the supra-theory of pearodox: chronotopology: relativity – the least visual of posts so far, and the least helpful – but this shortcoming will be amended soon

DRAFT: what follows can be reversed engineered through examination of previous posts: and well, post-engineered through posts to come:

Of Chronotopology: to be up- and post-dated.

To begin, a simple “image” will suffice. The spacing between two bridges over the same river: the older, heavy green iron, close to the water upstream; the other, modern concrete, three-times higher, downstream. A few details: a pedestrian can see one from the other. Boats of average weight and height pass beneath both. But only from the lower could one physically hear and see the extraordinary breaking up of ice in the spring. For centuries, the state was stripped of its forests, floated in massive log-rafts down the river to a mill just north of these twin crossings. The Kennebec River was one of the first to be revitalized after so much industrial and bark pollution – the salmon and the sardines are running again, along with colonialist re-enactments of the original occupation. In the state’s capital, Fort Kent has been renovated in honor of Benedict Arnold. The forests, however, have not been reclaimed and 90% of the state belongs still to the paper industry, the state’s level of poverty vies with that of Appalachia, the coast is almost entirely a gated community for the rich, for their vacation homes where the locals serve, clean, and mow, and Native Americans are confined to poverty on reservations; these social conditions are clear indicators of Maine’s status as a third world country. As a “kid,” a term my grandmother resented because in her “peasant” upbringing, a kid was a baby goat, I was taken in the spring to admire the enormous, three-story high machinery which clear-cut entire counties, filled inaccessible lakes with miles-long log-rafts pulled by air-lifted tug boats through lakes with names like Chesunkuk, only to stack the systematically branch-stripped, full-length trunks, 30-40 feet high, for miles along corporate-owned riverbanks, which, finally, were bulldozed into the river soon after the moment when, as a “kid”, waiting on the lower bridge, I saw and heard the yearly monumental event of the ice breaking. If it weren’t for the sounds of modern mechanical life, it could have been heard for miles.

I begin with a memoir not in honor of myself, but in honor of harsh and typical environmental disasters that in their local specificities go largely unknown, to the disenfranchised inhabitants of all such Maines, and to Gaston Bachelard, whose Poetics of Space demonstrates how such “phenomenal” events determine not a depth psychoanalytics, but one that extends from the body’s motor sensibilities outward, to the world. In that extension, there lies the concrete, imaginary possibility of an authorship that originates in the objective, articulated calamities of a spring thaw and the torrent of forests that follows. Bachelard in effect places the mind in the world, in relation to it, as an integral part of it, and attempted to think that reciprocity. The “kid” on the bridge, who himself is the transition between complex linguistic texts and dynamic, existential states, is both their witness and their product, and as he owes himself to those events, to those objective conditions which form and inform the transitivity of his consciousness, to those events is he responsible. It is in that space, temporally oriented and scaled, that a chronotopology lies – there lies the conditions of possibility for non-Euclidean imaginaries, and the possibilities of alternative socio-political existences to which they might, possibly, lead. This claim is not utopian; and it does not refuse, entirely, the very real possibility of a perpetual distopia – as history can so easily demonstrate, auto-genocide is our lot, by one means or another. Under the current global corporate regime, it is difficult to imagine any other consequence. However, both the world and its inhabitants have proved consistently resilient, and the horrifics of our time differ largely in scale, and such scale shifts have led to historical ruptures in human and ‘natural’, environmental terms. Against the threat that the destruction-scale has reached infinite extension, annihilation, a threat renewed in our recent, post-cold war era, being carried out metonymically with such methods as the seeding of the middle east with US nuclear wastes via dirty bombs, and underground arms sales, we require, today, not a reformist attitude, but a radical pragmatics. All “lesser-of-evil” strategies are doomed not just to failure, but to hand maiden status in their facilitation of the growth of insatiable capital controlled by the resurgent, neo-Social Darwinists. Radical challenge is more desperately necessary than ever, but because it has been successfully driven from the US national popular imaginary, and the gains of the social movements of the last 40 years all but eradicated, it is urgent that a new strategy be formulated.

Against this prognosis, chronotopology has little to offer, ahora, toward achieving radical change in fact; [i] however, as a radical, imaginary pragmatics, as a form of criticism, it is not merely a reactionary response to the deplorable conditions of life today. Its strategy is to diagnose a path toward radical change, and to imagine the possibilities of its existential accomplishment, by gathering together the elements of alternative epistemologies under the general heading put forth here: the scientific-aesthetic, in its twin forms of aesthetic-empiricism and the non-Euclidian imaginary, is, in rudimentary form, a multiplex epistemological force that attempts not a blind synthesis of opposites, nor some new form of intelligence ex nihilo, but simply an imagined alternative outcome for history, and offers up, in contradistinction to the utopia/distopia binary, the blank, imaginary slate of chronotopia. Chronotopia, deliberately blind to utopian fantasies, and with distopian realities as audiovisual guides and material conditions, attempt to parse the challenges of significant otherness, situated, oriented, inanimate, animate, organic, mechanical, technological, natural, cultural, biological, and all the possible hybrid variants of these ontological imaginaries. They attempt to take what already is, in distopian form, and outline concrete paths toward alternative, realizable near-futures, as a form of social science fiction with the following conditions. Otherness is not to be eliminated is some harmonistic orgy of humanistic agape; it is, as Haraway’s critico-corporal term implies, to be loved for its unnamable resistance to assimilation to any epistemological regime.[ii] Because pragmatics, no less than idealism, is inevitably driven toward subjectivity, to application “for its own sake,” it must be yoked to the objective epistemological otherness specific to it, that which is able to prevent its dissolve into that feckless absolutism. Only with such programmatically, strategically designed couplings will chronotopia escape subjectivation of objectivity, and, the objectivation of subjectivity. The task of social science fiction, to be social science, is to bring the gereralization of the scientific-aesthetic to its pragmatic knees, to humble it in the face of its own objectification in the concrete presence of the distopian real that reigns today. Chronotopia are those concretized imaginaries which determine effective epistemo-pragmatic couples.

This insistence on a hyphenated epistemology is an insistence that coalitional research programs, with well defined, non-capitalist, socio-political goals, be strategically formed among and between the segregated forces of knowledge production. If “man” as object was the invention of rationalist humanism, then “femaleman,” por ejemplo, as scientific-aesthetic subject must be the invention of a 21st century ethos. “Life” must become its own subject, in the sense sketched in the above paragraph, and to be elaborated, schematically, below. Though I have rejected the Kantian formulations of this dilemma, and acceded to a relativizing of spacetime immanence instead, it is on ethical and amoral grounds that I do so. These grounds are just that – grounds. To retrieve space and time from the realm of transcendent abstractions, to set them upon popular, material courses, and to give these courses alternative forms, directions, influences, objective and subjective contents, is to regroup around earlier and now quaint (though no less powerful) attempts such as Diet for a Small Planet, Small is Beautiful, Spaceship Earth, though I fear, a genuinely armed avant-garde may be necessary to challenge the resistance to such attempts, to be expected from today’s global-scale state militant imperialism. Such an armed avant-garde is, in effect, already at work virtually everywhere, except in the US. Nonviolence has never been possible, as an absolute state, because nonviolence often seeks to expose violence by provoking it through its very display of peaceful protest, and state violence rarely allows even a nonprovocative protest to procede nonviolently. Meanwhile, the ascendancy of terrorism to the global agenda has set humanity on its rhetorically “final” journey, toward some unimaginable ascendancy into a US paternalistic state of grace, which far more likely presages a collapse into social terror and instability, ruled by the corporatist elite, with power enough to last for centuries, or as long as resources hold out.[iii] It seems to me that we need to find a path to the “other side of,” beyond, this problematic. Such terms dictate a progressive geopolitics on the same scale as that of the military-industrial complex. That, indeed, is a utopian expectation. But it is an expectation that falls within the imaginary range of chronotopology, not as a whole, but, when taken piece by piece.

Chronotopic subjectivity as the production of non-subjective identity

I know of no other way than through conundrum, to put at least a minimal amount of flesh on these chronotopic bones. The epistemological task of chronotopology, relative to identity politics, is to orient objectivity in the very heart of subjectivity. And, claro, vice versa.

Chronotopic identity is achieved by means of a reversal, the same reversal examined below in the grammatical theory and practice, the genuine praxis, of Stein, in which meaning is a fourth order event derived from the epistemological series passing in reverse through “thinking” and “believing,” to the first order “feeling.” Language is intentionally debased, made the mere substratum upon which the audiovisual world acts in order to objectify subjectivity. It is this reversal that allies chronotopology more closely to logic and mathematics, epistemologically, than to linguistics in any form; for, logic and mathematics share the deep distrust of language that motivated Nietzsche’s ironic totalizing reevaluation, Roussel’s mechanistic approach to composition, Stein’s totalizing logical overhaul of grammar, Bahktin’s relativistic reaccentuation of heteroglossia, Bachelard’s non-Euclidean, projective scientific-poetic spirit,[iv] Derrida’s grammatology, and Cunningham’s Tayloristic production of an inscribing body. Despite the tradition that allies mathesis with idealism, often well substantiated, that alternative philosophical branch which adheres to application, while not succumbing to it, seeks to call forth the world as dynamic event with as little linguistic mediation as possible. In the words of perhaps the most eloquent of logicians:

Logicians and grammarians are alike in habitually talking about sentences. But we saw the difference. The logician talks of sentences only as a means of achieving generality along a dimension that he cannot sweep out by quantifying over objects. The truth predicate then preserves his contact with the world, where his heart is.[v]

Roussel’s Canterel, the artist-physician, model for Foucault’s physician-artist who invented one form of modern visuality, has accompanied me throughout my research. I have generalized this subjective force as the artist-logician. From the beginning, the aim of chronotopology and the scientific-aesthetic has been diagnostic, and in that sense, about “health” in the Nietzschean sense. Only through the illnesses of distopia may we arrive in one chronotopia or another, not because of some moral imperative, but because illness is the material condition of our ontology. For none are healthy in our collective, distopic present. Of course, illness is not a totalized state, and islets of health can be found throughout the great wasteland of modernity.

With the “kid” on the bridge, we saw that identity is co-produced between the events and orientations of witnessing and existing, and it is this complex ontology which produces the realism peculiar to chronotopology. There is no singular expression of this form of objectified subjectivity, unlike the humanist subjectivity that cohered in the late 19th and 20th century schools of psychoanalysis, only to codify the subject within the structural apparatus and “psychic” economies and linguistics of a Cartesian solipcism.[vi] Chronotopic identity can be understood linguistically only by means of its projected extensions through prepositional spacetime series, their combinatorial aptitudes, and their contamination of other parts of speech: the space series, for instance – “in,” “into,” “onto,” “among,” “between,” “through,” “with:” and the time series – “at,” “by,” “since,” “then,” “when,” “after,” “over,” “throughout,” “moreover,” etc.[vii] Language is the material field which suffers from the assaults of events that derive from nondiscursive, dynamic audiovisual fields. I use the corporal term, to suffer, both in its contemporary colloquial sense, but also in its ancient Greek sense of aisthemata – a term which refers to anything the senses “suffer,” and from which the term, aesthetics, derives. Language suffers the effects of corporality continuously, and in this suffering lies its ethical potential; ethics, as opposed to morals, derives its social force from differance, which at every moment applies a pressure to destabalize the linguistic tendency toward sameness and transparency. This is a fundamentally ethical process as, even if linguistic dominance can not be absolutely prohibited, it can at least, be continuously challenged, allowing significantly other languages to emerge, and sometimes even to prosper for a time.[viii]

But to return from these circumlocutions more formally to the problem of subjectivation/objectivation.

Language is an objective tensorial field. The three dimensional nodes of its two dimensional representation are verbal actions, and the class of prepositions, essentially verbalized nouns and particles, in the Anglophone context, have condensed (or synthesized) to the point of sublimation, what in previous linguistic eras, were more explicit, worn on the surface of language in the form of case endings like the Greek and Latin dative and genative cases which spun substantives in more dynamic and integrated temporal and spatial orientations, splicing together worldly and intersubjective arrays of relationality with a great variety of connectors. Such analytic languages possess a far greater and more explicit plasticity of relationality and order among the elements of grammar. [ix] The connective capacity of contemporary synthetic languages have devolved to adjectives, including gerunds, and a much narrower fleet of prepositions; the result is a greater passivity of the linguistic subject. In keeping with the strategy of chronotopolgy to begin with the distopian, material conditions of the present, this situation suggests two central problems.


  1. How might nonlinguistic subjectivity escape the linguistic domination of the subject?
  2. How might this same objectivity of language be deployed against linguistic subjectivity?


Chronotopological realism emerges from the answers to these questions, and with it, an identity capable of a floating center of gravity between the poles of subjectivity and objectivity, and capable of reversing the poles as made necessary by shifting frames of reference.[x] To see this we must first add the following double dilemma.


  1. Space is more objective than time in a culture dominated by visuality: time is subjective.
  2. Time is more objective than space in a culture dominated by aurality: space is subjective.


These propositions do not represent pure states, nor do cultures exist that fit these descriptions exactly; they represent ideal poles in thought only and allow us to speak of the differential ratios with which we experience space and time, sound and sight, seeing and saying, in varying contexts. Spectacle society is clearly, to a very large extent, though less than total, an audiovisual event. But every aspect of this event is mediated by the linguistic imaginary on the one hand, and by the geometric imaginary on the other. It would be a mistake to assume that sound and sight have equal affective impacts on all occasions, or that they are necessarily coordinated. If it is true that Euroamerican cultures are deeply predicated on a Euclidean imaginary, to the same extent that contemporary indoeuropean languages have sublimated space and time, (perhaps with the exception of German), then the geometric imaginary puts pressure on linguistic performance to conform to geometric, imaginary conditions, while the verb and prepositional matrices constrain the geometric imaginary within their socially mediated, linguistic conventions.

The first proposition accounts for the epistemological solutions we have encountered in the work of Stein; she uses spatiality, “landscape,” as the model for her “plays,” in which we expect a serialized, narratological action to dominate. In her efforts to eradicate the syncopation between the affective time of the actors, and affective time of the audience, to place them both simultaneously in the same spatio-temporal reference frame, space dominates and mediates the actor-audience identity in such a way as to make actor-time congruent with audience-time. It is not that time ceases to pass or to matter, but that a singular time is established as a single continuum flowing between both actors and audience; the time of the actors is the time of the audience, and so gives way to spatialized audiovisual events occurring independently in a landscape of actions.[xi] These events exist simultaneously, but are encountered consecutively, associatively, according to each audience member’s frame of reference, producing a spectra of plays with orders as various as the audience members, effectively subordinating the temporal seriality of narration to audience subjectivities.

Proposition one accounts for the epistemological solutions of Bahktin also, though, his analysis focuses more on the subjectivity of time than on the objectivity of space. Space falls away in his analysis, and one of the shortcomings of his work is his failure to tether space and time in the manner in which his own term, chronotope, demands. His Kantianism prevented him from following through with the Einsteinian consequences of his methodology. On the other hand, his profound concept of the ray-word discussed above[xii], is chronotopic in its allusion to the ray of light, while elevating visuality as a central theme in the analysis of heteroglossia. For Bahktin, narrative realism is determined by a historical poetics, both dialogic and heterglossic in a very structured way, reliant on time passing reciprocally between the “world in the work,” and “world outside the work.” Poesis is the process by which history negotiates the relationship between these two spheres.[xiii] Words are themselves hybrid actors, comprised in part of the “living rejoinder” contributed by a speaker/writer (chronotope A), and of the “alien” contribution of the “word already in the object,” (chronotope A’). This is best shown diagrammatically:


World in the work                                         World outside the work


Chron. A                                                          Chron A’.


beginning                  ¬—————                 ends

ends                           ¬—————                  beginning


The arrows in this diagram are like the points in a spacetime graph; they appear as two dimensional, linear events, when in actually they represent a three dimensional process of the ray-word, conveyed thus:

[the following diagram makes no sense: more to come. importing to wordpress causes problems]

World in the Word[xiv]                               Word in the World


Word     «    alien-word

b                       b                               ý «         same structure

object    ≠       object


This second diagram makes explicit the latent complexities of dialogism that Bahktin fails to elaborate. Dialogism consists of several orders: between the first order word and the alien-word, the second order reciprocity between each of them and their respective objects, and the third order reciprocity between the world-in-the-word and the word-in-the-world. First and second order dialogism occur entirely within their respective chronotopes. Only in the third order dialogic event do they find reconciliation.

The first conclusion to be drawn from these schemata of realism is that the chronotopic dimension of the “world in the work” is not the same as the chronotopic dimension of the “world outside the work.” This is the same problem Stein resolved by means of “landscape” used as a structural form. Bahktin, on the other hand, is driven by what we might call a “narratological imperative.” Chronotope A does not equal chronotope A’ as it does in Stein’s literary and theatrical practices. Chronotope A must pass with a narrative, serial transition, through third order dialogism, to chronotope A’. Here Bahktin’s analysis forces him to invent the term, “creative chronotope,” in order to produce the reconciliation between the two chronotopic states as a third state governed by the ray-word’s hybrid orientations. Without elaboration, he simply says that “the exchange between work and life is governed by the creative chronotope.”[xv] But he never accounts for how it so governs. The second conclusion to be drawn is that through this second order chronotope, (product of third order dialogism), the difference between chronotopes A and A’ is resolved creatively by the reading subject. As the temporality of the world outside the work increases in distance from the world in the work, time is reaccentuated[xvi] by the relative shifts or heteroglossia inherent to the reader’s words and the reader’s world, and in that sense, subjectified.

The narratological imperative is made more explicit if we substitute the terms event and time in the first of the above diagrams:

[the following diagram makes no sense: more to come. importing to wordpress causes problems]


World in the work                                         World outside the work


Event 1                                                           Event 2


Time’                          ≠                                  Time’’


T’ + T’’                        =                                 totality of all events



Events 1 and 2 occur in different times (and different spaces), have different durations, and are governed necessarily by different chronotopes. The totality of their spatio-temporal fields is the material given of the work: of its text, the world represented in the text, and of the relationship between author-creator and listener-reader. These dialogical relationships can be generalized as that between author-literature and author-culture. Bahktin describes this relationship as a “special semantic sphere” that is purely chronotopic, but exceeds the limits of his survey. Chronotopology begins with this insight, while at the same time pursuing another aspect of Bahktin’s project – to use re-accentuation as a method of translation out of literature and into other cultural forms. It is exactly this translation which requires that the “semantic sphere” be expanded to a more generalized, less semiocentric, audiovisual sphere.[xvii] More on this in a moment.

As a transition to the last example that is accounted for by proposition two above, we need once again turn to the juncture between Whitehead and Stein. Bahktin’s “creative chronotope,” and Whitehead’s concept of “prehension,” are remarkably similar, and yet offer an even more productive difference. Whitehead’s prehension establishes a corporeal, nonlinguistic process of intelligence which precedes language, accounting for Bahktin’s “alien word already in the object” by modeling the process of a single moment of Jamesian consciousness, in which the “vague” acquires at least a semblance of materiality. This juncture takes an interesting form. Thornton Wilder, while sailing to Europe, writes to Stein that he is reading Process and Reality, and has made a diagram of Whitehead’s concept of “prehension.” The following image, taken from one of Wilder’s notebooks, shows this diagram.[xviii]

Whitehead, as it were, takes a section (in architectural or medical terms) through a single present moment in the Jamesian stream of thought (consciousness), and isolates the discrete “experience” of Wilder’s diagram. “Prehension” is “one form of an occasion of EXPERIENCE” always preceded by other ANTECEDENT OCCASIONS, which are processed by RE-ENACTMENT, and are ANTICIPATIONS of OBJECTIVE IMMORTALITY, i.e., THE PAST. The passage from ANTECEDENT OCCASIONS to ANTICIPATIONS establishes the fundamental linear passage of time in relation to the stream of thought. Consciousness delivers the imminence of the future to the imminence of the past. Objectivity is governed by this process, and is thus dependent on the processes of subjectivation. At this point, the process is purely corporeal, and it would almost seem that there is no need of a rational subject. But not for long. The OBJECT of the PRESENT is, in fact, a pre-propositional invention of the subject, “provided by creativity.” As Wilder’s paraphrase has it: “The OBJECT, provided by creativity, is passive until creativity gives it this activating potentiality to START OFF this occasion.”

Exactly here do we find the similarity between Bahktin and Whitehead, as well as their differences. Though point one uses Jamesian language not found in Bahkin – “Conceptual feeling,” the language of the vague[xix] used throughout Principles of Psychology – the similarity between “creative chronotope” and “creative prehension” is obvious. And the vague and the “alien” may be construed as equivalents (and both as forms of significant otherness). In both cases, the process is similar: the subject supplies the object with the “novel” in Wilder’s diagram (MENTALIA), or with a dialogical synthesis to the potential dichotomy between the two sources of the ray-word in Bahktin’s terms. Whitehead’s term, RESHAPING, i.e., Self-formation, is equivalent to dialogical synthesis; and, his term, SWING, is equivalent to third order dialogism in general in that self-formation is accomplished by the chronotopic alternations between object in the world, and object in the subject. Crucial here, and establishing the difference between Whitehead and Bahktin, is the fact that prehension does not constitute signification, is not determined by the ray-word, and therefore is not a semiotic form of “thought,” though it is “thought” nonetheless. As we have seen in the case of Stein, propositional thought is a last order event, as Wilder’s point two convey’s: “Finally Propositions emerge concerning the present occasion.”

Whitehead’s prehension is the nonsemiotic process that forms the material basis of apprehension and comprehension.[xx] It is a subjective process which emphasizes the “feeling’ of time, which it then forwards to apprehension and comprehension to craft as propositions about FACTS, which, then take their immortal place among all such august members of the PAST. Before this happens, however, between the moment when prehension is operating, and before the articulation of propositions, during the phase of self-formation, the twin forces of language and geometry are already at work. Every prior antecedent occasion has already been shaped by this same process, and therefore has already been predetermined by post-prehensive propositions. And presto!, we’re back in the land of grammatology.[xxi] The point here is that at this very moment, the twin engines of linguistic and geometric conservatism are already at work, and thus both the creativity of prehension and the ray-word, are in danger of reinforcing the very dialogical conventions they had hoped to escape.

If nonlinguistic subjectivity is to escape the linguistic domination of the subject, it must at the very moment of prehension, at the very moment that third order dialogism attempts reconciliation of the ray-word’s dualism, deploy the aesthetic empiricist and non-Euclidean experiments of the chronotopic imaginary. The task of chronotopology, on the linguistic front, is to use the Derridean and Steinian insights as models for deploying the objectivity of language against linguistic subjectivity.

As this dissertation MUST come to an end, we must leave these speculative and diagnostic thoughts here, to be pursued in their own, still to be post-prehended near-future. But we still have to treat of proposition two above, and bring our focus around to an author working nondiscursively. To recall:


  1. Time is more objective than space in a culture dominated by aurality: space is subjective.


We turn then, briefly, and in order to conclude with at least a hint of nonlinguistic chronotopia, to the epistemological solutions of Bernie Lubell, whose work formed part of the parergon of this dissertation. The following image of Etiology of Innocence is a demonstration of proposition 2 in action. His work deliberately suppresses visuality using several methods that may include visualtiy, but distract it though machine movements, sounds, and hidden connectivity. Etiology separates the mechanical components of the work behinds walls, gives each machine a quirky, unstable seeming movement, constructs the machines so that to operate them emphasizes and exaggerates sound, and by adding horns to mechanisms (in this case, mechanical organs) that emit sounds that might be missed if not amplified. The plan drawing accompanying the installation photograph shows the overall structure of the work, and indicates the fragmentation of space from the participants’ frames of reference. Time is the dimension that regulates the experience of the work as participants must circulate among the machine components, and either literally become temporal operators, or temporal witnesses. Even the witnesses are active participants as they must collaborate with the sound elements to manifest them.


Lubell describes one aspect of this work in this way:


Etiology is the study of causes. It’s only common usage seems to be by the medical profession — as in the origins of a disease. The connection to medicine is appropriate to the origins of my piece and the suggestion that innocence is some sort of disease is intentional. Innocence is usually either shunned as unsophisticated or blindly embraced. it doesn’t need to be this way. The possibilities for innocence are much more complex. Looking back from the end of the machine age, my Etiology of Innocence reflects a nostalgia for a more innocent time when it seemed that simple mechanical models might explain everything–when the experts were generalists and the discovery of ultimate truths seemed to be just around the corner.

At the same time, I recognize that any quest for an ideal, like a “truth”, requires numerous little add-ons and fix-its to deliver a resemblance to the real. And all of these fix-its lead away fom that very idealism and innocence that was the stance necessary to begin. Ultimately, these add-ons and fix-its become a sort of Truth in themselves and are often considered to be the hallmark of sophistication. So simplicity is how you must start but… [xxii]

All of Lubell’s works are networked systems comprising language, machines, spacetime, and people, at the level of objectivity, and science, philosophy, psychology, and theater (art), at the level of subjectivity. These eight categories establish the two dimensional grid of Lubell’s taxonomy, from which a four dimensional array of epistemological hybrids emerges. His tragic-comic works[xxiii] usually conflate subjective personal and objective historical spacetimes, along four axes simultaneously: the subjective axes of his own encounters with etiology and innocence in this case, and the objective axis along which the reenactments, through the collaborative efforts of others, give life to the network. The third axis is the historical hybridization of the French 19th century science of Marey, with the 21st century art of Lubell. The last axis is that of the actual spacetime enactment of work in the gallery.

Etiology is a psychology machine that produces alternative subjects at the “heart” of the encounters between Lubell and his surrogate actants (the machines), on the one hand, and random encounters with museum subjects, on the other, as they negotiate the nodes within this four dimensional array. One actor is required to set the network in motion by “pumping” the heart, an action that synthesizes organic and mechanical models by setting the vegetal (latex) organ in motion by turning a crank, in order for others to witness and participate at other corporeal nodes of the network as they come to life. The heart operator is producer, and as the objectification of Lubell, is the machine’s empirical demiurgos, creating the action for others to imagine. Reciprocally, and with the same action, the actual Lubell is subjectivized as museum subject. Etiology is, then, an apparatus that produces objectivity at the heart of the subject, and subjectivity at the heart of the object. Were the event to stop here, the work would be as hierarchical and passive as television or cinema.[xxiv] But Etiology establishes the social necessity of others doing for the first operator, what he or she has done for them. The machine’s circuit requires that producers become consumers, and consumers, producers. Lubell’s work is itself, specifically an etiology machine that produces social subjectivity objectively, literally, as a “third” identity, the resultant of two vectors demanded by the network’s action – the alternations of subject and object, producer and consumer, self and other.

The aspect of aurality, the wheezing of the breathing machine and the rhythmic thumping of the heartbeat machine, the percussive sounds of the gears of the heart simulator, the clacking counterweight tower powering down as it spins the chart recorder, fixes one in this work in aural, subjective innocence. Sound orients us toward visual objects always anew, as sound, as opposed to music, is not necessarily codified. Sounds nevitably do become codified with repetition, and become signs like any other. But this is not their absolute condition, and they can, at least ephemerally, be deployed nondiscursively, as they are in Lubell’s Etiology, as the codified sounds of the heartbeat and breathing are dramatically recontextualized both in their relations to each other, and in the manner in which they are produced. It is this audiovisual complicity that allows Lubell to bring the temporal to the forefront, to distance both visuality and the expected geometries of space. The pneumatic hoses are perhaps the most important, aesthetic-empirical devise; they are literally three dimensional singularities, curving fractal dimensional lines, that carry operative force from the expansions and contractions of the heart, to animate the other events of the work. They literally connect components which remain hidden from each other, and establish a sublimated form of spatiality, not accessible to visuality.

Lubell’s theater of epistemology gives to all its collaborators the subjectivity of Canterel, the artist-logician, doctor, whose life is devoted to finding scientific-aesthetic solutions to social problems. Such a subjectivity must hybridize and leap across the well protected borders of disciplinary knowledges. It is exactly a kind of etiology of innocence, as Lubell describes it, one that possesses both a deeply embedded vector of simplicity, retrofit with myriad “fix-its” that adapt it to local conditions and circumstances. It insists that imagination and creation take place in the presence of existence, not in the mere presence, but with active engagement with its significant otherness.

The scientific-aesthetic sets itself apart from other scientific and aesthetic approaches by its chronotopic dimensioning and orienting of the problematics of realism it strategically establishes and transforms. The consequences of this approach are many. To cite but two in order to bracket its spectral extremes, first, its transformations are potentially infinite, though because it proceeds incrementally its chronotopic ranges inevitably appear far more limited then they are. Its transformations are transformations of partial objects, partial concepts, partial events that only asymptotically approach the imaginary final state of the many possible fabrics of spacetime. Though final states are never produced concretely, their imaginary virtuality has material effect on the trajectories that lead to them; paradoxically, such imaginary futures are the initial conditions for all possible transformations of the present, since the past has transformation-potential only as a re-imagined future. This problem can be seen in the conflict between “romantics” and “realists,” if these two sensibilities are generalized thus: The romantic is governed by the past, by memory of origins, the initial conditions of newness and firsts, by nostalgia. In contrast, the realist is governed by the future, whether conceived as distopic, utopic, or ahistoric, by expectations of what might be, of change and transformative conditions of what will and might be, but cannot be foreordained. The romantic cannot accept the present because the past has been lost; while the realist cannot accept it because the future has yet to arrive.

Chronotopology therefore necessitates a historiographic theory peculiar to its own laws of dimensioning and orienting that would produce histories of the future. All such histories carry very heavy political burdens. While strict adherence to the laws of “hind-sight” histories, as fascinating and rewarding as they often are, generates, in sum, offer negative political results because it never addresses the immediate conditions of the present, histories of the future, on the other hand, at least carry the potential of transforming immediate conditions in the direction of political freedoms. Of course there are no guarantees. There is nothing about either chronotopology or the scientific-aesthetic that protects it from leading to undesirable futures. It is this vulnerability that necessitates a carefully crafted theory to steer it effectively through the future’s unknown tensorial fields. In the spirit of these comments, then, the task of chronotopology is to bring about chronotopia realized in the present, however partially, by means of the strategies and tactics of the scientific-aesthetic imaginary in order to extend the present further and further into the pre-conceived and most desirable futures.

Second, it’s aesthetic-empirical tactics preclude a large range of characteristics that appeal to large segments of audiences and practitioners alike. It sets itself a mission often at odds with those practices of imagination in any medium because its strategies and tactics must assume forms alien to those which commonly dominate public perception. Transformation requires work rather than entertainment, for instance, thus desire for and pleasure taken in transformation must contend in an integrated-spectacle environment with the hall-of-mirrors effect – standardization of identity relative to a single dominant class and set of objects – which transformative practices set out to change. As the many species of identity politics have well demonstrated, the paths of all such attempts are strewn with extremely complicated and often unpredictable problematics, the imagined and attempted solutions to which also often lead directly to unexpected and unfortunately negative consequences.

Chronotopology will gain influence only if it is able to yoke specific radical pragmatics to their specific, complementary, epistemological others. Only then might chronotopia use such epistemo-pragmatic couples to effect the near-future.

[i] I have continually to resist autobiographical allusions because imagination is so deeply subjective. But I give in here to offer a personal historical reflection. My reticence to plunge into a tactical pragmatics is founded upon the Nietzschean genealogical premise of “beyond,” by definition only an imaginary state. It is impossible to insure a positive outcome for the most initially positive of intents. And vice versa. Thus one must rise to the metalevel, as poststructuralism has attempted to do. The backlash against its efforts has been devastating at worse, farcical at best, and resistance to it appears largely to have succeeded. In the same vein, the social movements of the 60’s and 70’s lost most of their most directed battles, and won those they never even attempted to fight (day care, organic food, ethics of play and leisure, alternative educations, etc.). And yet, the “hippie” has not been eradicated even if s/he exists only in caricature. It is as though those values await, in pupal form. some new awakening and transformation. Meanwhile the Direct Action Networks run amok in small numbers against the superpowers on occasional bases, making no inroads into the broad base of American socio-politics, expending truly vast and impressive organizational effort in a colossal waste of time. The Green Party, the only minimally effective alternative has and continues to implode from within. The status quo is maintained. In the background, the Professors for Peace listserve, and the Academics of Justice listserve, disseminate vast amounts of very important information, acting essentially like alternative AP’s or Reuters. But as with those news services, without editorial direction, the information rises in heaps to no avail. Perhaps the best models of social change are still unthinkable. Both because we are terrified by them, or simply cannot dredge them from the political unconscious. In this light, chronotopology exists only at an imaginary level, but one that is practical on small social scales, and has its Bachelardian hopes set on broader concrete effects in the future.

[ii] “Pay attention to the animals!” Haraway, 9-02ish, addressed to class of undergraduate students at UCSC, as part of introduction to a screening of Men In Black.

[iii] While I distrust those historical comparisons which collapse differences over spacetime, it is worth pointing out in order to undermine the overly-optimistic faith in contemporary government and modernity in general, that vast eras have been successfully devoted to the oppression of the greater part of the population by a handful of vicious rulers. Neo-liberalism today has this potential, nor is it anything new under the ozone hole. In order to legitimize this claim, or at least put it in good company, I know of no other source better than Simon Bolivar: “Only democracy, in my opinion, is conducive to absolute freedom. But was there ever a democratic government that succeeded in conjoining power, prosperity, and permanence? And on the contrary, have we not seen aristocracies and monarchies hold together grand and powerful empires that lasted for centuries and centuries?” “The Agnostura Address,” found in, El Liberator: Writings of Simon Bolivar, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 35. Bolivar’s address was written on February 15th, 1819. If Bolivar’s prognosis establishes the historical logic, then Israeli state Zionism established the tactical model for maintaining such a distopia in actual practice.

[iv] Stein’s transitive consciousness, Bachelard’s scientific-poetic spirit, and Bahktin’s chronotopic heteroglossia, in this view, stand as monuments not to the twentieth century, but to the 21st.

[v] Quine, The Philosophy of Logic, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univerity Press, 1970), [p. 35]

[vi] This codification has taken, for example, such forms as the return of the same, trauma, inescapable psychic mechanisms and complexes.

[vii] I allude here to Stein’s reworking of James’ raising of prepositions to the level of speech-act significance. And it should be recalled that this prepositional elevation implies that “vagueness” is a permanent condition of language, and in complete contradiction to the usual interpretation of this epistemological state, must be given full, positive force. It is exactly through vagueness that the body enters language, and establishes a permanent home for significant otherness. Such concrete “vagueness” goes some way toward insuring us against the hubris of rationalism.

[viii] The HipHop movement, in some versions at least, comes to mind.

[ix] It is this non-Euclidean complexity that requires a major overhaul of what might now be called the classical model of semiotics, which is limited by the two dimensional, Cartesian coordinate system of synchronic and diachronic axes. It is worth noting here that semiotics has been to the study of language what the Oedipus Complex has been to the study of the psyche. Against this, I assert that the linguistic dimension of chronotopology has already been established, in one form, by Stein. She stands out in this regard because of the systematic approach she took to the linguistic problems of spacetime. No other writer, writing in English, as come even close to her profound reconstruction of language along these lines. To enter her “texts” is to enter a chronotopia governed by her epistemological framework in the service of transitive consciousness. Her project, collected in the volume, How to Write, has its theoretical justification in the lecture one of, Lectures in America, where presents her historical analysis of the evolution of the epistemological vector of the English language. A careful reading of this text, in comparison with the other lectures, makes it clear that she sees her work as a condensation and an extention of this evolution, in the direction of the verb. Despite the widespread influence she has had, the influences has been restricted to the types of surface linguistic experimentalism common in 20th century poetic practice, already noted above. The depth of her epistemological invention of transitive consciousness, as analyzed above, have gone largely unrecognized.

[x] It is easy to forget the confusion caused by having to negotiate the variety of subject positions and their relations when learning the “grammatically correct” forms of pronoun-verb conjugations. These forms are deeply naturalized, and the slippages among them, which actually are quite common, remain invisible to consciousness. Yet, in the practice of circulating through the pronominal subject positions lies the germs of a more fluid subjectivity. It is this type of objective linguistic constraint that may be used to objectify the linguistically dominated subject.

[xi] There is much confusion about Stein’s concept of “continuous present,” which many authors erroneously interpret as a static present, as essentially, an elimination of history. Nothing could be further from the truth. History was extraordinarily important to Stein. Her philosophy of history is found in a little work entitled, On History, and her much more epistemologically elaborated, The Geographical History of America, analyzed in some detail above. The first lecture of Lectures in America, sets out the initial conditions of her historiography.

[xii] The “word is born in a dialogue as a living rejoinder within it; the word is shaped in dialogic interaction with an alien word that is already in the object. A word forms a concept of its own object in a dialogic way.” The Dialogic Imagination, p. 279.

[xiii] “Historical Poetics” is the subtitle of “Forms of the Chronotope in the Novel,” and, for Bahktin, is to literature what historical materialism is to political economy.

[xiv] It is impossible for me to resist the highly speculative observation: wor(l)d, in which “l” is the perhaps vestigal, dialogic intercession, the drawing of a line to represent a once primal sensation of the divide between language and world. At least it makes for good allegory.

[xv] See The Dialogic Imagination, p. 254.

[xvi] Bahktin defines reaccentuation as the change in the “background animating discourse,” and as the change in the “composition of heteroglossia.” Ibid. p. 420.

[xvii] I do no mean to suggest here that the audiovisual sphere is sufficient to account for all the complexities of corporiality. It could not. I ascribe to the Aristotle’s view that the body has as many as 15 senses, not only the five that have become enshrined in today’s biological models of the body. I intend the audiovisual sphere only as a first attempt at broadening chronotopology in the direction of a subjectivity extended beyond the dominant linguistic subject.

[xviii] Two comments are pertinent here. First, Wilder met Stein in Chicago in 1934, when he was her host during Stein’s lecture tour of the United States in 1934-35. They became very close, life long friends. Aware of Stein’s close friendship with the Whiteheads, and his influence on her. Wilder is reading Whitehead, probably at Stein suggestion, as a way to understand her work. Second, Wilder and James knew each other quite well, and Whitehead spent is latter academic days at Harvard. His work is deeply influenced by James’ concepts of psychology. Note the upper left hand corner of Wilder’s diagram labeled “OMMITTED.’ Point #2 reads: “The Selective action of Consciousness on DATA = which is EMPHASIS.” This is a central concern of James, and one which Stein develops throughout her work. Wilder’s diagram is found in the notebook he wrote at that time, labeled, “Ascania,” after the name of the ship that carried him to Europe on June 28, 1935, pages 148-149, in the Thronton Wilder Papers in the Binecke Library, at Yale. “The Merchant of Yonkers” notebook, Series II Writings, YCAL 74, folder 1985.

[xix] It is this “conceptual feeling” that James goes to great length to substantiate, and which is the source of emphasis, the “selective action of Consciousness on DATA. Point 2 of “OMITTED.” Stein begins with James’ concept of feeling, but gives it a more articulated, and non-dualist, and therefore, non-dialectical role.

[xx] These two terms, apprehension and comprehension represent two different propositional vectors as each derives from a different geometric object. While plane figures, circles, square, the 5 regular solids may be comprehended because they are closed figures, the conic sections, parabola and hyperbola can only be apprehended because they are open, infinitely extensive figures. They thus represent two quite distinct epistemological orientations. Whitehead is obviously quite aware of this, and seeks the prior epistemological moment on which both are based, thus shearing off their prefixes. The result is a privileging of time over space. As many authors have pointed out, including Peirce, Foucault, and Deleuze, the consequences of infinity and finiteness, and the models used to expound them, govern entire systems of thoughts and epochs. If Whitehead moves in the direction of prior conditions, chronotopology moves in the opposite direction, to set along side com- and ap-prehension, not to replace them, a form of post-prehension governed by the non-Euclidean imaginary.

[xxi] This is the moment to point out that the Derridean act of rejecting the law of noncontradiction, is an act of rejecting Euclideanism and scientific rationalism, at the same time. And it is this same sphere that Stein’s work had already generated laws for, which she applied in her voluminous linguistic applications.

[xxii] This remark needs a bit more context, as does the complexity of Etiology, and the best introduction to Lubell’s works is his own words. The first quote speaks of his work in general, and the second, specifically about Etiology.

I make interactive installations that focus on the intersection of science and the arts, but my work is adamantly low -tech. These installations use no computers or video or motors and are entirely powered by visitors to the show. As visitors work together to animate the mechanisms they create a theatre for themselves and each other.   By requiring participation, touch and manipulation I get the audience to engage their bodies as well as their minds. As they play, participants tap into the vast reservoir of knowledge stored in each of their own bodies and they become active partners in constructing an understanding. The way that pieces move and feel and sound as you rock them, pedal, crank, press against and listen applies the kinesthetic comprehension’s of childhood to the tasks of philosophy.


Like Marey’s apparatus this is a simulation of the human heart. Cranking the mechanism on the outside pumps air from these organs to other chambers and at the same time winds this canvas belt. The belt with an appropriate loose end, continues into another chamber where it makes a heartbeat sound….

Very important to this piece is the way it requires assistance and partnership.   You can’t see what you are making happen while you are cranking, you need to take turns with someone else cranking and looking so it takes two people to get the full experience which seems just right for a heart piece.

This piece evolved over an almost 4 year period. It began with my oversized version of a machine depicted in an 1875 engraving of one of Marey’s heart simulations which took several years to get working in a way I liked. Since that part (which is really only half a heart) was pumping air I decided to have it animate another half a heart which needed to be immersed in some fluid to control it’s expansion and it also needed a leak with controllable back pressure. The controllable leak became the gurgling mechanism. The furniture like quality of the various stands was an imitation of the style of 19th century lab equipment. But it also gives each element an essential presence.

The cranking mechanism has a flywheel to smooth its operation and it seemed natural to add a belt that could power something else. A heart beat sound was clearly needed. I modified the design of a piano key mechanism to get the right drum stroke. The membrane presented a problem. Synthetic and even natural drum skins had too hard and sharp a tone. Latex sounded fine but stretched like this would only last a couple of weeks. Urethane has similar properties to latex but I could not find thin enough sheets so I had to pour out my own. The drum sticks are activated by adjustable pins. Interestingly, real heart beat timing was too quick between the Lub and the Dub — I had to extend that interval to have my sound perceived as real.

All quotes are taken from the unpublished, “General Remarks About My Work and How I Work,” a talk given at the Bedford Gallery, Walnut Greek, California, on…..

[xxiii] “The kind of clarity and control I seem to gravitate towards is more like the dark interconnections of Kafka and Beckett.” Ibid.

[xxiv] The question is whether this hybrid subject disappears the moment it leaves the museum, crosses the garden at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and enters Sony Metreon to take in a screening of a film. It doesn’t matter what film. At stake is the now century plus old dilemma of passive/active reception. If the cinema is taken as a node in a larger spectacular system, then, its impacts can easily be modified and shaped endlessly by the continuous assault of the latter’s hallucinatory power. The critical subject may of course, potentially, escape its grip, in thought. But in fact, even the critical subject has pragmatically contributed, economically, intellectually, and historically, to its durability. Meanwhile, the uncritical subject is produced in the form the spectacle dictates. At this juncture of high/low, active/passive, or in the Gramci’s terms, of the the bourgeois elite vs. national popular, must be aimed the strategies of radical pragmatism. Cinema, placed in the full context of this dilemma, is one instance of a distopic node ready for chronotopic redirection.




the supra-theory of pearodox: chronotopology: relativity – the least visual of posts so far, and the least helpful – but this shortcoming will be amended soon

From Stein to Cage to: ‘Cunningham not by Chance’ – talk given at College de France, 2003. further to previous posts headlined by artist-philosophers: Taylor, Roloff, Thompson, Schiff, DeMarinas, Lubell, Coltraine, Gevirtz, Brathwaite, and the art-sci-tech-media, ‘traditional’–and–not, orientation to/of ‘relativity’ a la Einstein: but include many others, as a cursory beginning represented by the course david goldberg and i initiated, below, power and poetics, that has never ended. draft

[note: added after this post:

see fred moten’s essay on taylor’s chinampas:

Sound in Florescence: Cecil Taylor’s Floating Garden

[note: i’m only posting this series on ‘Einsteinian’, philosopher-artists now, because, previously (80s-90s), my attempts to get recognition for this work has, to put it diplomatically, been unrecognized, not least in the History of Consciousness program where I was nonetheless, awarded a PhD… thanks to philosopher, David Hoy, who supported my work on Foucault’s ‘aesthetics of existence’.]


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Canfield: 1969


In the “Forward” to Silence we read:

As I look back, I realize that a concern with poetry was early with me. At Pomona College, in response to questions about the Lake poets, I wrote in the manner of Gertrude Stein, irrelevantly and repetitiously. I got an A. The second time I did it I failed.[i]

In between “Part II: Indeterminacy” and “Part III: Communication of Composition as Process,” Cage inserts the following story:

An Indian lady invited me to dinner and said Dr. Suzuki would be there. He was. Before dinner I mentioned Gertrude Stein. Suzuki had never heard of her. I described aspects of her work, which he said sounded very interesting. Stimulated, I mentioned James Joyce, whose name was also new to him.[ii]

In “Part I: Changes of Composition as Process,” Cage tells the story of a lecture Suzuki gave at Columbia that was continually interrupted by planes passing overhead as they headed west from La Guardia. Cage comments that Suzuki, “never paused, and never informed his listeners of what they missed.” Suzuki’s lecture was on the meaning of a difficult and apparently unexplainable Chinese character. Cage ends this story by attributing to Suzuki this comment: “Isn’t it strange that having come all the way from Japan I spend my time explaining to you that which is not to be explained?”[iii]

There is little doubt that Cage felt that Stein had significant impact on him. The story of his encounter with Suzuki at Columbia is a model for interpreting his second Suzuki story; Cage tells us that he “described aspects of her work,” to Suzuki, which the latter found “very interesting.” But we learn nothing about what aspects of Stein’s work Cage described, just as we learned nothing about the Chinese character that was the subject of Suzuki’s lecture. These absences are disappointing, and it’s unclear why Cage’s banal generalities are important to his ‘stories’. As written, they are only a kind of namedropping gossip one all too often finds at dinner parties.

Not only is the title of Cage’s Darmstadt talk, “Composition as Process,” very probably an allusion to Stein’s talk, “Composition as Explanation,” but the aesthetic of immediacy that Cage refers to, often conveyed by the Zen terms of presentness of experience, the lived, material moment, is akin to Stein’s concept of the “continuous present.” In “Part III: Communication,” which consists largely of a flow of unanswered questions, interrupted with quotations from other of Cage’s writings and some self-reflexive glosses on the talk itself, an important section consists of very short sentence-questions prefaced by some lines from another Cage text that reads:



The text continues (I cite discontinuous fragments simply to give the flavor):

Is it high?

Is it low?

Is it in middle?

Is it soft?

Is it loud?

Are there two?

Are there more than two?

Is it a piano?

Why isn’t it?

Was it an airplane?

Is it a noise?

Is it music?


Is sound enough?

What more do I need:

Don’t I get it whether I need it or not?

Is it a sound?

Then, again, is it music?

Is music – the word, I mean – is that a sound?

If it is, is music music?

Is the word “music” music?

Does it communicate anything?

Must it?


This preface ends with another, much quoted, self-referential text:



(Silence, pp. 49-51)

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Cunningham Not By Chance


We must read Stein in Cage here. In fact, it must be said that Cage is badly ‘channeling’ Stein. As he put it so prominently in the “Foreword:” “As I look back, I realize that a concern with poetry was early with me.” The reference is not to Joyce, but to Stein. But as he also says there, his first imitation of Stein was rewarded with an A, the second with a failure. Cage himself appears to approve of this. He was awarded an A for his recognition of her significance, but an F for not pursuing his own original investigations that stem from the recognition.[iv] Thus we should interpret the “poetry” above, not only as a manifesto about the very ontology of music, in which Suzuki’s “airplane” again features prominently as relentlessly artifactual in its contextualism (bring forth “the sounds themselves, independent even of their musical relationality”), but also as positivist insistence on observable physicality of present time.[v] “We are passing through time and space. And our ears are in excellent condition.” And if you don’t believe that silence is non-existent, the scientific limit of experience of the anechoic chamber provides proof. We may say that this positivist elementalism is expressed forcibly by the phrase:


But we can also understand it as a Steinian “sentence”, not as poetry, but as itself instructions for making music. In other words, this “sentence” is itself a “composition” in musical terms, that marks out a musical work in the “time and space” between sound (Is sound enough?), music (Then, again, is it music?), language (Is music – the word, I mean – is that a sound?) and significance (Does it communicate anything?).

The famous line with which this fragment ends, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it.”, is not only, as is usually thought, a Zen koan, but also an homage to Stein. It is not a paradox; it is as factual a description of Cage’s concept of composition, as proof of the non-being of silence provided by the anechoic chamber. As an epistemological proposition, it couldn’t have been better said by Adorno himself. “For in this new music nothing takes place but sound…”[vi]

Cunningham’s equivalent epistemological proposition is expressed in this way:

I am no more philosophical than my legs, but from them I sense this fact: that they are infused with energy that can be released in movement… that the shape the movement takes is beyond the fathoming of my mind’s analysis but clear to my eyes and rich to my imagination. In other words, a man is a two-legged creature – more basically and more intimately than he is anything else. And his legs speak more than they “know” – and so does all nature.[vii]

We find further confirmation for Stein’s influence in Cage’s essay, “History of Experimental Music in the United States.” This essay is in large part an effort to define the term, experimental.” Here again, Cage is emulating Stein’s, The Geographical History of America, one of her greatest texts, but misses entirely the depth of her book, riffing superficially only on its title. Had he made acrostics of her text, as he did of Joyce’s, perhaps our reading of modernism would be quite different today given his overrated influence. My references to Cage, therefore, are not meant to further eulogize him, but, only to place him in the context of Cunningham, without whom, we might not remember Cage. [That’s because Cage relied on Cunningham’s Foundation for his economic survival. That’s not a dismissal of him. Only a culturally historically comment.]

so, just to remember Cage’s brilliance in one way:

Cage does deserve to be recognized for his significant influence.  He asks importantly:

What is the nature of an experimental action? It is simply an action the outcome of which is not foreseen.[viii]

Later, he makes it clear that by experimental he means much more than “the introduction of novel elements into one’s music.” He goes on:

Actually America has an intellectual climate suitable for radical experimentation. We are, as Gertrude Stein said, the oldest country of the Twentieth century. And I like to add: in our air way of knowing nowness.[ix]

[by ‘air way’ does he mean, radio? TV? probably, but i won’t comment on that here. though i have commented on this below, relative to gevirtz, beckett, deMarinis, anton and braithwaite – re: the history of the voice. ]

What is most significant about this statement is the clarity with which he aligns himself with Stein’s concept of “radical experimentation.” What is it that he adds to her Americaness? The phrase, “knowing nowness,” is a clear reference to Stein’s “continuous present.” Cage augments the epistemology of the present with the very Steinian phrase, “our air way.” Though what is not at all Steinian is the technological determinism Cage refers to with this poetic idiom. Using Fuller’s broad-brushed world history, in which America is the convergence of the Eurocentric, machine driven and anti-nature “progress,” and the “oriental” philosophies formed by human-nature harmony; Cage suggests that the intersections of these binaries in America cause “a movement into the air, not bound to the past, traditions, or whatever.”[x] In the context of a rare comment on the political-economy of music in America, Cage elaborates just a bit. He says:

…by “native” I mean that resource which distinguished it from Europe and Asia – its capacity to easily break with tradition, to move easily into the air, its capacity for the unforeseen, its capacity of experimentation…

It would be wrong to read Cage’s comments as merely another modernist manifesto for media purification and formalism. Cage’s radicalism, especially when paired with Stein, goes some distance in explaining the ill fit of both radicals with the periodizations of modernism or postmodernism.[xi] Yet, as we shall see, Cage is here radically misappropriating Stein for his own far more limited purposes. Cage understood very little about Stein, and she would never have agreed to his interpretation of her work.


My approach to Cunningham is based less on the event of the live dance than on the “residue” of his process, to what I refer to as the MC field, to his choreographical techniques, to his invention of a notation for his techniques, to his training of dancer bodies capable of realizing them as physical, bodily movements, to the ways with which he oriented his choreography to media technologies [from Film, to TV and video, to digital media over more than a 50 year career. He choreographed ‘for cameras’, with Charles Atlas, for example]. The “meaning” of dance runs the risk of falling prey, not to its insistence on foregrounding the performed event, but because it does so, it neglects other aspects of the production that have much to contribute. Obviously, the “live performance” is crucial, is, both everything and “nothing.” Nothing because it is not repeatable; but also because to a large degree it is not “knowable,” or even “experienceable.” The “historical” problem becomes, from the point-of-view of the writer, how to deal with this “ephemeral-before and eternal-after;” a problem as much for the writer who witnessed the “present;” as the dancer who danced it.

John Cage’s Gift to Us | by Tim Page | The New York Review ...

Cunningham Not by Chance: There is no “dance,” only choreography

Cage is famous for using ‘chance operations’ based on his adaptation of the I Ching system of throwing yarrow stalks, or coins, to find the ‘answers’ to a question posed to that amazing book of changes. I won’t here go into the details of that how works, since it’s common knowledge. I only wish to point here that my thesis is that Cage’s use of chance operations is quite different than the way Cunningham adapted it to his choreographical technique.

My thesis here is that chance is far less important to the production of Cunningham’s work than is generally assumed. I contend that Cunningham is far closer to the scientific tradition of positivism, then to the anti-intellectualist stance typical to modernism generally ascribed to him. Through an analysis of four key texts written by Cunningham, of the role that various “technologies” have played in his work, and through an analysis of the “toss logics” (the tossing of coins to determine spatial positions for dancer bodies) which determine his movement-form charts that reveal not only Cunningham’s indeterminate processes, but, the objects of his interest, I have found “governing concepts,” or metaconcepts, which drive the categories he then, and only then, subjects to indeterminate solutions. These metaconcepts reveal the logics to which chance operations are subservient. The analysis that follows will demonstrate that, contrary to most Cunningham scholarship, chance operations play a minor, though important, role in his dance making processes. Chance operations function in Cunningham’s method, only to create “problems” that then must be solved deterministically. This claim demands an explanation of what, then, are the primary operations.suitbychance_8b


Suite By Chance, Cunningham, 1952

This said, indeterminancy is still significant. The live performance of dance is an “impossible object,” not because it didn’t happen, but because not only can it not be preconceived, it cannot be post-conceived. It is in this philosophical sense that Cunningham’s works are products of “chance;” they are produced, in part by chance; and, prediction, or determinancy, plays no role in the immediate reception, only in genesis. In order to address this point, we must distinguish chance as operational method from chance as an ontological category. The problematic here is similar to Barthe’s distinction between work and text, in addition to the problem that the models of “text” available to us are inadequate to choreography. The live performance is at risk of being essentialized in dance theory and criticism in an analogous sense to the privileging of speech over writing. But once Cunningham, understood not as author, but as a “performative field” of inquiry and methods of production, becomes the focus, then “dance” becomes “choreography” as inflected by the “life of objects” that manifest choreography. It may be that there is no “dance,” only “choreography” in this sense: spectators choreograph, dancers choreograph, film choreographs, photography, video, computer software, books, texts, etc. are all part of a choreographic field designated by “Cunningham.” At this point, I want to briefly intervene in the semantic field that has kept the Cunningham discourse constrained.

In, “Expressivism and Chance Procedure,” Mark Franko comments:

Cunningham accomplished this (separation of music and dance) by applying John Cage’s ideas on chance procedure to his choreographic vocabulary. Chance procedure involves the charting of all possible movement options prior to their arrangement. Thus chance dictates the combinations of known variables, each of whose possible appearances has been foreseen. What is unforeseen, and still left to chance, is the sequence of the combinations. (RES, p. 144)

Franko makes a subtle and compressed distinction here that I will elaborate on. He gives a generally accurate account of Cunningham’s “procedure.” However, since my account will look in some detail at his choreographical methods, I want to be very clear about the terms, elevating them from “generally understood,” to technically and theoretically specific. A confusion could arise here if Franko’s language is not read carefully. He says, “Chance procedure involves … charting….” The danger of obscuring other aspects of Cunningham’s methods enters in through qualifying, as is the historically accepted tradition, “procedure” with “chance.” This statement inscribes in the term “procedure” both determined analysis, and chance. But Franko goes on to point out that chance is applied only to the sequence of pre-determined movement “options.” He asks, just how is chance delimited. In his words, then, chance falls on, and only on, two choreographic elements, combination (of dance elements) and (their) sequence. We must ask, how much of Cunningham’s choreographical practice is encompassed by these two elements? The short answer is, very little.

It is clear that the historically re-iterated term, “chance procedure,” has been used in the service of de-anthropomorphizing, de-authoring, removing intentionality to a distance, in order to generate, again in Franko’s vocabulary, the “unforeseen.” The unforeseen in this case, derives from an extra-human source, to articulate human activity with other-than-human activity. No doubt this is accurate. But its other effect, is to elevate chance over procedure to a degree that the material conditions of existence that give rise to Cunningham’s works are overlooked, resulting in an occultation of other aspects of his performances, and disassociating him from other artistic and scientific practices that would reveal a very different Cunningham. To further complicate this predicament, another terminological difficulty arises in the assumed synonymity between “chance procedure” and “chance operation.” A little investigation demonstrates that “procedure” and “operation” determine quickly divergent interpretive possibilities. Procedure signifies only a single chain in the discourse network generated by an operation’s far greater performative potential. It signifies an established method or way to doing something; in other words, a procedure is a type of protocol, carrying the implication of continued repetition, that by design is meant to proscribe variation. Clearly, the aim of deploying chance is to subvert protocols of established methods of choreography. Thus, the term chance procedure conveys a sense opposite to the intended practice.

On the other hand, “operation” commands a great deal of attention in several fields: we find it deployed with great intensity in political science (power), economics (market performance), medicine (surgery), mathematics (logical foundations), military studies (strategy/tactics), philosophy (operationalism), computer science (algorithm development), administration (organizational agency). It is, therefore, a far more powerful term, one that could illuminate Cunningham’s epistemological practices which, in turn, determine his choreographical practices. It will turn out that these variations are useful in constructing a rich appreciation for Cunningham as an “investigator,” and at the same time in constructing both a periodization and a genealogy of his work. For instance, the medical definition — a procedure carried out on a living body usually with instruments especially for the repair of damage or the restoration of health — could describe Cunningham’s training of the dancer body for TV/video productions, and later in his career, through the application of the software program, Lifeforms, whereby he adapts the dancer’s body to software-produced forms of movement. Or, the mathematical sense of operation — processes of deriving one expression from others according to a rule — could as well describe Cunningham’s method of determining movement combinations and sequences, in every period, though the rules varied from dance to dance, and period to period. For instance, Cunningham’s choreographical techniques developed from sketches on paper, to use of the video camera, to his use of Lifeforms. As we will see in the sequel, these three technological moments correspond to three periods of his work, while also demonstrating his versatility of “operational” strategies.

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Cunningham’s Positivism

In describing the difference between his choreography and ballet, Cunningham speaks with a characteristically scientific attitude of the complexity of permutations at the heart of his work.[xii]

…when I happened to read that sentence of Albert Einstein’s: “That there are no fixed points in space”, I thought, indeed, if there are no fixed points, then every point is equally interesting and equally changing. [xiii]

Lesscheave reinforces this view of Cunningham in her comment: “I understand better now why someone I know well, who is a mathematician, liked Torse so much. He literally saw numbers at work. You must have been quite selective in the choice of the movements themselves.” To which Cunningham replies:

I did leave certain movements out, you’re quite right. I was thinking about the torso, as the title indicates, and I retained mainly the range of body movements corresponding to five positions of the back and the backbone, positions with which I mostly work: upright, curve, arch, twist and tilt. Those five basic positions are very clear and the leg and arm positions in relation to those are clear, too.[xiv]

Torse, 1976

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Several key concepts emerge from these comments.

  1. Cunningham is interested in performative events free from the long standing conventions of ballet and theater, of presenting a composed frontal image specifically for the perspective of the audience beyond the procenium.
  2. In relativizing chroreographic space, Cunningham denies not the privileging of audience perspective,[xv] but the privileging of the singularity of a coherent “theatrical” image, which forces the audience to become active co-creators.
  3. In freeing dance from the “fixity” of traditional staging, he at the same time removes the conventions of narratological plot, creating the possibility for movement-forms and mechanisms of dancer-audience “identities” to emerge, creating a “theatrical” context that has a great deal in common with Artaud’s “theater of cruelty.”
  4. Cunningham’s penchant is for analysis, and only secondarily for synthesis. He is interested not only in arrays or matrices or frames of individual points, but in every uncoordinated and changing individual point. His choreography is the result of the tension between individual and collective movements.
  5. Similarly, during the half century of his work, his choreography shows an increasing proclivity toward metonymizing the body, and to a steady propensity for complexity.
  6. He takes increasing control over the movements of every body part, increasing the technical demands on the dancer to such an extent, that he runs the risk of curtailing even the physical expressivity of the dancer by requiring an almost totalized concentration on the execution of the dance phrase.
  7. Torse, 1976, is a watershed dance in Cunningham’s development. I would go as far as saying that it marks a major moment of transition in his choreographic technique, the impact of which was equally aesthetic, scientific and economic. Torse is perhaps one of his most purely elemental of dances, which indeed requires an impossibly close attention to the shifting of patterns to experience the combinatorial complexity of the dance. It is from this dance that Cunningham codified his technique.
  8. The title, Torse, refers as Cunningham says to the torso, but his truncating of colloquial term is not merely a poetic strategy. The term, torse, is analogous to torque in the register of physics, and is closely allied with the concept of force both semantically and sonorously.
  9. While the mathematician could see the permutations of groups of dancers and dance phrases unfolding in constantly mutating patterns in spacetime, it is doubtful whether he could see the analysis of the dancer-body itself into the permutations of the five positions to which Cunningham has reduced dancer-mobility. Cunningham’s alphabet of dancer-movements can only be seen after considerable training.
  10. Cunningham’s language suggests a very strong allegiance to Cartesian rationalism. He is in search of “clear and distinct” movement-shapes, and all body movements beyond that range are eliminated.
  11. Cunningham’s clear and distinct dancer-body is generated by the exercises he has devised and teaches in his classes where he produces the dancers he needs. These exercises strengthen and conform them to be able to carry out the movement alphabet which makes the very difficult movement sequences possible.

As he himself describes it:

Moving over the floor, you can go down into it, or across the surface, or up above it to get yourself through a space. You hit the floor in a slide, you go across running and walking and you bound over it. The first example shown is on 12 counts…

catch weight…

It is show here on twelve even counts to keep the frame clear. But the rhythm and spatial directions can be varied.

Cunningham’s voiceover from Intermediate Dance Technique, 1987: 37’20”-38’21”

Cunningham’s language is revealing. He reduces the ways of “getting yourself through space” to 3 possibilities, within a specified time frame, based on the principle of weight shifts, to produce “clear” movement shapes while allowing variation in rhythm and direction. His is more the language of a positivist than that of the intuitive artist working strictly according to chance as the stereotype of him demands.

But this is only one aspect of Cunningham’s “technique.” In response to the question of an interviewer about what he looks for in dancers, Cunningham replies:

First of all, they need strength and flexibility on the physical level. But also there has to be, I think, some kind of resilience in the mind to work the way we work. That is, you have to be willing to put up with the kind of ideas that I am involved with, and work from that point of view. For example, when I am working on something, I’m working it out as it goes along. To put it on the simplest level, I’m working on a step and I have some idea about it, which I give to them. But in giving it to them, I can see that it’s different. So I would want it to be the way the particular dancer would do it. Not the way I would do it necessarily, but the way he or she would do that movement. And that’s a working process. In doing that, of course, there are moments…. when they don’t know what it is, when they are left in a kind of lurch about all this. Because I don’t like to make decisions. The people who work with me have to be willing in to put up with that. [xvi]

Cunningham suggests here, contrary to the positivistic account implied above, that the dancers are not reduced merely to instruments of movement production, but are key to a creative process fundamentally relational; the relation between his expert choreography, and the dancers understood as expert movers. The process is to some degree co-creative, at least at the level of individual movements. Cunningham’s choreography is a “dialogical” process, a process that is open in two directions; in the direction of the unknowing, experimenting dancer as producer of movement, and in the direction of the unknowing, experimenting choreographer. It is the bidirectional experimentation of this haptic laboratory that makes it so vital, and so unique. Under the strict conditions of the “Cunningham technique,” his 5 axes, the Simese reciprocity between choreographer/dancer experimentally produces spacetime events that are then modulated by the metaconcepts that determine Cunningham’s research-path for each dance. While the dance in its totality is itself modulated by the artists responsible for the other elements of the dance performance – the set, costumes, music and lighting.

It is tempting to claim that Cunningham’s dance lab is the locus of another kind of chance operation, one imagined to be the purest types of chance operating in Cunningham’s work, one that is subject to the sole conditions of the body in motion in spacetime. However, this would be to essentialize the “body” as the locus of the natural. The dialogical interaction between expert choreographer and expert mover is subject to the critiques of the nature/culture dichotomy, and that between the theoretical and the applied scientist. Both aim to produce knowledge, but can do so only by the synthesis of their results. There is nothing “natural” about the trained body of a Cunningham dancer. As Robert Swinton, Cunningham’s choreography assistant and dancer, has commented, “The Cunningham dancer is as mechanical as it gets.”[xvii]

The Philosophical Implications of the Essays

My analysis turns here to Cunningham’s comments on his work and methods in order to address their “aesthetic” significance, but with the more oriented aim of interpreting the “philosophical” consequences of his aesthetic positions. I am interested less in the specific content of Cunningham’s statements, than about the second order implications that derive from his assimilation of scientific perspectives. How do we understand Cunningham’s assimilation of scientific concepts to his “aesthetic” production? For instance, Cunningham speaks of his process of liberating the stage from fixity. What are the philosophical implications of the aesthetic effects of denying fixity?

Cunningham has said:

The space could be constantly fluid, instead of being a fixed space in which movements relate. But if you abandon that idea you discover another way of looking. You can see a person not just from the front but from any side with equal interest.[xviii]

This comment demonstrates Cunningham’s characteristic understatement. But if we read it through a philosophical lens, we may ask: how does this application of relativity effect the construction of the two objects he speaks of here: “looking” and the “person” and their relation? Such a question begins to free the second order implication in philosophical terms.

In 1952 and 1955 Cunningham published two essays. They are crystalline distillations of his philosophical responses, written only two years after the famous events at Black Mountain College.[1] The first is entitled, “Space, Time and Dance;” the second, “The Impermanent Art.” In these essays he articulated an aesthetic philosophy from which he has not diverged. On the surface, they articulate the choreographical philosophy that now constitutes a well-worn caricature – his dances are non-narrative, non-representational, non-thematic; they are events based on a purely formal, temporal structure in which space and time are inseparable, produced by chance operations. This superficial characterization is not entirely incorrect. But it is highly inadequate. This surface is much more textured than is generally thought. My purpose in reexamining them is, first to show that they express an aspect of Cunningham’s epistemology that has been suppressed by the discourse of chance operations during the “Cagean era.” Second, to demonstrate that Cunningham’s thought is a species of realism based on his choreographic sense of empiricism. Third, that this empiricism is far more characteristic of his thought than the non-intentionality produced by operations of indeterminacy. And fourth, that his work is not tangential or subservient to the dominant version of a aesthetic modernism generally attributed to Duchamp and Cage. On the contrary, I intend to demonstrate that Cunningham’s work should be interpreted as accomplishing a synthesis and continuation of the cultural, aesthetic, and philosophical critiques initiated by Artaud, Brecht, Beckett and Stein.

Cunningham’s 1952 essay, “Space, Time and Dance,” is of major cultural significance to any scholarship on modernism for two reasons. First, its title lays claim to the historical and ontological equivalence of “dance” with the “scientific” categories of “space” and “time.” Second, it says nothing of chance. Cunningham’s essay therefore gives us a narrow but well placed window through which to inspect the question: What would Cunningham’s thought, and its relation to both modernist and postmodernist production, be, if conceived independently of the motive of chance?

In 1952, chance was still a very new idea to Cunningham; he was far more concerned with what he considered the “…best discovery the modern dance ha(d) made…”[2] What modern dance had discovered, for aesthetic purposes it must be noted, was the falling body governed by gravity. This seemingly banal proclamation will turn out to have quite radical implications, and once again, indicates his understatement, and his positivism. With Cunningham, “dance” diverged from the 19th century, and became a product of the 20th, principally because of its profanity, because of its rejection of platonic flight from physicality, and its embrace of the anti-idealist and materialist concept of the body. “Space, Time and Dance,” defined for Cunningham the essential characteristic of what made modern dance modern: “the gravity of the body in weight;” in contradistinction to ballet’s idealist fetishisation of the “ascent into the air.” Modernism is at least partly a product of secularism based on physics, on science, on the biological conditions of the body. Cunningham’s work not only assumes this cultural orientation, but must be seen as a major contribution to it.

In his 1952 essay, Cunningham carefully qualified what he meant by “gravity” in dance. For Cunningham, gravity is not heaviness as in a bag of cement, “but the heaviness of a living body falling with full intent of eventual rise.” This definition is particularly striking, and radical in its implications. The heaviness is that of a living body; it “is not a fetish” used, as in ballet, merely “as an accent against a predominantly light quality, but a thing in itself.” Cunningham’s use of the word, “thing,” must not be taken as the nominative for static objects; he meant a “kind of moving,” or a state-of-being, which, “would make the space seem a series of unconnected spots…” Static objects are the products of aesthetic modernism and its attendant mechanical scientific paradigm of discreet objectivity; while the phrase, “series of unconnected spots,” is the very definition of a “postmodern” paradigm based on cybernetics and a post-object environment conceived only as a system of interrelated forces, conditions, and existences. Cunningham goes on to further qualify what space, in dance, is; “dance” is moving, is an event in which falling and rising are coeval, (not to say simultaneous), a paradoxical motion that produces, or generates spacetime itself, makes it what it is — a folding and unfolding of spatio-temporal dimentionality, or in Cunningham’s terminology a, “lack of clear-connecting movements in the modern dance.”

Cunningham’s phrase, “a thing in itself,” should not be confused with the Kantian or Hegelian signification of noumenality, but in a more Aristotelian sense of the typology of substances. “Movement,” in the precise way he defined it, is not a descriptive “accent.” It is not a secondary quality of some other thing, but is itself a primary thing. As we shall see, he has many ways of saying this. The most significant discovery of modern dance, then, is to conceive of gravity, not in the mono-directional, mechanistic terms of attraction, but in terms of a “living body” that moves, in some unit, or units, of time, structured by two movements acting oppositely, but independently of each other. In the language of science, Cunningham’s conception of “physics” is more Galilean than Newtonian. His articulation of “moving” is modified by a concept of the “living body,” whose specific motion is the double one of falling only as it intends to rise. This way of stating the problem is analogous to Galileo’s discovery that forward velocity acts independently of the downward movement due to gravity.[3] “Intending to rise” carries a body forward even while falling. The difference is that the “cause” of the forward motion is the “thing itself” not another secondary body such as a car or train that adds its velocity to its passengers. Nor can this biologizing of motion be reduced to Newton’s First Law. A dancer’s body may be attracted to the earth and so “fall,” but the motion of rising cannot be made the equivalent of inertia. In the absoluteness of the Newtonian universe, the dualism of rest and uniform motion preclude not only the intention to rise, but that a falling dancer falls only with that intention. Further, he is non-Newtonian in his conception of the space of the dance as produced by this Galilean law, together with “the lack of clear-connecting movements.” In other words, his bodies in motion obey a dual force (“falling with full intent of eventual rise”) in a non-causal space of unrelated events. Despite the fact that only the simplest case of the two-body problem could be mathematically solved, in Newtonian space, there are no “unrelated” events. This space is not absolute, but a space produced by the body movements as a “series of unconnected spots.”

A translation of the foregoing analysis into a philosophical register yields the two following summaries:

  1. While Cunningham speaks repeatedly about “space,” he is in fact far more concerned with “motion” and motion-shapes. Motion, not “space,” is his most fundamental category. His “medium,” or his “field of study,” is bodies-in-motion producing motion-patterns in time, from which space becomes a secondary product. Moving makes space what it is. This is the Einsteinian aspect of his work. Cunningham’s movement-space is a profoundly unique type of spacetime because the “body,” a living body, produces it. Cunningham’s concept of space is what it is because he introduces unique living bodies with emotions and physical eccentricities into the scientific frameworks typically devoid of them. His work, in a very profound way, poses a model of inquiry, while at the same time producing the model’s referent effects, in which biology and physics combine to stretch the brittle parameters of both, requiring us to reinterpret how we understand the spacetime of physics and biology.
  2. Cunningham produces Cartesian dancers who enact Einsteinian spacetime according to a concept of the pre-Newtonian physics of Galileo, through a Tayloristic reduction of movements designed for maximum efficiency and aesthetic effect. This is of course, both fascinating, and deeply problematic.

Conclusion: Cunningham destroyed his own body. he couldn’t walk after around the age of 60. even though he lived into his 90s. how far does ‘modernism’ go? how to manufacture the Cunningham dancer’s body, with the same precision as taylor.

My research has lead me to the

  1. comparison of Cunningham to Artaud’s “hieroglyphic” concept of the stage elements,
  2. specifically to the idea of an actor-audience relation based not on text and psychological identifications,
  3. and to a performative articulation of the phenomenal elements of body/sound/light/props/voice etc,
  4. and the technologies that produce them.
  5. Another similarity concerns the concept of cruelty itself. Cruelty may be understood in terms of alienation, and as having five philosophical representatives: Artaud, Brecht, Beckett, Stein and Cunningham.
  6. And Cunningham may be understood in part as a synthesis of these forms of alienation, and the one who was able to fulfill Artaud’s prophesy that his cruelty would require the invention of new technologies.
  7. It is for all these reasons that Cunningham is an important model for new media. What is significant is the specific ways in which he has engaged technology.
  8. Or, allowed technologies to be engaged relative to his choreographical methods. “Cunningham” the field of operations, rather than the narrow view of Cunningham the choreographer/dancer, is what has enable the deployment of technologies along lines that help to strip them of their purely industrial-militaristic complex.


foreshadowing, post-shadowing


[1] See, “The Forming of an Esthetic: Merce Cunningham and John Cage: A Symposium with Earle Brown, Remy Charlip, Marianne Preger Simon, David Vaughan, in Merce Cunningham: Dancing in Space and Time, ed Richard Kostelanetz (New York: De Capo Press, 1998 (1992)), pp. 48-65.

[2] even though he had already produced his first dance by chance operations in tandem with Cage’s creation of his first score by the same methods, a year earlier. Give the name of the dance and a bit of how it was done.

[3] Give examples of balloon in car, passenger on train.

[i] Silence, “Foreword,” p. X

[ii] Silence, p. 40

[iii] Silence, p. 32

[iv] For his comments on originality, see p. 75: “History is the story of original actions…”

[v] For Cage’s positivism and technological determinism see Silence, p. 70: “Counting is no longer necessary for magnetic tape music (where so many inches or centimeters equal so many seconds): magnetic tape music makes it clear that we are in time itself, not in measures of two, three, or four or any other number. And so instead of counting we use watches if we want to know where in time we are, or rather where in time a sound is to be. All this can be summed up by saying each aspect of sound (frequency, amplitude, timbre, duration) is to be seen as a continuum, not as a series of discrete steps favored by conventions…”

[vi] Silence, p. 7

[vii] “The Impermanent art,” Seven Arts (Indian Hills CO, 1955)

[viii] Silence, p. 69.

[ix] Ibid., p. 73

[x] Ibid., p. 73)

[xi] See “Commentary,” p. 61, particularly it’s question: What has been composed?

[xii] Lesscheave, p. 17

[xiii] Lesscheave, 18

[xiv] Lesscheave, 22

[xv] which he redefines, rather than eliminates, along the lines of Barthe’s writerly reader, though this semiotic reader is inadequate in this context, as the semiotic model is inadequate to an analysis of performative works. This will be taken up below.

[xvi] [Seigel interview, Raritan (Winter 1989) 8, 3]

[xvii] from an unpublished interview with author, December 30, 2002.

[xviii] (Lesschaeve, 20)



From Stein to Cage to: ‘Cunningham not by Chance’ – talk given at College de France, 2003. further to previous posts headlined by artist-philosophers: Taylor, Roloff, Thompson, Schiff, DeMarinas, Lubell, Coltraine, Gevirtz, Brathwaite, and the art-sci-tech-media, ‘traditional’–and–not, orientation to/of ‘relativity’ a la Einstein: but include many others, as a cursory beginning represented by the course david goldberg and i initiated, below, power and poetics, that has never ended. draft

gertrude stein: act so there is no use in a center. further to the einsteinian elements of Roloff [SFAI], DeMarinis [Stanford], Thompson [CCA], and Lubell [independent artist-scholar], and Karen Schiff [RISD], discussed below: and further to dinner discussion with L, B, and M in Santiago Square, Merida, Mexico: [and, right, links to the series also: brief history of the voice, below]

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Karen Schiff – [Fields of letters and punctuation, made with rubber stamps of letters and punctuation, and annotated to highlight anomalies in the patterns. (Symbols lose their meaning, grids lose their regularity; the reliability of language dissolves into a sense of vertigo…)  KS]


[a note on notes and illustrations: MS Word notes don’t translate into the wordpress format. so the numeration is unfortunately not consecutive, and to be honest, i’m too lazy to fix this problem. it would be a pain in the ass. but the problem is easily solved: readers, should there be any, need only understand that the notes in ‘blue’ { i.e.: [i] James, (1990: }] follow immediately the paragraphs which precede them. it will make sense, i promise. as for the illustrations, they are mostly textually redundant, meaning – the text of most of the slides, except the last one, repeat what’s presented in the text, but in abbreviated form. this post is a re-presentation of a talk i gave, for which i created the slides for the audience so they could follow my read-text more easily. but i’ve also included the slides for the obvious reason that they include images which text in unable to do. so it’s possible for readers for this post to follow my talk simply by reading and looking at the slides, mostly – some of the argument may be difficult to follow that way; but then, the text itself may be difficult to follow... the images of the slides i should say, are not directly commented on in my text – they present additional, non-textual content in their own visual terms, as visual forms of epistemology, and therefore, as direct response to the text without need for textual interpretation. and that is intentional.]


In 1936, Stein published the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which was a great financial success. She put some of her earnings to purchasing her first car. She always despised that book, so wrote to make up for what she perceived as its flaws, The Autobiography of Everyone.

The many reasons Stein has remained on the fringes of theoretical and aesthetic discourses may be resolved to a single one. To borrow a crucial concept from Bakhtin, the chronotopicity of her work is not ordered by metaphor or the narrative regimes of representation expected by modernist literature. Stein’s work in nothing less than a cataclysm for established literary practices, then as much as now. [Slide 2] What do we call her works if neither prose nor poetry? And what methods do we use to understand them? Assimilating her to contemporary idiom, they might be called audiovisual apparati operating on chronotopologies ordered, after 1913, by the spatializing, performative figures of “play,” “landscape,” and “geography,” that, to be navigated, require the temporalizing forensic attitudes of a detective. She used the analogy of a motor moving in a moving car to convey the relational movements of speaking and hearing simultaneously that her works embody [automobilesme]. To this end, her works literally invent the punctuation, vocabulary, and grammar of a new linguistic calculus, predicated on a syntax of analytic rather than synthetic relations.[i] Through these efforts, Stein “constructs” a nonnarrative, nonrepresentational chronotopicity in order to correct the semiological damage to “becoming through the world,” the consequence of a naïve realism – naïve because of its reliance on substantives, on nouns and adjectives, on the description of objects, rather than on facilitating experience of felt (made, done) “movements” through relations performed in-on-with-within the “stream of thought.” To accomplish this task, she reinvents language in all its dimensions and uses. As we shall see, she also frees them of unidirectional diachrony, as she reserves the right to move through any spatio-temporal dimension in any direction.


[Slide 2]ACLS_talk.002

We may use the following line from Tender Buttons (1913) as a first stepping stone on the path into Stein’s ‘use’ of language. [Slide 3]

Act so that there is no use in a center. A wide action is not a width.

A first reading of the first “sentence” suggests that we act as though there were no center. But this is not what it says. We are to act so that there is “no use” in a center, not that there isn’t one. More, our dismissal of the center is not a conceptual negation; we are to act in a way that makes no use of a center. But this is not quite correct either; her imperative requires a great deal of intentionality; act “so that” the center has no use. And what of the second sentence? Are we to imagine that our act is the antecedent for the comparison? How do we answer this riddle? What does it mean for an action to have or not to have width? I’ll return to these questions in a moment.

[Slide 3]ACLS_talk.003

Stein follows William James, with whom she studied, quite closely, while also departing from him. [Slide 4] James comments: “the moment we get beyond the first crude sensation all our consciousness is a matter of suggestion, and the various suggestions shade gradually into each other, being one and all products of the same psychological machinery of association.”[i] Stein’s lines are themselves “enactments,” performances intended not as representations or illustrations of James’s psychological tenets, but as instantiations of them in language. To elucidate further how Stein’s work is performative, James’ elaboration of his previous comment is helpful: “Reproduced sights and contacts tied together with the present sensation in the unity of a thing with a name, these are the complex objective stuff out of which my actually perceived table is made. Infants must go through a long education of the eye and ear before they can perceive the realities which adults perceive. Every perception is an acquired perception.”[ii] Stein sets out to create text-machines for the literal alteration of the way we perceive. Through them, we may acquire new forms of consciousness.

[i] James, (1990: ). My emphasis. Reference here and throughout this essay is to the edition published by Encyclopaedia Britannica,Volume 53, Chicago: 1990. The more standard edition is: The principles of psychology / William James ; [Frederick H. Burkhardt, general editor ; Fredson Bowers, textual editor ; Ignas K. Skrupskelis, associate editor].

[ii] Ibid.: James’ emphasis.

[Slide 4]


Stein’s equivalent, Jamesian proposition found in Tender Buttons is as follows: [Slide 5]



            A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.

Stein’s point is that the observation of the carafe is no less systemic or ordered when perceived/conceived in difference than when reduced to categorical likenesses that result from metaphor and simile. Metaphor is of no ‘use’ when the production of perceptual acquisition through difference, and not likeness, is the aim. Her work is not a gathering together, but a separating, of producing sensations while maintaining their unique dissimilarities even while associating them in the ‘act’ of decentering, specifically decentering resemblances in the unities of names. Thus the answer to the riddle – What does it mean for a wide action to not have width? – is simply that such actions are not measureable, cannot be reduced to spatial dimensions, because, perception is as much temporal as it is spatial.

[Slide 5]ACLS_talk.005

We’re on the verge here of demonstrating that Stein’s work sought to realize a non-dualist mode of consciousness in which space and time are unified. Before pursuing my demonstration through her work, I will first present the documentary evidence for this claim. [Slide 6] A reference to it appears in Ulla Dydo’s introduction to her excellent A Stein Reader:

On the inside cover of a notebook for Sentences (1929), Stein played with two words, two names – or perhaps it is one:

Caesar Onestone

Mr.       Einsteine

Imperial singularity? Einstein Englished? Stein herself, an Einstein with a feminine –e added to the masculine Mister (half-rhyming with Caesar)? A stoneware stein for beer? A stone’s weight? And in the year of the formulation of the unified field theory, Einstein’s thought in relations to Newton’s, “where before, if all things were emptied from the world, time and space were left – time and space would now disappear with the things” (Louis Zukofsky, Bottom: On Shakespeare [Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1963], 163).[i]

Dydo goes on to point out that “Stein wrote in a world changed by Einstein and even more by Heisenberg and Schrödinger. She knew she was one of them, constructing for words what they had constructed for quantum mechanics.” Dydo claims here both too much and too little. Stein no doubt imagined her self-ascribed genius inhabiting the same episteme as these scientific celebrities. That Stein has more in common with the founders and concepts of quantum mechanics is very unlikely, and has the unfortunate consequence of reducing her work to scientific prescriptions that tend to erase the specificity of her literary methods for the production of a unique, non-logocentric chronotopicity. The disunity of the two-line play on names is far more the point. The inability to unify the referent of a name, and the play that scatters it over the associations that produce non-identities, defeat the conditions that would produce unity and identity. The two lines demark a field that no one can rule, neither Caesar nor Einstein, neither politics nor science. There is another problem with Dydo’s account. The lines were not written on the inside of the cover of the notebook for Sentences; only the words Caesar Onestone were written there.

[i] Dydo (1993: ) I have underlined particular phrases in anticipation of the analysis that follows.

[Slide 6]ACLS_talk.006

[Slide 7] The lines do occur together, but on the front of the “Avia” notebook, along with several other lines. As Dydo sets them out in her text, they are her own construction. As this figure clearly shows, the actual context is far more complicated. The full text reads:

Caesar Onestone

Mr        Einesteine

Mr Einesteine


A sentence

With a welcome



We should not make too much of these lines as they are found only in/on notebooks and not in typescripts, nor were they published. However, these lines reveal how central to Stein’s epistemological and aesthetic methods is Einstein’s relativism. Their importance may be put succinctly by James in this way:

If we could say in English “it thinks,” as we say “it rains” or “it blows,” we should be stating the fact most simply and with the minimum of assumption. As we cannot, we must simply say that thought goes on.[i]

When the foundation of the atomic subject, the metaphysic of the pronoun “I” as a ground for perception and thought, is denied, so is ‘one-point-perspective,’ so to speak. We must act as if there is no center because there is none; there are only multiple frames of references in spacetime, only a relativistic assemblage of a multiplicity of perspectives, determined as we shall see next, through a primacy of feeling, not rational thought.

[i] James (1990: 146), from the chapter, “The Stream of Thought.”

[Slide 7]ACLS_talk.007


[Slide 8]


[Slide 8] I now turn to an early Stein portrait, “Orta or One Dancing,” (1911-12) which takes Isadora Duncan as it’s subject, in order to show Mr. Einesteine at work.

She went on being one. She was one. She was then resembling some one, one who was not dancing, one who was writing, she was then resembling some all of whom were ones believing in thinking, believing in meaning being existing, believing in worrying, believing in not worrying, believing in not needing remembering that some meaning has been existing, believing in moving in any direction, feeling in thinking in meaning being existing, feeling in believing in thinking being existing, feeling in moving in every direction, believing in being one thinking, believing in being one moving in a direction, feeling in being any one, feeling in being that one the one the one is being, believing in feeling in being that one the one each one has been and is being.[i]

“Resemblance” has a technical, philosophic significance in Stein’s work. In this context its gerundive form makes it an act set in motion. Dancing and writing, Duncan and Stein, are not visual or formal resemblances or thematic resemblances, but epistemological resemblances. Duncan is one of several who “went on being one:” she was then resembling some all of whom were ones believing in thinking.”[ii] She resembled these others also in not requiring memory, recollection: “not needing remembering that some meaning has been existing.” The rejection of memory is a very complex theme in Stein’s work; suffice it here to say that both Stein and Duncan deny the relevance of comparisons of different moments in the flow of spacetime for the “meaning” of their works; it is not a modernist rejection of history, but exactly the opposite, a rejection of modernism’s historiographical model, which is fundamentally linear. Stein’s model is summed up in the epigram I began with: “Beginning again and again and again explaining composition and time is a natural thing.”

Duncan and Stein “move” similarly. Stein ascribes to them both the same motive, the same orientation “in being that one the one the one is being;” because they both have the capacity of “feeling in being any one.” As already noted, Stein believes that “I” of “I think” is without reference, and assumes the Jamesian and Nietzschean epistemological perspective, “it thinks.”[iii] Stein has however degraded “thinking” to a tertiary epistemological rank, after “feeling,” first order of rank, and “believing,” second order of rank. Stein’s text choreographs its movement around the following pair of sentences:

Feeling in thinking in meaning…

Feeling in believing in thinking…

Feeling is the ground for both believing and thinking, and believing is required for thinking, in Stein’s epistemological scheme. Meaning is deferred to the end of this sequence, and its importance relegated to contingency and accident. Far from denoting something “sentimental,” the term “feeling” is of Jamesian origin,[iv] though given its most Steinian sense in Whitehead’s philosophical definition: [Slide 9] “Feeling is the agent which reduces the universe to its perspective for fact.”[v] Elaborating, he says:

…good literature avoids the large philosophic generality which the quality exhibits. It fastens upon the accidental precision which inevitably clothes the qualitative generality. Literature is a curious mixture of tacitly presupposing analysis, and conversely of returning to emphasize explicitly the fundamental emotional importance of our naïve general intuitions.[vi]

[i] Dydo (1993: )

[ii] My emphasis. Conventional editorial standards would place a comma after “some.”

[iii] Nietzsche (1998: section 20)

[iv] James (1990: 88), from “The Automation-Theory.

The desire on the part of men educated in laboratories not to have their physical reasonings mixed up with such incommensurable factors as feelings is certainly very strong….In a word, feeling constitutes the “unscientific” half of existence, and anyone who enjoys calling himself a “scientist” will be too happy to purchase an untrammeled homogeneity of terms in the studies of his predilection, at the slight cost of admitting a dualism which, in the same breath that it allows to mind an independent status of being, banishes it to a limbo of causal inertness, from whence no intrusion or interruption on its part need ever be feared.

[v] Whitehead (1938: 10)

[vi] Ibid.: 5. My emphasis. Stein and Toklas spent almost 3 months with the Whiteheads in 1914, when the war broke out. Stein thought of Whitehead as one of the three geniuses she had met. Whitehead no doubt has Stein in mind in these passages.

[Slide 9]


With it’s reorientation of “scientific” importance,[i] Whitehead’s statement makes him one of the some all of whom were believing that thinking derives its importance first through the filter of emotion, which gives thought its empirical “matter-of-factness.” Stein’s phrase can now be seen as the philosophical dictum it is; “some” precedes “all,” the particular precedes the universal, the “fact” before the “thought,” emotional importance is restored to naïve general intuition. Stein’s identification with Duncan is an identification with epistemological movement, the movement of feeling-for-fact toward belief until it arrives at thought. She reiterates with variation the pattern of this motion in the following three phrase-sentences:

Believing in moving in any direction

Feeling moving in every direction

Believing in being one moving in a direction

Stein’s use of what in analytic logic are called quantifiers [ any, every, a] are choreographed with the rigor of analytic proofs, but derive their sense not from deductive sequences, but from their serial grouping with other qualifying phrase-sentences. Each quantifier designates a spatial range: any, every, a direction. Movement is possible in all of these dimensions, but lead to different “knowledges.” [Slide 10] This section of the dance-portrait is elaborated in three separate but continuous sub-movements:

Believing in moving in any direction

Feeling in thinking in meaning being existing

Feeling in believing in thinking being existing


Feeling moving in every direction

Believing in being one thinking


Believing in being one moving in a direction

Feeling in being any one

[i] It is important to note that Whitehead’s statement is not a statement of naïve realism or a naïve empiricism. Emotion is of “fundamental importance.” Literature presupposes analysis. Generalized intuitions (abstract thought, ideas, concepts) have value only if they are embodied. Whitehead is clear that knowledge is a complex assemblage of knowledge-sources, all of which are necessary to the epistemological scene.

[Slide 10]ACLS_talk.010

The first sub-movement begins with indefinite finitude, because,[i] feeling is the feeling-of-thinking-in-meaning, a type of thought philosophically acceptable because it is existing thought, thought that the agency of feeling has given factual perspective. But this in turn relies on the third phrase-sentence; the factualizing knowledge of feeling-in-believing-in-thinking. Belief must be felt in order to “be existing”, to be factualized; just as thought is meaningful only if feeling has made it existing. The second and third sub-movements widen the range of these knowledge types. Feeling necessarily moves in every direction, in a generalizing direction, through thought, when one believes in one’s thinking; and, in a (singular) direction when the focus of feeling is on one’s own, subjective spacetime performance of existing. For Stein, these three sub-movements have a fundamental epistemological status that determine knowledge at the intersection of language and embodied movement; they determine, in philosophical terminology, the conditions of existence, or rather, the conditions of existing, of four dimensional feeling. Stein’s epistemology insists that feeling, believing and thinking are separable yet continuous, articulated moments in the wholeness or unity of a particular performance of knowing.[ii]

I want to end with a brief reflection on how Stein’s love of logic is expressed in her philosophy of grammar. Here too she’s been influenced by James.

James believed that relations “in the world” were reflected in relations in language. The following passage is remarkable on its own terms, and because of its enormous impact on Stein: [Slide 11]

If there be such things as feelings at all, then so surely as relations between objects exist in rerum natura, so surely, and more surely, do feelings exist to which these relations are known. There is not a conjunction or a preposition, and hardly an adverbial phrase, syntactic form, or inflection of voice, in human speech, that does not express some shading or other of relation which we at some moment actually feel to exist between the larger objects of our thought…

We ought to say a feeling of and, a feeling of if, a feeling of but, and a feeling of by, quite as readily as we say a feeling of blue or a feeling of cold. Yet we do not: so inveterate has our habit become of recognizing the existence of the substantive parts alone, that language almost refuses to lend itself to any other use.[iii]

[i] Whitehead (1938:10) “Thus perspective is the outcome of feeling: and feeling is graded by the sense of interest as to the variety of its differentiations.”

[ii] It is the epistemology of this type of “continuous, articulate,” time in a unified “given performance of knowing,” that defines the much misunderstood Steinian term, “continuous present.”

[iii] ibid.: 159

[Slide 11]ACLS_talk.011

A comparison to Stein’s comments about the elements of grammar, shows that she sought to overcome such inveterate habits and to put language to a very different affective, syntactical use:

Beside being able to be mistaken and to make mistakes verbs can change to look like themselves or to look like something else, they are, so to speak on the move and adverbs move with them and each of them find themselves not at all annoying but very often very much mistaken. That is the reason any one can like what verbs can do. Then comes the thing that can of all things be most mistaken and they are prepositions. Prepositions can live one long life being really being nothing but absolutely nothing but mistaken and that makes them irritating if you feel that way about mistakes but certainly something that you can be continuously using and everlastingly enjoying. I like prepositions the best of all…[i]

Stein’s grammar and syntax are completely predicated upon this relationality between material world and material subjectivity as mediated by language. She constructs a language to embody “thought” in spacetime continua in which language “dissolves,” or “cross-fades,” coevally, in opposite directions: first toward language and “signification,” and secondly, toward its negation, through an emphasis on its performative transitivity, to its re-embodiment and restoration of knowledge of the “vague” corporeal fringe. Her language is a language of, a language and, a language if, a language of but and by; it is a language on the move as much as a language of movement. It is a language of overtones that attempts to reduce the mediation of language to its diminishing, ever evanescing limit. It is a language of transitive consciousness, in which the transitivity moves is both directions. Her methodological moving through literature is a philosophical rejection of the dualism between epistemology and ontology. Stein’s Einsteineian epistemology emerges from her rejection of dualism in all of its manifestations, by refusing to act as though the mind and body were dichotomies, and thereby rejecting both as ‘centers.’

[i] Stein (1957: 212) from “Poetry and Grammar.” For another view of the Stein/James relationship, see Lyn Hejinian (2003: 159)

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 4.41.46 AMKaren SchiffScreen Shot 2018-03-25 at 4.45.00 AM

gertrude stein: act so there is no use in a center. further to the einsteinian elements of Roloff [SFAI], DeMarinis [Stanford], Thompson [CCA], and Lubell [independent artist-scholar], and Karen Schiff [RISD], discussed below: and further to dinner discussion with L, B, and M in Santiago Square, Merida, Mexico: [and, right, links to the series also: brief history of the voice, below]

The Labyrinth: In Other Words, Bernie Lubell. draft

1st Preface to an Essay:

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2nd Preface to an Essay:

Bernie Lubell makes often, very large machines out of cheap pine, his chosen medium because cheap pine breaks so easily… his way of ‘building’, literally in his case, the potential for failure into his machines, as a way of resisting what the ‘machine’ usually connotes: perfection, ‘like clock work’, precision, rationality and the like. It gives his ‘machines’ a tentative and sometime fragile existence and personality. He doesn’t use nails. All his highly sophisticated machines are constructed with traditional forms of hand crafted joinery. And they don’t work by themselves usually. They require various forms of collaborative human collaboration and participation to power them. Rarely can one single human make them move, function, operate – it usually takes at least two, and often more, people to set them in action. Lubell makes functionally operative and very complex gear systems…. out of cheap pine… the only metal he uses is for springs he makes himself; and latex… which he also makes himself. Though there has been a video here and there. Much of his work borrows from various scientific concepts, theories, practices, and specific scientists. His work is embedded in his scholarly historical knowledge of many subjects. He might have chosen to write; but, why do that when words inevitably fail? Wooden machines guaranteed to fail are more honest.

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note on some images: like the two above and others to follow of the same quality/place: these images are exceptional because Bernie devoted a room in his small house in order to take them: setting them in a visual context in which they would appear like their scientific ancestors of the late 19th century. which of course, they don’t in any way. i’d asked him to take detailed images of these works, so i could write about them with specific visual details that are unfathomable in standard ‘object shot’ ‘art pornography’. so, years later, they are now seeing some daylight creeping over the horizon. i think these images represent this particular work in its best setting.

3rd Preface to an essay:

This Particular Essay Commences [here and now and its first section is entitled]:

Of Origins

Origins, beginnings, singular roots to problems or histories, are such deeply embedded forms of mythology and ideology that challenges to their legitimacy lead to everything from derisive laughter at the thought, to war. They are so deeply constitutive of political illusions, and psychological conceits, that they are taken to be as real and natural as air and water. To suggest that air and water are fictions lands one in the loony bin at best, or in the grave at worst. Origins are the unfortunate legacies of theologies and sciences alike. They are at the heart of law. They reflect the deep obsessions of modernity itself, which to bootstrap itself into existence, decided that its own origin would be founded in a radical break with the past. It enshrined the new as its own patron god, a demiurgos powerful enough to create something from nothing. The paradox is that it succeeded, and this success of paradox is modernity itself. This is far from the first time that the origin of fact was fiction. Even here, however, especially here, we must be rigorous in our analysis and point out that this grammatical construction is itself an illusion. We must always pluralize – origins of facts are fictions. Behind every singularity is a plurality.

One of modernity’s origins stems from the concept of cause, a concept so integral to our contemporary world view that thought is practically impossible without it. The 18th century debates over its existence created one of modernity’s deepest and strongest currents, now long forgotten, establishing causality as an unquestionable, if unconscious, fact. Yet it is not difficult to put its legitimacy to flight by showing that as with every concept, it cannot stand alone. Even the famed Newtonian law that gives it its modern form requires the complicity of a collaborator to bring itself into existence: every cause is accompanied by an effect. But even if we dismiss this slightly reworded paraphrase, and allow that for every cause there is an equal but opposite effect, we’ve only exchanged sleights of hand. There is still no evidence that causes produce effects, that effects are the inevitably time-delayed children of causes. The illustrious modernizer himself, Newton, stipulated that cause and effect are not only equal, but absolute opposites. And it is a fundamental tenet of western philosophy that teaches that something cannot both exist and not exist, at the same time, which would be required if the cause and its opposite were the same thing. But being the same thing is required of Newton’s law, though these distinct samenesses are minimally separated by infinitesimal differences of spaces, times and directions. Effects, in a modern Newtonian world must always follow causes, even when they seem to appear simultaneous. This paradox is verified by another famous thought experiment: the Newtonian clockwork universe was conceived to be so perfect, and so independent of time, that, all its laws could run in reverse, in theory, which would turn every effect into a cause. This helps to clarify what the terms opposite and equal mean. The first means opposite in direction, not in kind, (as in love and hate), and equal means in force (as in power). Every instance of gravitational force is identical, in kind, to every other. Only its quantity and direction change. But even these changes cannot be attributed to itself – they are influenced by the effects on it of other forces in the great system of forces that make the complex bodies of the universe behave in such an orderly manner. It took awhile for the flaws in this vision of perfection to reveal themselves, a few centuries in fact. But when they did, it was with such revolutionary significance, and was so difficult to conceive, that the resistances to it, the equal and opposite effects it produced, are still very much at work today. Modernity is now defined, it is fair to say, by the fact that it has a very difficult time following the path of its own children. One of these children goes by the name of the law of pluralizing we have already mentioned: behind every singular cause must be a plurality of effects.

Against modernity’s children stands one of its most powerful and most ancient of guardians – the Satyr. Long ago, in an ancient forest a Man had lost his way and was very cold and hungry. Fortunately for him a Satyr happened along and offered him dinner and a place to stay for the night. Upon sitting down in front of the still unlit hearth, the Satyr noticed the Man blowing on his hands and asked him why he did so. “To warm them up,” replied the Man. The Satyr was satisfied with that explanation. The fire was lit and dinner cooked. As the Man was about to eat, the Satyr one again noticed the Man blowing, but this time on his food. “Why do you blow on your food,” he inquired. “To cool it down,” replied the Man. Whereupon the Satyr’s demeanor instantly changed for the worst, and without warning, threw the Man out of his house saying, “No creature who can blow both hot and cold with the same breath is welcome in my house!”

Modern Man is, like the Satyr, but half human, while their human children may blow with breaths both hot and cold.

The Labyrinth


We should be sufficiently warmed up now to tackle the consummate conundrummer, Bernie Lubell. Our entrance to his thought and work is through a labyrinth, one of Lubell’s own making, instrument of his own captivity in a web generated by refusals to accept the Satyr’s conditions of hospitality.

The labyrinth enfolds existence, identity, and desire, the map of which his drawings above, with tragicomic intensity, attempts to trace and order by means of the mark of the arrow or futile bubbles – causal, mechanistic evidence of the labyrinth’s dynamic, tensorial structure, which may leave the He-Beast dead, but fail to discover the way out. Which would mean that Lubell has merely taken his – and/or her – place, the price of substitution beauty demands of the beast – another oscillation rippling through the fabric of spacetime. The She-Beast is the object of desire as she spins the web, and in theory, though its practice is doubtful, could lead him to freedom, perhaps through the nodes doubly inscribed by circles or capitalization or boxes, and i here refer only to the last of diagrams above – CONTINTUITY AND DISCRET(ION) is a singularity leading to both INFLATION and COMPLETION. Two self-reflexive operators provide other arrow-crumbs: the first is found to the left of center inscribed by the circuit, MAP – Exploration, which there bifurcates first toward Altar as Puzzle (which gathers vectorial power from A MAZED, Lost in Thought, and its two-way channel with LIES AS LANDSCAPE), and second toward EXPECTATION. The second self-reflexive operator is found in a single link from the LABYRINTH: Vessel – SELF/OTHER (doubly modulated by MALE/FEMALE and PARTICULAR/FAMILIAR), where it floats surrounded though disconnected – SELF/OTHER in Lubell’s model is indeed a mere container, of itself incapable of agency. Vessels also determine, however, WALLS/BOUNDARIES linked directly to WRITING/SPELLS/ and /DISEMBODIED VOICE – channels of regress, ingress, progress and distress, the trajectories of LANGUAGE/CONNECTION/LINEAR THINKING. This labyrinth is the pluralized “origin” of Lubell’s Etiology of Innocence. And the crumbs have been eaten by birds.

Without Guillaume Apollinaire we might never had Lubell; but since Lubell, we can forget  Guillaume.

To Have Heart

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A realized installation for Bay Area Now, The Center For the Arts, Yerba Buena Gardens: comment: Lubell’s installation is impossible to photograph. It is not an ‘object’. It is a singular work, but not one that can be easily ‘presented’. To come to know it, is to experience it, in spacetime. It is impossible to present or represent it, in text. Which is part its great merit. It forces a writer like myself, to negotiate it in a way is ‘parallel’ to it’s own unrepresentability.

etio betio h


clockworks2etio 3

To follow Lubell – we must first follow the rabbit through the rubber tubing. Squeeze your fist for a moment, and look at your forearm. Do you see the landscape there? Its power, its effects, its forms? Billions of years of evolution in your every grasp – a fact itself difficult to grasp, because so immediate and so ephemeral. The rabbit moves there, pulse by pulse, pushed on by the “lub-dub” of the heart beat. While not yet well practiced at the game, we at least have the Labyrinth as guide. We have taken a few steps through its passageways, rounded a few corners, discovered a few dead ends, a few connecting leads. Everyone knows and loves the maze. We not only loved them as kids – we constructed them every chance we had. We love to be lost, so that we can find, and, be found. We are all still hunters and gatherers, adventurers, travelers searching for unseen worlds. It is NOT sentimental that “adults” are those animals that emerged from HIDE & SEEK. That particular origin is fundamental, and governs us still. We have merely passed by the wonderful-strange dream-like encounter with arrow-crumbs of Lubell’s maps on our way to another peculiar image in our dream-scape – a rubber line of force. Not as familiar-strange as a “telephone wire,” or an “internet connection,” it’s a straw through which you draw your drink, and, a wind instrument through which you blow notes. As you inhale, or exhale, you send and receive messages, pulses that travel through the inner space-and-time sanctums of the atria, and the ventricles – those incomprehensibly self-motivating turbine rooms in perpetual motion. The heart breathes as the lungs beat in rhythm, with lust or hatred, with every sentiment possible.

We see the rubber line of force as a flat, squiggly line in the drawing above – but – that “flat line” is a pipe-like tube full of powerful movement and content that we must discover how to follow, to find, to know. It’s the artery in your arm that carries life to distant recesses of your body, to your fingers as they write or caress, or, the vein that carries death back to your lungs and heart to be revivified, that makes you sing. It’s the invisible or not much noticed link that makes us possible. But paradoxically, the two-way circuit of life-death is possible only through oneway valves – to-and-from, swinging like a pendulum that strikes a tambour at each limit of its double swing, it circulates like a swing seat, like a love-seat – that make the two directions possible simultaneously, as we wind up and down through time. Here we are, back in the Labyrinth! How do these arrow-crumbs work?

etio 4

Allegory attaches ideas to the structure of poetic imagery – not to the images, but to their structure. If there were but one line, then we could have a very simple structure, but no labyrinth. But we have a second line, a “belt,” that is driven by the same device. This belt requires a second nature of us, not the nature of an animal that burrows through elaborate underground passages, but that of a bird that so easily balances on the surface of the line, a tight-rope walker who plays the fields of vibrations, who springs and falls with the crests and troughs, a voyager along waves that carry force to animate things unseen further out to sea, beyond the limits of what we can see. Birds, like whales, see two worlds at once, the first with one eye, a second with the other, but never a single world, and must imagine a third, unseen, that falls between. This is the belt that passes through a narrow gap in a wall, leading to a third world. It is driven not by itself, like the heart, but by gears that drive it around its circuit. If we fail to power the crank-pump, there will be no such world. We must take action. Rabbit and bird, crank and pump, have life only if we animate them, and if we animate one, we necessarily animate the other, and we originate simultaneously two radically different animalities and the worlds they invent and require. And this changes the world – the wall grows a wheel to guide the belt on its passage through the wall. Power cannot be singular, only multiple, and never is its origin simple, singular, but like the heart itself, as it fills and empties its four chambers, opens and closes its valves, and like a three-pipe organ, sings with three voices. It sings “lub” as a pure note, but its “dub” as a chord, or as a dipthong, “da-ub.” The heart is a bird that sings of three worlds. It is a hurricane that inhales and exhales as pressure builds and subsides over the ocean in the spherical chest of the earth’s atmosphere.

etio 5 (1)etio 5

The diagram before us is the diagram that we are. Our every gesture transforms one thing into another. A single revolution of the handle of the crank-pump, creates two forces. While the rabbit flows though the lumen of unseen passages, the bird alights on the very crest as it forms and is the focus of the light’s rays reflecting from its wings as it flaps them dry, rising for that brief moment, slightly above its stationary point. Immediately multiple, hybrid worlds form there. Bird-rabbits are common in theories of perception; but they are even more common as corporeal realities. We may say that the heart-lung is but one organ with two, inseparable components; that to breath is to beat out a metronomic rhythm between, not two, but three musical nodes. And that to have heart is to take deep breaths of courage in the face of those worlds that lie between heartbeats, between the bird’s biocular but unconnected visions. All walls are but permeable membranes that offer their own aids to passage, arrow-crumbs that point the way only as far as the next turn of the labyrinth. The heart has two perfectly fleshy “pacemakers,” two switches, one that fires the contractions of the atria, another that fires the ventricles, and the physical distance between them is measured by the temporal delay between the “lub” and the “da-ub.” This diagram is for our ears, more than for our eyes, for listening, more for our bodies and how they act and know in a system of resistances.


The Theater of Knowledge

Our rabbit-bird is master of time and space, those two inextricable, corporeal landscapes that we cannot escape, but always escape us. The wind that blows through grass and obscures the rabbit’s flight is the same wind that lifts wings. Soft sand at the ocean’s edge, and the rarified air near the peaks of volcanoes, pace us, slow us in time as they slow our progress through space, with such refined increments, degree by degree, centimeter by centimeter, that the sounds of waves are more acute, the glacier’s reflections against red pumice more astonishing. These liminal places, these limits, are not the exception but the rule. They are the envelopes we must push at every moment and are pushed by. Never, really, do we inhabit sea level perfection, as though this were the place where our biology is optimized. Such a level is another equator, it exists only in imaginary spacetime. Just as you will not find a line traced in mid ocean, or inscribed in Andean mountainsides, so there is no registration of intuitive perfection at the edge of the sea. Yet, such is the intimacy of breath, such the intimacy of the sound of the heartbeat, that when you lay your head on a lover’s chest, when you hear the three voices, you are moved by the simultaneous rhythms of the then, and, there. “Lub-da-ub.”

The heart-lung is so special and such a central experience, how could we allow “science” to tell us they are separate organs? Our lives at every moment will not allow for their segregation into specialties far removed from the circuits of desire we daily move in and through. Are we in fact blinded by science? Or, does science offer us another form of poetic thought? Science after all revealed to us the extraordinary subtitles of our bodies, of the heart’s extraordinary, ceaseless machinations, of the endurance of its self-generating, muscular, musicality. Our rabbit-bird moves in spacetime, as this word suggests, as through a singular medium, in the same way blood and air mix in the very center of our beings. Rabbit-birds, dear philosophers, are not Aristotelian chimeras, or flaws in the material of Galilean lenses mistaken for moons orbiting the Jupiters of language and perception. They power us. QEF – quod est faciendum – is a higher designation than QED – quod est demonstrandum – as faciendum outweighs demonstrandum in the “final analysis” of our first and last breaths. Dear mother, you may not understand these arcane, philosophical acronyms, and you need not, but they are not beyond your reach, in fact, you know them better than most. “Don’t pull the wool over my eyes!” How ingrained is that animal phrase! I will not be deceived! I will see it with my own eyes! And how both poetic and pragmatic. And I know of no other that is a better translation of QEF, and, a distrust of QED. Make it! Do it! are the essential requirements of science, in the final analysis, as it is of poetry. You know these things! We all know these things. What you know is what you know, as philosopher-writer Gertrude Stein has shown.

Rabbit-birds, dear philosopher, dear mother, dear philosopher-mother, carry us away! At the most vital centers of our bodies, what happens? The hurricane becomes the heartbeat, just as the heartbeat may become a hurricane and destroy the body that bears it.


ybg plan-3 (1:2"+1")

studio 4

Etiology of Innocence is this very mise-en-scene. It is as visceral and raw as an operating table. Lubell’s sleight-of-hand is to put us immediately to work so that we cannot be overwhelmed by the primal scenes of life and death he puts before us, and makes us agents of the cruel and macabre violence required at the origins and endpoints of life. We are lost in the face of Lubell’s apparatus if we think Etiology is only a simulation, a “representation,” a model, and therefore not real. Etiology is a reality – it was made, and it works. QEF. Hammers beat the atrial chamber to force it to contract while the ventricle is garroted to send its life-blood to the lungs. And we may laugh here, exactly here, and then be brought up short by the carnal intimacy of what we actually are. But the laughter has already taken physical form in the shape of the vibration now coursing through the rubber circulatory system, mixing literally with, and becoming, the pneumatic blood-pulses that move things elsewhere. In the same way, at a moment just barely deferred, barely delayed, traveling just behind it, is the pulse-shape of tragedy, the “message” of mortality – we are aghast that we are physical –that everything that is physical, ceases, dies, is absolutely mortal.

image repetition, with a difference, as is necessary a la stein…


Again, we’re faced with double images – a drumstick hammer that musically percusses the atrium, while a noose strangles the ventricle. It’s not clear whether this is one of thousands or billions of similar work stations of a human power station on a planetary scale, where we struggle to produce life, and death, in their inseparable blend; or, whether we are factory workers operating the crank-pump of an organic machine in a laboratory whose research goal is to produce human bodies. Aren’t we all Frankensteins? Or do we demonstrate the principles of a completely new life form? Either way, work is the essence, and proof eludes us because if we work, we cannot observe; while, if we observe, we cannot work, and there will be nothing to observe. Meanwhile the effects of our actions escape us entirely, happening elsewhere, for others. We find and loose ourselves in an epic theater in which we experience and know ourselves in alienated form; and in a theater of cruelty in which the veils of allusion drop away, even those of a false rationality, and we are forced instead to contemplate the imaginary in hieroglyphic form. One in which the proscenium has been exploded, the centrality of text vocalized by actors dissolved and disseminated to other kinds of actor-worker produced events in collaboration with the entire apparatus of Etiology. In sum, Etiology is a theater of epistemology – it enacts and produces knowledges.


Life flows out before us. We inhabit it. Its substance is continuity, a material so durable that it is made of its opposite, discontinuity. We come, we go. We are, we are not. We see, we are blind. We speak, we are silent. We love, we hate. We give, we take. We are not harmonious. That is a false god. How do you love what is your opposite? That is an interesting question. How do you long for that which you don’t comprehend? That puts you outside yourself? In a spacetime rearrangement that sends you on with a new gait along the ocean edge, along the glacial edge of the cinder cone of Cotapaxi one of the highest volcanic peaks in South America, in Ecuador?


Lubell describes Etiology in this way:

Etiology is the study of causes. It’s only common usage seems to be by the medical profession — as in the origins of a disease. The connection to medicine is appropriate to the origins of my piece and the suggestion that innocence is some sort of disease is intentional. Innocence is usually either shunned as unsophisticated or blindly embraced. it doesn’t need to be this way. The possibilities for innocence are much more complex. Looking back from the end of the machine age, my Etiology of Innocence reflects a nostalgia for a more innocent time when it seemed that simple mechanical models might explain everything–when the experts were generalists and the discovery of ultimate truths seemed to be just around the corner.

At the same time, I recognize that any quest for an ideal, like a “truth”, requires numerous little add-ons and fix-its to deliver a resemblance to the real. And all of these fix-its lead away from that very idealism and innocence that was the stance necessary to begin. Ultimately, these add-ons and fix-its become a sort of Truth in themselves and are often considered to be the hallmark of sophistication. So simplicity is how you must start but…

Lubell refuses another obsession of the Satyr’s modernity; innocence is paradoxically complex. And because the champion of innocence is visuality, he deliberately works to suppress it, frustrate it, complicate it, expanding the work through the alternative corporeal dimensions of aurality and tactility. Not only may our eyes reduce life’s complexities to caricatures, or shore up any of the dominant regimes of visual representation, they make innocence not simply nostalgic and therefore inherently conservative, but a not-so-innocent state of predetermination based on the laws of those regimes, propagating not an open system of visual freedom, but the instantiation of visual norms that an innocent visuality would never allow. In this socio-political-perceptual matrix, non-visual strategies are requisite to releasing visuality both from its suborned conventionality, and from itself. It is one of Lubell’s tasks to reveal the faux-innocent hegemony of innocence, and to restore to innocence the absolute “promiscuity of visuality” that would never allow it to be dominated by any regime of norms. All of Lubell’s works are networked systems materially, objectively comprised of language, machines, spacetime, and people, and circulate subjective contents through the connective and disjunctive tissues of science, philosophy, psychology, and theater. These eight categories establish the main coordinates of the three dimensional grid of Lubell’s taxonomy, from which his four dimensional arrays of epistemological hybrids emerge. His tragic-comic works usually conflate and reciprocate subjective personal and objective historical spacetimes, along four axis-types simultaneously: first, the subjective axes of his own encounters with etiology and innocence in this case, and second, the objective axes along which the reenactments, through the collaborative efforts of others, give life to the network. The third axis-type is the historical hybridization of the French 19th century science of Marey, with the 20th and 21st century art of Lubell. The last axis is that of the actual spacetime enactment of work in the exhibition space.

Marey heart schema 2

Within these arrays, Lubell uses several methods including visuality to distract us from seeing, reducing sight’s dominance though machine movements, sounds, hidden connectivity, and fragmentation of sculptural space that allows for no single frame of reference. Because visuality is suppressed, so is spatial dominance; and, because aurality is a much more temporal organ than vision, as is tactility, time is the dimension that regulates our experience of Etiology. Participants must circulate through the theater of animate-machines, and literally alternate between becoming both temporal operator-actors, and temporal audience-witnesses. Operators and witnesses are equally active participants as they must not only collaborate but exchange roles in order to produce and perform etiological knowledges, innocent or not.

Etiology’s history, the historicity that it constructs, is thick like moving water with many currents and cross channels that alter and shift in collective rhythm, as temperatures and pressures rise and fall. Each mechanism in the spacetime array is a valve or a node in a circuit that calibrates and is calibrated in sync with the other nodes and valves. Axis-type one is interpreted in one way when enacted against the background of axis-type three, but in another when enacted against the others. Lubell has both transported us to the 19th century, and transported Marey into the 21st. It is imperative that we move along both temporal axes, burrowing through time, or balancing on the edge of a temporal slice. The time machine preserves knowledge not as a past object of curiosity, not as something only or entirely obsolete, but as a figure reinvigorated as a model of our present. Etiology is not a mere re-creation, but a retranslation or reaccentuation that requires new comprehensions and apprehensions of there then and here now, at the same time. The historical allusion to Marey requires that we reinterpret our present differently, that we place the accents on what we know and don’t differently, that the time delay between there then and here now, between the two fleshy pace makers, registers history physically as inspiration and expiration – we know and don’t know, we remember and forget, we agree and disagree, we learn and unlearn, we interpret and misinterpret, hear and mishear – continually renegotiating the parameters and formations of knowing. The mechanical cause and effect models that promised simple, innocent solutions, have long since proven scientifically and sociologically inadequate, while they continue to be thoroughly entrenched and descriptively relevant (not to say accurate) to the social and cultural dynamics of hope, fear and control, and, their negations. Socially, knowledge still operates very much according to 19th century models based on overly simplistic dynamics of causes and effects, and it is this illusion that Lubell both appreciates and challenges.

Slides -41

Etiology is, therefore, not only a time machine, but a psychology and anthropology machine that produces alternative subjects, like the satyr and human, at the “heart” of the encounters between Lubell, as theater director, and his surrogate actants (the machines), on the one hand, and random encounters with museum subjects, on the other, as they negotiate the nodes within this four dimensional array. When an actor sets the network in motion by “pumping” the heart, synthesizing organic and mechanical models by setting the vegetal (latex) organ in motion by turning a crank, she produces witnesses and participants at other mechanico-corporeal nodes of the network as they come to life. The heart-operator is producer, and as a substitute for the artist, becomes one, is in literal fact the machine’s empirical demiurgos, responsible for animating Etiology for others to imagine. Reciprocally, and with the same action, the actual Lubell is subjectivized, becomes, in fact, the museum subject. Etiology is, then, an apparatus that produces objective new knowledges at the heart of the subject, and new subjective knowledge at the heart of the object. Were the event to stop here, the work would be as hierarchical and passive as television or cinema.[iii] But Etiology establishes the social necessity of others doing for the first operator, what she has done for them. If we shift linguistic registers just a bit, if we substitute the slightly reaccentuated background of labor, and emphasize the production aspect of the machine, then we may discover its commentary on economics, psychological as well as monetary and say: The machine’s circuit requires that producers become consumers, and consumers, producers. It is this double, reciprocal aspect of Lubell’s work that establishes its greatest significance. Etiology, as the study of causes (and effects) is itself, specifically an etiology machine that produces social subjectivity objectively, literally, as a “third” identity, the resultant of two vectors demanded by the network’s action – the alternations of subject and object, producer and consumer, self and other, as the third world between the two views of bird vision, as rabbit-bird, or breath that is both hot and cold, cause and effect, inhale and exhale.

Lubell reinforces the reciprocity of the subject and object in a remarkable number of ways, making clear how they are conditioned and preconditioned by the bidirectional flow of history. But even within this ebb and flow of time, the present does not suffer; on the contrary, Lubell ensures that the present is continuously, if discretely, reformed by immersing Etiology in its own, perpetually and unpredictably changing, realtime soundscape. The mechanic-organic components of Etiology, enclosed by walls, have quirky, unpredictable and unstable seeming movements caused by the actors who operate them, and exaggerated or amplified sounds. Using prosthetic horns to amplify the sounds that would be missed otherwise, Lubell links the inaudible to the audible through acts of intimacy, effectively broadening our range of perception through acts of intention – we must put our heads directly into the horn to hear the “lub-da-ub” of the heartbeat machine. The wheezing of the breathing machine and the rhythmic thumping of the heartbeat machine, the percussive sounds of the gears of the heart simulator, the clacking, counterweight-tower powering down as it spins the chart recorder where the heartbeat is graphed by pencil against pine, generates a soundscape that fixes us in aural, subjective innocence, because visuality helps us very little here, helps us very little to hear. Visuality may as often, or more often, impede aurality. Etiology reverses their importance; sound orients us toward visual objects always anew, because sound, as opposed to conventional music, is not necessarily codified. Sounds inevitably do become codified with repetition, and become signs like any other. But this is not their absolute condition, and they can, at least ephemerally, be deployed nondiscursively, as they are in Lubell’s Etiology, as the cliché, codified sounds of the heartbeat and breathing are dramatically re-accented both in their relations to each other, and in the manner in which they are produced. It is this weighted, audiovisual complicity that allows Lubell to bring the temporal to the forefront, to distance static visuality and its standardized, Euclidean forms. Second only to sound, and reinforcing its effects, the pneumatic rubber hoses are Etiology’s most important, aesthetic-empirical device; they are literally three dimensional singularities, curving fractal dimensional lines, that carry operative force from the expansions and contractions of the heart, to animate the other mechanico-organic and sonic events of the work. They literally connect components which remain hidden from each other, and establish a sublimated form of spatiality, not accessible to vision, but instead, experienced in a complementary register that consists of projected, unpredictable, continuously transforming patterns of sounds, unique to the patterns of play that characterize every realtime performance of Etiology.

While Lubell reaccentuates the visual with the sonic emphasis, he supplements this anti-visual impact through and by emphasis on tactility, not only through the necessity of operators, but in the characteristic hyperbole of parts made necessary by using the perfectly unsuited material of cheap pine for gears and other mechanical devices, the systematic alteration of parts necessary to achieve the limit between “working” for the length of the exhibition, and failure at any moment. Just like our human bodies. Careful observation of the details of Lubell’s works reveals the residues of a long development of just such limits in the redesigns of every conceivable type: retrofits, scarifications, grafts, enlargements, punctures, add-ons, subtractions, angle reorientations, rules lines and measurements, often reinforced, as with the boxes circumscribing the words and phrases of Labyrinth, by words branded into the pine skin. These details reveal yet another source of historical inevitability; the exhibited work is only the latest of a long series of prototypes, the one that functions best at this particular moment for this particular place and occasion. But there is never a final, perfectly executed, meta-prototypic final solution. Nothing would be more at odds with Lubell’s philosophy. Perfection is a utopian and religious blind hope that Lubell works diligently against. Such utopian fantasies eradicate the “perfect” messiness of vitality for which he strives. Imperfection, while achieving success on the verge of failure, is the historical condition and criterion by which Lubell judges his works successful.

This said, Etiology does indeed have a state of optimum performativity achieved when all it’s parts are simultaneously in motion, which requires two operators – one at the heart crank-pump setting the network in operation, and one at the chart recorder, spinning the disk on which the central event is graphed. And ideally, the inner sanctum would have its full complement of witnesses at each of the theater’s nodes. Under such conditions, the circuit is complete, with the crank-pump powering the circulation network, and the tower-clock powering the recorder sufficiently to inscribe in pencil a few cycles of “lub-da-ub.” The crank-pump work must be matched by the clock-recorder work for Etiology to achieve and maintain its full vitality. Once again we find that Lubell cancels the concepts of origin and cause-effect, putting in question the priority of the power of the heart crank-pump through substituting for it another power, another concept of time, and another form of QEF – the clock registers not hours and minutes, but similar to the clocks that keep the time of planetary motions or the circulation of the zodiac around the ecliptic, measures the time of the heart’s rhythms. Closer to language, the graph of these rhythms are the “output” translations not of absolute time, but in the form of an “image,” of heart-time, the specific heart-time of Etiology’s specific heart. The recorder charts at a glance the heart’s rhythmic patterns, indicating whether or not its three voices are well-tuned and properly syncopated. In the graph’s wavy lines we read another, inaudible, corporeal subtlety – its grace notes. Or so we may believe. If not, we may believe with equal though contrary satisfaction that these subtleties are the results of the work’s mechanic-organic eccentricities, a measure of pencil-sharpness and coarseness of wood grain, or of imperceptible imperfections in the pneumatic circulation. In either case, the flow of the piece reciprocally between the mechanic-organic heart-works, and the chart recorder clock-works and their linguistic graph, is unimpeded, and which form of power is more “original” or more “primary” is impossible to establish. The heart-lung rhythms have spoken, sung, and written, in spacetime, there then and here now. The rabbit-bird pulse generates the force that makes language necessary, not just possible, though still, at most, an effect of other inseparable, plural priorities.

Etiology requires a subject in many ways contrary to the modernist art consuming subject, one who must listen and act, rather than look and passively contemplate, investigate and solve pragmatic problems, who must not look but observe and hear, must not passively attend a static image, but, with commitment become a participant-collaborator. Lubell’s theater of epistemology gives to all its collaborators the subjectivity of an artist-physiologist, of a physician devoted to finding scientific-aesthetic solutions to social problems of social ill health. Such a subjectivity must hybridize and leap across the well protected borders of disciplinary knowledges. It is exactly a kind of etiology of innocence, as Lubell describes it, one that possesses both a deeply embedded vector of simplicity, retrofit with myriad “fix-its” that adapt it to local conditions and circumstances. It insists that imagination and creation take place in the presence of existence, not in the mere presence, but with active, social collaborative engagement with its significant otherness.





[i] This remark needs a bit more context, as does the complexity of Etiology, and the best introduction to Lubell’s works is his own words. The first quote speaks of his work in general, and the second, specifically about Etiology.


I make interactive installations that focus on the intersection of science and the arts, but my work is adamantly low -tech. These installations use no computers or video or motors and are entirely powered by visitors to the show. As visitors work together to animate the mechanisms they create a theatre for themselves and each other. By requiring participation, touch and manipulation I get the audience to engage their bodies as well as their minds. As they play, participants tap into the vast reservoir of knowledge stored in each of their own bodies and they become active partners in constructing an understanding. The way that pieces move and feel and sound as you rock them, pedal, crank, press against and listen applies the kinesthetic comprehension’s of childhood to the tasks of philosophy.



Like Marey’s apparatus this is a simulation of the human heart. Cranking the mechanism on the outside pumps air from these organs to other chambers and at the same time winds this canvas belt. The belt with an appropriate loose end, continues into another chamber where it makes a heartbeat sound….

Very important to this piece is the way it requires assistance and partnership.   You can’t see what you are making happen while you are cranking, you need to take turns with someone else cranking and looking so it takes two people to get the full experience which seems just right for a heart piece.

This piece evolved over an almost 4 year period. It began with my oversized version of a machine depicted in an 1875 engraving of one of Marey’s heart simulations which took several years to get working in a way I liked. Since that part (which is really only half a heart) was pumping air I decided to have it animate another half a heart which needed to be immersed in some fluid to control it’s expansion and it also needed a leak with controllable back pressure. The controllable leak became the gurgling mechanism. The furniture like quality of the various stands was an imitation of the style of 19th century lab equipment. But it also gives each element an essential presence.

The cranking mechanism has a flywheel to smooth its operation and it seemed natural to add a belt that could power something else. A heart beat sound was clearly needed. I modified the design of a piano key mechanism to get the right drum stroke. The membrane presented a problem. Synthetic and even natural drum skins had too hard and sharp a tone. Latex sounded fine but stretched like this would only last a couple of weeks. Urethane has similar properties to latex but I could not find thin enough sheets so I had to pour out my own. The drum sticks are activated by adjustable pins. Interestingly, real heart beat timing was too quick between the Lub and the Dub — I had to extend that interval to have my sound perceived as real.


All quotes are taken from the unpublished, “General Remarks About My Work and How I Work,” a talk given at the Bedford Gallery, Walnut Greek, California, for his show entitled, “Conceptual Contraptions”, which ran from Jan. 26 –

March 9, 2003.

[ii] “The kind of clarity and control I seem to gravitate towards is more like the dark interconnections of Kafka and Beckett.” Ibid.

[iii] The question is whether this hybrid subject disappears the moment it leaves the museum, crosses the garden at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and enters Sony Metreon to take in a screening of a film. It doesn’t matter what film. At stake is the now century plus old dilemma of passive/active reception. If the cinema is taken as a node in a larger spectacular system, then, its impacts can easily be modified and shaped endlessly by the continuous assault of the latter’s hallucinatory power. The critical subject may of course, potentially, escape its grip, in thought. But in fact, even the critical subject has pragmatically contributed, economically, intellectually, and historically, to its durability. Meanwhile, the uncritical subject is produced in the form the spectacle dictates. At this juncture of high/low, active/passive, or in the Gramci’s terms, of the bourgeois elite vs. national popular, must be aimed the strategies of radical pragmatism. Cinema, placed in the full context of this dilemma, is one instance of a distopic node ready for chronotopic redirection.

The Labyrinth: In Other Words, Bernie Lubell. draft

Le style est l’homme meme. Merci Buffon!! [from BD]: a few moments from today’s dialogical exchanges with passionate commitments: though all contribution were not built in a day…

Greeks, BD, (date?)

cher ami.

Je suis d’accord avec les mots de Buffon.
Octavio Paz dit la même chose d’une manière que j’aime.
Octavio dit que notre corps ne se termine pas physiquement. Il parle de corporéité et dit que tout ce que nous faisons porte l’empreinte de notre corporéité.
fernando garcia ponce [he’s dead, so revealing his name is okay] i think this particular painting has great similarities to piero della francesca, among many others.

… my compulsion to scratch at some modernist pretenses such as a new relationship with the “new” which of course has always existed for people who can see the difference between a Bosch and a Breughel (the “Triumph of Death”) or a Praxiteles and a Phidias.

Are you coming to “Modern Times” tomorrow??


me: of course:

Le Sapeurs| Dandies of The Congo

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 1.39.51 AM

Le style est l’homme meme. Merci Buffon!! [from BD]: a few moments from today’s dialogical exchanges with passionate commitments: though all contribution were not built in a day…

musical interlude: marisa anderson ‘gorgeously visceral’ instrumental guitar

Anderson, from Portland, Oregon, is a rare female adherent to the “American primitive” style of guitar playing (though she may reject the label) – a pretty yet emotionally fraught fingerpicking, shot through with the blues. Hers is often delivered on an electric guitar, adding a gorgeous rough irreverence. She’s stepping up to the Thrill Jockey label after a number of self-released albums, with Cloud Corner the first track – a whimsical wall of echoing melody – to emerge. guaridan, written by

well, that’s a journalists perspective… personally, i think a proper editor would have found a conflict  between ‘pretty’ and ‘rough’, and deleted the former, while, substituting for ‘rough’, gorgeously visceral. and i have no doubt that she would reject: ‘american primitive’… and rightly so! so why use it if she would reject it? at least without making a case for using it… and it’s very difficult to imagine such a case. and, ‘emotionally fraught’?  i guess only women are ‘emotionally fraught’. isn’t music exactly about that? would you say that, the sex pistols, or, the rolling stones, or madonna, or any musician at all, were emotionally, ‘un-fraught’?

and just to be clear: i’m a straight man writing this. your comments offend a large percentage of men precisely because you, ben beaumont thomas, offend their mothers, or sisters, or girlfriends, to be churlish about it. not to mention their male siblings, fathers, uncles and gay nieces and nephews, queer parents and grandparents, and even the sexual complexity of pet dogs. it’s terrible when the guardian fails.

cloud corner hasn’t been posted to youtube yet… but you can hear it here:


musical interlude: marisa anderson ‘gorgeously visceral’ instrumental guitar

organic logic/scientific-aesthetic: further to previous posts on white, demarinis, roloff, lubell, etc. or, how to crash the system of conventional art history: mark thompson: draft – a nonlinear visual ‘account’ – bespoke history – a la nietzsche… the only form of ‘history’ that’s possible: to which form of history, this blog is an experimental contribution – in alliance with demarinis, roloff, lubell, and thompson, four of the best historians i know: as demonstrated, historically, below

there is no better way to do that than with the work of mark thompson: an artist who has been written into the annals of performance art; while simultaneously written out of it. or, his work with live honey bees and their cultures, in order in part to challenge the strictures of what museums are mostly NOT willing to show: life. despite those strictures, thompson has been able to bring live honey bees into the hallowed spaces of contemporary non-living art, museums and other, non-conventional spaces. imagine: creating links through wire-mesh tubing so live honey bees can find their hives inside museums… imagine that that takes weeks, not days. then imagine that thompson has accomplished that…

in berlin before the wall came down, the same year, but just before. the images that follow are very complex and cannot be understood as images. they are beautiful. but their beauty to the eye is a pale rendition of their conceptual and performative content. more on that to follow. one of the most brilliant works of the late 20th C, 1989, the year that the 20th C ended. [don’t be fooled by conventional chronologies. the 21st century began in 1989. just after thompson’s work was created literally on the berlin wall, shortly before it fell, and the 21st C began.]


roloff and i, edited a special issue of the NYC magazine, New Observations, under the theme of Organic Logic. For that ground breaking issue, we interviewed a number of artists  and non-artists, including suzanne lacy, the geologist, paul spudich, a public art administrator, ann wettrich, the artist/theater director, rodessa jones, musician pamala Z, and even john kriedler. we then commissioned artists to produce work specifically for this issue, and conducted interviews. our criteria for selection was that all contributors had to be involved in some way with ‘systems’ thinking, in the production of the ‘ecosystem’ of the art world. john and i went to great lengths to be represent the major players in the then SF area art world system. in retrospect, i can say that i think our New Obs issue stands the test of time.

i personally edited and designed the issue, though, when it went to press at NO’s, they ignored many of my design mandates, so the final result looked worse that i had hoped.

in any case, our issue of new observations broke new ground in that it examined the art world system, as a system, across a variety of the actors responsible then, for creating it.

so, from that issue, i want to present first, the work that mark thompson created:Screen Shot 2018-03-16 at 3.32.36 AMScreen Shot 2018-03-16 at 3.33.34 AMScreen Shot 2018-03-16 at 3.32.57 AM

his contribution consisted of the imagery above.

what follows is my cursory attempt to add some archival imagery as context:

below, top left: Mark’s early studio in west oakland, CA.


below: upper left and right: stills from mark’s film, Immersion, 1977-2005?). bottom left and right: Walk With Backpack Hive (date: ?): Mark constructed a bee hive from a wicker backpack and retraced some of the well known Japanese poet, Basho’s walks through the same region in Japan were the poet led an itinerant life  – Matsuo Basho (1644–1694)


Mark’s own statement about House Divided follows:

“A HOUSE DIVIDED”, Spring 1989, Mark Thompson

During May-June of 1989 I was involved in the project “A House Divided” in conjunction with the exhibition “Ressource Kunst”. The installation site was an early 1800’s hospital, the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien bordering the wall in West Berlin. In mid-May I began a three week exploration of East and West Berlin to gather the raw materials-resources for the installation. Working with a 19th century bee hunting box used to track and locate wild honeybees living in hollow trees in the forest, local honeybees were tracked to their hives within about a 3 mile area of East and West Berlin. This tracking process involved catching honeybees, feeding and releasing them, then carefully sighting along the returning bee flight direction in a series of steps to locate the source of the honeybees. Through this process interactions occurred with a variety of people and beekeepers from both cities. Usually the children were the most curious and excited about catching the bees and following them through the city.

In West Berlin I met Herr Pickard, a beekeeper whose beehives were about one mile away from the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien. After an explanation of how I had found him, we spent the afternoon examining his bees and pulling honey off his hives. I described my project and the need to gather beeswax for the windows from beekeepers in both cities. He gave me the seed crystal of wax for the windows – a small fragment of wax harvested before the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, his most precious wax because it was non-radioactive. From other East and West German beekeepers beeswax was purchased as the raw material for covering the two windows and iron columns supporting the ceiling. After melting and blending, the wax was poured into translucent slabs for sealing the two, arched window openings and coating the columns in the former hospital ward. Glowing with a golden-yellow presence in the darkened room, sunlight passed through beeswax drawn from the East and West – wax transmuted from nectar through the body of the honeybee.

Within the installation near the windows was the Live-in Hive – a glass walled beehive designed as a shared living space between the honeybees and my head. Before the opening of the exhibition a swarm of honeybees was transferred into the Live-in Hive – bees found during my earlier Berlin exploration – Herr Pickard’s backyard hive. Passing freely through a wire mesh tube through the ceiling, the bees came and went gathering nectar and pollen from flowers on both sides of the wall. Foraging in a 3 mile circular area around the wall, the honeybees transformed this raw nectar through their being, generating the wax architecture of their city-home. During this process my head was placed inside the hive in a series of private, sitting meditations bringing me closer to the beginnings of a new city. This city architecture of living walls of honeycomb fused together from the flowers of two Berlins – taking form in relation to a human being. The honeybees, the artist bound together through creative, natural processes form a living bridge between two cities, two worlds.

Copyright 1990, Mark Thompson

the are a few images related to this work:


above: map of berlin wall with circle indicated position of the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien; the no-mans-land between the two walls; and illustrations of the honeybee waggle dance.


below: clockwise: bee box in which bees are capture two at a time, so one may be let go first and then following until lost sight of, when, the second bee is released and followed until lost. then, two more bees are captured, let go, and followed. this process is continued until the bee hive hunter traces the bees back to their hive. an assistant in berlin helping mark in this ‘bee-lining’ process; and two children enjoying the event._seeingsaying.004

below: arrive at the hive, when Mark met it’s owner in east Berlin, Herr Pickard


below: Mark and Herr Pickard; the wax H. Pickard contributed to Mark’s installation shown above; Mark in the process of building the windows inserts and covering them with H. Pickard’s was.


My overly brief essay on Mark:

I have a unique insight into Mark as person/artist/teacher. I have served with him on many faculty committees over several years, have had the pleasure of being on student review committees with him, and of sharing students, interests, and productive dialogues often rife with both agreements and disagreements. We recently worked together on the content and conception of the New York based magazine, New Observations. I’ve know Mark for more than 25 years, have witnessed many of works, participated in the production of one personally, [6th Sense], and have held countless conversations with him over the years.

I first came to know Mark through research. I study artists who have a deeply developed relation to science and technology, a rare breed, to which Mark belongs; his education began in the sciences. I met Mark, therefore, as a “research” “subject.” Little did I know what this would entail. I was aware that his “medium” was bees, (his “form,” performance with risk), and that he considered bee keeping as an art practice; I was aware of his deep commitment to “art as life,” to “life as art,” and to an art practice that cycles between those two phases. I had anticipated a deep identification with 19th century naturalism, transcendentalism, romanticism, though spun by his encounter with the culture of the 1960’s. For him, this meant defining the artist’s role not in terms of market profitability, but as performative provocateur and commentator on culture generally, as a practice of investigation into, reflection on, and intervention in social systems, not simply on the production of objects. (Just imagine what is required to bring an alien, possibly unfriendly form of life into a museum; how does one bring live honey bees to the interior of a museum, in a way that doesn’t interrupt their lives, or that of the museum; and just what does that mean?). I wasn’t surprised to find a professional library on bee science. But blimps? A professional duck decoy collection? A knowledge of W.W.I and W.W.II that would put any professional historian to the test? Especially in relation to aviation history? The complete video collection of Sienfeld? Or, a love for a strange Italian immigrant who settled in Modesto at the turn of the century, who built a vast underground fruit orchard and home, now a California historical landmark? Like all good artists, and all good teachers, Mark refused to be “reduced” to a “subject of research.” “Research” had to be expanded to include him. This is the very point of Mark’s artistic practice, and his contributions to art, to teaching, to imagining a way of life original in such evocative associative insights and highly catalytic divagations. His concept of “art as decoy” is but one example. His paradigm for art also included the methods of detectives. Here, I will briefly to address only two of his works.

Mark’s first significant piece, Immersion, was “performed” for film in 1977 but not completed until some time around 2005? The film shows the process of honeybees swarming to cover the queen on Mark’s head. The camera angle is low, framing only his head and shoulders against a blue sky. As the covering progresses, as more and more bees land, Mark becomes less and less visible, until all we see is a bee mound with the vague outlines of a human form beneath. As the coverage nears completion, the camera speed is incrementally slowed as it is raised to show only sky and wildly flying bees; until, at 2 frames per second, the field snaps and the “film” suddenly transforms: the blue sky merges with, and becomes, a physical state of traces of slow moving elements, with a low vibratory hum. Imagine the sound of a swarm of bees slowed until it enters a low base sonic register. The experience is tactile, a synthesized audio-visual phenomenon that should not be considered a representation, but the production of an experience. But of what? The work is visually minimalist and conceptually complex; its ontological status, ambiguous. The “film” moves from representation of an event, (the body covering), to the production of an audio-visual event, viscerally phenomenological as an experience (the moment of transformation), that quits its representational function, becoming itself unique sensory data that could only be generated in film. How are we to understand this ambiguity? We must also recognize that this “film” can be understood as a kind of “scientific visualization,” without though, abandoning it’s aesthetic form and motivation. It then becomes both a phenomenological event in itself, and, a simulation, or a “representation” of spacetime at the quantum level. This ambiguity is constitutive of the work as art.

To read the work then, at the level of content, is to map three levels of this constitutive ambiguity. First, the human/insect taxonomy represents what exactly? A perverse artistic act? A monstrous crossing of kingdoms? A profound attempt at doing so? Clearly, human/insect biological niches remain mutually exclusive, in terms of “actual shared worlds,” or so it seems. We may question this if the concept of shared worlds does not mean shared states of consciousnesses, and instead look at systemic interactions among the elements. Then we will see that though exterior at the level of species, they are interrelated at a larger environmental level. The following taxonomies are, secondly, not merely symbolic sites, but must be interpreted as “empirically actual.” Consider: production/reproduction (bee/bee keeper), life sustaining interactions (flower/bee). Neither bees nor flowers can exist independently of each other – their interaction is necessary for both forms of life to exist. (And with their co-generation, humans would starve to death because their co-existence maintains human agriculture.) Understood systemically, they become impossible to separate and traditional biological definitions fail. The bee is literally part of the reproduction system of the flower on which it feeds – it is its sex organ; and the flower is literally part of the bee’s food system – it is its stomach. Taxonomic definitions must yield here, with no small consequences. Bee/bee keeper, flower/bee are partners that exchange life-giving functions but in radically dissimilar systems. The flower feeds the bee as the bee reproduces the flower, literally, not symbolically. Third, at the macro scale, bee and beekeeper are symbiotically integrated, while utterly alienated; at the micro scale, all is quantumly interrelated, and the differences between human, bee, and matter disappear.

Immersion is conceptually an immersion in this scientific paradox. And it raises questions about how the narrow taxonomic categories of the biotic world come to be constructed; thereby, immersing us in the dissolve between us and other. Immersion is a performance-act which must be interpreted in this discursive and embodied cultural network. References to art history are helpful, but are insufficient without this larger arena of interpretation. Mark requires that witnesses to his work themselves, to some degree, become biologists; otherwise, they will not be able to comprehend the profundity of his work.

Immersion needs to be compared to its sequel.

House Divided was performed in Berlin in the spring of 1989, a few months before the Wall was destroyed. The center of action was an abandoned 18th century hospital located directly on the Wall. House Divided continued the work of Immersion but significantly enlarged the social and cultural systems engaged by the work. I’d like to point out here only its actual, real time, performative aspects. For three weeks, Mark and his assistants, using the bee keeping technique called “lining the bee,” sought to discover hives and their keepers on both sides of the wall. Using small wooden boxes with two compartments, they trapped bees. When the bees settled down, they were moved from the first compartment to the second in which they are fed honey and nectar before being released. The newly freed bees circle the new food source, rising to an elevation of 50 or 60 feet above as they map the location before returning to their hive. They then travel between hive and bee trap. Once the connection between food and hive has been established, the hive hunters follow the bees in the direction they fly for as long as they remain visible (not long), and repeat the process from the new location. After three weeks of moving in 100-meter increments, they discovered a beekeeper in East Berlin. Mark then smuggled the wax into West Berlin and combined honey from both sides of the wall, melted it down, and used it as “paint” on 12 foot high, canvas, window frames fitted into the two existing windows of the room in which House Divided was installed. The room’s lighting would change over the course of the day, as the light changed. In the room were two steel columns, a tree trunk on which sat the bee traps and a glass “observation hive,” with a chair underneath. Bees traveled from all parts of Berlin through a mesh wire tube connecting the outside to the hive within the room. For 3-4 hours a day, Mark sat, only during non-gallery hours, meditating with his head inside of the fully functioning honey bee hive, imagining a unified Berlin as the bees came and went. They built the hive around Mark’s head over the course of the performance.

Much of the analysis of Immersion pertains here. But the differences are important to note; the three week lining-the-bee, pre-installation period, the cold war location, the integration of bee with human social systems, the “reversed” immersive meditations (immersion in the hive instead of bees covering Mark’s head) and their private performances. In general, the work absents the artist as the location of spectacle, and substitutes the city of Berlin and its actual state and imagined recreation, as re-unified. In the hospital room, a site for quotidian events often unnoticed, as well as a site for restoring health [of a city], like the coming and going of bees in an urban cityscape, House Divided foregrounds the city’s reimagining as a pastoral scene; but, one in which the viewer is caught between direct experience of the beautifully lit room, filled with the smell of bees wax, and the indirect experience of “someone” pursuing an ongoing investigation whom they never encounter. The work is constituted by a first tension between the viewer and this unobserved observer, and secondly between the interiority of the hospital room, and the exteriority of the city of Berlin. As the bees come and go across the wall, visitors to House Divided come and go across these real and imagined tensions. The quiet sensuousness of the “scene” could be the 18th century returned, though recoded in a third tension between the natural processes of actual/symbolic rebuildings — of a city being imagined, and a real hive being built. A statement, in its bringing together of possibility and actuality, that is at once both utopic and distopic. The overall message is optimistic, of imagining the absent meditator in an alien though natural world, as an alternative to the cold war polarity that bees are able to ignore, though people cannot. The human-natural worlds are figured in the hive as respectful, reciprocal compliments, suggesting the co-creative work-arounds of the “natural” and the “human” symbiosis addressed above. House Divided suggests the possibility of another form of social contract, one that would erase the divide between the natural and the human, as much as between the two coldly warring superpowers.

The shift from Immersion to House Divided is substantial. The essential difference is between the one-to-one microcosm, artist-bees, figured in the earlier work, to the many-to-many macrocosm of the later, with the intended subtraction of individualism. The negative human form observable in the hive could be anyone. And the concept of community, of collaborative making of the work, between Mark and Herr Pickard, and of human/nature co-collaborative imagination of utopic possibilities, become dominant themes.

Mark’s works, by definition, are alive; not “about” life; but are life performances. Thus they are without limit, without fixed form. They are performances, but ones that do not conform to traditional narrative structures or forms; they do not have beginnings, middles and ends. No more than a hive does. They are unfortunately artificially limited by art world venues such as museums, and art world expectations of spectatorship and consumption. His works demand to be conceived in a temporality unique to the modes of their performative production, and must be held suspended in the supplementary imaginings of those who have experienced them. Their temporality is best understood in the context of his performances in Japan. Walk with Backpack Hive required that Mark walk eleven feet per hour in order not to loose the foraging bees that lived there.


organic logic/scientific-aesthetic: further to previous posts on white, demarinis, roloff, lubell, etc. or, how to crash the system of conventional art history: mark thompson: draft – a nonlinear visual ‘account’ – bespoke history – a la nietzsche… the only form of ‘history’ that’s possible: to which form of history, this blog is an experimental contribution – in alliance with demarinis, roloff, lubell, and thompson, four of the best historians i know: as demonstrated, historically, below

further to the previous post about the geometric imaginary… john roloff’s geological imaginary: draft. AND, in relation to my posts on paul demarinis, with only a nod so far, to bernie lubell [more to come on his work]

and where my arcane historical/philosophical discourse meets the more important embodied practice, and my previous posts about paul DeMarinis, in this case, in the very visceral and performative sculptural work of john roloff:


roloff was trained first as a geologist. then he became an artist. so of course his work combines art with geology. not dissimilar to B’s refusal to submit to conventions of modernism. or karen’s upending of the modernist grid. or lubell’s reinterpretation of mechanization through the inevitable use of deliberately cheap pine to make his wooden machines fail. or, demarinis’s engagement with all these themes through his cynical, in the philosophical sense of cynicism, of electronic and digital reconfigurations of technological, musical and political histories all i the spirit of hayden white’s sense of possible historiographies.

from Hayden White’s essay, “The Burden of History,” of 1966:

Such a conception of historical inquiry [in which the historian and scientist organize facts through tentative metaphoric approximations] and representation would open up the possibility of using contemporary scientific and artistic insights in history without leading to radical relativism… It would permit the plunder of psychoanalysis, cybernetics, game theory, and the rest…. And it would permit historians to conceive of the possibility of using impressionistic, expressionistic, surrealistic, and (perhaps) even actionist modes of representations for dramatizing the significance of data…. [p. 47]

so, to roloff:

Spatiotemporal Practice, Aesthetic Judgment, and the Geological Imaginary in the Work of John Roloff


The premise of this essay is that spatiality cannot be conceived apart from temporality.

I will focus on the work of the remarkable American artist John Roloff, ( I will examine the rich, myriad ways in which spatiality may be linked to specific temporal frameworks and radically break free of the aesthetic discipline so powerfully maintained by the market’s dominance over aesthetics and art practices. Roloff is committed to the tradition of environmental and ecological art, has a considerable knowledge of science, particularly geology, which has been a profound source of inspiration for him. Aesthetically, his interest in systems make him most kin to Robert Smithson and Helen and Newton Harrison, philosophically, to Gottfried Leibniz and Deleuze, and poetically to J. W von Goethe and Samuel Coleridge. Roloff may be described, to use a geological metaphor, as an aggregate of intellectual influences resolved to lumpy coherence through his distillations of unexpected associations in a landscape rife with differences that have allowed him to create a remarkable, school-defying, body of work. His path is nothing if not ingeniously, laterally, transversal, where the transversal itself is a vector that measures his political commitments.

To elucidate Roloff’s aesthetic philosophy, I begin with François Lyotard’s assessment of abstract art’s theoretical significance:

…[Barnett] Newman judged surrealism to be over-reliant on a pre-romantic or romantic approach to indeterminacy. Thus, when he seeks sublimity in the here-and-now he breaks with the eloquence of romantic art but he does not reject its fundamental task, that of bearing pictorial or otherwise expressive witness to the inexpressible. The inexpressible does not reside in an over there, in another world, or another time, but in this: in that (something) happens. In the determination of pictorial art, the indeterminate, the ‘it happens’ is the paint, the picture. The paint, the picture as occurrence or event, is not expressible, and it is to this that it has to witness. (Crome and Williams, 2006, 92-93)

Lyotard’s interpretation of Newman is half stop and half yield sign, cycling between history and theory. The inexpressible, the central object, substance and jurisdiction of abstract art is, in his terms, not the surrealistic reach for a precondition, the infantile arche that unpredictably shapes the unthought (and therefore indeterminate) past event as the ‘it happened,’ a retrogressive constitution of the picture plane as an associative slip-of-the-brush; but it is the Greenbergian form that expresses, indeterminately, the noumenal paint in-and-of-itself and both constitutes, and is witness to, its static, immediate presence. Newman’s painting, Lyotard claims, as representative of the modern avant-garde, is a witness, and as such yields to the inexpressible, which, as an ‘it did not happen’ (an inexpressible ‘event’), is a negation of time. “The avant-gardist task remains that of undoing the presumption of the mind with respect to time. The sublime feeling is the name of this privation.”

For Lyotard then, the task of avant-garde formalism was to negate the passage of time in order to evoke the emotional immediacy of something felt, a something that because both timeless and inexpressible (in thought) remains unknowable to reason, and because incomprehensible, produces in us a state of apprehension that he allies with the Romantic sublime. Abstract art restricts reflection to the domain of the Kantian (pre-reasoned) understanding where corporeal sensory intuition is the only judge of a subject’s immediate, atemporal, aesthetic experience. The politics of Lyotard’s abstraction then, is predicated on its restriction of aesthetic judgment to spatial perception, stripped of its historical, temporal dimension, to a material reduction to the primacy of paint perceived as a singular event without duration. The political is aesthetically constructed as a negation of a ‘realism’ managed by a reifying narrative of representation; viewers are constructed as witnesses to the event of painting, residing out of time, and thus subjected to an ‘abstract’ possibility of some other world that lies outside the narrative, historical realism that seeks to construct them in its, and only its, terms. But what Lyotard has not considered is an art that refuses to abandon a positive abstract aesthetic encounter, as event, in which the inexpressible is made determinate through an expressible parergon, a frame that exposes what it contains by its interpretive force; an encounter in which privation, or negation, becomes historically actualized, in which the indeterminate does concretely ‘happen’ as an aesthetically knowable event in time. Other types of anti-object, anti-representational avant-garde work exist, in opposition to Lyotard’s narrow reading, which go beyond formalism’s embrace of only the negative affirmation of inexpressivity. Roloff’s work is of this type, driven by the converse impulse. His work rejects the narrow, Kantian humanism that is the foundation of the Romantic sublime that has led directly to the negation of a social relation to what is non-rational, yet literal. Instead, as Lyotard describes Newman’s political strategy, of restricting aesthetic experience to the purely spatial jurisdiction of sensory intuition, for which paint is the sovereign “something happens,” to counter rationalism’s dominance; Roloff insists on a geological aesthetics of spatial and temporal events comprised of both organic and inorganic, human and nonhuman forces that expand our spatial understanding to a planetary scale that is the very condition of the thing we call Earth.

Manhattan/Franciscan Formation (1998) is a photographically executed conceptual work that makes my theoretical discussion thus far aesthetically concrete. Using Photoshop, Roloff here digitally compresses within the figure of a ‘frame,’ an image of a Californian cliff face that exposes a minute geological section called the Franciscan Formation, to contain an “empty” or negated, white center, where instead of some expected content, we find the literal, physical presence of a wall of New York City’s gallery architecture. ‘Compression’ is here an aesthetic principle as well as technique, and requires us to imagine the juxtaposition of geological scales of space and time, (spatially so enormous and temporally so slow as virtually to reside outside human perception), to architectural scales of space and time. Symbolically, the Pacific tectonic plate (the Franciscan formation) comes to rest against the Atlantic plate (the Manhattan Formation), and geological spacetime (the time of the cliff’s formation) is juxtaposed to urban spacetime (the time of the building’s formation). Roloff has not read Derrida, and I quote the latter here only to elucidate a principle of boundary marking that is profoundly at work in most of Roloff’s work:


What is incomprehensible about the edge, about the à-bord appears not only at the internal limit, the one that passes between the frame and the painting, the clothing and the body, the column and the building, but also at the external limit. Parega [frames] have a thickness, a surface which separates them not only… from the integral inside, from the body proper of the ergon, but also from the outside, from the wall on which the painting is hung, from the space in which statue or column is erected, then, step by step, from the whole field of historical, economic, political inscriptions … No “theory,” no “practice,” no “theoretical practice” can intervene effectively in this field if it does not weigh up and bear on the frame, which is the decisive structure of what is at stake, at the invisible limit to (between) the interiority of meaning… and (to) all the empiricisms of the extrinsic which, incapable of either seeing or reading, miss the question completely. (Derrida, 1987, 61)

Derrida’s and Lyotard’s Kantianism are in sync as both assume that it is in the frame, the decisive structure that passes between reason (the interiority of meaning) and understanding (the empiricisms of the extrinsic) that the inexpressible, that which is incapable of either seeing or reading, emerges within aesthetic judgment. Aesthetic judgment is the human faculty the very function of which is to ‘reflect on,’ in order to frame, reason’s meanings and the empiricisms delivered to it by understanding’s sensory intuitions. Judgment is both the analysis of the contents of its subordinate faculties, and their synthesis in a framework that determines our integrated (sociopolitical) human action on the world. But ‘to judge’ aesthetically is better modeled by the idiom ‘to judge the quantitative distances or qualitative differences between things’ than by the discernment of truth-values. Judgments of this type, judgments of the thicknesses and surfaces between things, for the physicist Kant, were reliant on the very Newtonian conceptions of absolute space and time his three critiques aimed to justify, in order to preserve the most fundamental concept of mechanistic philosophy, causality. Causality for this cornerstone of Enlightenment rationalism, was the very definition of God. For that, (for Him) he was willing to sacrifice all human knowledge of the world in-and-of itself. But such an extreme (Puritanical) sacrifice is not necessary, in my view, if instead the self-same absoluteness of space and time (and God along with them) are sacrificed to their relativized synthesis in spacetime, a concept always uniquely determined by the comparative contexts, frames of reference, in which aesthetic judgment encounters them. Causality for contemporary science, and contemporary scientific realism generally today, is but a lower order law, subordinate to its opposite, chance and indeterminacy, to a world recognized as unpredictable, described at best by probabilities and complexity patterns whose abord are only loosely determined, fluctuating, dynamic events resistant to complete description, and therefore to some degree always inherently inexpressible. The problem this state of scientific affairs raises for aesthetic judgment, and specifically for any account of spatiotemporal practices, is to establish, to express, the paradoxical lawless autopoeisis of the world in the context of relativistic frames of reference.


Franciscan/Manhattan Formation is exactly the kind of “theoretical practice” that is capable of effective intervention because it functions as a model of aesthetic judgment adapted to causeless, lawless scientific realism. Not only is it directly about the àbord, the frame, the parergon, but it passes between the body proper of the building’s wall that is the photograph’s integral inside, and what so centrally defines the continental USA – it’s west and east coasts and all that they represent in cultural, economic, and political terms. The central USA is figuratively elided, and the cultural centrality of the ‘east coast/ west coast’ ‘edgy’ urbanity made explicit. But it also passes between the discourses of art and science, between the latent fascia unconsciously tying image making, architecture, and geology together. By negating the center where the work would usually lie, the white field negatively recalls the materiality of the architecture; the visualization of geological compression – the Californian coastline cliff transformed into a ‘frame’ – forces the association with the compression of brick that makes the building possible. Architecture is here rendered as geology; while the art market is made to subtend the enormous expenditure of resources, economic and material, of a building in midtown New York; raising the question of the art market’s location and dominance by refusing it any other ergon (work) than its own, non-salable, non-negotiable gallery walls. Art as frame is the mediating link between what Spivak has proposed as an alternative term for ‘globalization,’ the planetary, and one of the most trenchant creations and symbols of modernity, the city. (Spivak, 2003, 21-102) Roloff’s negative aesthetics provocatively raises the cultural stakes of modernity to a planetary perspective, one that carries us far beyond both rationalist and nationalist borders. He requires that we radically readjust our interpretive lenses to the spatial and temporal scales of a geological aesthetics in order to recognize that the Earth itself is literally, materially the spatial compression of time.





I now turn to Roloff’s photo/process works to show how he is able to reverse the negative affirmation of inexpressivity of the modern avant-garde, and instead affirm an aesthetics of negative expressivity. Rather than negating the representational index as Newman does in his abstract painting, Roloff takes photographs of highly symbolic and historically significant objects and events, and subjects them to a temporal process of negation. In works like, Metabolism Study (Falling Knight), Metabolism Study (Yamishiro), and Robes I & 2, we discover not a temporal nihilism, but the elision of the durations between different temporal moments in order to make historical comparisons. The first work [Top] takes the romantic figure of the knight, at the moment of death, as symbolic of all defenders of state power, subjecting this indexical icon to the organic processes of chemical entropy as the citric acid of orange slices undermine the image fixed in the photo paper’s silver nitrate substrate. The second image [Middle] performs the same negation of the equally iconic World War II Japanese battleship, and by metonymic implication, the war’s entire global event. The third work [Bottom] takes art history itself, and its mode of realist depiction of the period’s powerful elite, in order to make the comparative alliance between three distinct historical frames of reference and their distinct modes of representation. Rather than using abstraction as a human process of negation of indexical realism (Newman’s authorial painting-event), Roloff’s uses the scientific, natural processes of chemistry to express the very process of decay, and its erasure of representation, itself. The indexical, realist space of photographic representation is subjected to the temporal process of chemical entropy. Historical periods, their icons, and their representations of power are subordinated to the temporal inevitability of material death.

If Lyotard’s Newman displaces the Romantic sublime from standing before nature ‘over there,’ to the act of painting itself as event, then the sublime has been brought out of nature and into the human sphere; though in its specifically atemporal, spatial dimension, and as a record (a witnessing) of the historical encounter between painter and the inexpressible. The elements of time Roloff engages are, in contrast, both the completed past event (the death of historical icons) and an indeterminately futurist one (the chemical catabolic reactions between photographic and organic materials). His work compresses the time of a cultural memory of medieval Europe, the Renaissance , and World War II, and some complex and unpredictable future moment when the entropic, chemical processes completely efface the photographic trace of a spatially fixed temporal moment.

Roloff’s photo-process works are simultaneously an object and an event. On the material level, the work is an event in which the ordered, negentropic photographic image is then chemically fused with the entropic, chemical process of oranges decaying. On the semiotic level, history and memory, (the figures of the knight, war ship, and Van Eyk paintings) as ephemeral textual episodes – oranges as symbols of the Golden Horde, as portals into mortality and beyond, as subatomic events, as the star systems that fuel life and which will eventually exhaust themselves – erode by the same material forces that generate them. Embodied signs empty themselves of rational meaning with the passage of time, as the sensory image is destroyed by catabolic, molecular events, and the art work is itself the frame within which aesthetic judgment is made. Time is that which runs out, not merely psychically, but materially; not just individually, but cosmically. These metabolically expressed ‘privations’ are concretized events happening as long as the work happens. By literally embodying time and entropic forces, the literalization of the negative moment, Roloff affirms an aesthetic judgment that assumes the form of negative expressivity.

But such an aesthetics has value only in the negative distance between the terms it sets in opposition, between space and time. This distance has collapsed in Roloff’s work. His aesthetic practice aims to erase the distinctions between a series of terms that each depend on a more fundamental one; between organic, physical processes and the human-as-autonomous; between indexicality and abstraction; between history and the present; between signifier and signified; between the synchronic and diachronic. Each of these dualisms is possible only in an Enlightenment regime of common, perceptual sense grounded in the false separation of space and time. How are we to comprehend that part of the ‘image’ where citric acid temporally unbinds the silver nitrate molecules and disorders the spatial indexicality of representation? What do the orange slices and their entropic chemical, image-destroying traces signify? What else but what they literally, factually are – metabolic breakdown, the something happening in time, which is the negation of representation itself? But happening to something else, the photographic images of the dying knight, the sinking ship, the inverted Renaissance elite. What Roloff is able to powerfully, literally express in a ‘work’ of art, is the ‘work’ of negation of an aesthetic that assumes that space and time are independent of each other. I emphasize the figure of ‘work’ here to suggest labour, production, the bringing of something into existence. The raw material of this labour is not simply citric acid and photographic paper, but the spatial image imprinted on it, and then chemically obliterated, in time. In Roloff’s ‘work,’ space and time reciprocally negate each other by abandoning their absolute self-sameness, and difference from the other, and their absolute independence. What comes to be positively expressed is an entirely other animal – the co-creative object-event of spacetime.

What we witness is nothing like Newman’s static, atemporal painting event; but the spatio-temporal event of our normative, 19th century geometric imaginary exhausting itself, incapable of submitting to the sole judgment of sensory intuition. The knight’s death is reenacted, in our imminent present, as its semiotic and symbolic dimensions are erased, subordinated to the temporal process of chemical erasure. Because Roloff embodies as natural process the interaction between physical and semiotic systems, the artwork becomes an autonomous, autopoetic object-event, in which historical, Enlightenment anthropomorphism is itself the object of entropy. If, as Lyotard suggested, “The avant-gardist task remains that of undoing the presumption of the mind with respect to time” then, Roloff’s work suggests a radical solution to ‘undoing the presumption of the mind with respect to time that undoes the learned, space and time conventions of the Kantian mind. The avant-gardist task is not the mere passive witnessing of emergent proto-subjectivities of perception, but their very invention, the invention of a geometric imaginary commensurate with the shifting, changing, self-different frames of spacetime relativism.

My comments so far have aimed to contextualize some of Roloff’s aesthetic and philosophical principles necessary to comprehend his work. To repeat what I’ve said above, his works constitute post-Enlightenment, aesthetic judgments of spacetime that collaborate with physio-chemical processes and interactions between natural and human systems, where the artwork becomes an autonomous, autopoetic object-event, and anthropomorphism, human action on the world, is viewed in anti-representational terms, destructive and entropic. Roloff inverts 19th century Romanticism that took ‘nature’ to be a transcendental, creative and sublime force; for him, the human-nature relationship is imminently, tragically, catastrophic. What I will continue to elaborate is how his work shifts from negation of the regime of representation explored in his photographic work, to landscape and architectural works in which spacetime imaginaries are raised to full four-dimensionality at a literalized planetary scale that constructs viewers as geologists and meterologists, as those with an uncommon perceptual imagination able to comprehend spacetime scales measured in such trans-human units as climate, millennia, and terranes.[i]



A considerable part of Roloff’s art practice has been devoted to complex, large-scale public art projects. \] My analysis turns now to Seventh Climate: Paradise Reconsidered (2006-8), commissioned by Seattle’s Public Art program in 2006 for the I-5 Colonnade Park in Washington, USA. This work, like his radical, sculptural treatment of photography, breaks with both Rosalind Krauss’s taxonomy of sculpture in the expanded field, and that of public art, commonly sieved into the categories of plop, site-specific, and site-generated public art. (Krauss, 1979) Though the I-5 project might be described as some combination of the latter two categories, as we will see, it expands the ‘field’ so far that a description of this sort soon proves pointless. Krauss’s spatial metaphor – the field – and the art practices she famously used in her semiotic square to deconstruction it, are far too discipline-specific, and far too art historically predetermined to account for Roloff’s public works. The ‘field’ in Krauss’s use in deliberately polysemous, referring to the field of art history and theory, to the ‘field’ of artistic practice, and to the ‘field’ of semiotic analysis. None of these ‘fields’ is adequate to account for Roloff’s aesthetic use of climate. The one connotation of ‘field’ that would be serviceable here, that of ‘force field,’ escapes her analysis. A force field, the essential instrument for describing and understanding spacetime, is the general description of the ‘site’ to which Seventh Climate is specific, and from which it is, literally, generated.


On initial visual inspection, Seventh Climate (Paradise Reconsidered) is an elegant and relatively simple work. Developed from the concept of a palm tree forest spreading among the ‘forest’ of highway columns,  Roloff radically simplified his original design to a dramatic, almost science fictional vignette, a biological play taking place in the cavernous concrete theater of the I-5 colonnades. Consisting of just four species, the imported Asian trees are representative migrants each from different climates, biomes and terrains alien to those of contemporary Seattle, planted to form a ‘single,’ suggestively mutated arboreal organism growing wondrously up through a ground plane consisting of recycled concrete, where roots, trunks, branches and leaves morph in mutual accommodation, and share the same futuristic, urban, newly emergent ecosystem – the 7th climate. Roloff uses space here as a transmutation of time, in a hermeneutically quite rich way; the concrete ground plane refers simultaneously to three temporalities – to its biological present moment as the young trees grow to maturity, to the imagined inevitability of a future entropic demise of the freeway above, and to the construction materials of the neighborhoods that were destroyed in 1959/1960 to make room for I-5’s mega-structure.

It is important to recognize though that the imaginary, symbolic registers of the work are subordinated to its empirical, literal conditions; the work’s success entirely depends on that of the genuinely experimental planting of the four species of biotically different trees in a general climate (that of Seattle) alien to them, and one that is particularly hostile to flora of their type, the freeway’s desiccated, dark and shadowy underspace. In order to overcome this inhospitable environment, Roloff was required to provide the water and light necessary for Seventh Climate’s survival. His solution was not simply pragmatic, but the main aesthetic principle of the work. To sustain the sole multi-species denizen of this ‘paradise,’ he chose to also stage, or rather restage, the temporal setting in which this seventh climate is “reconsidered.” After determining that I-5 was built in 1961, Roloff installed precision, elevated mist/rain emission and solar and moonlight lighting systems controlled by a complex computer program, to simulate the weather patterns for Seattle during the entire year 1960. In effect, he theatrically expanded the aesthetic field to include ecological and Gaian principles, materials and their agents – interdependency, homeostasis, the urban gardener, and the technologist – as the protagonists of an environmental polemic, and a moving tribute to the victims of “urban renewal,” staged beneath the relentless flow of the mechanical, environmentally destructive highway traffic above, and the spread of Seattle’s cityscape that forms the work’s backdrop. Collectively, these agents define the parameters of the force field that is the parergon of this complex work.


We find in Seventh Climate all of the themes discussed above in the photo works. Here he uses the elevated roadway and the space beneath as a 3D parergon to create an anachronistic 4D spacetime warp. The cumulative effect of the year-long light and precipitation simulation is a symbolic and actual form of his negative aesthetics; in Roloff’s words, Seventh Climate “dissolves” or “makes-transparent” the freeway above the work’s main mise-en-scène by restoring the climate of precipitation and illumination that existed before the freeway’s construction. His work temporally displaces the site, negates its present environmental conditions both symbolically and literally, by returning it to its meteorological past. He intervenes in the historical, economic, and political ‘fields’ of inscriptions by refiguring this urban mise en abîme in a double sense; as a traumatic memory, and as an optimistic, possible return to ‘paradise.’ The work is therefore not only a monument of tragedy beneath a monument to the ideology of progress; Seventh Climate is simultaneously an invitation to “reconcile and engage with each other, to form new relationships across bio-geographic, meta-ecological boundaries and languages, and to question cultural, industrial, and natural interdependency, collaboration, and production.”


Roloff’s works express a radical ecological consciousness of the networked fabric of all energetic systems, within a parergon that is powerfully and poetically figured as an historical, spacetime object-event. Its theatrical structure and its dramaturgy construct a new type of spectatorial gaze, one that must be expanded to that of the geologist, ecologist, and meteorologist, an agent whose perception is that of time traveler with a god’s-eye-view akin to an astronomer able to perceive in the spatiotemporal units of planetary dimension and epochal duration. Roloff’s intent is to force us to contemplate just how limited and inadequate is our inherited Enlightenment sensorium when compared to the temporalities and spatialities of ecological, geological and meteorological spacetime. Spatiotemporal scale shifts of this magnitude, in Roloff’s hands, expand the sculptural imaginary all the way to infinity. Infinity is in fact the àbord, the edge against which paradise must be reconsidered, because in fact, humankind are now firmly up against it, up against very finite climatic limits that are quickly diminishing. Enlightenment spatiotemporality makes a forceful argument for just how imaginary, ephemeral, and artificial human territorializing has been, and is. Roloff’s work is an aesthetic expression of what Freud once called the Copernican revolution: just as Copernicus argued that the universe was heliocentric and that the apparently stationary earth moved around it; just as Darwin placed humans in the evolutionary chain of chance operations of natural selection; and just as Freud himself decentered and destabilized human psychology and consciousness by placing it in an orbit controlled by the Id’s love and death drives; so Roloff’s avant-gardist task is the undoing of the presumptions of the mind with respect to spacetime, in order to displace us from the narrow perceptions of a world in which space and time are narrowly conceived only as absolute, independent, abstract entities.


I will end with a brief reflection on an earlier work, Metabolism & Mortality/O2, (1992) that consists of two opposing, spherical, sculptural forms; an only apparently empty greenhouse (Metabolism), and a kiln (Mortality/O2) that figures an exploding star. Roloff’s describes the work in this way.

Sited along what was the drip line and furthest lateral extent of a large, now dead beech tree… are the project’s two principal elements: Furnace Element and Greenhouse Element. These two instruments symbolically represent the beech tree’s past life and current death systems on both macro and molecular levels. Furnace and Greenhouse were envisioned as ions of an oxygen molecule (O2) separated by the primal and arboreal forces of entropy and dissolution but are still united and activated by similar thermal processes: the Furnace by ignition of fossil fuels developed by the photosynthesis of sunlight in ancient forests and their subsequent geologic distillation, and the Greenhouse by collecting and demonstrating the present fluctuations in contemporaneous solar energy. The solar heat within the Greenhouse is measured differentially from the outside atmosphere by its internal thermometers.



The àbord, the parergon, the edge and the frame, are given particularly elegant form here. Roloff’s entire spatiotemporal practice achieves a taut, minimalist resolution in the two temperature gauges. Almost every aspect of his work is condensed in them; allegory, narrative, environmental contemplation of the invisible, continuously fluctuating forces of nature, negative aesthetic judgment based on spacetime, the interpolation of subjectivity as caught in the aporia between organic and inorganic, global systems that suspend anthropomorphic egoism, and the interactive connectivity of all things and its imminent demise. Roloff’s entire experimental oeuvre finds a fitting representative in this particular work that ironically implies a fundamental refutation of Protagoras’s famous claim: man is NOT the measure of all things. For the aesthetic philosophy that informs his practice, he has coined the term, synthetic ecology, with which I conclude:


Synthetic ecology strongly argues against the concept that nature is “unknowable” or even at many levels distinguishable from humanity. Synthetic ecology morphs into trans-scientific forms of empathetic vitalism/aesthetics, über-deep ecology, and themes of alignment, indivisibility, and equilibrium between living and non-living systems.

Roloff here suggests that ‘our synthetic planet’ is knowable through empathy, through our latent ability to emotionally identify with our inseparable spacetime Other, nature, and constructs us as Seventh Climatologist-Witnesses to the force field fluctuations of the temperature gauges in the Greenhouse as the Furnace burns on the drip line beneath the dead Beach Tree. His aesthetic judgment is that spacetime in our ‘enlightened’ anthropo(s)cene is quickly running out.

Reference List:

Crome, K., and Williams, J, eds., 1996. The Lyotard Reader and Guide. New York: Columbia University Press.

Derrida, J., 1987. The Truth of Painting. Translated from French by G. Bennington, and I. Mcleod. Chicago: Chicago Univeristy Press.

Krauss, R., 1979. Sculpture in the Expanded Field. October, Vol. 8., Spring issue, pp. 30-44.

Spivak, G., 2003. Death of a Discipline. New York: Columbia University Press.

[i] Reads are alerted that the term “terrane” is a geological terms distinct from its homonym, terrain. A terrane is an often very large fault-bounded area or region with a distinctive stratigraphy, structure, and geological history, sometimes referred to as a proto-continent.



further to the previous post about the geometric imaginary… john roloff’s geological imaginary: draft. AND, in relation to my posts on paul demarinis, with only a nod so far, to bernie lubell [more to come on his work]

the non-euclidian geometric imaginary and the approach to a ‘scientific-aesthetic’: draft

this was written around 2002.. but, abandoned because it was erroneously judged as incorrect… but it’s fundamental here for many reasons to be further elaborated:

On the Geometric Imaginary

Since this introduction cannot be a full history, let it be more anecdotal and suggestive of the elements in the field I want to bring into focus, and the problems they entail.

This field includes but is not limited to the “truth and beauty school of aesthetics.” For this school, as for idealistic philosophy, mathematics is the model of truth, grounding its aesthetic approach largely on composition, specifically on geometric order, through which it attempts to achieve perfect proportionality by deploying naturalized criteria like the golden section and dynamic rectangles.[i] Perspective follows the same logic, bringing the “real” into visuality. Most of the work of the European periods from the Renaissance through Modernism actually practiced, or are considered to have practice, these same strategies. Because these artists claim to be imitating natural truth, modeled on a Pythagorean, mathematical essentialism, they practice a variety of Platonic idealism; the truth of any proposition is deduced from a set of “self-evident” definitions and axioms, and the simplest proof is the most “elegant” or beautiful, and as such is a representative of the ideal truth. The epistemological strategy of the geometric imaginary here, is to establish “visual truth” through what might be called “visual deduction” of the “true” arrangement of the artwork’s parts to the ideal, perfectly expressed whole, as derived from already accepted aesthetic-geometric truths – those of the golden mean, dynamic rectangles and perspective. This process, when articulated in this way, does indeed qualify as a form of scientific-aesthetic. The art historical narrative is now hackneyed.

What is not is to consider this aesthetic-geometric imaginary an epistemological method in practice that governs the invention/interpretation of content, as it’s form. Art historical interpretation speaks primarily in terms of iconography, of form, of the product, of the building or fresco that results from the application. It speaks in terms of the development of the visualization of the “real.” However, it has been pointed out in recent years that perspective is a disciplinary technology comparable to the disciplinary practices revealed by Foucault.[ii] While these accounts have done much to deconstruct the naturalization of perspective as constituting the “real” of visuality, they haven’t gone so far as to claim that this aesthetic-geometrical imaginary has the status of an epistemological strategy; in other words, blinded by the historical conditions that deny thought to artists, they have not interpreted these visual practices as a methods of producing visual form that cannot be reduced to the geometrical principles of perspective formulated by Brunelleschi, Alberti et. al.[iii] Nor can they be reduced solely to the tradition of platonic idealism and its truth and beauty axiom.

Though I must leave it without demonstration here, my claim is that the dominance of philosophical, historical discourses have failed to give this variety of visual epistemology a role sufficient to its impact in the construction of cultural world views; artists represent cultural knowledges, so goes the standard narrative, but not because of knowledge “inherent” to their epistemological practice, but merely because they arise from epistemologies of other practices. Artists are always reduced to illustrators of the principles of other disciplines.

Morris Kline’s description of Leonardo is typical:

Nevertheless, Leonardo did not fully grasp the true method of science. In fact, he had no methodology, nor any underlying philosophy. His work was that of a practical investigator of nature, motivated by aesthetic drives but otherwise undirected. (1972:224)

Coeval with the rise of perspective and its aesthetic-geometric productions, was another “tradition” that to my knowledge remains unacknowledged. One artist worked according to another principle, not reducible to those of the idealist, platonic school. Piero della Francesca is a prominent member of the Renaissance canon, but incorrectly assimilated to the tradition just described. It is true that his works use idealized forms. And though the spatial configurations of his paintings conformed to the laws of perspective, and he wrote one of the most widely used books on the subject for artists, his visualization practices also interfered with it. Flat vertical planes of walls interrupt the depiction of perspectivally ordered spatial volumes. He was not interested in the visualization of coherent wholes that subjected visual logic to a singular visualized “truth.” He works offered representations of disjunctive spaces and times out of sync with the perfectly constructed wholes of perspective. While not denied in his work, perspective is but one among other options in his aesthetic-geometric imaginary. Hence, his spatial investigations are far more complex than the geometrical reductivism in other work of this period.

This begins to make sense once we know the following fact. della Francesca was the only Italian of his day to invent a new mathematical concept. He invented a form of mathematics, in anticipation of what would eventually become, with Liebniz and Newton, the integral calculus. It was both a descriptive and constructive method determining the gradient of the curvature of a body. He used it to construct the gradient of curvature of the human head.[iv] The implication here is that his interest in the curvature of bodies, the very particular curvature of very particular bodies, pointed toward a geometric practice not reducible to planar, Euclidean geometric methods of construction of curves based on the circle, and on the assemblages of circular arcs to produced more complex curves. His system was at once constructive, and numerical. To the degree that it was numerical, it moved away from the assumed standards of the geometric imaginary of his day, based as they were on the ideal of ‘self-evidently’ intuited spatial perspectives. Arithmetic techniques retreat from the privileged arena of sight, and from the hegemony of geometry, tending toward the formalisms of algebraic unrepresentability. Francesca’s epistemological practices must be considered in contrast to the strict linear logic of perspective, generated by the grided determinations of vanishing points. His imagines a more complex spatial world then other artists of his time. One that begins to question the very possibility of representation. Hence, his planar interruptions of deep perspectival space is in league with his pursuit of the curve and its methods of constructing them. It is thus to him, that I want to ascribe the historical emergence of an epistemological process uniquely formative of the scientific-aesthetic, in its geometric form.

After Francesca, we skip more than 250 years to the work of the Jesuit priest and mathematics professor at Pavia, Gerolamo Saccheri, whose works fall in with attempts to prove the truth of Euclid’s fifth postulate, the parallel postulate, through the long accepted technique of the reductio ad absurdum (the method of demonstrating the correctness of a proposition by reducing its assumed opposite to contradiction). In his attempt to prove the fifth postulate, Saccheri produced a series of theorems following from a line of thought that did not lead to contradiction. The results, however, were too bizarre for him to accept, and he simply pronounced them false. This story also follows a well-worn historical narrative. Saccheri’s work led to several moments in the history of mathematics that need recapitulation here. These moments illustrate the process by which a radical geometrical imaginary emerged, and was then again repressed. The fact of this repression is interesting by itself, but the reasons are far more compelling.

In 1763, the German mathematician Georg Klugel

made the remarkable observation that the certainty with which men accepted the truth of the Euclidean parallel axiom was based on experience. This observation introduced for the first time the thought that experience rather than self-evidence substantiated the axioms. (Kline 1972: 868)

Klugel’s work was taken up in 1766 (not published until 1786) by Johann Lambert, who realized

that any body of hypotheses which did not lead to contradictions offered a possible geometry. Such a geometry would be a valid logical structure even though it might have little to do with real figures. (Kline 1972: 868)

We witness here a double epistemological extension of mathematics; extension to “experience” as the ground of “certainty,” and the extension of what was considered properly “logical” beyond “real” figures. But as Kline points out, Lambert’s recognition, while remarkable, doesn’t make the leap from logical consistency as mathematical statements, to applications to physical space. This was achieved by Carl Gauss beginning in 1799 when he reports in a letter to Bolyai that he has begun “to doubt the truth of geometry itself.” But it was not until 1813 that he used the term non-Euclidean geometry. In 1817, in a letter to Olbers, he writes:

I am becoming more and more convinced that the [physical] necessity for our [Euclidean] geometry cannot be proved, at least not by human reason nor for human reason. Perhaps in another life we will be able to obtain insight into the nature of space, which is now unattainable. Until then we must place geometry not in the same class with arithmetic, which is purely a priori, but with mechanics. (Kline 1972: 872)

These three historical moments, when combined, lead to, for this moment in history (the early 19th century), a radical philosophical position; one for which the very premise of logical truth, self-evidence (mathematical reason) is insufficient; for which “experience” is the ground of axioms; for which a multiplicity of geometries based on noncontradictory sets of axioms exists; and for which geometry, no longer founded solely on a priori principles, must be treated physically as a subset of mechanics. The implication is that non-Euclidean geometries are equally applicable to physical space as to abstract, logical space; that Euclidean space is not the only form of geometry that may account for physical space. The transfer to mechanics, and proof of Gauss’s claim, required almost another century.

In his essay, “General Investigations of Curved Surfaces,” Gauss considered a surface as a space in itself. This is a radical departure from any previous mathematical conceptions of space, still under the Newtonian dominance of absoluteness, homogeneity, etc. Gauss showed that all of the properties of a surface space can be determined by the second derivative, the process by which the rate of curvature is determined. In other words, for mathematical purposes, one can forget that the surface lies in a 3D space. If one takes the “straight lines” of this surface as geodesics, (the shortest line between two points on a surface, not necessarily “straight,” as in the case of the spherical geometry), then the geometry becomes non-Euclidean. If the sphere is considered to be located in 3D space, then its geometry is Euclidean (i.e., the shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line not lying on the surface). This is as far as Gauss went. An even more radical step was taken by his student, Bernard Riemann, in a lecture delivered in 1854 entitled: “On the Hypotheses which Lie at the Bases of Geometry.” Riemann clearly realized that spherical geometry implies a geometry unique to the characteristic of its surface conditions. What is of significance to us here is the shift from an absolute hegemony of Euclidean space to a fracturing of space into myriad varieties.

With this concept, we arrive at a mathematical correlate to concept of multiplicity as understood by Nietzsche and Deleuze. We must also recognize that this movement came about through a metonymic process equivalent to Derrida’s concept of differance. The concepts of intrinsic and extrinisic geometries arises in a way analogous to the use of “inside” and “outside” in deconstruction. The intrinsic geometry is the surface geometry of the sphere independent of it’s location in 3D space. Extrinsic geometry would be the 3D space in which spherical geometry exists. But there is no necessity which compels us to “zoom out” to a privileged Euclidean container. Euclidean space is one species of space among many. Indeed, in “physical” terms, Euclidean space becomes a special case of non-Euclidean spaces. One main result is: the same surface can have different geometries. A second implications is the reverse of this: the Pythagorean formula is only one functional expression of the second derivative; in other words, dx2 + dy2 + dz2 could be replaced by other functional expressions, thereby determining within the conventional frame of Cartesian rectangular coordinates, a non-Euclidean geometry. This is what Riemann did. We may see this as a significant, mathematical break with essentialism, one which undermines the Platonic, idealist philosophical schools that predicate “truth” on the model of mathematical certainty. Again, the significance is that the concept of “whole,” or “unity,” is simply eliminated. There is no whole, only parts, which are at most unities only in signification, or under the semiotic dominance of interpretive trajectories. This is a clear alliance with Nietzsche’s “perspectivism.” What has yet to be determined, however, is the impact on aesthetics.

In the service of being brief, I will summarize three further points to illustrate the historical reasons that non-Euclidean concepts have had so little impact. Interestingly, at least according to Kline, the reason lies with mathematicians themselves on the one hand, and on the other with physicists, who are responsible for the erroneous popularization of the legendary difficulty of relativity theory (the cliché, “only three people in the world understood the theory at its inception”).

Kline points out that Helmholtz, in his fundamental paper, “On the Facts Which Underlie Geometry,”

showed that if the motions of rigid bodies are to be possible in a space then Riemann’s expression for ds (the derivative) in a space of constant curvature is the only one possible. (1972: 921)

Helmholtz’s point was that for a mathematical description of observed physical motions of the types of bodies physics specified, then the concept of constant curvature was a necessary condition; and that it was exactly this that Riemannian geometry provided. Hence, of the myriad possible geometries, only this was adequate for physical description of observed phenomena. What happens next is characteristic of the power and hold of the Euclidean imaginary. It is re-naturalized by very influential mathematicians and scientific institutions. Despite Helmholtz’s paper, as Kline points out:

Another reason for the loss of interest in the non-Euclidean geometries was their seeming lack of relevance to the physical world….. Cayley, Klein, and Poincare, though they considered this matter, affirmed that we would not ever need to improve on or abandon Euclidean geometry…. In fact, most mathematicians regarded non-Euclidean geometry as a logical curiosity. (1972: 921)

Cayley was the president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 1883, at about the same time Nietzsche was writing Thus Spake Zarathrustra, claimed in an address to the BAAS:

… that non-Euclidean spaces were a priori a mistaken idea, but non-Euclidean geometries were acceptable because they resulted merely from a change in the distance function in Euclidean space. (1972: 922)

Cayley thereby threw the weight of the prestigious BAAS behind the suppression of the more radical thought, thus re-founding “common sense” on the basis of traditional Euclidean notions. What is compelling here, and can only be briefly indicated, is the role played by institutions, prestigious reputations, models of the physical world, and an ideological commitment to methodological blindness. It is here that a discussion of Kuhn’s turn toward the role of aesthetics in scientific motivations will be useful, independently of whether his position on paradigm shifts is adequate or not. What it is important to note here is that the availability of a non-Euclidean imaginary arose briefly in the mid 19th century, only to be lost because of its demotion to the status of a “logical curiosity,” a position essentially equivalent to Saccheri’s during the Renaissance. Once again, British imperial institutions work in the service of suppression of cultural opportunities.

That non-Euclidean geometry, and in particular, its Riemannian version, was retrieved and given renewed credibility by the work of Einstein is well known. The language with which he conceptualized this shift deserves to be revisited.

The only justification for our concepts and system of concepts is that they serve to represent the complex of our experiences; beyond this they have no legitimacy. I am convinced that the philosophers have had a harmful effect upon the progress of scientific thinking in removing certain fundamental concepts from the domain of empiricism, where they are under our control, to the intangible heights of the a priori. (1955: 2)


In this sense, we cannot speak of space in the abstract, but only of the “space belonging to a body A.” The earth’s crust plays such a dominant role in our daily life in judging the relative positions of bodies that it has led to an abstract conception of space which certainly cannot be defended. In order to free ourselves from this fatal error we shall speak only of “bodies of reference,” or “space of reference.” (1955: 3)

Not only does Einstein retrieve the Gauss-Riemann-Hemholtz non-Euclidiean break with mathematical abstraction, and its embodiment in physics, but his acknowledgement of this historical recovery is significant. It signals an end, scientifically, not only to the dominance of Newtonian conceptions of absolute space and time, but also, in general, to the idealism of the truth and beauty schools of science, mathematics, philosophy and because based on these, to aesthetics. Einstein’s clear allusion to the damage Kant and his followers have done to science, (though as Kline has pointed out, mathematicians and physicisits share equal blame), while creating an entirely new conception and language for spacetime, has had little impact on the reception of Kant’s aesthetic theories. This is in part because of the legendary, if erroneous, conception that relativity theory is just too difficult for anyone but geniuses to understand. This in turn, as astrophysicist, Chandresekhar points us, has had and equally pernicious effect on scientific thinking. Yet, Einstein’s condemnation of philosophy is consistent with, and “foundational” to, Adorno’s call for the right proportion between practical experience and philosophic contemplation.

A scientific-aesthetic must thus, be one consistent with the challenge to Kant’s essentializing of Euclidean space and time. The question I wish to pose is how to develop a scientific-aesthetic on the basis of non-Euclidian, physically geometric, grounds? If the requirements of relativity, of speaking only of bodies and spaces of reference, in spacetime frames, is imposed on aesthetic interpretation and aesthetic production, what would be the results?

It is worth pointing out that Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason was written in the years 1769-80 and published in 1781 at the same moment as the works of Klugel and Lambert, also published in Germany. The Critique of Judgment was published in Berlin in 1790, after Gauss had come to entertain the fact that non-Euclidean geometries could account for physical space as well as Euclidean spaces. And yet, Kant does not take into consideration any of these developments, and sets the course for aesthetics through a geometric imaginary that naturalized Euclidean space and time. We are faced with the chiasmic historical trajectories of a mathematics and physics turning to a non-Euclidean geometric imaginary, briefly, on the scientific hand, and on the philosophical hand, with an aesthetics mired in a Renaissance, Cartesian geometric imaginary able to maintain its cultural hegemony firstly, because of the mathematical coup that derailed the non-Euclidean from emerging; and secondly, because the non-Euclidean then became hostage to a physics accessible only to a tiny elite. A turn to a non-Euclidean “imaginary” is therefore a turn to something which either does not yet exist, or exists but is not recognized as such, or cannot exist.

The aesthetic component of the scientific-aesthetic must therefore derive from mathematics and physics rather than from art. And the scientific component must derive from art, because some artists are indeed investigating the non-Euclidean that some domains of math and science still eschew, or perform investigations that might at least lead to what a non-Euclidean-aesthetic might be. This requires a radical break not only from Kant, but from a naturalized privileging of sensory perception as Euclidean. The project is to begin a process by which an “aesthetics” based on a non-Euclidean geometry may begin to be “imagined.” Such an imagined scientific-aesthetic will be quite different than the truth and beauty school of traditional, Kantian aesthetics. It may best arise, I claim, in the gaps opened by the space of differance opened by Mallarme; but entered by Roussel, Artaud and Kafka in a “literary” appropriation based not on narrative, but on a challenge to master narratives, to signification, and to language itself. Roussel used a mechanico-chance method to produce his “novels,” an extra-linguistic process through which language is produced. Similarly, Artuad sought in his Theater of Cruelty, not “psychological states” of identification between audience and actors, but “spiritual states” expressed “between gesture and language,” based on bodies moving in relations that suggest meanings language prohibits. Kafka sought a writing which mobilized the non-Germanic components of German through mobilizing the non-written elements of Yiddish and the dialectical components of the Chech German dialect, mobilizing systems of extra-semiotic exchange. It is in this work, that a literary representation may diverge into a non-literary art practice situated and oriented with reference to what Derrida, speaking of Artaud, calls the closure of representation.[v] This is a complex term with several meanings; here I will only say that it refers to the problem of subtracting unity from multiplicity; to the necessity of limiting theory to a metonymic range. In Einstein’s language, we may speak “only of the space belonging to a body A.” We can only recover the non-Euclidean potential repressed by Kant’s work, however, within a critique of science that begins the deconstructive project. Still, we must be careful not to privilege the non-Euclidean over the Euclidean. We must recover the non-Euclidean moment of the late 19th century, and use it to re-erase the hegemony of the Euclidean imaginary today.

Methodologically, by stepping “outside” science and into art, we may criticize science; and, by stepping “outside” of art and into mathematics, we may criticize art. Art, in its dominant expression, continues to aid the Euclidean imaginary; one need only look at Modernism’s commitment to pure, positivistic expressionism based in a rigorous reduction to Euclidean elements. The flat plane, more than anything, is the symbol of standardization, the absolute, the rational, embodied in its most ideal form by the grid. What could be more Cartesian? And this commitment has not lessened during the post-modern period, though formalism is not the driving force. It is because art and science are so unconsciously intertwined, that I pursue the pendulous trajectories between both discourses.


[i] There is a large body of work that goes by the general term, sacred geometry, that addresses these issues. Much of it speculative, popular, and often of a new age sensibility, though some of it is scholarly work as well. See Bruno (1967), Dunlap (1997), Ghyka (1946, 1952, 1958) Hambidge (1920, 1924, 1962), Hartel (1988), Huntley (1970), Lesser (1957), Pennick (1980), Vajda (1989).

[ii] Crary (1990), Foster, (1988).

[iii] Baxandall (1988), Panofsky (1990).

[iv] See, Baxandall (1988). Today, his mathematical techniques are still used by the airline industry in the design of airplane bodies.

[v] “The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation,” in Derrida (1978: 232).

the non-euclidian geometric imaginary and the approach to a ‘scientific-aesthetic’: draft

moondog, another example of a great artist known, somewhat, locally [NYC] but only a shadow, if that, within the music art world/market

once again, i thank my great interlocutor, GUN, for sending this to me in response to recent posts, or, just because:

Moondog dressed as Odin.jpghos

Moondog (born Louis Thomas Hardin; May 26, 1916 – September 8, 1999) was an American musician, composer, theoretician, poet and inventor of several musical instruments. He was blind from the age of 16.

Moondog lived in New York from the late 1940s until 1972, and during this time he could often be found on 6th Avenue, between 52nd and 55th Streets, wearing a cloak and a horned helmet sometimes busking or selling music, but often just standing silently on the sidewalk. He was widely recognized as “the Viking of 6th Avenue” by thousands of passersby and residents who weren’t aware of his musical career.

for those not aware, Bird, was the nick name for the great jazz musician/composer, charlie parker. Moondog’s tribute to him is nothing less than brilliant, 1969, i think…


moondog, another example of a great artist known, somewhat, locally [NYC] but only a shadow, if that, within the music art world/market