Construction is a viral condition

spreading throughout nearly all the areas of town I frequent. There’s a modernist spirit to construction that I believe acts on our sentiments silently so that we tolerate its obstacles and interferences: Construction = a sign of Progress, advancement, improvement = a flashing, recycling of capital, “Everything is Fine!” “We are building a strong future!” Or, as a sign in Chinatown reads, “[insert company name] Working Together to Improve Real Estate Values.” What are these values? Who gets to “work” on them? Where do they come from? What do they say? Who participates?

The physical signs that move into an area undergoing construction communicate obvious messages – Yield to workers, Caution men at work, Slow during construction…Less noticeable is the message whispered by the orange plastic fences that redefine the shape of pathways… Fences are blockades creating Insider/Outsider relations. They are Body Movers, Orchestral Conductors directing the rhythms and movements of the body in everyday foot-travel. The body becomes challenged to renegotiate its habitual movements in the space, especially if the path is one you take everyday to work, home, etc., a path nearly etched into the code of the body’s software 0101move01left0101now0101shifttotheright0101slight1010ly0000001

We are used to being channeled by other forces: roads, sidewalks, lines painted on the insides and outsides…all of these structures act on us in a quiet, persuasive way, waving us on with a breathless “go this way.” With so much of life engaging our brains, not our bodies, the physical aspects of moving literally through life are relegated to the background, white noise to our clear objectives in life. Less and less do our professions – wherein the bulk of our time and energies are spent – employ the body in a way that reminds us of its mortality, and amazing ability to feel pain and then repair itself. A slap in the face reminder of this was given to my body in the jolt experienced as I flew over my bike handlebars a few weeks ago. Since then, my jaw has mostly healed, and I have just a strip of scar tissue on my chin. Death and disease still remain processes we don’t deal with very well (speaking from my own experience). We change our topography, our “Real Estate Values,” more than we deal with the difficult, uncomfortable stuff. And there are so many ways to insulate us from feeling anything at all…[Quick short list]…drugs (prescription and illegal), alcohol, gambling, QVC, food, Give Us This Day Our Daily Starbucks…

More then ever there is a need to communicate the body’s experience, to reconnect without a “Do It At Home” yoga videotape. If we can abandon the language of movement that has become dominant and normalized in the everyday, the body’s voice can emerge to express its physical experience of life, and hopefully quiet the chatter of the brain that thinks it knows everything.


E is for Etiological

Last month Greg Allen (of greg.org) posted some good comments in response to my commentary on the obscuring impacts of postmodern language (and general academic jargon) in trendy art writing. I apologize for not realizing these comments were there until yesterday, which is of fortunate timing as I have had some similar thoughts on the topic since the original postings.

Greg said:

"Sometimes uncommon terms ARE required, to talk about specific things in a nuanced or particular way. Or because they carry with them the weight and association of the school of thought which brought them to prominence."

First, yes, I agree with the association aspect. New terminology is developed within fields for specific purposes, often due to developments in research, technological innovations, etc., and ultimately the circulation and reproduction of this language serves a role in the self-legitimation of the field. A certain amount of value that translates to cultural capital for the speaker/writer using the word is also embedded in the transmission of this language from sender to receiver. Last month I gave a presentation on this to my former policy research team that included a pictorial representation based on the notion of protein binding (I won’t go into all of that here, but this is a picture that generally represents the concept). Basically, for the language to stick and the data to transfer successfully, there must be similar value systems encoded within the individuals during the chain of communication. So, if I’m reading an article that uses the word, "etiological" (Greg’s choice example), and I don’t understand its application to the topic at hand (even if I know the definition of the word), its placement within the essay or article and any additional symbolic weight its sender intended is lost; the word did not bind to my receptors. Whew. Enough Biology this morning!

Second, I definitely agree that “sometimes uncommon terms ARE required” for they themselves allow access and insight into a topic that maybe shouldn’t be addressed in overtly simplified, pedestrian language. I began to address this topic on 2/28 when I wrote (briefly) in frustration about the relationship between writing poetry and writing about art. I had a conversation about this the other day with a friend who also writes poetry. The observation is that perhaps any writing, when not just transmitting data, can always be considered somewhat deliberately clandestine. Depending on the purpose of the sender, the concealed nature of the writing may be to elicit a physical response, emotional reaction, or otherwise different sensory engagement with the transmitted text. Unpacking the meaning becomes a playful a treasure hunt with the reward at the end of the rainbow unknown and perhaps different for each receiver, or as Greg said,

“And ultimately, converting everything into instantly comprehensible terms would diminish the effort/reward that comes with discovery and learning.”

I like this notion of “discovery and learning”…Instant access to an inherently nuanced subject – art – seems like a drive-through, commercial-speed approach to criticism, education, etc. on the topic (is it really possible anyway?). However, writers do run the risk of isolating their audiences by engaging forms of writing and vocabulary that is too removed from their experience. I end, again, with admission of my own guilt in this arena; if graduate programs are going to indoctrinate students with a postmodern dictionary of vocabulary, then it should also come with a users manual.

Thanks, Greg, for your comments!

A call for entries...

...I'm preparing for a performance piece that addresses the concept of postmodern rhetoric. It will take place next month (more details to follow).

As the topic of postmodern language has been discussed here quite a bit, I'm asking for submissions of your favorite vocabulary words from the thesaurus of post:modern:ity. Consider it an opportunity to vent by exposing the words that get under your skin and in the way of general communication.

Email me or post as comments...Thanks!


Imprinting the body

Patterns of prior experience imprint how we relate to the new, and negotiate our body and its spatial relations to the environment we have not previously encountered.

Like making love with someone for the first time, the body starts its moves in its old familiar routine, unaware the previous pattern doesn’t quite fit with the new body below. A sort of re-wiring has to be performed in order to rid the limbs of its habituized responses. A process of re-learning to embrace the flesh of another must occur if a climax of harmony, balance and synchronicity is to be reached. For a moment the body relives the memory – the smell of the skin is that of the lover before, the hair and skin tastes similar and the muscles are of unchanged flesh – then, just as quickly, the memory is replaced by the shock of the new. We cannot sniff out something recognizable; the senses must abandon its relics, and clean house to make a room for this new body. Acceptance of all of its hows and whats and ises and is nots inform the level of the pleasure derived, and inevitably, the color of the memory made new.

Encountering anything new in life involves a period of discomfort, however long or brief in duration, and the necessary confession that we simply Do Not Know how to handle what is before us. Perhaps this is why we bring the old to bear upon the newly encountered. By re-membering, we can re-program our body and mind to take in and derive something tangible from this foreign experience. In linguistics this is akin to the concept of “prior text.” A “text,” in this case, is defined as any entity that can become embedded with signification. Barbara Johnstone, in her chapter “Prior texts, prior discourses” [Discourse Analysis], discussed how the concept of prior text can be used to understand the recognition of “something old” in “something new” (more on prior text).

A more academic application of this concept --- Each field has its own canon of valued prior texts that are (re)produced in its students/laborers. Thus those graduates with art history degrees are sought after for gallery and museum positions since the degree accreditation assumes “prior text knowledge” of the field’s valued canon. One can easily see how some disciplines make this process of teaching/learning necessary to its own survival as a field.

However, when something new is encountered that cannot be immediately explained by the past, we seek out the memories we can twist and turn to mix into an understanding of the present. For example, we may conjure up dead artists from long ago to make sense of a contemporary's practice, describing her methods as similar to "The Great Master Painter _____." Or, we reference specific artworks that we believe parallel a newly encountered work, "that reminds me of _____ by ____." Hence the mutation of artist names into styles, like "Judd-esqe" or "Warholian."

Warping the past to fit the current moment, calling up such memories elicits a moment of nostalgia for that prior experience, the prior text applied in the new moment. Milan Kundera paraphrased in Ignorance that “nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return,” derived from the Greek “nostos”- return and “algos” – suffering. When recalling a past experience, we know we cannot actually return to that moment of initial pleasure (hence, the yearning and suffering) wherein that experience was embraced and patterned into the mind and body’s history. There is a physical aspect to recollection that demonstrates our memories do not reside in the mind alone; prior texts are rooted within the body. Some massage therapists believe in the ability of myofascial release as a technique that can produce psychological benefits from the discharge of negative memories trapped as toxins within the fascia layers between muscle and bone.

Nostalgia is also described as a connection to home, or familiar experience. Hence sayings like, “I feel at home in your arms,” or “home is where the heart is.” Finding a home in a person…When the pleasure of new becomes warmth of the familiar, of another like our mirror image…this is surely what Pablo Neruda was referring to in his poem, “The Song of Despair,” when he repeated the line, “In you everything sank!” The weight of the past becomes heavy when regret is involved, and light, only when the whole of the body senses the pleasure of former experience in feeling out something new, renegotiating physical relationships through re-wiring psychological patterning.



Blogging is so damn cool 'cause it's put me in touch again with two of my favorite people, Michael Forgione and Jon Kallas! Yea! A new slogan for blogger should be,

"Blogger. Putting the 'found' in the 'lost and found'. Now, isn't that special?"

Now back to regularly scheduled programming...Here's a list of writing to come:

1. Hair bands, prior text, the canon of art history and contemporary conceptual art.
2. Douglas Gordon & 24 hour psycho -- I know, I know, it was a while ago, but I've gotta say something about it.
3. The Smithsonian Internship Experience -- Updates from the field-less field.
4. And if the wireless powers that be make me happy and give me a connection near my hotel in NYC this week --- "Live from NY it's the Armory Show/Scope Blogger made-for-the-net mini-series drama." With the practice, patience and endurance of a seasoned marathoner, I am going to attempt to write about my adventures with G in NYC this week/weekend. I'm packing my Power Gel and extra socks. Give me the pavement baby.
5. A new site design (Tyler thanks me already).

...As always, this list is probably too ambitious, but I've been on painkillers all week from this damn bike riding injury...I'm slowing getting back into things. No helmet, just a jaw and chin injury, but my brain was shaken up a bit.

For now, a Warhol quote (Warhol in prep for a paper I'm delivering at the PCA/ACA conference next month):

"I broke something today, and I realized I should break something once a week...to remind me how fragile life is."