of the picture, a cutting diagonal force. What can venture to explain this?
If we consider the operation of the image as indefinite in Maimon’s sense, abdicating determination and the creation of ‘real synthesis,’ the vectors and spacings ordinarily presupposed by representation cease to be useful. A clearer idea emerges: the presentation of the ‘thing as distance’ and the possibility of movement between signa translata are both functions of the destabilisation of the exclusion ordinarily demanded by logic between a and non-a. This destabilisation occurs when we read images in the indefinite, in short, when reading is not aligned with the interpretation of stable units of meaning. The thing as distance is no longer presented because a similar thing exists elsewhere but rather because a strange legibility has been inaugurated, one in which signification succumbs to aloofness, to perpetual distance. Reading and the imaginary then cease to be opposed to each other. A ghostly flesh settles on the experience of looking, and with ghostly lips, teeth, palate, larynxtrembling speech is possible.
Is this the end? thinks Susan. I belong to the edgetongues of snapping lizards. Vengeance is asymmetrical.
Miscalculations occur from time to time in all sorts of endeavours. So a non-starter starts. So a dismissed project, taken elsewhere, proves a great success, whatever that means. So jilted somelover—non-lover now, to be technical, or lover, to be apt, because aptness needs honesty, is honesty—anyway, somenonlover emails in protest re: zero contract emotionality, and the recipient writes back I don’t understand how you didn’t see what this was and then somehow the text of the email makes its way online. The text of the email makes its way online. Ken has sent it to a friend for comment and that friend, having written back, has shared the email onward with an insouciant and incomplete anonymising gesture, he has laughed and shared it for laughing, and so on, messenger to messenger and onward until its phrases are as if devoid of any human source. The shaking fingers that typed it can no longer be imagined. They made such irregular tapping noises, so halting, choking, light. Someone has shared the text to a message board; it was no big deal. Raucous behandled individuals join forces from diverse locations. They rejoice in undercover boldness and in shame they cannot see, in thefact of elsewhere reddening cheeks and sweat.
What a chump! Tbh it’s just sad
hahahahahaha omg I can’t.
STILL HAVE FEELINGS
I MISS THE INSTEP OF YOUR FOOT
I don’t feel bad for her, if she’s embarrassed she shouldn’t have done it, though to be fair he sounds like a total shit as well, whoever he is. But really who would write such a pathetic email anyway, I mean, have some realistic expectations lesson: know what you’re getting yourself into. and know when something is over.
Susan is ginger with the most vile of the comments. She skims the ones in which wounds open up and irretrievable humiliation is visited upon her, the ones by which wounds are opened up and irretrievable humiliation is visited upon her.
I don’t feel bad for her. Pathetic. Who is this woman anyway? Who is Susan Rabanowitz?
I’m sorry, Ken writes later. On the news a new governor is taking office in the state containing this large nameless city. He swears an oath. And then there is the world outside. Not only outside the city but outside the state. There are places for nonself somebody where greenness can happen. But still in the fields large earworms are forcing themselves into vision. Their fat wide teeth persist.
i Daniel Heller-Roazen, No One’s Ways: An Essay on Infinite Naming (Brooklyn, NY: Zone, 2017) 54; also 59-73ii Maurice Blanchot, tr. Ann Smock, ‘Two Versions of the Imaginary,’ The Space of Literature (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1982) 256.
iii Blanchot, 254.
iv Heller-Roazen, 32
v Georges Didi-Huberman, tr. Jane Marie Todd, Fra Angelico: Dissemblance and Figuration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995) 19-20.
vi ibid, 21
ix ibid, 22; also see Jean-François Lyotard, tr. Antony Hudek and Mary Lydon, Discourse, figure (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011) 7.
x Didi-Huberman, 21.
xi Salomon Maimon, Kathegorien des Aristoteles, in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 6, p. 150, as cited in Heller-Roazen, 143
xii Heller-Roazen, 140
xiii Salomon Maimon, tr. Nick Midgley, Henry Somers-Hall, Alistair Welchman and Merten Reglitz, Essay on Transcendental Philosophy (London: Continuum, 2010) 52; also cited by Heller-Roazen, 140
xv Maimon, Essay, 52
xvi ibid, 49, also cited in Heller-Roazen, 140
xvii Maimon, Essay, 49
xviii Heller-Roazen, 141
xix Maimon, Essay, 52
xx Maimon, Essay, 54
xxi Heller-Roazen, 143
xxiii Maimon, Kathegorien, vol. 6 p. 150, as cited in Heller-Roazen, 142
xxiv ibid, as cited in Heller-Roazen, 143
xxv Maimon, Kathegorien, vol 6 p. 224, as cited in Heller-Roazen, 145
xxvi for a well-known example, consult Plato, Republic, book X, 595c-597e
xxvii Charles Sanders Peirce, ‘What Is A Sign?’ in The Essential Peirce, ed. the Peirce Edition Project (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1998) vol. 2, p. 5
xxviii Richard Diebenkorn, Knife in a Glass, 1963. Collection of the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation; available online at http://collection.diebenkorn.org/objects/390/knife-in-a-glass?ctx=ec6967b6-e0f5-4061-a294-a554e3235e3a&idx=0. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
ISOBEL WOHL is a visual artist and writer. She is interested in how to make an image of a thing and in the spaces and positions that can be found in this of. In her work, painting and text are places for the collection and loss of objects and of possibilities for recognition.
Her visual work extends from painting into a diverse range of media, including photogram, drawing, collage, print, and textile; she writes short stories, poetry, exhibition texts, and essays. She thinks of the distinctions she makes between these materialities and formats as open questions.
Wohl holds a BFA summa cum laude from New York University and an MA in Painting from the Royal College of Art, where she is currently completing her PhD. Her work has been shown internationally and published by various journals and art platforms, including E.R.O.S. Journal, Litro Online, and Lychee One Gallery.
Current projects include If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to Instagram it, does it still happen?, an online exhibition of texts organised by the curatorial collective It’s Kind Of Hard To Explain in conjunction with the digital platform IsThisIt?, as well as an ongoing collaboration with artist Alida Sayer. This spring, Wohl will participate in a four-person exhibition at Bankley Gallery in Manchester, and a short story of hers will appear in the anthology ON VIOLENCE, forthcoming from the imprint MA BIBLIOTHÈQUE. She was recently awarded a residency at the Cill Rialaig Arts Centre in Ballingskelligs, Ireland for early 2019.
‘NON-STARTER’ was developed from ongoing work towards Wohl’s practice-led PhD in Fine Art. A version of the text presented here will form a section of the completed PhD project.