Magdalena Mellin: Restaging Disappearance

Mentor: Alena Alexandrova

Independent reviewer: Mladen Dolar

Arnhem, June 2012


This thesis focuses on concepts of absence and presence as fundamental states of being, which are inexplicable and transcendent but exist within a certain frame. In this dialectic  of  presence  and  absence  I  struggle  between  ontological  or phenomenological  solutions and  I  have  identified  them  both  with  an  image  of  me coming  back  to  my  Self,  however  without  knowledge  of  where  this  Self  is,  nor  with
any assurance of where I have been before.
Using the example of the relation of Self to I (which is also the other) thesis seeks to explore ways  of  restaging  disappearance and tries  to  describe  the  moment  of  flux between absence and presence and how it is represented. This can be realised as a double nature, at first originating with an absence, which from the beginning needs to be identified with some image, and which subsequently can then be called presence.
Conversely  it  also  starts  with  some  surpassing  presence,  which  (with  the  help  of some image) needs to be represented as absence, if any other images are meant to appear.
I  would  like  to  object  that  there  is  only  being,  and  nothingness  is  not.  For  me, absence  is  being,  itself  realised in this  performative/hysteric  relation  between  Self and I, wherein  one  is  a  condition  of  being  for  the  other  (as  in  the  relation  between experience  and  memory)  however  this  also  leads  ultimately  to  the simultaneous partial disappearance of the initial term.


The thesis "Restaging disappearance"presented by Magdalena Mellin for the completion of her MFA studies at DAI is a most impressive piece of writing. The author has undertaken a very ambitious and challenging project, tackling a very demanding topic of disentangling, to make it quick, the identity/non-identity of the I and the Self. She has succeeded in producing a cogent, engaging and passionate meditation on the elusive boundaries of I/Self, coming to grip with the notions of presence and absence, memory and image, appearance and disappearance, inside and outside etc. She defines very well her objective and the terms she is working with – basically the relationship of the I and the Self, without espousing any easy solutions; she displays on the way a vast background knowledge of a number of relevant authors – Derrida, Lacan, Blanchot, Caillois, Merleau-Ponty, Žižek, Butler, Phelan etc. – without however turning this into an academic exercise of interpretation and the contest of theories. She maintains throughout the text a very distinctive voice, which one cannot really label as personal or authorial since what is at stake here is finding a voice at the edge of anonymity and dispossession rather than that of self-expression. The author also constantly refers her meditation to her artistic practice, bringing forth the reflection on its springs and its possible merit. One might take issue with some of her claims (e. g. equating the self with the real in Lacan, which would need more circumspection, or the different uses of the term subject and subjectivity, which are laden with a long and convoluted history), but all this is of little importance in comparison with the passionate clarity of her research, and the simultaneity of poetic, experiential and reflective value of her writing. M.D.