I started thinking that, as in studying an art work one likes, it’s important to know the historical context out of which something came and I began working on this post. Given that this is the last (?) week of #rhizo15 I realized that, imperfect and incomplete as it is, I better post it. It was an interesting exploration, not least because I realized how subjective my own sense of the 1980s was… your history-mileage may vary 🙂
All images except this, the middle one by Jennifer Bartlett and the last one are from 1980(ish) unless otherwise stated.
As we investigate Deleuze and particularly A Thousand Plateaus; Capitalism and Schizophrenia, it’s interesting to consider what else was happening in popular culture and in art when it was published in English… as a theme song we might imagine Sondheim’s singular and offbeat “Try a Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd, first staged in 1979 – a strange, dark homage to capitalism, equality and cannibalistic humour that asks, what can one do but laugh (and take advantage) when things no longer make sense. Mrs Lovett, who bakes meat pies, is as mad as Sweeney, though for different reasons.
Try a Little Priest
That’s all very well, but what we gonna do about him?
Later on when it’s dark, we’ll take it to some secret place and bury him
Oh yeah. Of course we could do that. I don’t ‘spose he’s got any relatives gonna come pokin’ ’round lookin’ for him.
Seems a downright shame…
The conflation of capitalism and art and eating were already being brought together in new ways by Andy Warhol in 1962 with his Soup Can paintings and by 1980 critics were writing books about these as part of the Pop “canon.” Never before had a movement in “art” been so publicly and quickly reified.
However, some critics by the ’80s were calling Warhol “superficial, facile and commercial,” and he was responding in a new way, battling capitalist media judgement with the one-two punch of the unapologist veneration of the objectified subjective: “I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They’re so beautiful. Everything’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.”
In retrospect, some wonder if Warhol’s superficiality and commerciality was not “the most brilliant mirror of our times.”
In 1980 Art Spiegelman began publishing Maus as a serial, and later as a graphic novel that was personal, political, transformational and based on his father’s stories of the Holocaust.
Seems an awful waste…
Such a nice, plump frame
Wot’s ‘is name has…
Nor it can’t be traced…
Bus’ness needs a lift,
Debts to be erased…
Think of it as thrift,
As a gift,
If you get my drift
Seems an awful waste…
I mean, with the price of meat
What it is,
When you get it,
If you get it…
Good, you got it!
Keith Haring took graffiti street culture and added new aspects of language and subjectivities that asked questions about what mattered…
Stephen Sondheim’s new musical Marry Me A Little was opening on Broadway – a play about two people who live in apartments in the same building but never find a way to move forward into relationship… it might have been quite different if they’d been on Facebook…
It would be seven more years before he would deconstruct and reconstruct Bruno Bettelheim’s 1976 The Uses Of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales as the musical Into The Woods but people were already very excited about what this book might mean, based on Bettelheim’s experiences with troubled children (later to be questioned). It was a whole new way of looking at the implications of stories in our lives. Tracings, maps, rhizomes.
Angela Carter, in Britain, was starting to ask similar questions about the implications of myth, tales and stories in our lives in her short story collection, The Bloody Chamber, from which her story “The Werewolf” would become the movie, In The Company of Wolves:
However, she was also exploring a much wider range of source materials, including a feminist re-reading of De Sade as emancipatory:
All over, from the edges and margins, different groups were coming to the forefront to interrogate even the interrogated… to question how social construction was creating conditions for marginalization and then making of that marginalization different sub-groups.
Gay people were about to be inflicted with an epidemic that would transform everything, when they had only just begun to find themselves in a new kind of sexual freedom, described by John Rechy in the 1963 novel City of Night, which he would later say (like 1000 Plateaus) was based on and made up of letters and correspondence but not originally written as a text, was, like Warhol, not an apologist representative: “Gay men should not adopt the sophomoric model of heterosexual dating; gay men should always have sex first.” In 1980 he was continuing on course with the novel Rushes, a novel that ended with a kind of cultish sexual sacrifice in an S & M bar.
The arrival of AIDS created the opportunity for a new kind of panopticonism (which Foucault was exploring in 1980 with the publication of his essays on Power/Knowledge) in which directives from an establishment that had been appalled by the emancipation of gay people began to demand abstinence at best and decried that this was the fate homosexuals deserved at worst. Newly created gay organizations were given grants to conduct education campaigns, for the first time, becoming responsible for the de-radicalisation of a new, loud minority. Instead, a new, louder minority was created:
Take, for instance, Mrs. Mooney and her pie shop!
Bus’ness never better using only pussycats and toast!
Now a pussy’s good for maybe six or seven at the most!
And I’m sure they can’t compare as far as taste!
Mrs. Lovett, what a charming notion
Well, it does seem a waste…
And yet appropriate as always!
Think about it…
Mrs. Lovett, how I’ve lived
Without you all these years, I’ll never know!
“I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order.” Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge
“Is it surprising,” Foucault asked in Surveiller et punir (English translation: Discipline and Punish, 1977), “that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” Meanwhile, in his private life, he too was experimenting with sado-masochism. Alexander Nehamas has said that “sadomasochism was a kind of blessing in Foucault’s life. It provided the occasion to experience relations of power as a source of delight.” Ruptures and ruptures and rapture.
These investigations of sexuality were creating a map for Foucault to think about the personal as political in a new way. His “new scholarly interest in the self had grown out of his study of sexuality”:
So it was that Michel Foucault, on the night of October 20, 1980, found himself facing a mob at the University of California at Berkeley.
That evening he was slated to deliver the first of his two Howison lectures on the campus; in these lectures, he would be offering the most succinct overview yet of where his research was headed — namely, back to the founding fathers of Western thought. His American public, however, knew nothing about this program. Students were still stuck on the grisly opening of Discipline and Punish — and the mysterious ending of The Will to Know. Bodies! Pleasures! Torture! Had philosophy ever sounded so sexy?
They began arriving an hour in advance, filling every seat in the large hall [Wheeler Auditorium]. And still they kept coming. Soon several hundred more people had gathered outside the hall, clamoring to get in. Police rushed to the scene. The doors to the hall were locked shut. Enraged, the crowd outside began to push and shout, pounding on the doors.
Foucault was nonplussed. Advised of the baying throng, he turned to Hubert Dreyfus, the Berkeley professor who was to introduce him, and begged him to do something, anything, to make these people go away.
Halfheartedly, Dreyfus addressed the crowd — and complied with Foucault’s wishes: “Michel Foucault says this is a very technical lecture, and difficult, and, I think, he wants to imply, boring; and he suggests that it would be better for everyone to leave now.
Foucault and Deleuze were making philosophy sexy. Kind of like the academic version of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.” As Jeremy Livingston says in a commentary on this blog post:
In 1977, Gilles Deleuze jotted down some notes on his own and Foucault’s respective conceptions of desire and pleasure; they were published, and now they’re reprinted in “Two Regimes of Madness”, under the title “Desire and Pleasure” (pp122ff in the Semiotext(e) English edition).
Basically, he says (citing private conversations with Foucault), when Foucault hears “desire”, he thinks either of a lack, or of something being repressed and interrupted; whereas, for Deleuze, there’s no lack, but rather the putting-together of something, and the sustained note of an intensity. But, where Deleuze hears “pleasure”, that’s where he thinks of a lack, the cessation of desire and the termination of the process; whereas, for Foucault, pleasure seems to have to do with exultation.
Deleuze suggests, in a “ha ha just serious” kind of way, that it’s the difference between a Sadist (Foucault) and a Masochist (Deleuze).
Lots of other gentlemen’ll
Soon be comin’ for a shave,
1980 marked the rebirth of my second favourite superhero, Miracleman, and started a new post-structuralist monomyth sequelae – would it really be possible to have unlimited power and resist taking over everything and make it all work better? really? what would you do, if you could do anything? what might you be driven to? Allan Moore’s story arc investigated two variations on this – one an admitted fascist ego-maniac who turns out to be the adopted son of the earlier MiracleMan hero, coming back to life with a new agenda. Quotes by Nietzsche are sprinkled throughout the text.
Once he has defeated the anti-hero, MiracleMan realizes that the only way to lasting peace and something like equity is if he himself takes over – but, of course, he’s not a fascist… is he? Can’t he be a kindly despot?
Notice in the bottom left corner the rhizomatic cobra-plants with teeth – part of the odd garden that is never explained, which is created in the temple that MiracleMan creates to venerate himself.
MiracleMan, because of some legal issues, was reshaped for North America and lost his obvious fascist control issues and became a relatively normal hero. Because that’s how we roll. However – think rhizomatic rupture – Jean Gray, of the Xmen, is taken over by the infinite Phoenix power and becomes a kind of Kali the Destroyer figure in the same year. All other superheroes cringe in horror. Territorialisation, de-territorialisation, re-territorialisation.
The realization that Jean Gray must be destroyed occurs after she, in constant need of energy to sustain her infinite and growing powers, and with ever less conscience, subsumes a star which is circled by a planet on which a race of strange asparagus-like (rhizomatic!) people live in peace and harmony, until they are wiped out by the careless actions of the war machine she has become, consuming, growing, careless.
For what’s the sound of the world out there?
What, Mr. Todd?
What, Mr. Todd?
What is that sound?
Those crunching noises pervading the air!
Yes, Mr. Todd!
Yes, Mr. Todd!
Yes, all around!
It’s man devouring man, my dear!
And/Then who are we to deny it in here?
Jennifer Bartlett put aside the modular, abstract conceptual art made of industrial materials, which she had become known for,
and travelled to France where she rented a house with a derelict garden and began drawing and painting figurative pictures, to everyone’s amazement:
It the pictures images repeated themselves, were abstracted and then gestural… the artist’s marks evident and erased and then evident again. Later she would marry these ideas into large works such as “grasses” which moves across two canvasses – the out of control takes control…
Warhol left the loop of re-creating and recycling imagery which had become almost archetypal by then and connected with young new york artists like Jean Basquiet and graffiti artist Keith Haring, creating kinds of collages with the former as new kinds of “art stars.”
His own art was re-energised by these relationships, literally larger and more involved in mythic statements:
As well, moving in another direction, incredibly intimate and questing, after a career built on removing “the artist” from the work (of “the factory”). In the Oxidation paintings he and friends urinated on copper plates to create abstract works: Those interested in a previous blog posting about how art is sterilized into assignments for school children will be interested in this lesson plan).
Mrs. Lovett, and desperate measures are called for!
Here we are, now! Hot out of the oven!
What is that?
It’s priest. Have a little priest.
Is it really good?
Sir, it’s too good, at least!
Then again, they don’t commit sins of the flesh,
So it’s pretty fresh.
Awful lot of fat.
Only where it sat.
In Canada the sound poets took over from the Black Mountain writers and re-claimed the idea of poetry as oral performance, particularly B. P. Nichol, who published the duo, Translating Translating Apollinaire, A Preliminary Report in 1979 and Sharp Facts: Selections from TTA 26 in 1980.
The book covers give a good indication of the kind of language explorations that were intended. On the west coast bill bissett created visionary texts and pictures that were described as “intensely libidinal and violently anti-grammatical” – a kind orgasm on the page(s). Hundreds of pages in book after book, of his own work, and young poets that he took a chance on.
In his poem “rose th night nd th green flowr” from 1980’s beyond even faithful legends, he writes:
bill bissett, not at all an entrepreneur, was a determined publisher of new works and dozens of Canadian writers owed their starts to him:
No, y’see, the trouble with poet is
‘Ow do you know it’s deceased?
Try the priest!
Lawyer’s rather nice.
If it’s for a price.
Order something else, though, to follow,
Since no one should swallow it twice!
Meanwhile, in England Gilbert and George were investigating the boundaries of art and performance, avant garde and system, religious icons and pop art:
Anything that’s lean?
Well, then, if you’re British and loyal,
You might enjoy Royal Marine!
Anyway, it’s clean.
Though of course, it tastes of wherever it’s been!
Robert Maplethorpe, in New York, documented in photographs and self-portraits similar ruptures of gender, sexuality and exploration:
Is that squire, on the fire?
Mercy no, sir, look closer,
You’ll notice it’s grocer!
More like vicar!
No, it has to be grocer —
(Loud whisper) It’s green!
James Baldwin, incredibly, given his background and lineage, became one of the world’s most articulate and enlivening writers and speakers on race relations and marginalization. In 1980 he had finished his last novel and was beginning non-fiction works that would culminate in the wonderful book The Evidence of Things Not Seen, about “the worst two years in Atlanta’s history were 1980 and 1981, when the bodies of dead black children turned up all over the city.” Baldwin found the investigations and the trial sloppy and suspect and pronounced: “Others may see American progress in economic, racial and social affairs–I do not.”
It was a similar statement to those of the BBC series of 1980, “Yes, Minister,” which painted government and elected officials as bumbling fools:
The history of the world, my love —
Save a lot of graves,
Do a lot of relatives favors!
Is those below serving those up above!
Meanwhile, in America, the ultimate nomadic movie….
So there should be plenty of flavors!
How gratifying for once to know
That those above will serve those down below!
Robert Rauschenberg, with his then-lover, Jasper Johns, was working on various kinds of “assemblage” – note the photo of him with the nomadic rugs and a work called “Mongolian Cousin.” From Deleuze and becoming resistance:
“What is an assemblage? It is a multiplicity which is made up of many heterogeneous terms and which establishes liasions, relations between them, across ages, sexes and reigns–different natures. Thus, the assemblage’s only unity is that of co-functioning: it is symbiosis, a “sympathy.” It is never filiations which are important, but alliances, alloys; these are not successions, lines of descent, but contagions, epidemics, the wind.” Deleuze and Parnet, 1977, 69
“An assemblage is precisely this increase in the dimensions of a multiplicity that necessarily changes in nature as it expands its connections.” Thousand Plateaus p 8
What is that?
Finest in the shop.
And we have some shepherd’s pie peppered
With actual shepherd on top!
And I’ve just begun —
Here’s the politician, so oily
It’s served with a doily,
Put it on a bun.
Well, you never know if it’s going to run!
Lou Reed was encouraging us, in a whole new kind of love song, to “Think it Over” – to not just be in love but be smart:
“He asks the woman to marry him. She wonders if he knows what he’s getting into. (“When you ask for someone’s heart / You must make sure you’re smart.”) He wants to rush, but she tells him to cool it down and think it over. Love is like a lot of other addictions – first thing you learn is that you always gotta wait.” From
Try the friar,
Fried, it’s drier!
No, the clergy is really
Too coarse and too mealy!
Ah but always arrives overdone!
(spoken) I’ll come again when you have judge on the menu!
(singing) Have charity towards the world, my pet!
Yes, yes, I know, my love!
We’ll take the customers that we can get!
High-born and low, my love!
We’ll not discriminate great from small!
No, we’ll serve anyone,
Meaning anyone (LOVETT sings “we’ll serve anyone”)
And to anyone
Shirley Brice Heath was working on the research that would lead to the transformational (for me) book Ways with Words – in which she demonstrated how empathy and caring could be part of respectful research into diversity. Jonathon Kozol was suggesting that illiteracy might be part of a larger sociological construction in Prisoners of Silence: Breaking the bonds of Adult Illiteracy in the united States.
For some reason it seems good to end this with Roseanne Roseannadanna’s 1980 skit in which she’s been asked at the last minute (because Geraldo Rivera has a boil that would make them sick if they saw it) to give the commencement address to Columbia School of Journalism, thinking it was her journalism alma mater, Columbia School of Broadcasting (“I guess I will have to wait for that honour”), and gives a speech in which she asks: What does journalism have to offer me? What do I have to offer journalism? What is there to write about? What is there to write with? Should I use a pencil or a typewriter? What kind of pencil? A number 2 pencil or one that writes darker? Where do I get these pencils? Do I bring them in or does my boss bring them in for me? If I don’t bring them in will I get fired – if I get fired I’ll starve and then I’ll die… What should I do?
Meanwhile, behind her and paralysed by not knowing what the “right thing to do” might be, the College Deans and Faculty convey their discomfort:
And that skit might sum up 1980, when America welcomed the English translation of Deleuze and Gauttari’s One Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. People already wondered what to do with the new world – beyond one’s choice of pencil or typewriter, while D & G offered a new model for how to think rhizomatically, like a nomad, dealing with the war machine.
* David Fullerton is one of my favourite artists and his work is available through the Compound Gallery in San Francisco – wonderful mail order service and friendly folks with great ideas about collaboration and (affordable) art and community. Check out the records of Fullerton’s Sisyphus Office Exhibition, Houston 2009 here and see his site here.