Rachel O'Reilly / HOW TO DO THINGS WITH THEORY - Introduction to seminar 2015-2016: On the Limits of the Writerly
Participating students: Dai Xiyun, Joost Mellink, Pilar Mata Dupont, Flora Woudstra, Florencia Almirón, Nika Timashkova, Malcolm Kratz, Wayne Wang-Jie Lim, Son Kazovsky, Ilan Manouach, Maike Hemmers, Larose, Valentina Curandi, David Bergé.
On the Limits of the Writerly
Prior to the recent legitimacy crises of neoliberalism, Contemporary Art took rather less interest in language-based practices, especially those trafficking in an oral image. Derridean deconstruction excommunicated a certain kind of embodied ‘expressionism’ from the white cube, possibly as a result of preference being given to one translation of Derrida over another--the neutrality of ‘There is nothing outside the text’ (downgrading subjectivity differentials) over an other oscillation in his translation that seems rather more generously secular and planetary, ‘There is no outside-text’. The oscillating difference is identified by Gayatri Spivak, among others, whose articulation of culture’s non-globalisability in planetarity is taken as a persistent framing proposition.
Poiesis as we might know is a verb, a concept of an action—not specific to poetry— that both transforms and has continuity with the symbolic materiality of a world unfolding. The stereotypically liberal conception of the poet figure that does this kind of work however tends to still be conceived as a private ‘I’ lyricist, romantically distanciated from ‘real' material macroeconomic disciplining. In so far as critical poetries and small press literary practices avoid coalface negotiations with capital for access to publics and payments for performativity (reproducing and exchanging through gift culture, and limited prints, for example), the image is reinforced that to invest in the poetic is to carve out mostly marginal spaces of spiritual durability and non-labour. Legacies of critical poetry / poetics are worth revisiting here.
In its present conjuncture, writerly and poetic practices are everywhere circulating in Art, reorganising to query production conditions. Against the neoliberalised discourse and chrono-fixation of the art work as always-already produced-potential knowledge, we might consider literary work here as being “concerned with the risk that knowability itself—the Idea—would be, in turn, presupposed and substantialised as another thing, as a duplicate of the thing before or beyond the thing.” (in Aaron Hillyer). And that this thing that literary experimentation aims at can only be apprehended through “the very medium of its knowability. ” At this point it is not only impossible to break the question of literature from philosophy, poetry from poetics but even to know which intention one might have or be holding over the other at any one moment in a practice.
Meanwhile, speculations in Contemporary Art via media theory posit the arrival of a technologically destined present in which it might be possible for theory to “overlook” language (see for example how this conversation has played out between Alexander Galloway and Wendy Chun). Under-elaborated entrepreneurial norm-mongering styles of theoretical writing tend to swerve entirely from the difficulty and dynamism of cultural political incommensurables of the global and (/in) the technological, in Public Relating language practices that have never seemed so interested in their own forces of expropriation and elimination. How do we feel response-able to ‘inquire’ and work on language into these contexts, and what is literary writing’s inquiry, in being based in that? What does the normotic losslessness (Christopher Bollas) of vertically inspired ‘new aesthetic’ programs say to the prospects of a technologically informed writerly politics? Indeed, where do literature’s or language’s larger politics figure in these conjunction? What are the stakes of such a terrain of play? We may read or reference Isabelle Stengers, Avita Ronell, Melanie Klein, Juliana Spahr, Kathy Acker, Lauren Berlant, or Laurence Rickels here.
The seminar thus works through these alongside other related double-images of the limits of the Writerly. It will do this broadly, through exposure to a number of exemplary ‘literary-philosophical’ texts, and more specifically or concertedly through a planetary—that is, cultural political and world-ecological—focus on the New Economy’s specific setup of relations between capital/ization and language. Through Christian Marazzi and others, we will consider the increased import of linguistic innovation in constructing the information deficits of speculative economy that limit geo-social futurity, alongside the rise of newly dominant forms of labour saturated with linguistic performance imperatives—the co-assemblage of this. That corporations, too, including in their purchase on science as a mode of production, are busy authoring socially disorganising, expropriating poems. Post/language poetries have in fact interrogated this aspect of New Economy since the 1970s. The persistent mis-measure of the ‘globalisability’ of individual practices, alongside the juxtapolitical purchase of Art’s own global divestment theories, are two ways in which the systemic contradictions of linguistic industriousness will be assumed to play out.
Artistic and corporate immaterial labours entangle with the materiality of (post/)natures (in the value form) but also through complex forms human/posthuman projection, and forces not fully contained by devices (for example think of the affective organizing power of self/governance by Contract). To acknowledge theory and cultural practice as something that reads/writes differently by ‘travelling’ (Edward Said), and by being so tele-poetic (Spivak) or projective, “real and mythological, technical and philosophical” (Dominique Païni) is to make critical, technical sense especially of the aesthetic political division of those for whom the point of view on (theory’s) image is “not assignable to a particular place and is mandatory in the space” from “those for whom the point of view on the image is marked by the restraint of being bound to a place inferred by the apparatus of projection” (Païni). The Marxist interpretation of this is just ‘class’ but class does not get at the specificities of sex/gender abstractions nor the persistent coloniality of power, nor the density of, for example, bioregional knowledge commitments or practices in the cultural productions of lived grounds, within ranges of potential overlapping dispositifs. Here we may read further into some missed connections between (post)cinematic philosophy, postcolonial and indigenous science studies, feminist techno-science and geo-social environmentalism. Writers here might include: Collectivo Situaciones, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Hortense Spillers, or Angela Mitropolous.
From the very first session a relationship is thus set up between ‘Travelling Theory’ (Edward Said) and the 'Writing of the No’ (in Aaron Hillyer’s The Disappearance of Literature). A diffractive arrangement of ‘affirmation and negation’ and ornate politics of space emerges from bringing these texts together. Both theorise a kind of base wager “that the literary word's potential is not yet consumed”. We will assume this also, through our own further readings of Maurice Blanchot, and frame our course of study through the particular signposts that Hillyer has laid out as identifiable in commitments to the limits of the writerly: the affirmative modality of study, the question of community, the improper nature of our dealings with apparatus, the relationship between mysticism and un/governable subjectivity, and of literature/writing to itself.
Note: Given this is a new seminar, selected readings from this overview may be added to, tweaked or altered according to specific directions taken by our discussion in the early few seminars. Live writing exercises following directly from specific readings or discussions, or breaking off from them, may be a potential feature of each class. Other materials will be brought in intermittently.
 ‘Globalization takes place in capital and data. All the rest is damage control’. Gayatri Spivak, Aesthetic Education in An Era of Globalization p1.