Butler on Bodies and Power

“There appears to be a law of truth, part of the workings of the regime of knowledge, which imposes a truth upon a subject for whom there is no choice but to recognize this law of truth. But why is there no choice? Who is speaking here? Is it Foucault, or is it the “Law” itself? The law of truth imposes a criterion by which recognition becomes possible. The subject is not recognizable without first conforming to the law of truth, and without recognition there is no subject — or so Foucault, in Hegelian fashion, seems to imply. Similarly, others “have” to recognize this law of truth in him, because the law is what established the criterion of subjecthood according to which the subject can be recognized at all. In order to be, we might say, we must become recognizable, but to challenge the norms by which recognition is conferred is, in some ways, to risk one’s very being, to become questionable in one’s ontology, to risk one’s very recognizability as a subject.”

— Judith ButlerBodies and Power Revisited,” in Feminism and the Final Foucault (2004)

Joanna Piotrowska “IV” from FROWST [MACK, 2014]

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One off: Judith Joy Ross.

Judith Joy Ross, Untitled, Weatherley, Pennyslvania, 1982 from Eurana Park

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“The Wreck” by Don Paterson

But what lovers we were, what lover,
Even when it was all over -

the deadweight bull-black wines we swung
towards each other rang and rang

like bells of blood, our own great hearts.
We slung the drunk boat out of port

and watched our unreal sober life
unmoor, a continent of grief;

The candlelight strange on our faces
like the silent tiny blazes

And coruscations of its wars.
We blew them out and took the stairs

Into the night for the night’s work,
stripped off in the timbered dark,

Gently hooked each other on
like aqualungs, and thundered down

To mine our lovely secret wreck.
We surfaced later, breathless, back

To back, then made our way alone
up the mined beach of the dawn.

— Don Paterson

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One off: Gunnel Wåhlstrand.

Gunnel WåhlstrandNew Years Day,” 2005 © Gunnel Wåhlstrand c/o Andréhn-Schiptjenko

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Jacoby on Narcissism

“What lurks behind the critique of narcissism is the authority of the “classic” bourgeois family; this family and the authoritarian family diverge in their social composition. It does not seem fortuitous that Marx’s example is drawn from the “lower mercantile classes;” and that the authoritarian personality, and the sources of fascism, are associated with marginal or threatened social groupings (which, however, are in no way numerically insignificant).

The bourgeois family in its “classic” phase was not marginal or threatened, but secure and independent. Not its numerical frequency, but unique configuration of authority and affection is the issue. Authority was severe, but not brutal or inconsistent. Total submission was not the goal; nor was the family lacking in warmth. This is not to say there were no victims; there were, especially women. These victims furnished the patients for psychoanalysis.

Gunnel WåhlstrandBy the Window,” 2003-04 © Gunnel Wåhlstrand c/o Andréhn-Schiptjenko

The bourgeois family, it seems likely, developed into the narcissistic family; the class composition remains roughly the same. The case reports of narcissistic patients allow fleeting views of family life; these do not show parents who, after long, grueling days of waiting on tables or driving cabs, come home to bark at their too many children; but parents who are relatively successful, whose energies are directed towards themselves and their careers; and who tend to be enlightened but also cold to the few children at home.
 That narcissism may be circumscribed by class does not, of course, dispose of it. The bourgeoisie makes society in its own image.”

Russell Jacoby“Narcissism and the Crisis of Capitalism” in Telos, Summer 1980

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One off: Jeff Wall.

Jeff WallWar Game,” 2007 © Jeff Wall, c/o Marian Goodman Gallery

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One off: Alec Soth.

Alec Soth, “Michelle and James” 2004, from NIAGARA (2008)

NIAGARA is more a circular journey than a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. Its voice is first person, present. Its story is told in the words of the photographer’s subjects. Its conclusion is like its start: a closed motel room door, an unanswered question, and still water falling in eternal silence. There is no clear arc to the story that launches Soth’s characters into the river of plot or action. They seem to accept their feelings, expressed through the taciturn language of their bodies, stripped of all emotional armor. Engendered by a potent landscape and real time shared behind those closed doors, their venerability is rendered in the stillness of posed images. Their manner is pensive and tentative; connections are expressed more by touch than sight.”

— Philip Brookman “Over the Rainbow: Alec Soth’s NIAGARA,” in NIAGARA (2008)

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Stallabrass on Dijkstra

“This constitutes the terrible plausibility of these images, and part of the basis for their success: they do describe and also enact a world in which people are socially atomized, politically weak, and are governed by their place in the image world. In demanding that the maximum visual detail be wrung from their subjects, they silence and still them. In their seamless, high-resolution depictions, they present the victory of the image world over its human subjects as total and eternal.

While the results may hold apparently radical elements – that the passivity and image victimhood of the subjects may rebound on their viewers – the ambiguity of such images finally salvages artist and viewer. Such images oscillate between identification and distancing, honoring and belittling, critical recognition and the enjoyment of spectacle, and access to the real and the critique of realist representation. (…)

Why are subjects of contemporary art so often taken as mere spectacular fragments rather than as active persons, while the opposite is assumed of its makers and viewers? Even in the apparently opposing participant-observer mode, there is little stress on agency (other than entertaining misbehavior) bur rather on passive conditions that are meant to constitute assured identities. In both, the excluded middle is agency and its depiction in documentary, along with the construction of a realist structure through the combination of differentiated images, and particularly the idea that identity might be transformed through agency.”

—  Julian Stallabrass, “What’s In A Face? Blankness and Significance in Contemporary Art Photography,” October Journal, Fall 2007

Rineke DijkstraKolobrzeg, Poland, July 26th, 1992,” in Portraits © Rineke Dijkstra c/o Marian Goodman Gallery

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Žižek on Multiculturalism

“In the election campaigns of Jesse Helms, the racist and sexist message is not publicly acknowledged—at the public level, it is sometimes even violently disavowed—but is instead articulated in a series of double-entendres and coded allusions. This kind of self-censorship is necessary if, in the present ideological conditions, Helms’s discourse is to remain effective. If it were to articulate directly, in a public way, its racist bias, this would render it unacceptable in the hegemonic political discourse; if it were effectively to abandon the self-censored coded racist message, it would endanger the support of its targeted electoral body. Conservative populist political discourse thus offers an exemplary case of a power discourse whose efficiency depends on the mechanism of self- censorship: it relies on a mechanism which is effective only insofar as it remains censored. Against the image, all-present in cultural criticism, of a radical subversive discourse or practice ‘censored’ by the Power, one is even tempted to claim that today, more than ever, the mechanism of censorship intervenes predominantly to enhance the efficiency of the power discourse itself.

The temptation to be avoided here is the old leftist notion of ‘better for us to deal with the enemy who openly admits his (racist, homophobic . . . ) bias, than with the hypocritical attitude of publicly denouncing what one secretly and effectively endorses’. This notion fatefully underestimates the ideological and political significance of maintaining appearances: appearance is never ‘merely an appearance’, it profoundly affects the actual socio-symbolic position of those concerned.”

Slavoj Žižek “Multiculturalism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism,” in New Left Review, September-October 1997

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Wallis on Race and Typological Photography

“By supplying an overabundance of information, photography confuses and problematizes its message; it creates what author Roland Barthes calls a “reality effect,” a semblance of realism bound to detail. In nineteenth-century parlance, two technical words gained a certain currency to describe how “reality”was construed: the word daguerreotype was distinguished from the word stereotype. Stereotypes were originally molds for creating multiple copies of printing type; the word, therefore, came to connote generalized replication. The daguerreotype, on the other hand, was characterized by miniaturization, infinitesimal precision, and detail. These contrasting characteristics — the general category and the specific case — are precisely those poles that govern the logic of the archive.

JT Zealy & Louis Agassiz “Renty, Congo” – Plantation of B.F. Taylor Esq., 1850

The early ethnographic research conducted by Morton, Agassiz, and other members of the American School of Ethnology depended on the collapse of the specific and the generic into “type.” The type represented an average example of a racial an abstraction, group, though not necessarily the ideal, that defined the general form or character of individuals within the group; it subsumed individuality. As Herbert H. Odom explains, “The term type roughly implies that the observed, apparently disordered phenomena are best as deviations from explained certain determinate norms…. The function of classification is then to decide which observed creature may be considered as deviations from each set norm and, of course, how many norms exist.”” Photography strengthened the seeming of the the reality type by objectifying individual and by using props and other details to accentuate the “truth” of the depiction. Typological photographs — particularly those that became popular in the1860s and 1870s — were assumed to be self-evident, to speak for themselves, and, at the same time, to be generic.

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