Ane Østrem & Sander Uitdehaag: this is the sis
Mentor: Doreen Mende
Independent reviewer: Facs of Life, Silvia Maglioni & Greame Thomson
Arnhem, June 2012
Before you lays this is the sis, a mutual text, an exercise in writing together, a dialogue that has been growing in coming and going. During the last six months we have been reading and writing, trying to figure out how to do things with theory. After deciding to write together, we set up a framework. For one week one of us was writing while the other one was reading. After one text had been sent, the roles reversed: the reader became the writer, picking up from an element of the other’s text, while the first writer went on doing research and waiting for the other to reply. You could say we replaced a classical structure of argumentation by creating a system of hiccups and pick-ups. Whenever there was a temporary stoppage in our thought system we sent off what we had so far, trusting that the other would find a way in - or out - and continue.
Quite early in the process this method of picking up from where the other had left it, lead to questions around the issue of editing. The system made it almost impossible to delete earlier texts and paragraphs, because the follow-up text was always a reaction to the flow of the entire text that came before. Also, next to the main texts that were sent back and forth, we were constantly making additions to the text of the other, and soon we had reached a point of no return. Our text would need to grow like an endless rhizome, without hierarchy, into many directions, and with buds where new words might or might not be added to at a later moment in the process.
We decided to create a space for these additions. Initially we called these new fragments, quotes, images and sometimes entire texts ‘footnotes’, but we could never quite adjust to the inherent implications of the word footnote: our additions were not lower in rank, they just came later in time, and thus did not belong at the bottom of a page. So we created a space next to the written texts where diversions, alternative and parallel routes can exist and potentially keep growing. In the text that you have in front of, behind or next to you, you find both the result and the process of what can best be typified as a rhizomatic dialogue: a text that grows from the middle and shoots into many directions. In it we try to locate as precisely as possible the enjoyment of an exchange, of our exchange.
The introduction that you are reading right now is living a little outside the text(s) that we call our thesis. We rather build and add and continue than polish and take away. We edit the formulations in which we express our ideas, but not so much the ideas themselves. Therefore this is the sis has no conclusion, nor is this really an introduction that sums up what is about to follow. It makes more sense to call what you are reading now an epilogue. A continuation of what comes after this. This is the beginning of the continuation and the end of the beginning.
The time of writing is an important factor in this text. In the back and forth sending of this growing object, and through the constant reflection on what is happening in and changing through this action of sending and receiving (changing inside the text, inside Ane, inside Sander), we try to make you, the reader, part of the sensation of creating. Ideally you will be able to feel the beat of the time passing, since the text does not only express a (line of) thought in words, it also shows the coming into being of a thought through experiment. So before you lays the result of an experiment, in the most literal meaning of the word: ‘a test done carefully in order to study what happens and gain new knowledge.’
In this test we have tried to clearly keep our separate voices. We wanted to study what would happen between us, and it was never our goal to merge or to become one voice. We’ve tried to highlight this through giving our individual voices a font of their own. Ane is always talking in Helevetica Neue and Sander is saying things with a Times New Roman accent. Ane’s texts and additions are justified, Sander’s aren’t. Ane is numbering her additions in a chronological order, where Sander’s numbering is built on geo-spatial methods.
We believe strongly in the theme of the search, of searching. In showing the process and by being two people writing, we hope to overcome the definiteness of a text. We were asked to write a thesis, but we had to find out for ourselves what that means. What does it mean when you are two artists writing a thesis for their MA in fine arts? What makes it different from writing a thesis in philosophy or in literature? What does it mean to write something together? There are no clear answers to these questions. Perhaps you can say that the role of an artist is to all the time reinvent the role of the artist.
Some of these questions and doubts and attempts on how to do things with theory differently were expressed in the constant exchange of emails that guided or surrounded the texts that were being sent from Oslo to Amsterdam and the other way around. On a long flight from Dakar to Istanbul, while working on the design of our texts, and finally being in the same (out--of--)space, we decided that these emails needed to be in as well. They belong within the structure of this dialogue like all the other parts, and so a third space on our spread is designed for this second set of additions. The multiplicity or assemblage that is our thesis needs all the parts to be itself.
Through the many books, novels, texts, poems and song lyrics we have devoured and tasted, swallowed and spit out during the writing of these texts, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari were always present. Texts and ideas by these two thinkers and do-ers have been read and reread by us, discovering new things every time. In the preface of Difference and Repetition Deleuze writes about the difference between writing the history of philosophy and writing philosophy. He says that when you write the history of philosophy you follow the arrows of a great thinker, while when you write philosophy you might gather the arrows you fine the finest and shoot them off in new directions. This links in to how we’ve picked up from Deleuze’s pick-up method. Deleuze suggests that certain concepts that are associated with a particular field or context, could be freed from this context by being connected with another concept or idea and in this way attain new meaning.
Following this line of thought, we have tried to let some of the concepts that made a resonance in us become a part of the way we have worked and the way we have (continually) shaped our work. It early became clear to us that this was not going to be a thesis about Deleuze or Guattari, in the same way as we haven’t tried to write about time passing but to let the passing of time become the text itself. Perhaps especially their shared writings on the constant state of becoming that all things and beings are in, and that all ideas and forms should be in, strengthened our view to seek for personal and new ways to be two artists writing. Guattari states that there is no such thing as a fixed subject. There is only the process of subjectification, a journey that has no grail except to be on the quest towards it. We pick up and revisit and through doing that we try to define and relate to the changing/fluxing/becoming world. Our position in relation to each other, to writing, to ideas, and to the field we find ourselves in. (or out) One thing that excites us by the field of art is how it is placed in the cros--roads. between other fields like philosophy and psychology and literature and how it allows for ideas from these different areas to be placed next to each other and thus form new constellations. If you want you can call it theory. We call it the sis.
From the outset, Sander Uitdehaag and Ane Ostrem's joint work The sis poses the problem of how it should or could be evaluated. The title itself is indicative of a desire or need to make something that is sui generis, not a thesis but the sis. In this sense it is a critical, artistic and one might even say political response which refuses to wholly conform to a certain mode, not of artistic production but of production of the artist as a social and economic category within an academic framework. The sis sets out to reactivate the dimension of incommensurability and formal invention that is proper to art but improper in terms of evaluation. It refuses or perhaps it would be better to say steps aside from one of the first definition of thesis, that of occupying and defending a place or territory, a stepping aside that is more of the nature of a dance and that Michel Serres argued might be a precondition for thinking. « To think is merely to step aside, give up one's place ».
Thus the entanglement of feet and footnotes that are necessarily out of place gives the sense of learning the steps of a dance (in terms of reference to past models, most notably Deleuze and Parnet's dialogues) and making mistakes along the way, mistakes which are then assumed as a potential terrain of invention (creating new steps). This procedure has a certain gauche charm though one that frequently risks sliding into overindulgence. The partners in this dance, played out across the space of the page in a manner that frequently evokes the stylized courtly dances of the renaissance, become figures in a cognitive, bitextual romance, one voice lyrical and rhapsodic, the other quizzical, sly and a bit pedantic. The emphasis here is on process, play, the construction of a Winnicottian potential space that would also be an ethical space of friendship, co-creation, of self-othering and the play of difference. However in our view the project, has a number of drawbacks and limits.
One is the question of its heterogenesis, its method of pickup which tends to fold back upon a familiar, well-thumbed corpus of « self-reflexologists » (Borges, Perec) and « sympathetic » theorists (Derrida, Barthes) leading to a too comfortable homogeneity and a movement that for all its rhizomatic horizontality, appears somewhat involutive and self-regarding. The scrutiny of textual process in relation to thinking bespeaks a dangerous a-historicity in the uses of theory that ignores movements, ruptures and political stakes that are continually being re-evaluated and renegotiated (and here the question of evaluation returns from the outside) in relation to wider social and political realities, pressures and shifts, as though the sis were taking place, and its flowers being plucked, in a timeless theoretical garden of innocence which is the text itself.
And if writing here is part of a life and knowledge process that acknowledges the ragged and unfinished, what lies beyond the borders of a "knowledge object" it is one that seems curiously unengaged with what lies outside its own borders, (which seems strange, though not entirely incomprehensible in the current climate). As Deleuze intends it, the method of 'pickup' would be a question of taking components from radically different fields, deterritorialize the field of philosophy, for it is the conditions of outside pressure on thought that forces us to think differently and find new arms. But here we find precious little reference to these growing pressures that are affecting the very life processes the sis seeks to instantiate as a legitimate part of knowledge production. One of the voices describes the text as more of a parenthesis than a thesis, and this is true in a sense (though perhaps not the intended one) that the agents of this process, perhaps seeking a kind of refuge or suspension, seem to be trapped within its brackets. G.T. & S.M.