This Is Not A Blog
“Silence is a prophesy” – Susan Sontag
“Silence = Death” – Act Up
One: Between Invocation and Irrevocability
If this were a blog, it would begin, like ‘classical painting’, as Foucault would have it, with an assumption of a separation between its form and its content. One takes up the blog as a medium as a painter takes up the medium of painting, accepting certain limits as constitutive and others as mutable.
As one approaches the moment of 'the contemporary,' one finds that upon scrutiny, all limits of medium specificity are mutable, save one – each medium’s relation to its own narrative history. I would like to contend that in this sense painting - old, dirty, and undead – is paradoxically - more contemporary than the blog. By this standard of contemporaneity, as defined by what used to define the postmodern, but more so, painting’s confrontation with the depth of its own lack of being is constitutive, whereas the blog, by definition, is too busy with the day to day to be bothered justifying its severe limitations, which it simply assumes by denying them.
This should come as no surprise, since painting only came into its own once it was set free from service to the broader political economy. Ever since painting was laid off, it's been making the most of its unemployment. Some, like Ranciere, would go so far as to assert that painting as we perform it not only came into its own, but only came into being at all - retroactively - as a way of seeing, once its function as mass communication was outsourced and transformed. In its woeful obsolescence as a tool of social control, painting performs the reconciliation of the mind and body, both for the painter and the viewer, one at a time.
All of which is not to say that painting does not manifest the tell tale residue of the social. How could it not? It is as prone to replicating societal limitations as we are. And yet, just as we are free to examine, challenge, and re-imagine those limitations, and thus transform them to some extent, painting, being in some sense a site in which the limit as such is tested and subjected to scrutiny, is also able to do more than simply model existing limits. Which is not to say that it always does so – simply that it can. The blog, on the other hand, insofar as it exists as such, rather than as the nascent form of some other new emergent medium, is an example of what Marcuse referred to under the term "repressive desublimation" - performing the distracted and anxious 'mind' of the body that is both over and under worked.
This is why it will never do for artists, progressives, and all those others whose sense of the reality of the genuinely subjective (i.e. individual) response is systematically excluded and extruded from the consciousness of mainstream consensus reality in all of its forms – be they ‘liberal,’ ‘conservative,’ ‘radical,’ or ‘revolutionary’ - to allow themselves to be tempted into self sacrificial instrumentality on behalf of the society who’s lack of psychological integration on a collective and individual level will always reject the ‘gift’ of their silence, which is an inevitability regardless.
One can silence oneself on behalf of some other whom one imagines is not privileged to speak on their own behalf - speaking what one assumes they might speak for themselves if they were positioned in such a way as to speak on their own behalf - in which case one’s voice is that of a fictive subject – one’s own fiction - not that of the other one hopes to speak for. Here one’s own silence is added to that of another, and in place of one's own voice, which one is indeed privileged to have access to, one presents a fiction of some other’s voice – which in fact – speaks for no one, and is resented by all, even, and perhaps most of all, by those who do in fact benefit by it, up to a point.
Or one can silence oneself by attempting to speak in a way that will be understood. One attempts to anticipate the mis-recognition of the other – to meet the imagined other ‘half way.’ This is like voting for the Party because one assumes that if one votes for a candidate who actually represents one’s views, one will remain an unrepresented minority of one, rather than a member of a nominally represented majority - which is not to say that one must not in part sacrifice one’s privileges in the name of justice, only that one should not expect gratitude for one’s sacrifice, and one must not give so much that one is completely silenced in the act of substituting one’s access for another’s exclusion. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.
One’s own position as a subject is an unearned gift, and it is foolish to think that one can simply give it away. It is a privilege to be able to answer to the duty to strive for a world in which none are excluded, even if such a world is impossible. But it is not entirely up to oneself to dispense with one’s own gifts as one sees fit. It requires grace and humility to receive the gifts one is given. No true gift can be exchanged, any more than one can be where one is not.
One’s voice does not register, so one is forced to choose between being effective, in which case one silences oneself on behalf of others who one imagines are less free to speak, or being understood, in which case one at least in part deceives both oneself and others in order to be recognized as having a voice, even if that voice belongs to no one, and is in fact the voice of the social, in all of its silent and impersonal irrevocability.
Some hope for, and others fear, the singularity – when “Man” and “Machine” will merge as one. But the truth, as Burroughs and Lacan were early to recognize, is that Artificial Intelligence has been with us for quite some time - perhaps as long as there has been consciousness, and for at least as long as there has been language, if the two are indeed separable, which they very well may not be. As we speak, It silently acts. As we misrecognize ourselves and each other in Its manifestations, It remains the only truly authentic, “self-same” body. Meanwhile, something other in us will not be silenced by our somnambulant waking life. Orwell’s distopian vision of a future in which a boot stamps on a human face forever will not come to pass, much as we fear, and in so fearing perhaps secretly desire it. The future belongs to those who act freely, and it will not come until we choose it. But it will come, because we cannot refuse it, anymore than it can refuse us.
I am not interested in the voice that speaks and is understood without remainder. That voice will speak, with or without my assistance, as it’s mechanism is already set in motion. Its work is never done. It will not be silenced, and we all must make our peace with this fact one way or another. What remains undefined is what matters most.
We all must silence ourselves constantly, both in order to collaborate with others to facilitate just actions which are impossible in solitude, and in order to be understood, even if it means also to be misunderstood. And yet there’s so much left at the end of the day that goes unsaid. As an artist I reserve a place for another kind of silence in myself, and in so doing I respect and honor the silence in the other. This silence which will not be silenced is like that of the system itself, and of nature, and of God.
Two: Between Luck and Lucifer
I am the voice that does not speak and is not understood. I will not be silenced.
I say that what occurs does not repeat the gesture that constitutes its limit.
I say that what appears is not a fraction of what is.
I say that one's position as a subject is not an unearned gift, and
I say that it is foolish to think that one can keep it.
I say that it is entirely up to oneself how one dispenses with one's own
I say that it takes pride and ambition to give away the gifts that one has received, and
I say that no true gift can be kept, any more than one can ever remain entirely where one is.
Autonomy is and is not an economic question. One is free insofar as one has options, but one’s options are defined by one’s place in the apparatus, which one does not choose. Where one finds oneself at any given moment is a question of circumstances and cunning, It is never simply where one is: it is who one is, which is at once utterly determined and at the same time utterly mutable.
If a great leveling occurs, nothing will change hands: Wealth is permission. If we finally accept the true nature of privilege, we will simply give it to ourselves. But this is far easier said than done.
In the meantime, this is how we leave our station: by taking leave of ourselves, as defined by where we are. This is what it means to be free. If this is untenable, then so is choice, without which nothing is true, and everything is permitted except any genuinely critical or creative gesture.
Of course it is absurd to claim that this is not a blog, even though it is not. I ‘make do’ with what is ‘at hand.’ My clothes are ready to wear. I assemble an appearance from what is available to me. I adapt to the conventions of where I find myself. Finding oneself is not only a matter of looking inward. One cannot truly be oneself if one cannot accept the things about oneself that one did not choose. No one invents themselves from whole cloth. Each medium's narrative history is shattered and proliferating - retroactively reconfiguring itself in the hands of each practitioner. In other words - each one of us is in a sense a medium unto ourselves, and at the same time a fragment of another medium that we simply articulate even as we differentiate ourselves from what we perceive its conventions to be. This is as true of the blog as it is of painting. I clothe myself in the words I choose and the limits I select: I am not merely naked beneath these clothes. Apart from our context we are nothing.
So I select these words, and these words select me: My speech reveals and obscures. These decisions generate a position that was always already there, but only just now taken, even as I abandon it for another - eating my words - disappearing from one place as I reappear in another - a grin without a cat. Insofar as I am the position I occupy, I abandon myself to it. I am only accountable insofar as I am able to abandon my post. I am not responsible for my whereabouts. I have no choice but to choose from the options I am presented with. Hypocrisy, like cynicism, is an anachronistic accusation. We do the best we can. But it’s never enough. But this is as it should be: Genuine critique requires genuine complicity. This we have, so critique is still possible, however unwelcome. Culture is self critique, which is the only kind. When we are no longer complicit in our own undoing, our culture will cease.
Some would have us believe that without our words we are nothing. But the word is only the beginning of the end, which waits for us as we wait for it. If we were nothing before, then do we not remain thus? Even so, the nothing that we are is not negligible. We are the nothing on two legs. We are the nothing with eyes to see, and ears to hear. We are the nothing with hands to hold. We are the nothing that builds, and we are the nothing that loves.
Anonymity is and is not possible - is and is not desirable. Sometimes we would like nothing more than to disappear into our work. And sometimes we just want to see how it all turns out, without risking anything. But this is simply fantasy. We can only see what we participate in, and whatever we participate in we are accountable for. Whatever is visible to us is a part of us.
Some would have us believe that without our senses, our words have no meaning. But this is not so: our words go on without us. Our words are a form of transcendence – a pyrrhic victory over death, and its embodiment. We need these words because we need our limitations. I desire to speak – to be heard and to be understood. Visibility is and is not desirable. It is the end of the beginning that our words inaugurate.
You say that it's in our nature to blame the bringer of the light for that which the light reveals - and that it's in our nature to expropriate the lack within us.
You say that we call evil that which reveals our limitations.
You say we blame our words when they fail us, and you say we blame ourselves when we fail our words.
You say that it is not in our nature to be cruel, and that it is in our nature to seek justice.
And yet there is cruelty, and there is no justice.
We hope that it is in our nature to approximate the good we hope we are capable of. We do not know whether or not our approximation of the good is better than what precedes it, but we know at least that the gesture is good, even if its ends are undecidable.
How we leave is what defines us as other than ourselves as defined by where we find ourselves. As we approach the exit, this is how we hope to enter: palms open, awake: receiving what is given with gratitude and alertness, knowing that it belongs to us, just as much as we belong to it.
There is more between us than what is possible. This is why we paint.