Charlie Dance: A Bird in the Hand


Advisor/tutor: Alena Alexandrova
Independent reviewer: Chris Kraus
Arnhem, July 2015


A Bird in the Hand explores the territory surrounding an initial, clumsy thought: What is it to write a thesis without knowing what to write it about? Faced by an ‘insurmountable mound’ of topics, theories, artworks, ideas, thoughts and possibilities this thesis is actually a guide for trying to use, to see and be aware of all of those things at once, and to achieve this by keeping everything outside of our focus. A Bird in the Hand visits the territories of the net, the rend, abstraction and the status of the image/picture relationship. At the same time as asking questions of concentration, wallowing in obfuscation, exhausting images, appropriating sources, experimenting with writing, and rocking the reader back and forth in the structure, A Bird in the Hand explores the out-of-focus as a mode, or state, useful to the comprehension and perception of ‘everything all at once’. The thesis brings the reader to a place within the out-of-focus whereby everything is perceptible and anything is possible. A Bird in the Hand shows that there’s not just a bird in the hand, but there are more in the bush, the bush, the hand, and the ‘the’ too.


A Bird in the Hand begins with a seemingly dumb and redundant question: What is it to write a thesis without knowing what to write it about? – but quickly proceeds to engage in an intelligent, probing close reading of (mostly) contemporary aesthetic theory in a (mostly) phenomenological vein.  Dance draws extensively Georges Didi-Huberman’s work on the nature of images, but then extends Huberman’s arguments through a series of fascinating performative readings of radio programs and movies – the “Characters!” interludes – in which elements of these cultural artifacts are abstracted and recomposed as stand-alone texts.   But then what, Dance asks, exactly, does it mean to “abstract”? 

The thesis engages in an energetic, intelligent and original way with the writings of Jacques Derrida, Walter Benjamin, Jules Verne, Deleuze and Guattari, among others.  Dance’s work on “rending” in the first several sections is particularly impressive and well drawn, analogous to Deleuze’s famous work on the fold. 

A Bird in the Hand is an impressive engagement with, and contribution to, theory that looks closely at the nature of images, anoetic consciousness, perception, exhaustion and form.