CONCEPTUALIZING OF THE SELF IN THE AGE OF INTERFACE, OR SOME THOUGHTS BETWEEN TWO JOKES
Figure 0.1: The Opening
Young Kohn and his beautiful wife Sara both served Lord Richard. He worked as a chauffeur while Sara was Lady Fanny’s chambermaid. After some time, Kohn met his friend Abeles. His friend asked him how satisfied he was with his position. “Could be worse,” Kohn replied, “the work is good, the salary too, I’m just unhappy because Lord Richard’s taken it up with Sara and they already have two kids together.” “Then return the favor with Lady Fanny.” “That’s what I’m doing, we already have two kids as well. It just bothers me that I’m making him lords and he’s making me Kohns.”
Figure 1.1: The Concept and the Adaptation
The same way that the genetic code of the British lord receives genetic information of the Jewish family and the Jewish family receives the genome of British aristocracy, the most laboratory literary concept of the contemporary Anglo-Saxon cut (uncreative/conceptual writing) and the tradition founded on reflection of fleeting romantic-modernistic subjectivity also fertilize each other. The old Jewish joke can serve as
a model of the relationship between the series of binaries, contrasts, oppositions and antitheses – and especially as
a model of adaptation that unpredictably and spontaneously unfolds amongst the extremes. Each act of art is always based on some sort of concept. Even the traditional artistic object – canvas painting or a lyrical poem – follows the rules of its language that has been melded by tradition. If I keep my focus on poetry: the difference between “traditional” and present-day “conceptual” poetry consists in the fact that through traditional means we either conceptualize the inner, subjective sphere, some private universe – or the external, objective sphere, meaning shared reality. Even present-day literary conceptualism could be labeled
a “figure” in the broad sense of the word. The figure is a traditional label for the performing of a concept. A significant difference, however, is created by the position of the archive that we draw from by means of more or less clear algorithms (concept/figure). Both approaches can be supported by argumentation that leads them to what is sometimes called the “sobjekt” (V. Place) or “outimacy” (B. Ondreička). The boundaries of the intrinsic and extrinsic are permeable. The binarity is completely unstable in the analogical biosphere. The spheres do not fully merge, but we cannot determine where to separate them.
Figure 1.2: The Concept of the Adaptation
The artist is a role. The role is a social concept and thus in its own way a shared thought figure. The morphology of such
a figure essentially resembles the figure as we know it from literature: “[B]etween the writing and the meaning, between what the poet wrote and what he meant, there is a distance, a space; and as all spaces, this one as well has a form. This form is called the figure, and as many figures exist as can be found for that given form which always forms between the line of the signified and the line of the signifying [...],” Gérard Genette claims in one of his articles from the sixties where he looks into the phenomenon of the figure in literature. The idea, that between the expression (the signifying) and the meaning (the signified) a space is created, is connected to the time period of its formation, and yet we can still draw inspiration from it today and not only in the field of language. The figure can be understood as a substantially broader notion.
The artist (literary or otherwise) is more of a synthetic character, always exposing her intersubjectivity: “If the poet (artist) says me, he means we. When he says we, he means me,” a well-known maxim goes. The artist’s singular “me” is a role which is simultaneously formed by the language of public discourse, the collective plural: we. The form of the role is the shared figure: her “me” (and maybe even whichever “me”) creates a psychophysical space between the expression and the meaning of its role. At the same time – and this is crucial – the expression that creates her (literary, visually artistic, musical) language did not just drop from the heavens, but is adopted by the artist, as radically as she may choose to set herself apart from tradition aside. In the same way, the meaning the expression refers to is always conditioned at least by psychophysical dispositions of this talented walking monkey of the genus homo living in a pack of more than 7 billion members and its cultural precinct. The role is not exclusive, but rather inclusive.
The role is a figure. The figure is the space between the expression and the meaning which are just as subjective as objective (again, the synthetic term “sobjekt” comes to mind). And it is precisely this space that I perceive as the place of identity which is created by the point of intersection. If this space is created by the intersecting of the expression and the meaning, then it actually does not exist. I imagine the space of “me” more like a virtual setting: it is actualized only in relation to something and especially to someone, it is an interface. Such an identity is adaptable, nomadic, not stable. Fifty years ago, the Danish poet and essayist Hans-Jørgen Nielsen spoke of the “aperspective subject”: “‘Me’ is that which I am in relation to others. And because I am [...] in many different relations, ‘me’ is a series of different things.” This notion is about as old as Genette’s figure. It presents the idea that the way we get to know language is the same as how we get to know who we are and how we relate to each other. In the present day of interwoven awareness through the internet interface, these ideas from the sixties are once again current. Because we are time and time again proven guilty of being able to be someone in social structures (mailing lists, social networks, blogospheres, and the like) rather than alone by ourselves in perfectly silent off-line mode. The chaos of aperspective identity yearns for a concept that creates momentary order before the given concept loses its relevance in the variable environment. The paradigm of traditional originality has weakened as never before. It has become a former myth that is currently becoming a fairytale: “I love originality so much
I keep copying it” (Charles Bernstein).
Imagine a person that is seated at a table in a gallery and given the task of writing continually for 12 hours straight while the text is projected on the wall. The identity of that person is dictated by the language of the place she finds herself in and which she has become a part of, because it forms the space between the expression and the meaning of her role. In the role that is assigned to her, she finds herself between the language of singularity (she is a specific person with a name and surname, history and recollections, place of residence, blood type, etc.) and the language of the public space (even if we took away her name and dressed her in a completely androgynous manner, she would still remain contained by the concept in whose service she has physically found herself in). The boundary between the one and the other is unstable because it yields to the role she is placed in and that role is the figure – a formed, unstable setting.
Figure 1.3: The Adaptation of the Concept
Man is an animal of language. Language is the medium of communication. Communication is interactive. The medium is the interface. The space of the intersecting of the expression and the meaning resembles a battlefield. In every language, there are thought concepts conserved that make a claim on the space of identity, they try to interfere with it. As we are dealing with the language, the language is dealing with us. A person who describes her own self, i.e. creates a language representation of her own self that she uses to examine the space of her identity, exposes herself to the language she has used – its destructive and constructive forces. When I say:
“I am the one who...” – it is the moment that thought concepts our language carries as its genetic code are offered to anyone who wants to use or abuse them. If someone unknowingly describes her own self through the language of, say, a lifestyle magazine, she puts herself at the mercy of this framework of thought, she copies it and inserts it into her own. The destructive forces of language are capable of freezing original vitality and variability of live representation. They try to force it into the form of a definition and to categorize this definition (there are languages in which I am the patient, the voter, the user, the customer, etc.). It is our own language which suggests itself for it, because it is not quite our own. The ideology even manages to completely fill out the space of identity with the language of a future utopia.
Defense mechanisms exist in language as well. Our self-confidence depends on how capable we are of turning our meaning in language around. There are 3 basic so-called tropes (Gr. trópos = turn): irony, metaphor and allegory. The moment a person glimpses herself, as though she were looking at someone else, she has the greatest freedom to occupy the space between the expression and the meaning of her role. When I ask someone: “Who are you? Can you tell me something about yourself?” I am asking her to clarify the way in which she sees the space between her expression and her meaning. Her response is reflexive and performative at the same time, because in that moment, she is formulating and forming her identity. To which language she submits and how depends solely on her. Man is an animal of language in harmony or in conflict with language circumstances. The boundaries are permeable.
Figure 0.2: The Opening
It was during the spring that the Thames overflowed and started to rise dangerously. It reached the threshold of Lord Noel’s study in the evening hours – and when it began to spill over the threshold, the chamberlain solemnly announced: “Sir – the Thames.”
Ondřej Buddeus — A me
Is part of Ondřej Buddeus‘s participation in the Adaptation.
“But the need to adapt, uncoordinatedly, individualistically, without any authority, leader and order, to changes we initiate ourselves. Adaptation signifies now (asynchronously) and here (various places) an affinity with Utopia, which remains a non-place. Adaptation to conditions of reality which the collective dialectic of individuals without leader and order themselves create.“
Babi Badalov, Hafiz, Lia Perjovschi, Loulou Chérinet, Ondřej Buddeus, Ruti Sela, Shady Elnoshokaty, Vít Havránek, Xu Tan, Zbyněk Baladrán.
Curatorial Consultant Visual Arts:
Translation: © Tereza Novická, 2013.
Graphic design: www.mutanta.com
We would like to thank all participants of the festival who took part in the project.
We would also like to thank
the following individuals:
Hana Buddeus, Věra Krejčová,
Published by Steirischer Herbst Festival
GMBH Graz 2012 in collaboration with
© Ondřej Buddeus, 2013
steirischer herbst festival gmbh
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Land Steiermark Kultur
Stadt Graz Kultur
Bundesministerium für Unterricht,
Kunst und Kultur
Programm Kultur 2007-2013 der
Legero / con-tempus.eu