November 2009

illustrated excerpts from the memoir of Balthazar Klossowski de Rola, Balthus

because of his dandyism, his heart’s aristocracy

– Balthus on Pierre Jean Jouve, in Vanished Splendours, A Memoir: Balthus, as told to Alain Vircondelet, trans. Benjamin Ivry, Harper Collins, New York, 2002, p. 160

Une joie souterraine est partie loin de moi
Blanches hanches! je cours et recours et brandis vers!
Je soulève le beau vêtement
Reculé dans les parfums les plus chaud et les plus noirs
J’épuise dans ses bras
La chaleur de Saturne et la désolation de l’ardeur
Je tremble encore une foirs jusqu’à perdre la raison
A cause des rutilants soleils de la privation future

Les azurs sonnent clair
Les dents blanches sont ivres
Les silences des hanches quand les oiseaux du temps
Ont presque fini de vivre

– Pierre Jean Jouve, 1937

An underground joy goes out from me
I run around and around waving my arms.
I lift up your beautiful dress
And recoil in the hottest and blackest of perfumes.
Strength drains out of my arms.
The heat of Saturn. The desolation of ardour.
I still tremble as though I had lost my reason,
Because of the bright red suns of future privation.

The azure sings clearly.
The white teeth are drunk.
The silences of your haunches when the birds of time
Have almost stopped living.

– Kenneth Rexroth

– Balthus, Colette’s Profile, 1954, bought back by Countess Setsuko to hang on the walls of le grand chalet, Rossinière

To paint is to emerge from yourself, forget yourself, and prefer anonymity, sometimes while contradicting your own time and those close to you. … Cling to what you believe is right at all costs, and even develop what I – like nineteenth-century dandies – always called the “aristocratic taste for displeasing.” …

– Ibid., pp. 233-234

– Masaccio, Adam and Eve, detail

There is no painting without memory, or in scorning a past that I find nourishing and fruitful.

– Ibid., p. 178

– Victor Vasarely, Zebra, 1944

– Bernard Buffet, Clown, 1999

– Salvador Dalí, The Hallucinogenic Toreador, 1970

…one can’t earn much money. But is that really the goal? … I think of the “thing” that triggers a fortune, that might have slotted me into a category forever, as in the careers – rather than vocations – of Salvador Dalí, Buffet, or Vasarely. They vied with each other to produce canvases that can be recopied, but did not advance knowledge by an inch.

– Ibid., pp. 233-234

– Eugène Delacroix, Woman with a Parrot, 1827

It took me years of work to reproduce the chalky matteness of Masaccio’s and Piero della Francesca’s paintings. Among my contemporaries, I feel that Picasso was the only one who merited the title of a great painter; he understood self-unawareness and felt humility before Delacroix’s genius. Like myself, he lamented when making copies of Delacroix; he would speak of himself in the third person, whining, “What a tragedy! Picasso knows nothing!”

– Ibid., p. 178

– BalthusLes Enfants Blanchard, 1937, chosen by Picasso

I believe that mirrors and cats can help in personal crossings [passages]

– Ibid., p. 176

– Balthus, Le Chat de la Mediterrané, 1947

My duty as a painter has always been to try to preserve colours, and bear witness with the colours that Italian painters used to highlight their paintings and express wonderment. How can this astonishing palette of colours be maintained when modern society, full of death and artifice, has distorted colours, perversely making them hard and unrelenting, when colour should be a passage, a way to get across, a path for going beyond visible forms?

I think of the yellow mustard gas that killed so many men in the trenches in the First World War, and the blue gas that annihilated Jews in the camps. We’ve managed to make colours that kill, as sowers of death. …

Giotto’s chalky blue and Poussin’s vibrant yellow wheat. Giacometti was enraptured by the inaccessible mystery of faces and flowers.

– Ibid., p. 225

– Alberto Giacometti, Tête Noire, 1960

what I am whispering here is nothing but whispering words, pronounced in a minor key

– Ibid., pp. 184-5

– Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, Self-Portrait, aged 15, 1896

I usually say to those who ask me about old age or the spirit of childhood, “The best way not to fall into second childhood is never to leave childhood to begin with.”

– Ibid., p. 209

praise time

– Ibid., p. 172

It’s a question of going farther than what reality displays, although what is “farther” is also part of reality.

– Ibid., p. 197

– Balthus, The Guitar Lesson, 1934

One day when [Claude Roy] visited me at the Villa Médicis, we drolly looked up the article on Balthus in a dictionary – the Robert, I believe – and laughed heartily at the definition; my painting was described as “glaucous” [glauque]. What could they have meant by that? Insofar as glauque means “blue green in colour,” we didn’t see any connection. Was the word used in its moral meaning, namely “perverse, dubious, and steeped in a shady world”? Of course, that’s the way the adjective was used. This nonsense about my painting made me smile. I secretly notices that it wasn’t entirely disagreeable to be thought of in this way. The young girls I’ve sketched and portrayed, including the willfully scandalous Guitar Lesson, can be seen as revealing compulsively erotomaniacal behaviour. I’ve always refuted this, seeing them as angelic heavenly images. But the worlds of some of my friends, from Artaud and Jouve to Bataille, are not entirely innocent. These friendships were not fortuitous. From there, it’s possible to imagine a relationship between their worlds and mine. In truth, I believe in the profound duality of people; my requirement of work as the byword of a painter’s task has something religious, ascetic, and even Jansenist about it. My fierce solitude, and what Jouve called my “skittish disdain,” make me think of the legacy of a Don Juan permeated by the absolute and ideal. There’s nothing glaucous or pernicious in this ambiguity. Only shared amounts of desire and suffering. When I speak of angels and the troubling grace of some of my young girls, don’t forget that the most dazzlingly radiant and glorious fallen angel was Lucifer.

The adolescent agitation of my young girls’ bodies reflects an ambiguous nocturnal light along with a light from heaven.

– Ibid., pp. 203-204

– Balthus, Nu Au Folard, 1982


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-ages of women & men: fashionable taboo & diabolical totem, a split between hairs

– Jan Saudek, The Morning, 1990 [link]

It has often been noted how a Brazilian makes a man or woman look like a child. See, for example, Bernardo Bertolucci’s underrated film The Dreamers (2003), in which a triadic sexual relationship, brother, sister, male friend, and its shifting emotional and erotic dynamics, explicitly provides the spectacle we watch while the revolution is going on in the street, out the window. The background is May ’68. The foreground action takes place in a labyrinthine Parisian apartment belonging to the parents of brother and sister: the size of the apartment, its furnishings, particularly the soft-furnishings (and comfort) both counterpoint the hard sex (and the cobbles being thrown around outside, cars set alight, etc., the violence) and point to a class difference between the male guest and the siblings. Sexual desire, or sheer eros, is the medium, the film seems to say, turning to flows, liquefying the barriers of gender, class and generation, or adulthood, and breaking down their taboos, up to the very limit of incestuous desire.

The Dreamers, dir. Bertolucci, 2003

There is a scene in which the parents, overdetermined as adults, for the fact that adulthood here is in question – and tends to drift, redistributed and reconcatenating, reterritorializing all the more fiercely for it, along lines of class, material (furnishings) and power (of ownership, and therefore, responsibility) – visit the apartment. Despite the expectations of the audience, they are not here to check up or place a check on the adult, in the sense of R-rated, behaviour of their children. They have forgotten something trivial, necessarily, have returned from their bourgeois holiday, having left the kids at home, to retrieve it. Paris is the super-sized apartment in which the kids have been left at home, apparently, by adults, free of the kids, who are having sex outside the city, on holiday, where it can have no political implications, like dissolving barriers, by literalizing them as barricades. These reversals, I would think, between symbolic and actual, literal and imaginary, offer the dream logic of the title’s dreamers.

– Jan Saudek, Oh, Those Fabulous F. Sisters! 1983

There is another scene where the sister approaches the male friend in an enormous bathroom brandishing a razor. It may appear she is intent on emasculation, which would explain the brother’s complicity: to render his unacknowledged rival impotent. Potency is at issue, however, but only symbolically. Brother and sister conspire to shave the male friends pubic hair. The friend protests, and his protest has a political edge. He says, ‘You want to turn me back into a child. You want me to be a child.’ Child rings with the implication that the brother and sister from their shared privileged background are used to getting their own way, used to turning those below them in the social strata into children, mere instruments in their incestuous game. So the upper-class is incestuous. This is a conventional reading. But in the dream of the film, the incest is out: the brother masturbates while thinking of his sister. Eros is removing the stoppage, the block that would deny him even this. Up to the point or degree of incest.

– Jan Saudek, Parabellum, 9 mm, 1983

The protest that they want to make him look like a child has this political meaning and also invokes another prohibition, that of socalled pedophilia. In the film, nude and covered with soap and prepared for his shave, he is not like the patient in a hospital bed, or the client at the beautician’s, acquiescent in his rasage, his infantomorphosis. He squirms out of the hold of brother and sister. And something tells me that they let him get away. Because they don’t want him to be turned into a child; they don’t want to be responsible for this; as if it would be counter-productive to their desire. Keeping him suspended between adulthood and childhood, yet with some hair between his legs, suits all their purposes much better than were he to perceive having been shaved as being made a child. In other words, were they to make him a child, they would in their turn be made to see themselves as children. There is a higher principle at work than that prohibiting incest. It is that which, as Foucault says, allows the continuance of the incitement to desire. To shave him would be to place a block on desire.

– Jan Saudek, Kissing the Tears Away, 1967

This is not the case with adult adults, who have this leeway… to… But what am I saying? A brief look at the pages of a beautician’s appointment book will show that she (usually) spends most of her time (currently, Auckland suburbs) between the legs of other women, removing hair. A quick consultation with a teenager will provide you with the information that it is not at all uncommon for girls who are not even sexually active – therefore preventing the charge that they are somehow forced by men – to shave down there. The Wikipedia entry goes into some detail, to providing an educational video, about the process and history of the Brazilian. One of its better entries. We read that in the 15th Century, Pêro Vaz de Caminha gave this report of the practice of global pubic depilation: “…suas vergonhas tão altas e tão çarradinhas e tão limpas das cabeleiras que de as nós muito bem olharmos não tínhamos nenhuma vergonha” (“their private parts were so exposed, so healthy and so hairless, that looking upon them we felt no shame”). However the source for this is cited as M. Elizabeth Ginway’s Brazilian Science Fiction. [link] If this is fact, we can imagine Pêro Vaz de Caminha feeling the same way about children, that their private parts were so exposed, so healthy and hairless, that looking upon them he felt no shame. Were he to mark his attention to such matters in this way amid today’s paranoia regarding children and sex he would be held up for martyrdom… by media.

– Marcel Duchamp

As usual, Marcel Duchamp is way ahead of us. In his L.H.O.O.Q. – a little joke between friends -, Mona’s merkin has migrated to her visage. He ostensibly harboured a horror for the genitally hirsute, shown, among other givens, in his Étant donnés.

– part view, Marcel Duchamp

It seems it is in the atmosphere, now, Marcel’s horror. Hairy has become a fetish category, a matter for the specialist. Common sense, you might say: of course we should want to look on the genitalia of women – and men – without shame; we should want them to be so exposed, so healthy and hairless … that they resemble children, children’s private parts, which we are so ashamed of them having that we have used dolls to demonstrate where one ought not be touched.

– famous merkin-wearer, Lucy Lawless, as Lucretia in Spartacus, is not amused

It would be easy to contend that the erotic frisson first engendered by an encounter with the razed pubis has a lot to do with the proximity of the perverse. It’s almost like a child’s. So smooth.

In hair, you know, may collect all sorts of bacteria. To remove it offers an hygienic advantage, you see. In addition to giving all the excitement without the transgression of actually having sex as a child or with a child. Albeit that the dirtiness of children may indeed constitute their attraction, a transgenerational meme transmitted from commercial exploitation of child workers in, for example, Dickensian London, and the industrialising East today. (See Said’s Orientalism.)

But there again, we get into the area of sentimental pornography, as exemplified recently by the popular success, of The Lovely Bones, a success so hyperbolic, one can only hope something else is going on.

– Judy Fox, Sphinx, 1990 (Sphinx/Sphynx is another name for the hairless style, seen here, which being less a matter of pictorial resemblance, is a matter of literal resemblance, of the word-play on hairless pussy, the feline variety being called Sphinx/Sphynx, hence also Hollywood, a cognate)

National Scandal

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perversion, worms in the brain and the refrain of place: an exchange of letters, pt. 4

The children are versing one another. Understandable when you consider the competitions are advertised in the form A_______ versus C________. It is a much more convenient and reasonable locution than A_______ is competing with B_______ and has the obvious virtue of being active rather than passive, as if, in the latter case, the competition were to happen to the teams, as if the organisers of the competition were pitting one against the other for their own highly suspect reasons. The children are empowering themselves in versing one another and availing themselves of the creative resources of the language. This is after all how language evolves, according to consensus and convenience.

– Antoni Tapiès’s U No Es Ningú, 1979

No it isn’t. It doesn’t even evolve according to common usage and good sense. And the less word formation has to do with sense, reason or meaning, the better a new word’s chances. Not to posit linguistic evolution as some sort of correlative to biological evolution, no. Language has its occupiers, its forests and its forestries, its deserted highways, its planes crossed by roving bands of word-hoarders, its gleaners, and its fascists, and it is, like our islands, routinely hacked to pieces. Nor is this to say that language preexists what we do to it, the way we verse it. And the organisers who can be held accountable for the fact that we do indeed verse it, turning it against each other ourselves and itself, would like to remain anonymous. In the new word nonsense takes its turn, a turn, verso, in two directions, per- and in-, if not an immediate catastrophe or slow-mo recesssion, which may amount to movements exchanged between twins: ecologic and economic.

What I am wondering is whether we can say of a turn that it perverts in the same way that we can say of an action that it performs. The turn of the encounter when the new entered is then a perversion which informs. This puts me in mind of Reza Negarestani’s cyclones. [link] It is a torsion, or wheels within a wheel. Negarestani calls it a “recurrence or dynamism of Ouroboroses,” the motion they impart to the Wheel of Pestilence. Which may writhe in an endless motile nest of reptilian flexus, pungently so, but still gets the wheel to turn. In other words, its occultish imagery mimics the sensible encounter.

In nature, however, everything is allowed, even the demonic, against those who would say, especially the demonic. Five human behaviours have been predicated on the human Ouroboros, the sub-limibic, socalled reptilian brain, they are: isopraxic, preservative, re-enacting, tropistic and deceptive. Which goes to show one needn’t travel far to regain the familiar territory of the theatrical. This is its problem. It is primitive. Not originary. And a return to it signals we’d better pay more attention to where we are going, to the where. Because a territorial performance is also a division in time. An inverted space results from the performance in time, dividing the space and recombining with or confusing one element in it: the stage. What occurs here can only occur here, as isopraxic, preservative, re-enacting, tropistic and deceptive, all five, at the same time.

– Antoni Tapiès’s U No Es Ningú, 1979

In order for time to pass while these oppositions are versing (or in conversation, dramatic or otherwise), I mean the reptilian opposition, of one end to the other, of each Ouroboros, it must already have past. The turning wheel is time’s defense. And as Negarestani shows, it is not cyclic, or is no longer cyclic.

As Deleuze shows, it is not cyclic for theatrical reasons. These reasons, in Difference and Repitition go to a radical critique of representation, the theatre being the art of representation par excellence. One way in which we can say that the theatre expresses the form of time is in the split which divides stage from public. (As if the public were held in some extraordinary stasis for the duration of the show.)

– Antoni Tapiès’s U No Es Ningú, 1979

The structure of Square White World as being justified by the “dark round sun” of theatre is I have said basically compromised for having suffered a turn. The turn has a theatrical structure in the way that time divides it from itself or forces a movement that while in action, while on, is already over: it has done its work, which is now in pieces.

The shift in emphasis I mentioned earlier (final paragraph here), occasioned by an exchange of letters and words (with ecologic and economic ramifications), would be from a structure that originated in what was to be given outside it and one which included in its most confused, most irreducible (inverted) element, what has been given in sensation: the turn itself. Rather than turning on itself, or even pretending to an inclusion of the excluded part, or possessing it in immanence, the site would have a particle of reconcatenation, an overall turning movement, and opposed squiggles inside it: cyclonic, motile, and following the formula I=n.

To confront the formula for a moment, bound to recur:

1) where the ‘I’ is the dissolved self and fractured ego; the ‘not-I’ or I is the thinker of Ideas, or Blanchotian, Deleuzian cogito, acephalic and aleatory;

and 2) the n is the variable point, or empty thought, Evantum tantum, of circulation genetically uniting all throws of the Nietzschean, Mallarméan dice into one throw on which all is staked (if not shared); and the = sign gives this unity;

then, or here, 3) I=n.

– Antoni Tapiès’s U No Es Ningú, 1979

Why I said it was a position with which any artist will be familiar, while it sounded condescending, was to point out how readily it is to be found in an artist’s work, like Antoni Tapiès’s U No Es Ningú from 1979, which, apart from a photo or two, illustrates this post.


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juliet balcony, CBD


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time without nerves, or – unfound particles, anorganic metabolism, unpeopled parks: an exchange of letters, pt. 3

– Balthus, La Victime, 1939-1946

No. That’s not it. That’s not what I meant to say at all. I meant to say that despite the commercial interests circumscribing online interaction in Web 2.0, at the level of socalled social networking, and to a certain extent because of it, this way of being online, in a group and yet individually isolated, expresses a wish that is possibly general to circumvent obstructions, to flow around, to evade controls. The mode of content as performative, each before a screen, is in effect this flowing, this dialogue. It has the virtue of being frictionless. Such interruptions as naturally occur are instantly recuperated into the bonhommie of the flood, the good will being held in common. It has a constancy and bubbliness that never threatens to overflow, or overthrow its own good sense: the stakes are shared; regardless that the shares are not.

I am giving this by way of a circuitous preamble to what my reasons were for having exchanged the letters: Dear Visitor, this site exists for theatre; Dear Visitor, I cannot hope that there will be theatre. The hereafter has arrived and everything seems like a false start. Curiouser and curiouser. …who are actually very nice people, in a bosca oscura.

– Pierre Rousseau, The Forest in Winter at Sunset, 1845-67

I cannot hope that there will be theatre, which does not exclude the possibility that there may have been and yet may be theatre along the way. This is the problem: there can be no once-and-for-all abjuration; the objects have a habit of becoming subjects once more. I can only testify to that for which I cannot hope. There will be theatre…? Why shouldn’t there be?

What I felt I was doing in a letter asking for support for theatre work which was somehow to come out of Square White World became in May a confidence trick for which I was responsible. Albeit that there was something facetious about soliciting for donations, touting for patrons; but at least I could say, Look at what is here, already on this blog; surely something better will come!

The elsewhere invoked, in the notion of theatre, performed for the letter, by extension the blog/site, the function of a pretext… to come. Like Messianic time. Or like Oedipus at Colonus (Οἰδίπους ἐπὶ Κολωνῷ), we would share a secret, a confidence, that at a designated site, there will have been a death and this secret would defend and ensure our continuance. The grave being somewhere else than here will have provided a timely foundation for what is traditionally also a cave, like the one in which Oedipus occupied in death, theatre. Which, as I was earlier saying, is all theatre.

The trick turns the secret into something other than a bulwark or boon, a burden, a curse perhaps. The turn has the capacity to make the trick into a mere utility of commercial advance. At the turn, we find the joke on us. This recognition when it arrives, in, as I have tried to say, empty time, which was supposed to act as guarantor for the future time, breaks all theatrical conventions: the stage is invaded by the cemetery upon which it raised its board.

What I have said happens in a previous post on the subject is that the structure of Square White World is riven in two. It breaks. It is breaking. The break in a construction such as this cannot be recuperated from in simply allowing itself to flow. It ceases to perform the same trick. Letters are exchanged but the rites must be observed: time must pass; the new situation must be marked and remarked.

The loss of hope for theatre now says something I would like to pursue in talking about a theatre which does not function as it did in the context of this blog/site. Because of the new situation we find ourselves in now, you, the reader, if you are there, and I, because we are marking them and will continue to, differences may be extracted and new qualities acknowledged. Without hope so much now remains to be said.

As to where I find myself placing what I am doing here now because there is a difference which places in question the guarantorship of my performance and the reliability of my narration, I would like to shift the emphasis in a way that will perhaps sound like a cliché from being to becoming: hence between performance and installation, at the variable n of not I, or I. What we may now become is not limited by what we hoped.

– Balthus, La Phalène, 1959-1960

I would put my position in a formula with which any artist will be familiar:


theatrum philosophicum

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to theatre as metabolism: an exchange of letters pt. 2

In the previous post I was discussing absences, the reader’s or spectator’s, who missed the revolution in the streets below his or her window, the theatre’s, my father’s, and mine. I was suggesting that the exchange of one begging letter for another at the top of the lefthand margin here on Square White World ought to have been marked, mourned, ought not to have passed without comment. But comment has a weight in the blogosphere. I’m not sure whether it’s a backhanded form of flattery that I receive very little to none, a sign that the bots are not equipped to pass comment on the material they parasitize or an indication of changing fashions on the world wide web, a shift in the patterns of online traffic and drift. It seems that there has been a move away from personal blogging to social networking, or, as Louise Desrenards has pointed out, to metablogging.

The concept is that metablogging comprises online societies, discussion groups with their lurkers, list-servers, based either on, around institutions, and their corporate counterparts, Facebook, Myspace, and so on. Twitter really follows the same model, although considering itself micro-blogging, the trailing ganglia of followers and their ability to interconnect via ejaculations of 140 letters, group effort, the sheer trend of it, a unidimensional show of numerical sufficiency, overtakes blogging, by encoding it, like so: (Note the cabalistic formula in the middle.)

I also have the impression that because blogs are now often indistinguishable from sites, the wiki as a proof, test, of the leveling out of private and public data, and because advertising is now often indistinguishable from criminal (and liminal) activities, like hacksterism, virus-making, online-event-holding, virtual hoardings on SL (Alles Über den Linden?), the whole and easily exhausted canon of online fine arts, metablogging offers the attraction of interstices, a fluid socially produced interface, between a multiplicity of subjects and a multiplicity of objects. Among the latter I would count the framing code, to which advertising belongs, or which is overtly resalable as advertising space.

This suggests when I was adding to “your issues” at AAAARG yesterday, the issue being “theatre” that I added, describing it as “practice and theory, between Deleuze and Badiou, between manifesto and rhapsody, between representationalism and theatricality,” I ought to have included a fourth wall, threshold, or gateway, Janus-faced: between performance and installation. Because of its framing function, the metablog installs the multiplicitous subject as a mode of content, places all the herms (his and hers), collecting and isolating us as actors. It is the social function which incites us to perform, with all the usual anxieties of performance and non-performance, the puffings and posings, the pouches, preening and, that wonderful sewing metaphor, threads, which when they no longer sparkle are worn out.

A fortuitous proof of the drift to this form of collective activity comes immediately in Louise Desrenards’s kind comment about a previous post, posted in Facebook. A proof of a counter-drift comes latterly in Dudley Benson’s August post to his blog/site:

Tēnā koe! Welcome to my brand new website. [here] Last year I realised that a certain right-wing media mogul owns Myspace, so I had no choice but to shut shop there and start something fresh. This will now be the sole online resource for information on my project, and I’ll be updating it regularly.

What strikes me, apart from the critical frisson of words like here for what is there, and the phrase “updating regularly” for what is anyway immediate, is that Dudley calls his site the “sole online resource for information on my project.” It is not that he is advertising himself and his project or himself as his project, but that the site assumes the existence of something which he is happy to call his project. On the face of it, in the context of the site, we have only his word to go on that he has a project about which the site is anything more or less than advertising. Perhaps in the context of Myspace it would have been less open to misinterpretation as to that in which his project consists. But then, in positing a project, there it is. We can only wait and watch the “sole online resource” for regular updates. What are we watching for? What do we hope to see? To be given a sense of and that there is a project? That something is happening or will happen? A difference, a virtuality?

Perhaps what accounts for the metablog metaphor is this sense: we happen to blogs in the metablog; whereas the blog happens to us. Does this mean we are part of the project? I still think the idea of participation as being a non-starter; I still think the idea of comments made, threads followed as not being participation: whatever happens, we are part of the problem. Transference. Project. Installation. Performance.


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The Bag Left Unattended on the Roofgarden from the Perseverance of Stains series


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The parasites are still here: notes on an exchange of letters, pt. 1

Here is a strange troubling and personal statement in which everything is revealed and nothing is said. I love actors like my father did. I just don’t believe they should be put in charge of theatres.

– from notebooks

To satisfy ignorance is to put off writing until tomorrow.

– Gilles Deleuze

Not meaning anything.

– from notebooks

What would it mean? Not to mention in these post and pages, not to blog the changes it was undergoing, even underwent? They may not have been so thoroughgoing as to warrant mention. They may indeed have been profoundly superficial.

On May 20 I completely removed the begging letter I’d kept at the top of the left-hand margin for several years, having on May 4 made the following addition to it:

What follows is in need of updating (as of this interpellation, 4/5/9). Where I say ‘theatre’ hereunder, as in ‘Theatre is its dark round sun,’ understand ‘my father.’ Hear a new tone entering: that my father’s death changes all here written with such certainty.

What there is of me in Square White World misses its missing moiety. But I would not ask you to donate but to what you see and read that this writing and reading will be a kind of anti-theatre… More soon.

The letter had previously gone like this:

Dear Visitor,
Donations to Square White World go to theatre. This site exists as a clearing-house for works that are both treatments and projects. It also exists as a testbed for pieces of dramaturgy and satire, scripts, scribblages, ideas, notes, imagisms and lettrisms.

It is then that most a-theatrical thing: literal. I am asking for donations and I am touting for patrons because Square White World is only half a thing and made of half things. Theatre is its dark round sun. Without it this site is a vanity, a Qlipphoth.

How will you benefit from your donation or act of patronage? Immediately, from seeing and reading the results here, eternally, from joining those Medici, those citizens of the world: you will gain the only health worth having, Great Health.

The image above will take you to Paymex, a secure way of making payments by credit card that is 100% New Zealand owned.

The image below will take you to Paypal. Once there, do not be perturbed to be donating to Brazil Coffee. The small brown bean provides the other juice on which this site relies. And should you prefer coffee to patronage, please place your order here.

Above and below the text were pictures, above the sea, below the land, which when clicked on took you to Paypal and Paymex respectively. Of course the page had no function. It didn’t work. Nobody gave. So naturally nobody noticed when it was removed.

Why would I want to go into my clearly ‘personal’ reasons for making changes to what is a personal blog? Redundancy? Or vanity?

I replaced the old begging letter with a new one. You can read it here. Remember to give generously. Give a toss.

I’m partly prompted to explore this theme by the matter of the previous post, Dudley Benson’s A Performance in Openness, and partly in order to find out what I can currently say, in order, as Michel Foucault wrote, not to think it anymore. In other words, I’ve been meaning to comment myself on something that has passed without comment, on the fact of it and the fact that it has. In turn, this has something to do with a structure, the structure of this site/blog.

That the structure of Square White World comes into question can be easily discerned in the addition of May 4, where there is a “missing moiety.” Equally, this absent half possesses a symmetry with the position stated in the original letter, that “Square White World is only half a thing and made of half things.” The other half of the structure is theatre. Theatre’s place as taking up half the structure is put into question by the loss of my father. There is then a doubling of absences here, or – not here.

What is the current place of theatre in the site/blog? Is it all now to be theatre? A performance of openness such as might be being rehearsed in this writing?

I’d like to consider first another absence, the reader’s. If I were undertaking a disquisition on the model of theatre, using its metaphor, after Alain Badiou, I would concur with his view that without the spectator, which is what the reader has become, without the spectator there is no theatre. However as the original begging letter put it, theatre is not here, not online, on the interweb-thingy, not at Square White World.

The theatre of the world wide web may not exist without a spectator, but its theatricality, as in medium, certainly does. Or, to be more specific, the disclosure that without theatre Square White World is a half thing does not foreclose the site/blog from its own theatricality.

Samuel Weber conceives of theatricality the medium, beyond its generic specifications, as taking place, a taking place, in which the genetic, the ‘of’ place, is displaced, or, challenged. Theatricality has to take place, beyond the spectacular exigencies of its genre. Theatricality as the medium of theatre locates itself in the dislocation whereby acting takes the place of action. The genetic, a taking place of, concerns action, a belonging to action of place; theatrically speaking, a belonging of a place to acting. The important statement in the current context is that of a place, not a no place like the world wide web, like it claims to be.

You could say, the web being world wide (not, interestingly, worldwide), that its particular world, which the web fills, is as wide as, constitutes a unitary stage, a temporal emplacement, dislocates the actions by which it is engendered. That it is an act, a great show, world wide, because, like death, on tour worldwide, coming across the waves, to a screen in front of… whom?

You might contrastingly propose that where we are placed as spectactors is where it’s at, the theatre, the acting, frontscreen, in our respective biotopoi. And here we are beset by actions the actors of which we cannot in effect discern. Home theatre just got a lot smaller for being off- and back- and never on-screen.

These meanings may not be true of our case here, but they are interesting, less for the notion of theatre than online readership. Who do I think my readers are that they will be interested in whether theatre is here or there?

The easy way out is of course to invoke the notion of performance: I am staging all this for my own sake, psychological need, indexed off the sublimation of desire. Although, when I write this, I wonder how J.L. Austin’s performativity can be part of the same discourse as psychoanalysis’s use of theatre, or popular psychology’s view of ‘acting out.’ The former holds that the performance is hollow, the latter that it is full. For Austin, language in performance undermines and is a parasite upon normal language. For Freud, normal language is a performance in so far as it is staged as normal and yet, if you know where to look, has on its surface the holes leading into the mines, which, if you know how to follow them, lead to the gold and the shit.

Only from the analytical point of view could I be holding up my own hollowness for its fullness, that is, for what others might make of it, if they are shown where to look and expertly guided, so as to avoid pitfalls, and the parasites who are no doubt still there. Possibly the assumption is general that the other is the expert, and always willing to hunt down hidden meanings. Performance then would surely be a kind of social parasitism, where I prevail on your attention, in a surrender that is an attack and demand that you enter the openness of the performance, whether you are equipped so to do or not. Is it deep enough to stand up in? Can I hear my own echo? Are there bones?


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A Performance in Openness (In Three Parts) by Dudley Benson: A fifteen minute performance in response to Rita Angus: Life & Vision Sunday 1st November, 3 pm Art Lounge Corner Lorne & Khartoum Free admission, limited seating

Dudley Benson’s A Performance in Openness took place on Sunday 1st November at Art Lounge. The venue has been annexed by the New Art Gallery. It was previously the Paramount (1999 Metro Restaurant of the Year under Paul Jobin) and the room remains much the same: the bar’s still there, but empty, and the pendant lights. The curtains are new.

A postcard produced in an edition of 100 describes the performance as having three parts with an overall duration of 15 minutes and as being “in response to Rita Angus: Life & Vision,” the comprehensive exhibition of Rita Angus’s work, which was finishing its stay at the New Gallery on the same day as Dudley’s performance. There was no programme but the performance was introduced by a lank salt-and-peppery guy with an ID card around his neck, presumably a representative of the Art Gallery, in the form of an apology for the late start.

A crowd had in fact amassed under the escalator by the time the doors opened and there was a great sale-time-like press forward to get a seat. The majority of the audience were older, women of a certain age, eschewing the blue rinse in favour of wearing their hair grey-to-white, their partners, and a number of intense-looking middle-aged men – art aficionados, or Dudley fans? A number of young fogeys with children and older parents with younger children, that category, were also scattered throughout the bar/room. I shouldn’t leave out the men who were dragged along, as they become important later.

Due to the advanced age of most of the audience you might have expected less of a cut and thrust approach to gaining access to what had been advertised as “limited seating.” No. It was like bargain tables at Smith and Caughey. The space had been set with a small rostrum with a mic, a double-keyboard harpsichord to stage-right, speakers on stands, basic lighting and three banks of seats in three or four rows, left, right, centre. The aged and infirm jostled the able-bodied aside and managed to claim what ought to have been theirs by right; the rest stood around, some leaning on a handy bar that someone had thought to leave in the room. It was a strange atmosphere and evoked the idea that the audience were actually the performance, which performance was already complete once we had assumed our positions, got our territories, and now stood or sat with general insouciance, swaying almost imperceptibly.

The Art Gallery guy introduced a woman who swayed perceptibly. I missed her name in the inaudible babble of self-complacent seat-occupiers. She was, allegedly, a friend of Rita’s and Dudley’s, for whom space had earlier been made in the reserved seating, centre front, displacing a younger woman, who had to stand and remain standing throughout. (The latter was however visited by a Katherine Mansfield look-alike in a sort of conciliatory gesture, before said look-alike returned to her front-row seat beside the friend of Rita Angus.) The friend to artists, herself also apparently an artist, although she resembled a patroness, produced from who knows where a handful of pages written on in blue felt pen. She spoke to this effect:

I am not going to introduce the music of Dudley Benson, because the music of Dudley Benson requires no introduction. I tend to think it speaks… What were we talking about before? [shuffle the papers] It would be presumptuous of me to presume to speak about or describe Dudley’s music. As it would any artist’s response. … But I will say this: Dudley’s music… Dudley I believe would like us to be… Dudley would like us to listen as an audience, to become a single, formal unity; I believe Dudley wants us to listen to his music… We his audience should constitute one single formal, Dudley wants us to. To become a single formal entity, to take on a unified and formal identity, when listening to his music, so when we listen to the outer beauty of his music we can penetrate to its hard inner core.

This sounded promising. But, once more, produced the impression that we had somehow been duped and that the performance in openness would be a parade of look-alikes, of arty clichés. That it was in fact finished before it began. Foreclosed.

At last Dudley took the podium. He wore a short hooded cloak in what looked like dark grey loden cloth, with leather buckled clasps. He wore black leather gloves, which made his fingers appear short and pointy. He wore woollen trousers and black leather shoes. (The postcard informs us that the cloak is by Matt Nash, hair by Rowan Duley for Stephen Marr.) His accompanist, the harpsichordist, wore an undistinguished dress in a shade of turquoise. Dudley took the mic from its stand and breathed in a sustained low groan into it. It was a diaphragmatic vocalised breath, the kind actors do off-stage to centre themselves… before coming on-stage and performing.

– Wilhem Reich, curiously subtitled “gesturing in jacket”

The groans rose in pitch. They had something Reichian about them. The sound also suggested the bull-roarers, the taonga puoro, like those Richard Nunns demonstrated during Dudley’s 2008 tour for The Awakening. Dudley began bowed over at the low extremity of his vocal range, groan… breath, rise, breath… And as the notes rose so did he, until he stood upright and could make eye-contact with his audience. The notes extended and varied ululatory, drawing the vocal line out, trilling, adding grace notes and ornaments.

– jade purerehua (bull-roarer) by Wayne Costar

The section closed with the harpsichordist striking a single note and repeating it rhythmically, Dudley high above. What was it about? Luckily I’d seen Russell Brand’s video, who is just as much the dandified style queen as Dudley, Doing Life Live, the night before and knew that when birds sing prettily in the trees they are really giving voice to the most brutal expression of territoriality. They are saying: Fuck off! So this first part of three might be called an evocation of place, an expression of territoriality. In this it further resembled the self-regard of those seat claimers, their unspoken song.

We were, you could say, grounded in the actorly grounding of the breathing exercise and included in its secretly brutal bull-roaring outbreathing groan. Which you could say the audience’s attitude of reverence played directly into: Fuck off! This is my fucking art! Or seat!

Here we all were isolated and included by Dudley. In short, located. It’s worth here forcing a correspondence with Rita Angus: sense of place.

– Rita Angus, Fog, Hawkes Bay, 1966-68

The second part was a conventional song. The lyrics described a window; it could’ve been a painting. An invitation was extended to enter the idyll outside the window. Nature, it was suggested, could heal. But the nature in the song was also the art of the song and by extension the art of painting. The window was its frame.

The singer had some doubts. There was some obscure personal conflict, articulated in political terms, with a terrible rhyme on “govern-mental-ly.” The promise that the singer could be healed came as an “I will he-al you!” A conventional salvation delivered in the protestant tradition to the isolated individual. The isolated individual formed by the first part of this Performance in Openness and, recall the show-warmer, as a “formal identity,” was being saved. Well, we all were, here, included, cordoned by roaring waves and bird song, by our unified identity as the audience, and Dudley, the accompanist, the performance, open to each other, in this bad room. It was a salvation, then, delivered by effort, as the friend of Rita had insisted, by our efforts to become a unified formal identity. Which is to say nothing of the style, which was Dudley’s personal fey form of originality, the emphasis resting on originality, authenticity. Which is how Dudley gets away with it.

– title of what appears to be a Japanese porn mag, not show actual size, which is not this one

Where another artist would long before have fallen victim to his own sincerity, Dudley is above it, directing it. However this is not say that it is not marred by preciosity; it is to say that it is enhanced by excessive preciosity: what we may call the dandiacal.

– it & a discussion of it may be found here

The song ended. I didn’t like it particularly. But what I didn’t like in it I could go upstairs to the gallery and see in the exhibition of Rita Angus’s painting: a sharp-lined, almost twee pop-ness; like an unwitting advertising campaign for a generalised landscape. Unwitting is key, since Angus’s originality is, well, found in the origins of her painting, in her development as a painter, which is all dreadfully sincere… and somewhat precious. Perhaps you could say, religiously precious. It smells of baking, biscuit crumb, which is the same smell, interestingly, as fragments of skin cooking on a heated towel rail. And on that you could be very religious.

The third part began with a blast of sound from the speakers, a burst of Ligeti-like micropolyphony. That got our attention. Dudley, having put the mic back on the stand, pronounced a vow into it: I commit myself to … Then he removed his black leather gloves, which made his fingers look short and pointy anyway. There was another burst of Ligeti-like vocal micropolyphony, or close canon. Dudley leaned into the mic and made another vow: I commit myself to … He then removed a his cloak, undoing the leather buckled clasps with measured movement. Again, a burst of Ligeti soundalike musical aggression. Or, better, Ligeti-inflected musical punctuation. A kind of arrow for St. Sebastian, who has the same smell as…

– Yukio Mishima, photographed, presumably, by Eikoh Hosoe, c. 1963

I commit myself to… And another item of clothing came off. It was approaching the time when young women turn to the men they’ve dragged along to check on them. What if…? They seem to say, with their conciliatory looks, apologetic for having dragged them in, perhaps. What if… Dudley takes his whole kit off? And: What if… it’s titillating… ? For me… or for him…? It was approaching the time when we would wonder about our attitudes to nudity on stage. But first we had to get through rather a lot of fine-looking kit, including some fancy brilliant white waffle-weave undy-shorts. And committals or commissions in equal number.

So as an aside: Crane Brothers, Murray Crane: Sunday, 15 March 2009 22:53, writes:

Dudley Benson is one of our most exciting musicians; it is so refreshing to listen to something so original.

We’re proud of our association with Dudley and the wardrobe we have helped create for him (at his direction of course). (here)

Dudley got down to his undershirt, just his undershirt, again white, supplicant white, V-neck if I recall correctly. Young women were now fixed on their partners, so as to seem not to be looking at Dudley’s penis, which protruded slightly from below the hem of his undershirt. An older woman tittered. But altogether there was the same sense of high seriousness that had prevailed throughout. Why? Why didn’t someone completely crack?

– Rita Angus, before

Possibly because of that thing, not that one, this: the religiosity of avowal. This is exactly what irks me in Rita Angus when it is (or she is) made the focus of work about her and exhibitions – as this one – of her work. The precious oaths she swore. To an art god.

– Rita Angus, after, happier, photographed, presumably, by Marti Friedlander

Pacifism. Chastity – or that no man come between her and her work; would Dudley want to commit himself to that one? An avowal of artistic creation … in all its beautiful forms. And an avowal of the land. The Land, capital ‘L.’

– J.C. Hoyte (1835-1913), The Pink and White Terraces

He got his undershirt off. There was a final blast of pseudo-Ligeti into his bare flesh. The flesh was real. Very pale. A lithe and largely hairless body. What once might have been called an epicene type, before the sexless or presexual became our society’s taboo. From the formally unified identity of the audience Dudley was handed what looked like a simulacrum of a grey army blanket to cover his nakedness. Woollen. Scratchy.

The guy who handed him the blanket was probably very nervous about timing. How much nudity was too much? Or is nudity an intensive quantity? Either it’s all on or it’s all off? The guy had a name-tag around his neck like the lank salt-and-peppery (non)introducing guy. Both wearing ID tags.

– hospital blanket sold for $15, 29 October 2009, details here, such as those that may have been made available at Sunnyside Mental Hospital, built 1863, designed by Benjamin Mountfort (link) a room of which was pictured on the cover of The Awakening by Dudley Benson, available here

In an art army, or hospital, where there are still scratchy woollen blankets to be had… Some even win art prizes. And where nudity still raises this question: Is it a cliché? Then, if it still raises it, it must be.

Then again, who other than Dudley Benson could have done this? As I’ve tried to articulate, this goes to his extraordinary and irreducible personal form of originality, his dandyism, yes, but also his art and his modernism.

National Scandal

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apropos of a study for a dressing …

– Anne Carson, by Terry Byrnes, from here

And as per the title, Anne Carson under false sail can be read by clicking the photo of her.


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