Tag Archives: autobiography

A sort of tomorrow (Stephen Andrews, part 9)

This partial, elliptical restoration of what remains inaudible and illegible in the lines scratched in the margins of “The First Part of the Second Half” yields the formidable task of reading Andrews reading Carson reading the scriptural account of Lazarus.  At every turn, the event in question – which is not represented but figured – is a resurrection, among whose incalculable effects is an unsettling in the order and the measure of time.  What Carson’s director of photography, translating and paraphrasing Rilke, terms “the flip-over moment” relegates chronological time – “Before and after” – to virtual irrelevance; hence this impossible documentary (“Our sequence”) purports to open and close with the time (“that moment”) of a singular upheaval. 

The radical disordering of the time of lived experience as well as that of narrative succession leaves us with discontinuous, heterogeneous moments, each exerting a certain “pressure,” each with an again incalculable bearing on us, now. 

We know the difference now 

(life or death). 

For an instant it parts our hearts.  [Carson, 95] 

The poem’s first-person plural here inscribes the reader in a claim to “know the difference” (the interposed parentheses that demarcate “life or death” signal an interruption in the unfolding of the utterance itself), a claim tied to a moment (“now”) that is of necessity itself different with every reading.  And because it is impossible to determine in strictly grammatical terms whether to assign “now” to “know” or to “difference,” the difference in question may also differ from one reading to the next.  For another “instant,” a time with no measurable duration, the difference “parts our hearts,” engendering a further difference, not between but within us, each of us.  The effect here is perhaps akin to the disturbance that Derrida locates in Maurice Blanchot’s The Instant of My Death, which is also a remarkable (autobiographical, autothanatographical) reinscription of the Lazarus narrative. 

A disturbance in the measure of time and a paradox of these instants, which are so many heterogeneous times.  Neither synchrony nor diachrony, an anachrony of all instants…. There is not a single time, and since there is not a single time, since one instant has no common measure with any other because of death, by reason of death interposed, in the interruption of reason by death, so to speak, because of the cause of the death there can be no chronology or chronometry.  One cannot, even when one has recovered a sense of the real, measure time.  And thus the question returns, how many times:  how much time?  how much time?  how much time?   [Derrida, Demeure, 94] 

The pressing question posed (how many times?), though not answered, in and through the story of Lazarus and its allegorical reinscription (Blanchot’s, Carson’s, Andrews’) is quantitative, a matter of duration:  How much time?  How long a reprieve from a death that will be – when it comes to stay, as it surely will – premature?  In each instance, the uncertain response is figured and refigured as “a sort of tomorrow, a sort of postscript,” for “this remainder that remains…will have been but a short sequel of sorts, a fallout, a consequence”  (Derrida, Demeure, 94). 

Maurice Blanchot

"Men in the Off Hours"

"Self-Portrait as After Image," 2009

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Archive of Devastation (Derek Jarman’s ‘Blue,’ part 2)

The gestation of the film that would eventually be realized as Blue was a lengthy one, traceable through notes and proposals dating from as early as 1987, as well as through the range of possible titles that Jarman considered at various stages, including Bliss, Blueprint, A Blueprint for Bliss, International Blue, Forget-Me-Not, Speedwell Eyes, Bruises, Blue protects white from innocence, 0, Into the Blue, My Blue Heaven and Blue is Poison.  In a proposal written in August 1987, preserved in the archive of his production company, Basilisk, Jarman adumbrates      

[a] fictional film exploring the world of the painter Yves Klein, inventor of the void, International Blue, the symphony monotone.  A film without compunction or narrative existing only for an idea.  In the cacophony of images Yves found the silence of the immaterial, expressed in a series of symbolic gestures performed in six short working years before his early death [in 1962] at 32.  Yves is mercurial, enigmatic…. a devotee of St. Rita, the patron saint of lost causes…. The proposal is to develop a feature length film in 35 mm exploring further the juxtaposition of sound and image that exists in ‘The Last of England,’ but unlike this film to produce an atmosphere of calm and joy.  A world to which the refugees from that dark space might journey.      


In the aftermath of his HIV diagnosis, Jarman found fresh inspiration in the abbreviated career of Yves Klein, particularly in the latter’s pursuit of the immaterial in and through his monochromatic paintings rendered in the vibrant ultramarine that he would come to copyright as “International Klein Blue,” or IKB.  In Chroma, written in 1993, Jarman invokes “The great master of blue – the French painter Yves Klein.  No other painter is commanded by blue, though Cezanne painted more blues than most.”      

International Klein Blue

 Though Blue was initially conceived as an imageless homage to his predecessor, accompanied by a “sophisticated Dolby stereo soundtrack which would tell the Yves Klein story in sound and jazzy be-bop,” the obvious difficulty of funding such a project led Jarman to consider other, very different scenarios, including an elaborate masque dedicated to Klein that would involve a host of dramatis personae, historical pageantry and image montages.  Always, the soundtrack was integral to his plans for the film.  At one stage, Jarman “dreamed of recording the actor Matt Dillon’s heartbeat for the soundtrack:  ‘it would make a great first credit'”; at another point, he “thought the film might follow the sound of footsteps, a journey with the continuous murmur of lazy waves, sea breezes, thunder, and stormy growlers.”      

In the name of “the admirable austerity of the void,” however, the filmmaker would ultimately revert to his original conception of a blue screen devoid of images.  If for Caravaggio, the protagonist of an earlier feature released in 1986, the color had been “poison,” Jarman himself came to exploit the potential of blue as pharmakon:  simultaneously pathogen and remedy, and strictly neither, but a potent distillation of autobiography and historiography, “subjective memory and documentary reality,” in “a fragment of an immense work without limit.”

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“Untitled” (I was here) (Felix Gonzalez-Torres, part 2)

Gonzalez-Torres himself inflected the tension between the works’ impermanence and their immunity to destruction in autobiographical terms:

This work originated from my fear of losing everything.  This work is about controlling my own fear.  My work cannot be destroyed.  I have destroyed it already, from day one …. That is how I made this work.  That is why I made this work.  This work cannot disappear.  This work cannot be destroyed the same way other things in my life have disappeared and have left me.  I destroyed it myself instead.  I had control over it and this is what has empowered me.  But it is a very masochistic kind of power.  I destroy the work before I make it.  [quoted in Nancy Spector, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 1995, 122]

In the artist’s account of the stacks’ origins, their “how” and “why,” destruction precedes creation, the end predates the beginning, in a formulation that recalls the precarious temporality of human existence:  specifically, the metaleptical structure of what we call our lifetime insofar as it emerges against the imminent horizon of our impending death.  That such a seeming inversion in the expected order of things (“I destroy the work before I make it”) proves a telling trait of the work of art in this particular age of AIDS is adumbrated in Gonzalez-Torres’ gloss on the “one enormous collaboration with the public” that the stack pieces initiate – a give-and-take venture in which the “pieces just disperse themselves like a virus that goes to many different places – homes, studios, ships, bathrooms, whatever” [quoted in Spector, 58].  Thus, while critics were quick to point out the stacks’ formal affinities with the monolithic, manufactured solidity and singularity that characterizes the minimalist sculpture of the 1960s, as well as their indebtedness to certain tendencies in so-called conceptual art, there are emphatic differences between the paper stacks and any such precedents.  As Gonzalez-Torres assessed this attempt at a critical genealogy, “This type of work (the stacks) has this image of authority, especially after so many years of conceptual and minimal art.  They look so powerful, they look so clean, they look so historical already.  But in my case, when you get close to them you realize that they have been ‘contaminated’ with something social” [Rollins, 21].  With proximity comes a reckoning with the “contaminated” status of the stacks, which, “like all art,” are hostage to “the passage of time” and subject at least to “the possibility of erasure and disappearance,” but at a rate and to an extent that warrants differentiation rather than, or at least prior to, assimilation.

That the stacks share these susceptibilities to contamination and premature disappearance with human existence itself is rendered painfully legible in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  The simile with which the artist characterizes the dispersal of the pages – “like a virus” – locates a crucial and perilous temporal dimension in this body of work, one that emerges again in Gonzalez-Torres’ retrospective account of the pivotal 1990 exhibition:

… I wanted to do a show that would disappear completely.  It had a lot to do with disappearance and learning…. Freud said that we rehearse our fears in order to lessen them.  In a way this ‘letting go’ of the work, this refusal to make a static form, a monolithic sculpture in favor of a disappearing, changing, unstable, and fragile form was an attempt on my part to rehearse my fears of having [his longtime lover] Ross [Laycock] disappear day by day right in front of my eyes.  [Rollins, 13]

And yet the stack pieces bespeak not only fear, but a certain hope as well, in that they are predicated on the possibility of replenishment and restoration to their “ideal” dimensions – a possibility unavailable to Ross, for example.

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