[-empyre-] regarding grief and mourning

Charles Baldwin Charles.Baldwin at mail.wvu.edu
Mon Oct 15 08:14:30 EST 2012

I am way behind on processing and responding to all the posts. I
appreciate the discussion: it's been wide-ranging and challenging. I
want to return to an earlier thread - feel free to ignore this
back-tracking. While I've been fascinated by everything, I want to pick
out Johannes' discussion of "Wagner is a fungus" (etc.). It begins:
"it's not easy to write about grief and mourning, to comment on other's
(Monika's) reports of others crying or feeling sadness of happiness." I
think the difficulty he starts with is central: the difficulty and
confusion between the forms and genres of expressing pain (e.g. grief,
mourning) and the pain "itself," and with this the communities and
structures of reception that handle (or not) this difficulty. For me
this was an extremely useful post, because it insisted on the
performative/artistic aspects of the discussion; it asked about our
works as art (and for me this means particularly writing that is
problematically "literary"). I find this a necessary direction in the
discussion, one that relates most directly to Alan's question of "how to
make the suffering real, how to make the politics _count,_ beyond
quickly signing petitions - how to make people aware of the emergency."
I would say that Johannes' post was the only one (for me) directly
addressing this question of making it real and making aware; I don't
think we can address such questions without invoking performativity and
artistic frameworks.

One nice thing about Johannes post was it led me to read the interview
with Ades (and subsequently to look at the Services' book _Thomas Ades:
Full of Noises_). I took Ades' discussion of Wagner to say we may enjoy
the work, take pleasure in the depiction of humanity, including our
suffering and tribulations. We may, in a good old critical sense, feel
the depiction is an "accurate" one, but we remain a long way from saying
"I feel the pain" of the characters. We could invoke theories of
sympathy which would necessarily build from the fact that I feel
*something* in the presence of these organized fields of sensation,
sound, imagery, and so on. I feel something is mobilized and named: I
feel sympathetic with the characters * it is this that Ades asks us to
see as absurd. I take this' absurdity very much in a Sartrean sense of
the impossibility and yet necessity of art to the human condition of
suffering and pain. (I think of Johannes' irony in the same way.) I also
see this absurdity as deeply tied to the artwork as medial. As Johannes
accurately notes, the question here is reference to the real and how
this slips, more or less intentionally, into reference to mediations of
the real (which we may or may not want to term virtualities). Various
discourses that address this problem by and large to not resolve it but
restate it in new terms. Barthes' famous "punctum" is precisely not art,
it is nature or the "unconstructed" vis a vis the "studium" (the
cultural). This is not to say that art and artists can not set out to
"capture" the punctum, but it remains a problem and not a technique.

The punctum is tied to pain. "A photograph's punctum is that accidents
which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me" writes Barthes,
whereas he says that we recognize and invest with knowledge the cultural
and spectatorial aspect of the photograph, "which is never my delight or
my pain." And of course the connection of the photograph with mourning
in Barthes' book is tied to the erasure and loss of pain. (On this, it
is worth reading Barthes' _Mourning Diary_ on the death of his mother
and on the challenge of the "originality of my suffering").

I see the next step in this consideration the question of the punctum
in the virtual and how it relates (or not) to "writing" vis a vis the
virtual, where the reference to the real is quite different. But I leave
off today, leave you, with the question of how far this leads us to an
Adorno-like conclusion that all art, in this damaged existence - all of
it, "as such," without exception and without genre or form - is the
memory of accumulated suffering.

>>> Johannes Birringer <Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk> 10/8/2012 3:08
PM >>> 

dear all

it's not easy to write about grief and mourning, to comment on other's
(Monika's) reports of others crying or feeling sadness of happiness.
Responses to a funeral can be very complex, and I asked Ana what
catharsis she keeps invoking, just think about the commuuity here, the
tiny virtual one, the disaffected one?   Ana's references are to
historical/ personal facts and experiences of dictatorship, war,
persecution, aggression, torture, pain, and exile, and Monika has given
us a range of approaches to understand how, and how powerfully, works or
art can evoke pain or memories and emotional affect, what Monika call
"emitted/porous emotion/affect."  My questions were directed at the art
contexts, and thus the performance nature of the work, indeed the
"spectacle and the interactivity," and "the gesture and the
response-ability".  Who is responsable for anything in the reception,
the receiver?

 I do wish to own my weary irony, and the questions it generates for
me, and irony is enough for me when i try to look at what a work
produces or seeks to produce perhaps (can one evaluate what such
installations and animations evoke and how they try to "induce any
emotions or intellectual epiphanies worthy of the space of the polis,
especially in the case of [the] work's preoccupation with public ritual
of lamentation" (Monika).  When is it not enough?

I just watched and listened to Patrick Lichty's "Dido's Lament," 
Alan's Berber/Droste, and also to mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly singing
"When I am laid in earth", from the opera, Dido and Aeneas, by Henry
I am watching them all on the small screen of my laptop, and that was
one of my questions about context (polis). Public installations are
another matter, depending also on how you define public and
gallery/museum spaces which i would consider privatized/commodified. The
mezzo-soprano sings the baroque lament at Royal Albert Hall, in a
recital version, and the voice conveys/evokes (with the orchestra) the
elegiac sincerity one imagines from the content of the lament. 

Ana's references (and the discussion between Alan and Sandy) seem to be
to the Real (and yet I sense so much slippage to the virtual in Alan's
and Sandy's discussion, surely intended, and if we follow through the
idea of
the virtualization (opera, machinima, manga comic, poetry) of pain, its
dis-location to other "genres", then my weary irony finds itself in a
discussion, say, about opera, where I'd agree with what composer Thomas
Adès ("Wagner is a fungus") suggested we "feel" when we watch opera,
namely we may very well feel the power of the music, but what are we
watching? Operas, Adès argues,  should indeed "be absurd in a way that
is truer than reality. But that's just the most absurd form of something
that is absurd from the start: music. Music should have no excuse, other
than itself. Music is its own excuse....." 

I was not sure how to watch Patrick's work, except to enjoy of course
its bizarre scenario and performative (sometimes clunky) constructedness
live in Second Life ("set" to a an emotional sound track that does the
bit, Monika, that I mentioned earlier "as" a "gesture" -- elegiac
sincerity in the face of emotional distress.  It's terrific, but it is
pastiche, and it is comic, in that sense, for me (not to mention my
potential dislike of Koons' work)...... as are performance installations
at times, body art works at times, S/M and fasting performances, and
political-activist gallery works, one might think of them as operas, no?
  So yes, my question is about projected environments. I do not feel the
pain or a pain in Patrick Lichty's "Dido' Lament." 

And listening to "Sustenazo (Lament II)," 2010  Part Three, on video, 
I am touched but do not know what touches, i listen to the german
language and try to hear the polish voice underneath, i strain to
listen.... and understand..
and now could go on telling you what i experienced.  but it does not

I'd be interested in figuring out this here, this space here,

ps.       and of course one might agree with Monika that emotions have
often been frowned upon  in the landscape of analytical slepticism.

Johannes Birringer

[Monika schreibt]

There was a question earlier in a post, I think from Johannes, which is
an important one and has many implications. The problem of the projected
and cinematic environments' capability to induce any emotions or
intellectual epiphanies worthy of the space of the polis, especially in
the case of my work's preoccupation with public ritual of lamentation.
Along those lines, I think you Johannes asked to what extend (if at all)
installation work with live presence has any impact outside of the
internal "feasts" that happen inside the museums and for the museums'
trustees (as in case of the gradually more and more devaluated and also
openly married to financial establishment practice of Ambramovic). This
is possibly a question that should trouble many or all of us, and it
definitely troubles me to a great extent. 

One of the ways that my work has been overcoming this predicament is
for example in my series of "open drawing landscapes" -- where passersby
would be invited to inhabit the territory of the work for any period of
time, often by lying down in its space, and experiencing sound as well
as interacting with the landscape by leaving marks of their presence.
The process would be filmed by an overhead camera and the contingencies
that would result would be later visible in the film,  for example in my
"Drawing Lethe" project at the World Financial Center Winter Garden etc.
With less interactive pieces or with those made for and inside art
institutions, I would often receive a lot of unexpected feedback, at
times (actually it happens a lot) the people who either attended a
performance or viewed the projections, would proceed to cry. They would
tell the guard or the curator that they felt happiness as they were
crying.... Or they would talk to me directly about the experience. This
is not to say it's a given or a guarantee that someone would be moved to
tears and I never set this as my goal... This seems to just happen. As I
am using these words, "tears" or "emotions" or "happiness" I realize
that they have been forbidden for a while now.... The Duchamp's
expulsion of emotion from contemporary art took place for a good reason
originally, when it felt as a bourgeois method, as a misleading trope,
that has nothing to do with the more desired analytical skepticism . And
yet,  today, as Adriana Valdes spoke in Berlin last summer in her talk
titled "When Irony Is Not Enough" -- skepticism, irony and their
deconstructive skills are not enough indeed.

The relationship is/needs to be dialectical and dialogical -- between
the spectacle and the interactivity, the emitted/porous emotion/affect
and the analytical agency, the gesture and the response-ability, from
merely institutional, towards public and dispersed among many.

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