DOUBLE DIALOGUES, INTERNATIONAL CLOSED DISCUSSION, APRIL 20-21, 2016
Welcome to each of you. This ‘Part Two’ phase of ‘What Makes Things Break’ is an important continuation of what was achieved in Adelaide at The J. M. Coetzee Centre for Creativity last October. Professor Jennifer Rutherford and the Double Dialogues team were primarily interested in celebrating creative ideas that in themselves do not only deliver original creative works but also do dialogue with the world that frames them, the ideas that further ignite them and the aesthetics that are brought to centre stage because of them. The Adelaide creative centre was the venue chosen to celebrate twenty years of Double Dialogues; both an online journal and an international public expression of its content in New York seemed to us the best place to pay our final tribute to a twenty-year-old dialogue about the place that Art has in life, indeed, as Nietzsche would argue, the extent to which it justifies the world. In the next few days, we are going to hear unique narratives whether in poetic, musical, theatrical or philosophical terms concerning Art and asking of it to consider ‘Why Do Things Break?’ These days will offer the voice of the tragedian, the autobiographer, the comedian, the poet, the essayist and the philosopher, and most voices will work within a multi-disciplinary mode.
I realize that the name of my paper heralds a multiplicity of ideas that could not possibly be handled in a short presentation. Some of the implications might be: that Art is necessarily a representation of something ‘other’; that art is necessarily ideological and that interpreters and makers of art should be aware that those who dictate the rules of a society fear metaphorical art. Is it that art is able to communicate intellectually, aesthetically and psychologically truths that are, in the eyes of many, best left hidden? The next question must be: what then is seen as disruptive? And can a society work without perceived truths entering into its continuous state of becoming? To what extent have artists inadvertently become compliant with a system that masks truth?
Firstly, I think we need clarity over the term ‘representation’ which became a conventional term in literary and Art criticism during the 1980s when postmodernism entered academic debates in a manner that caused changes in the way we spoke about art. Basically, the postmodernist imagination pointed to the absurdity of treating characters and images as ‘real’ people and things and foregrounded that characters and images could only ever be representations of an idea of a person or a thing. ‘Truth’ we were told, though hardly for the first time, was not attainable; we do not have unmediated access to things themselves, to brute facts, language is not constrained by an extra-linguistic world, rather the ‘play of signs’ creatively constructs what we mistakenly believe to be the world of brute reality. We are not rational beings in terms of some common untouchable nature. Rationality is rather a construction of history and cultures. Our natural faculties cannot afford us an unbiased insight into the nature of things. We are, after all, unable to get outside our own consciousness to see the world in an objective manner. And so, we all played along with what had been first debated by Nietzsche one hundred and fifty years earlier and started to speak of representation of characters and representations of reality. When one continues to use the term representation, it is usually with the understanding that in a certain artwork, brute reality is not being photographed or documented but rather brute reality is being transposed by metaphor, by myth or by some symbolic structure so that it can be seen as it is and not as a society has made it be. It might be noted that some writers have been moved to using the term ‘presentation’ rather than representation simply because the former term might make itself static and immoveable whereas presentation ‘puts into play the event and the explosion of an appearing and disappearing which, considered in themselves, cannot conform to or signify anything’.1 Either of these terms nevertheless primarily says –this thing I make is not a fact but an apprehension of that which cannot be held down and mapped into an unbreakable paradigm.
When we ask the question: why do things break, you have each responded in a mode that is a presentation or a representation. Double Dialogue get-togethers are always concerned with one theme or one question and then we seek across aesthetic methods and disciplines your particular representation of that posed question. The event necessarily invokes the need of dialogue across different ways of art making and different ways of thinking. We are not interested in one person’s view but rather all views and what emerges as a result of this perspectivism. So why then do I refer to the “Fear of Representation” and why have I implied that artists of all kinds have complied with allowing this fear to transform into being controlled and contained?
Recently I was on a committee in which a manuscript was being considered for publication. It was an extraordinary work that examined how art represented major historical events. It was a commercial publisher and in the end, the argument on why this manuscript was to be rejected was:” People are not interested in representations”. I’ve been intrigued by this view ever since trying to work out whether I think this is true or not. At the same time, I was watching another person putting in an application for a research development concession with the taxation office. For those of you not familiar with these available concessions (RDC) for all people who have created something new in the workplace that has contributed towards employment; that has created a new system or process. The person applying for this ticked all the boxes. However, although he had brought about an advertisement in which street artists worked together with a multi-national corporation to create an art that foregrounded the marginalized in a positive way and brought employment for many- I noted that the concession was only available for the creation of a technical change- a demonstrated TECHNICAL creation. Furthermore, the application was to work its argument on a so-called scientific platform: Hypotheses, experiment, observation and outcome. The scientific model primarily used for gaining government grants has now been universally applied to the arts which of course it is ill-fitted for – because the arts deal in “representations” and cannot gain credence when factual outcomes are expected. Looking back at the first DD conference in 1996, one paper demonstrated how using the scientific model was our only option for artists to have any of the grant-giving cake. For those interested, this paper is on the DD site under the title ‘Conference with a Difference’ and is testimony to that first false move.
This was the first attempt to comply and was the first error of the Arts as it drew us into an impossible set of criteria that would mostly fail. Our compliance was our mistake in the politics of art and made us prisoners to the art of politics.
And so, I became intrigued with how the abstracts provided for this gathering worked with “representation” and sought to discover in what ways their ‘truths’ might be feared. Accepting of course that the thinkers and artists constructing these abstracts did so in the wake of postmodernism and therefore were fully aware of an intellectual agreement that logo-centric thinking was dead. Well, is it? Certainly when applying for grants, applying for tax concessions and wanting to be published by a commercial publisher the logo-centric world, the world of brute reality, the world of facts is the only tenable reality; Those fashionable ideas of postmodernism: that there are no known truths, that knowledge is a construct of the imagination – that all is metaphor- are all rejected in the actual running of society, in the observable art of politics. We should not be surprised, as Nietzsche who first brought the myth of logocentrism to our consciousness predicted clearly – that although we know all ideas are first bred in the imagination we need it to be otherwise to suit the interests of society. As he wrote ‘truth’ is nothing more than ‘mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms which after long usage seem to a nation fixed, canonic and binding; truths are illusions of which one has forgotten that they are illusions’.2
Artists and philosophers do not forget and so their weaponry draws directly on metaphors in order to untangle what has been cemented as fact and how this entanglement makes us less able to speak, – no matter how much these voices bring about fear for those mostly wanting to keep the wheels turning, terrified that the nexus of not knowing is revealed, or worse than knowing, however briefly in time, usurps the world that seems at least to be working. . And this is what your abstracts revealed. Lucy ‘Tilly’ Houghton demonstrates how the Law in being a servant to what are often outmoded precedents means that the Law is always serving old truths and terrified of tackling new ones. Tilly draws on historical events and demonstrates how laws, mistakenly believed to represent truths, forever merely reflect obsolete circumstances.
There are many presentations today that draw on the psychological and they show how art can fearlessly seek out truths that have been repressed are forever deemed to be hidden and unknown, and as such can result in compulsive repetitions that further lock away unbearable events as well as further victimize the subject. Gabriella Everall will be talking to us about the resonance of autobiographical pain in the art of critiquing and it enthrals me that she will be drawing on Nietzsche’s doctrine of ‘Eternal Recurrence’.
What is this doctrine and why does it demand a personal response followed swiftly by a self-consciousness that seeks a metaphorical representation? Nietzsche writes of this doctrine first in The Gay Science. Nietzsche imagines a demon that reveals what he calls ‘the greatest weight’. He writes:
What if, some day or night, a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest hour and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; that there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence…
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine”.3
How could this be so? The call for honesty, the call for re-evaluation, makes one self-conscious of where one stands in relation to the life lived. The eternal return was experienced by Nietzsche as the supreme thought, but also as the supreme feeling, an intensification of both intellect and effect. Nietzsche calls to the free spirits to love their fate, to accept all aspects of our living, to affirm the joy and the woe and not to wish it otherwise. ‘Becoming innocent’ is this process of affirmation, to will a life that accepts all of what is, to wish for things to be otherwise is to deny the world and oneself; to seek revenge or to experience re-sentiment is the choice of the herd; the ‘free spirit’ or the ‘higher human type’ wants nothing in his/her life to be different. Nietzsche was not a political thinker.5 His thoughts here refer only to acceptance of one’s own psychological fate: to live in a way in which there is no regret; to be able to fight unchangeable pain by not allowing it to be repressed and transformed into compulsive repetitions that enact indirectly that which cannot be faced and therefore continues its destruction. Art deals with these hidden stories of trauma in a manner that otherwise cannot be represented
This affirmation of one’s self is something that characterises many of the papers you will hear. Sometimes the voice is detached and might be speaking of another whilst other times the voice is unmistakenly that of the writer. Dr Josephine Scicluna’s poem, intensified by the music that accompanies it, of a heart that can only be broken once but as her words tell us, and the music enacts, the reverberations go on forever. It is up to the interpreter to decide whether this repetition is an eternal recurrence or simply the repetition of pain that cannot be confronted.
While Everall and Scicluna enter the voice of the narrative, Dr Amelia Walker’s work begins within a rational frame of critique highlighting her contempt for mainstream health structures that reflect antiquated and violent socio-economic systems. Her referencing of R.D. Laing is a plea to get outside established frameworks and truly scrutinize why, for example, poetic devices in poetry would actually be diagnosed by psychiatrists as ‘thought disorder’. This is a challenging point from which to collapse false, yet dangerous, division. Metaphor, therefore, is shown in psychiatric matters to form a critique that might break apart violent systems whether in hospitals or universities. Anamaria Beligan and Valeriu Campan’s documentary film focuses on a point in history where psychological violence has a political face. Shot in a psychiatric hospital this film made by them as students in Romania was possible because they chose politically to break the rules by an act of subversion which Dr Călin-Andrei Mihăilescu discourses within a literary context. Rules hold fast and are most vulnerable at the point in which the abiding power must use force to sustain them. Acts of subversion deal with the known but without a clear understanding of a future and therefore work outside brute reality, finding instead in filmic metaphor a voice to be heard. Alicia Carter’s interest focuses on the myth that accompanies the fact of motherhood. She strips the state of all romanticism, asking us to consider the plight of the mother and the act of giving birth the ultimate in abjection. The question to be asked is ‘what it might mean to be that maternal abject,’ a question that society has never allowed to emerge.
Papers that spring from a political engagement, sympathy, or antagonism also call on metaphor to break apart old edifices or recall the past in order to discover retrospectively the attendant myths that stalk revolution and romance. Professor Jennifer Rutherford thrills us and disturbs us with her tender love story and yet her rendering, poetic to the core, is asking larger questions about politics and human frailties from within her symbolic construction. And Dr Julia Prendergast tells a story of giving birth which involves the son of the birth-mother as spectator. All niceties are stripped away and we are taken on a mythic journey of sex, death and untouchable knowledge all distilled through the son’s telling. Nothing about this life we feel we know is assured — this story breaks through the veils of illusion moving between textual symbolism and imagery.
Dr Kay Are tells us that Interpretative commentary, translation, genre innovation all break from an ‘original’. They act as a separation in a way that discloses the inherent susceptibility of the original to breakage. This paper looks at many aspects of this breakage and tests them against examples with a focus on what is created by the actual distance between an original and a translation which inevitably deals with interpretation. Are, however, opens up a problem that is looked at in different ways across the two days. It was indeed a part of identifying the myth of logo-centrism that informed us that language itself was not an absolute of any kind. Interpreters of texts create their own fictions or imaginings. Dr Ron Goodrich and Dr Eric Weichel, in looking at Art and its interpretation, investigate rupture by identifying the source of its interpretive moment, uncovering the extent to which theoretical fashion or western and eastern division dictate the way in which art is received. Dr Dominique Hecq and A/Professor Marion May Campbell get inside language itself in order to find there the limits of metaphor. Campbell tells a tale of her father’s death and uses fragments of language as deployed elements that capture broken time and touch on the not-yet-symbolic. Heqc identifies moments of crisis both in life and in language that encapsulate both limitation and insight.
The interpreters of literary texts find, in their selected writers, exemplars of truth finding. Piri Eddy notes that fiction writers must destroy what they know as well as the world around them in order to create new meaning. Through an analysis of Fishboy, he interrogates the use of the grotesque as metaphor and asks, why create such a misshapen body? Should an author use this ploy? Rev. Dr Michael Giffen finds in the works of Patrick White a continuity of Godliness as a presence despite the splintering of Myth and Logos and despite the lessons of secularisation. He accepts the breakages, the ruptured paradigms, but finds that in White’s work there is the presence of God then, now and into the future. James Hayes looks at Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road and exposes the 1950s suburb as an instrument of surveillance and destruction. Kari Lyon investigates the role of art used in fiction as a metaphor and how it facilitates a viewing of trauma unknown to the sufferer. She looks at literary and filmic texts dealing with violent crimes to analyse the role of art as metaphor in revealing hidden trauma and hidden clues.
What then of the writer who creates fictional stories that include (metaphorically) scientific theories that explicate the nature of the disturbed observer as understood by physics? Rina Bruinsma is one such writer. Her story Sky represents, essentially in metaphorical and autobiographical terms, questions: Are scientific laws operative or are we subject to randomness? Who are we within a self-perpetuating breaking and re-forming world? As writers we break things, she suggests, to experience a system in which things break
And how do we characterize a writer who, in experiencing cancer, is being overwhelmed by the visual beauty of cancer cells and makes a conscious move from discursive writing to poetry? Dr John O’Carrol has done this as the metaphorical mode allowed the telling in a manner that encouraged an acceptance and deliverance from trauma.
Dr Pavlina Radia and Dr Paul Monaghan have created a film in which they wish to communicate that the role of memory in relation to large, trauma-lodged historical events is possibly defective. Drawing on the characters Odysseus and Calypso, this piece reinvents Homer’s myth in order to enact a question: Is the past simply the present revisited, unsettled and covered with the soot of memory?
Dr Kathryn Keeble has created a dialogue between two of Ireland’s greatest playwrights at a point where each has lived through the trauma of the Second World War. Her film imagines what these men might say to each other on the eve of their most significant works and makes connections between the power of Art amidst experiencing the trauma of historical events.
There are crucial papers being presented over the next few days that find their source in interdisciplinary content. Elissa Goodrich and Caerwen Martin create music that in its metaphorical mode comes together with botany and biology and attempts to give form to what is extinct. This contribution probes the way contemporary music can create an imagined sound world for what is actually extinct or for which we have only the barest of descriptions remaining. Amongst the questions raised are: What does it mean for contemporary music to operate at breaking points harmonically, rhythmically, temporally and dynamically? What transpires at the instant of such breaking points and what transpires after? Is it silence or is it sound where an audience hears and feels breakage? What is the role of accumulation — the accumulation of sound, of repetition, of melody, of (dis)harmony — in apprehending breakage?
Within the complexity of the making of music and dance Carine Chen and Lester Wong explore the idea of relationships and asks of them, in human terms as well as of the art that encompasses them, whether a breaking point is moved towards in steps or does it come as if from the outside? Whether ideas, relationships or artistic expression, this work moves via the push and pull of opposing entities to possible new resolutions and equilibrium
Lauren Hlubny, on the other hand, explores how her making of a nude performance piece entitled ‘Sans: an exposed dance-theatre experience’ succeeded in undermining the gender stereotyping so endemic to classical ballet. This work, which involved collaboration with a cellist, actor and dancer, explored the primordial power and freedom and nudity without sexual intimacy. She will speak, among other related concepts, on the processes involved that included building trust and communication between disciplines and characters and show the effects of losing control. Furthermore, she will investigate the masculine grasping for domination and censorship. The aim was to analyse the enforcement of stereotype through classical ballet and to seek a means of transforming these stereotypes.
Tanya Duckworth sits at the end of this overview because her paper targets a central concern of mine that is the often problematic relationship between Science and the Arts. Duckworth identifies the ways in which the Arts and Science can form some kind of synergy given that it can be shown that emotions/mental activity associated with the arts have a neurological counterpart. Rather than artists feeling obliged to justify their art in cognitive, empirical and causal terms, science might grow in its status if it embraced the findings and apprehensions of metaphor. Duckworth asks: If the creative process is also susceptible to an emotional expression based on the breakdown of neurobiology, can the creative process itself, born out of destruction, be used to promote the reconstruction of this broken neurobiology?
I think it is fitting that in the last session of this event we will hear how music and song, via the operatic voice of Kari Lyon, can transform consciousness, can truly represent unfathomable love and heartbreak. Lyon has chosen two case studies in opera of the broken heart in order to demonstrate how opera folds heightened emotions displayed in the human voice which has the capacity to break as the body responds to intense pain.
Having a comedian as a headliner is inspired. Tragedy may bring catharsis and enlightenment of a kind but comedy, whether satire, situational humour or dark comedy, removes all the masks and says it as it is. The narratives, artistic content and force of ideas that will be delivered here in the next few days are echoed in Kim Cea’s act. She dares to deal with truths. For example, ones that successful artists and performers often elude, and that is, that despite the great successes, the hardest times are those between the great breaks. The breaks in between inevitably draw on negative forces but they also hold the seeds for the most original of creations. Cea, as an actor, singer and comic, is an embodiment of this truth.,
What is certain is that despite the lack of funding towards the arts, they will never fade away. The digital implementation of reality primarily reflects a world governed by economic systems; empirical science and concepts ratified by an erroneous belief that laws, rules, facts and description have a closer relationship with sustaining life than the Arts. That fear of representation that is written into every grant form, PhD application, and survey, reflects a need to keep disruptive ‘truths’ at bay. As art makers and interpreters of Art, we remain true to a calling that is never afraid to ask the question: Why do things break? If there is a call to arms underpinning this paper, it is one that beseeches artists to demand a hearing and demand a listening environment not dictated by scientific models. Do not comply. Do not accept these forms. Read these abstracts closely and experience emotionally and intellectually what it is about Art that justifies being truly alive. There are numerous double dialogues at play in the presentations to come; identify them and experience how each perspective enriches your own
1. Nancy, Jean-Luc (1993). ‘Preface to the French Edition,’ in On the Sublime: Presence in Question, trans. Jeffrey S. Librett (Albany: State University of New York Press), p. 2
2. Nietzsche, Friedrich (1995). ‘On Truth and Falsity in their Extramoral Sense,’ trans. Maximilian A. Mügge in Philosophical Writings, eds. Reinhold Grimm & Caroline Molina y Vedia (New York: Continuum) p. 92
3. Nietzsche, Friedrich (1974). The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufman (London: Vintage) p.341.
4. Initially a print edition, the first issue of Double Dialogues, published in 1996, began debating the multiple questions that haunt us about the role of the Arts in the academy: the difficulty of receiving research grants from government research funding; examples of Arts research; examples of new methodologies to facilitate the Arts practitioner who must not only create art but also discourse it or, as one contributor noted, ‘not just build a bridge but dance it as well’.
5. Twilight of the Idols, ‘The Four Great Errors,’ 7:
Today … when we immoralists especially are trying with all our might to remove the concept of guilt (Schuld) and punishment from the world and to purge psychology, history, nature, the social institutions and sanctions of them, there is no more radical opposition than the theologians, who continue to infect the innocence of becoming with “punishment” and “guilt” by means of the concept “moral world order.” Christianity is a hangman’s metaphysics …