Saturday, July 5, 2008


Henry Flynt talks to Stewart Home, New York 8 March 1989.

Henry Flynt was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1940. In 1961, after his New York debut in Yoko Ono's Chambers Street loft, he originated the idea of concept art. Then, in 1962, Flynt initiated a utopian critique of art from the stand-point of the absolute subjectivity of taste. He destroyed most of his early works, left the art world and began a campaign to 'demolish serious culture.' Flynt continued to produce music but his cultural activities tailed off in the late sixties. Despite this he did appear in Ira Cohen's 1968 drugs and magic underground short "The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda" as a member of the The Universal Mutant Repertory Company with cohorts Loren Standlee, Ziska Baum, Angus MacLise, Raja Samayana, Tony Conrad, and Jackson MacLow; the resultant celluloid is notorious as perhaps the most drug damaged cinematic experiment of the psychedelic era.

During the seventies Flynt returned to college to take a phd in communist economics. In 1987, he resumed making concept art in conjunction with the crystallisation of his researches into the foundations of science. Flynt now views his previous assessment of art as being heavily conditioned by the period in which he entered the New York art scene. Nevertheless, his critique provides a useful starting point for discussing the class basis of culture. As the eighties draw to a close, Flynt's extreme utopianism is gaining currency among a younger generation of thinkers (particularly those who emerged from the now defunct Neoist movement). Simultaneously, his recent work is creating ripples of interest among the cognoscenti of the official art world.

The principal collection of Flynt's writings is "Blueprint For A Higher Civilisation" (Multhipla Edizioni, Milan 1975). A recent essay on concept art by Flynt and an interview with him can by found in "Io" #41 edited by Charles Stein (North Atlantic Books, Berkeley 1988).

My interview with Flynt took place in a sandwich bar on the corner of Broadway and Spring, a few yards away from the Emily Harvey Gallery where Flynt's "Classic Modernism and Authentic Concept Art" was on show. It is chiefly concerned with Flynt's activities during the sixties and his utopian critique of art.

HOME: How did your ideas develop, what direction were you coming from in the early sixties?

FLYNT: My early work was philosophic, what would be called epistemology, I was convinced I'd dicredited cognition. When somebody says that all statements are false, the obvious problem is that as an assertion it's self-defeating. I had to find a way to frame this insight which was not self-defeating and that's in "Blueprint", the essay entitled "The Flaws Underlying Beliefs." One has to do what Wittgenstein claimed to do in the "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus," which is to use the ladder and then throw it away. The way I devolved, moved out from, this position of strict cognitive nihilism, was with the idea of building a new culture which would depart profoundly from the scientific culture in which we live.

I was a student at Harvard and that's where I learned about so called avant-garde music. Jackson Pollock, abstract expressionism and action painting were well known at this time, but the music was more of a cult thing with individual composers doing very unusual work. It was very hard to find out about what these people were doing. I was told that people like Cage were the latest thing. Christian Wolff, who was an associate of Cage, was at Harvard as a graduate student and there were a lot of concerts of so called avant-garde music held at the university.

HOME: How did you got involved with the set promoting this type of music?

FLYNT: I was trying to be up with the latest thing. To a point I just took what I was offered, logical positivism in philosophy and the so called avant-garde in music. I began composing works which were imitative of the music I was being told about. I was also very interested in translating the music into visual terms. At the same time I felt a tremendous disquiet about the avant-garde, there was something very inauthentic about it. There was the mystique of scientificity, Stockhausen was making claims which were actually false, that were philosophically discreditable.

Another thing that happened was that when I came to New York, I began to meet the people who became the most famous artists of our time. I was insecure about my own level of ability, I didn't know whether I could compete with these people and, at the same time, I was wondering what is this anyway? I felt very uneasy about the fact that all these people were competing with each other to become rich and famous and the original reason for all this activity had been lost.

HOME: So it was when you came into contact with the people composing this music that you became critical of it.

FLYNT: When I began competing with the other artists in New York. Also, at that time, I discovered classical North Indian music. I spent a lot of time with this and began to question the whole enterprise of classical music as such. I have a lot of problems with modern European culture. I find European music to be very four-square, it really lends itself to computerisation. In classical oil painting, there seemed to be a radical turn to seeing things as the camera sees them, with that technological modification. I began to have a tremendous problem with all of this. At the same time I was listening to black music and I began to think that the best musicians were receiving the worst treatment. The people who were doing the greatest work were despised as lower class, with no dignity accorded to what they did, while the stuff being promoted as serious culture and performed in the Lincoln Centre was absolutely worthless. There was no real emotion in it, the possibility of ingenuous experience had been replaced by an ideology of science and scientism.

I became very angry about the fact that I'd been talked into going to these Cage concerts when I was in college, that I'd sat and tried to make myself like that stuff and think in those terms. I felt I'd been brainwashed, that it was a kind of damage to my sensibilities. I'm still mad about this, I still feel I've not recovered from the experience.

HOME: How was this anger expressed in your activities during the early sixties?

FLYNT: At that time I was initiating concept art. I was doing a lot of things, many of them imitative. The purpose of concept art as a genre is to unbrainwash our mathematical and logical faculties. At the same time it's bound up with aesthetic delectation. I think these two aspects are integral to concept art, it's not just an artificial pasting together of the two things, they actually change each other in the course of their interaction.
From there I moved to an absolutely subjective position aesthetically, where each individual should become aware of their unformed taste. I used the term brend to signify this and thought that it would replace art. Basically, at this time, I viewed any work of art as an imposition of another persons taste and saw the individual making this imposition as a kind of dictator. I don't think there's any irony about the fact that I was beginning to dabble in political leftism at the very time I was inventing a theory in which art disappears and is replaced by a kind of absolute individualism. It's not strange if you understand what the final utopia of socialism was supposed to be. It's no different from talking about getting rid of money or the state.

It was then that I began demonstrating against serious culture. In hindsight, the actual course of events has been very humiliating for me because no one picked up on the intellectual critique I made of Stockhausen. Another point I made was that black American music was a new language and I don't feel this was ever really acknowledged. What happened was that rock became an incredible commercial success, people just became bored with serious music and it was forgotten. It was not an intellectual battle or a battle of principle at all.

HOME: How was the group Action Against Cultural Imperialism organised?

FLYNT: It wasn't, the organisation didn't exist, it was just a bluff.

HOME: You didn't hold policy meetings?

FLYNT: No. There were two stages to this affair, at first we were demonstrating against all serious culture. The organisation was really just me and Tony Conrad. At that time Tony was living with Jack Smith, who just came along with us. At first he didn't want to do it, he told us he had work in the Museum of Modern Art and that he wouldn't picket them. Then I got out the signs that I'd made for the demonstration and he began giggling hysterically. He ended up coming along because he thought it was funny. The focus changed tremendously as my interest in politics developed. I was meeting people who were calling my attention to issues of socialism, which I'd never really thought about.

HOME: Who were these people?

FLYNT: You wouldn't know them, somebody named Richard Ohmann, he's an English professor today. I converted myself to Marxism through reading. The Cuban revolution had just taken place and there was a tremendous discussion going on about it, there were books coming out on the subject. I got into it in that way and by 1964 I was affiliated with a Marxist group. The focus of the cultural demonstrations changed tremendously, I began to concentrate on the issues of race and imperialism. As a political statement the demonstrations were an absolute failure, nobody understood why I was holding them. I was told my activities were creating deep confusion about where I was coming from and why I was angry. The chairman of Workers World Party suggested I write a book. He said, you don't present a new theory at a demonstration, you write a book about it. That's how "Communists Must Give Revolutionary Leadership In Culture" came to be written.

HOME: So this was in the mid-sixties?

FLYNT: Yes, a lot of things were happening then. Around 1967 I began backing away from dogmatic Leninism, not so much because I thought it was false, I just decided there was nothing utopian about it. When you translate it from theory into practice it becomes just another political event.*

HOME: To return to the point about confusion, to me that seems central to what you do. Before we started taping the conversation, you said your writing was a black hole which would suck people in and deconstruct their mode of thought.

FLYNT: That was in relation to cognition. I have a picture of an ideal consciousness which the writings are directed towards producing. It's not confused, I'm actually a great fan of lucidity.

HOME: I wasn't implying that your formulations were confused, what I was trying to say was that the texts have a disorientating effect on the reader.

FLYNT: I associate lucidity with belieflessness. I'm trying to assemble materials for a different mode of life, but it's a completely open question about how they might connect up. The whole drive of western culture, the part of it which is serious, is towards an extreme objectification. It's carried to the point where the human subject is treated almost as if it's dirt in the works of a watch. I'm trying to go to the source of this insane aberration, so that I can dissolve it. I want to do this by integrating subjectivity and objectivity, by making these two things intrinsically interdependent.

* i.e. the modernisation strategy of last resort. c.f. 'The Three levels of Politics' in 'Blueprint.' [Note added].

First published in Smile 11, London Summer 1989.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Dada Manifesto, Tristan Tzara

23rd march 1918

The magic of a word - DADA - which for journalists has opened the door to an unforeseen world, has for us not the slightest importance.

To launch a manifesto you have to want: A.B. & C., and fulminate against 1, 2, & 3,

work yourself up and sharpen you wings to conquer and circulate lower and upper case As, Bs & Cs, sign, shout, swear, organise prose into a form that is absolutely and irrefutably obvious, prove its ne plus ultra and maintain that novelty resembles life in the same way as the latest apparition of a harlot proves the essence of God. His existence had already been proved by the accordion, the landscape and soft words. * To impose one's A.B.C. is only natural - and therefore regrettable. Everyone does it in the form of a crystalbluff-madonna, or a monetary system, or pharmaceutical preparations, a naked leg being the invitation to an ardent and sterile Spring. The love of novelty is a pleasant sort of cross, it's evidence of a naive don't-give-a-damn attitude, a passing, positive, sign without rhyme or reason. But this need is out of date, too. By giving art the impetus of supreme simplicity - novelty - we are being human and true in relation to innocent pleasures; impulsive and vibrant n order to crucify boredom. At the lighted crossroads, alert, attentive, lying in wait for years, in the forest. * I am writing a manifesto and there's nothing I want, and yet I'm saying certain things, and in principle I am against manifestos, as I am against principles (quantifying measures of the moral value of every phrase - too easy; approximation was invested by the impressionists). *

I'm writing this manifesto to show that you can perform contrary actions at the same time, in one single, fresh breath; I am against action; as for continual contradiction, and affirmation too, I am neither for nor against them, and I won't explain myself because I hate common sense.

DADA - this is a word that throws up ideas so that they can be shot down; every bourgeois is a little playwright, who invents different subjects and who, instead of situating suitable characters on the level of his own intelligence, like chrysalises on chairs, tries to find causes or objects (according to whichever psychoanalytic method he practices) to give weight to his plot, a talking and self-defining story. *

Every spectator is a plotter, if he tries to explain a word (to know!) From his padded refuge of serpentine complications, he allows his instincts to be manipulated. Whence the sorrows of conjugal life.

To be plain: The amusement of redbellies in the mills of empty skulls.


If we consider it futile, and if we don't waste our time over a word that doesn't mean anything... The first thought that comes to these minds is of a bacteriological order: at least to discover its etymological, historical or psychological meaning. We read in the papers that the negroes of the Kroo race call the tail of a sacred cow: DADA. A cube, and a mother, in a certain region of Italy, are called: DADA. The word for a hobby horse, a children's nurse, a double affirmative in Russian and Romanian, is also: DADA. Some learned journalists see it as an art for babies, other Jesuscallingthelittlechildrenuntohim saints see it as a return to an unemotional and noisy primitivism - noise and monotonous. A sensitivity cannot be built on the basis of a word; every sort of construction converges into a boring sort of perfection, a stagnant idea of a golden swamp, a relative human product. A work of art shouldn't be beauty per se, because it is dead; neither gay nor sad, neither light nor dark; it is to rejoice or maltreat individualities to serve them up the cakes of sainted haloes or the sweat of a meandering chase through the atmosphere. A work of art is never beautiful, by decree, objectively, for everyone. Criticism is, therefore, useless; it only exists subjectively, for every individual, and without the slightest general characteristic. Do people imagine they have found the psychic basis common to all humanity? The attempt of Jesus, and the Bible, conceal, under their ample, benevolent wings: shit, animals and days. How can anyone hope to order the chaos that constitutes that infinite, formless variation: man? The principle: "Love thy neighbour" is hypocrisy. "Know thyself" is utopian, but more acceptable because it includes malice. No pity. After the carnage we are left with the hope of a purified humanity. I always speak about myself because I don't want to convince, and I have no right to drag others in my wake, I'm not compelling anyone to follow me, because everyone makes his art in his own way, if he knows anything about the joy that rises like an arrow up to the astral strata, or that which descends into the mines stewn with the flowers of corpses and fertile spasms. Stalactites: look everywhere for them, in creches magnified by pain, eyes as white as angels' hares. Thus DADA was born* , out of a need for independence, out of mistrust for the community. People who join us keep their freedom. We don't accept any theories. We've had enough of the cubist and futurist academies: laboratories of formal ideas. Do we make art in order to earn money and keep the dear bourgeoisie happy? Rhymes have the smack of money, and inflexion slides along the line of the stomach in profile. Every group of artists has ended up at this bank, straddling various comets. Leaving the door open to the possibility of wallowing in comfort and food.

Here we are dropping our anchor in fertile ground.

Here we really know what we are talking about, because we have experienced the trembling and the awakening. Drunk with energy, we are revenants thrusting the trident into heedless flesh. We are streams of curses in the tropical abundance of vertiginous

vegetation, resin and rain is our sweat, we bleed and burn with thirst, our blood is strength.

Cubism was born out of a simple manner of looking at objects: Cezanne painted a cup twenty centimetres lower than his eyes, the cubists look at it from above, others complicate it appearance by cutting a vertical section through it and soberly placing it to one side (I'm not forgetting the creators, nor the seminal reasons of unformed matter that they rendered definitive). * The futurist sees the same cup in movement, a succession of objects side by side, mischievously embellished by a few guide-lines. This doesn't stop the canvas being either a good or a bad painting destined to form an investment for intellectual capital. The new painter creates a world whose elements are also its means, a sober, definitive, irrefutable work. The new artist protests: he no longer paints (symbolic and illusionistic reproduction) but creates directly in stone, wood, iron, tin, rocks, or locomotive structures capable of being spun in all directions by the limpid wind of the momentary sensation. * Every pictorial or plastic work is unnecessary , even if it is a monster which terrifies servile minds, and not a sickly-sweet object to adorn the refectories of animals in human garb, those illustrations of the sad fable of humanity. - A painting is the art of making two lines, which have been geometrically observed to be parallel, meet on a canvas, before our eyes, in the reality of a world that has been transposed according to new conditions and possibilities. This world is neither specified nor defined in the work, it belongs, in its innumerable variations, to the spectator. For its creator it has neither case nor theory. Order = disorder; ego = non-ego; affirmation - negation: the supreme radiations of an absolute art. Absolute in the purity of its cosmic and regulated chaos, eternal in that globule that is a second which has no duration, no breath, no light and no control. * I appreciate an old work for its novelty. It is only contrast that links us to the past. * Writers who like to moralise and discuss or ameliorate psychological bases have, apart from a secret wish to win, a ridiculous knowledge of life, which they may have classified, parcelled out, canalised; they are determined to see its categories dance when they beat time. Their readers laugh derisively, but carry on: what's the use?

There is one kind of literature which never reaches the voracious masses. The work of creative writers, written out of the author's real necessity, and for his own benefit. The awareness of a supreme egoism, wherein laws become significant. * Every page should explode, either because of its profound gravity, or its vortex, vertigo, newness, eternity, or because of its staggering absurdity, the enthusiasm of its principles, or its typography. On the one hand there is a world tottering in its flight, linked to the resounding tinkle of the infernal gamut; on the other hand, there are: the new men. Uncouth, galloping, riding astride on hiccups. And there is a mutilated world and literary medicasters in desperate need of amelioration.

I assure you: there is no beginning, and we are not afraid; we aren't sentimental. We are like a raging wind that rips up the clothes of clouds and prayers, we are preparing the great spectacle of disaster, conflagration and decomposition. Preparing to put an end to mourning, and to replace tears by sirens spreading from one continent to another. Clarions of intense joy, bereft of that poisonous sadness. * DADA is the mark of abstraction; publicity and business are also poetic elements.

I destroy the drawers of the brain, and those of social organisation: to sow demoralisation everywhere, and throw heaven's hand into hell, hell's eyes into heaven, to reinstate the fertile wheel of a universal circus in the Powers of reality, and the fantasy of every individual.

A philosophical questions: from which angle to start looking at life, god, ideas, or anything else. Everything we look at is false. I don't think the relative result is any more important than the choice of patisserie or cherries for dessert. The way people have of looking hurriedly at things from the opposite point of view, so as to impose their opinions indirectly, is called dialectic, in other words, heads I wind and tails you lose, dressed up to look scholarly.

If I shout:

Ideal, Ideal, Ideal

Knowledge, Knowledge, Knowledge

Boomboom, Boomboom, Boomboom

I have recorded fairly accurately Progress, Law, Morals, and all the other magnificent qualities that various very intelligent people have discussed in so many books in order, finally, to say that even so everyone has danced according to his own personal boomboom, and that he's right about his boomboom: the satisfaction of unhealthy curiosity; private bell-ringing for inexplicable needs; bath; pecuniary difficulties; a stomach with repercussions on to life; the authority of the mystical baton formulated as the grand finale of a phantom orchestra with mute bows, lubricated by philtres with a basis of animal ammonia. With the blue monocle of an angel they have dug out its interior for twenty sous worth of unanimous gratitude. * If all of them are right, and if all pills are only Pink, let's try for once not to be right. * People think they can explain rationally, by means of thought, what they write. But it's very relative. Thought is a fine thing for philosophy, but it's relative. Psychoanalysis is a dangerous disease, it deadens man's anti-real inclinations and systematises the bourgeoisie. There is no ultimate Truth. Dialectics is an amusing machine that leads us (in banal fashion) to the opinions which we would have held in any case. Do people really think that, by the meticulous subtlety of logic, they have demonstrated the truth and established the accuracy of their opinions? Even if logic were confined by the senses it would still be an organic disease. To this element, philosophers like to add: The power of observation. But this magnificent quality of the mind is precisely the proof of its impotence. People observe, they look at things from one or several points of view, they choose them from amongst the millions that exist. Experience too is the result of chance and of individual abilities. * Science revolts me when it becomes a speculative system and loses its utilitarian character - which is so useless - but is at least individual. I hate slimy objectivity, and harmony, the science that considers that everything is always in order. Carry on, children, humanity ... Science says that we are nature's servants: everything is in order, make both love and war. Carry on, children, humanity, nice kind bourgeois and virgin journalists... * I am against systems; the most acceptable system is that of have none on no principle. * To complete oneself, to perfect oneself in one's own pettiness to the point of filling the little vase of oneself with oneself, even the courage to fight for and against thought, all this can suddenly infernally propel us into the mystery of daily bread and the lilies of the economic field.


What I call the I-don't-give-a-damn attitude of life is when everyone minds his own business, at the same time as he knows how to respect other individualities, and even how to stand up for himself, the two-step becoming a national anthem, a junk shop, the wireless (the wire-less telephone) transmitting Bach fugues, illuminated advertisements for placards for brothels, the organ broadcasting carnations for God, all this at the same time, and in real terms, replacing photography and unilateral catechism.

Active simplicity.

The incapacity to distinguish between degrees of light: licking the twilight and floating in the huge mouth filled with honey and excrement. Measured against the scale of Eternity, every action is vain - (if we allow thought to have an adventure whose result would be infinitely grotesque - an important factor in the awareness of human incapacity). But if life is a bad joke, with neither goal nor initial accouchement, and because we believe we ought, like clean chrysanthemums, to make the best of a bad bargain, we have declared that the only basis of understanding is: art. It hasn't the importance that we, old hands at the spiritual, have been lavishing on it for centuries. Art does nobody any harm, and those who are capable of taking an interest in it will not only receive caresses, but also a marvellous chance to people the country of their conversation. Art is a private thing, the artist makes it for himself; a comprehensible work is the product of a journalist, and because at this moment I enjoy mixing this monster in oil paints: a paper tube imitating the metal that you press and automatically squeeze out hatred, cowardice and villainy. The artist, or the poet, rejoices in the venom of this mass condensed into one shopwalker of this trade, he is glad to be insulted, it proves his immutability. The author or the artist praised by the papers observes that his work has been understood: a miserable lining to a collaborating with the heat of an animal incubating the baser instincts. Flabby, insipid flesh multiplying itself with the aid of typographical microbes.

We have done violence to the snivelling tendencies in our natures. Every infiltration of this sort is macerated diarrhoea. To encourage this sort of art is to digest it. What we need are strong straightforward, precise works which will be forever misunderstood. Logic is a complication. Logic is always false. It draws the superficial threads of concepts and words towards illusory conclusions and centres. Its chains kill, an enormous myriapod that asphyxiates independence. If it were married to logic, art would be living in incest, engulfing, swallowing its own tail, which still belongs to its body, fornicating in itself, and temperament would become a nightmare tarred and feathered with protestantism, a monument, a mass of heavy, greyish intestines.

But suppleness, enthusiasm and even the joy of injustice, that little truth that we practise as innocents and that makes us beautiful: we are cunning, and our fingers are malleable and glide like the

branches of that insidious and almost liquid plant; this injustice is the indication of our soul, say the cynics. This is also a point of view; but all flowers aren't saints, luckily, and what is divine in us is the awakening of anti-human action. What we are talking about here is a paper flower for the buttonhole of gentlemen who frequent the ball of masked life, the kitchen of grace, our white, lithe or fleshy girl cousins. They make a profit out of what we have selected. The contradiction and unity of opposing poles at the same time may be true. IF we are absolutely determined to utter this platitude, the appendix of alibidinous, evil-smelling morality. Morals have an atrophying effect, like every other pestilential product of the intelligence. Being governed by morals and logic has made it impossible for us to be anything other than impassive towards policemen - the cause of slavery - putrid rats with whom the bourgeois are fed up to the teeth, and who have infected the only corridors of clear and clean glass that remained open to artists.

Every man must shout: there is great destructive, negative work to be done. To sweep, to clean. The cleanliness of the individual materialises after we've gone through folly, the aggressive, complete folly of a world left in the hands of bandits who have demolished and destroyed the centuries. With neither aim nor plan, without organisation: uncontrollable folly, decomposition. Those who are strong in word or in strength will survive, because they are quick to defend themselves; the agility of their limbs and feelings flames on their faceted flanks.

Morals have given rise to charity and pity, two dumplings that have grown like elephants, planets, which people call good. There is nothing good about them. Goodness is lucid, clear and resolute, and ruthless towards compromise and politics. Morality infuses chocolate into every man's veins. This task is not ordained by a supernatural force, but by a trust of ideas-merchants and academic monopolists. Sentimentality: seeing a group of bored and quarrelling men, they invented the calendar and wisdom as a remedy. By sticking labels on to things, the battle of the philosophers we let loose (money-grubbing, mean and meticulous weights and measures) and one understood once again that pity is a feeling, like diarrhoea in relation to disgust, that undermines health, the filthy carrion job of jeopardising the sun. I proclaim the opposition of all the cosmic faculties to that blennorrhoea of a putrid sun that issues from the factories of philosophical thought, the fight to the death, with all the resources of


Every product of disgust that is capable of becoming a negation of the family is dada; DADA; acquaintance with all the means hitherto rejected by the sexual prudishness of easy compromise and good manners: DADA; abolition of logic, dance of those who are incapable of creation: DADA; every hierarchy and social equation established for values by our valets: DADA; every object, all objects, feelings and obscurities, every apparition and the precise shock of parallel lines, are means for the battle of: DADA; the abolition of memory: DADA; the abolition of archaeology: DADA the abolition of prophets: DADA; the abolition of the future: DADA; the absolute and indiscutable belief in every god that is an immediate product of spontaneity: DADA; the elegant and unprejudiced leap from on harmony to another sphere; the trajectory of a word, a cry, thrown into the air like an acoustic disc; to respect all individualities in their folly of the moment, whether serious, fearful, timid, ardent, vigorous, decided or enthusiastic; to strip one's church of every useless and unwieldy accessory; to spew out like a luminous cascade any offensive or loving thought, or to cherish it - with the lively satisfaction that it's all precisely the same thing - with the same intensity in the bush, which is free of insects for the blue-blooded, and gilded with the bodies of archangels, with one's soul. Liberty: DADA DADA DADA; - the roar of contorted pains, the interweaving of contraries and all contradictions, freaks and irrelevancies: LIFE.

* in 1916 at the CABARET VOLTAIRE in Zurich

copied from:

auto-destructive art manifesto, Gustav Metzger


Man In Regent Street is auto-destructive.

Rockets, nuclear weapons, are auto-destructive.

Auto-destructive art.

The drop drop dropping of HH bombs.

Not interested in ruins, (the picturesque)

Auto-destructive art re-enacts the obsession with destruction, the pummeling to which individuals and masses are subjected.

Auto-destructive art mirrors the compulsive perfectionism of arms manufacture - polishing to destruction point.

Auto-destructive art is the transformation of technology into public art. The immense productive capacity, the chaos of capitalism and of Soviet communism, the co-existence of surplus and starvation; the increasing stock-piling of nuclear weapons - more than enough to destroy technological societies; the disintegrative effect of machinery and of life in vast built-up a reason the person,...

Auto-destructive art is art which contains within itself an agent which automatically leads to its destruction within a period of time not to exceed twenty years. Other forms of auto-destructive art involve manual manipulation. There are forms of auto-destructive art where the artist has a tight control over the nature and timing of the disintegrative process, and there are other forms where the artist's control is slight.

Materials and techniques used in creating auto-destructive art include: Acid, Adhesives, Ballistics, Canvas, Clay, Combustion, Compression, Concrete, Corrosion, Cybernetics, Drop, Elasticity, Electricity, Electrolysis, Feed-Back, Glass, Heat, Human Energy, Ice, Jet, Light, Load, Mass-production, Metal, Motion Picture, Natural Forces, Nuclear Energy, Paint, Paper, Photography, Plaster, Plastics, Pressure, Radiation, Sand, Solar Energy, Sound, Steam, Stress, Terra-cotta, Vibration, Water, Welding, Wire, Wood.

above copied from:

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Perspectives for Conscious Changes in Everyday Life, Guy Debord

To study everyday life would be a completely absurd undertaking, unable even to grasp anything of its object, if this study was not expressly for the purpose of transforming everyday life.

The practice of lecturing (the exposition of certain intellectual considerations to an audience), being an extremely commonplace form of human relations in a rather large sector of society, is itself part of the everyday life that must be criticized.

Sociologists, for example, are only too inclined to exclude from everyday life things that happen to them every day, and to transfer them to separate and supposedly superior spheres. In this way habit in all its forms — beginning with the habit of handling a few professional concepts (concepts produced by the division of labour) — masks reality behind privileged conventions.

It is thus desirable to demonstrate, by a slight alteration of the usual procedures, that everyday life is right here. These words are being communicated by way of a tape recorder,(1) not, of course, in order to illustrate the integration of technology into this everyday life on the margin of the technological world, but in order to take the simplest opportunity to break with the appearance of pseudocollaboration, of artificial dialogue, between the “in person” lecturer and his spectators. This slight discomforting break with accustomed routine may serve to bring directly into the field of questioning of everyday life (a questioning otherwise completely abstract) the very practice of lecturing, as well as any number of other forms of using time or objects, forms that are considered “normal” and not even noticed, and which ultimately condition us. With such a detail, as with everyday life as a whole, alteration is always the necessary and sufficient condition for experimentally bringing into clear view the object of our study, which would otherwise remain uncertain — an object which is itself less to be studied than to be changed.

I have just said that the reality of an observable entity designated by the term “everyday life” stands a good chance of remaining hypothetical for many people. Indeed, the most striking feature of the present “Group for Research on Everyday Life” is obviously not the fact that it has not yet discovered anything, but the fact that the very existence of everyday life has been disputed from its very inception, and increasingly so with each new session of this conference. Most of the talks we have heard so far have been by people who are not at all convinced that everyday life exists, since they haven’t encountered it anywhere. A group for research on everyday life with this attitude is comparable in every way to an expedition in search of the Yeti, which might similarly come to the conclusion that its quarry was merely a popular hoax.

To be sure, everyone agrees that certain gestures repeated every day, such as opening doors or filling glasses, are quite real; but these gestures are at such a trivial level of reality that it is rightly objected that they are not of sufficient interest to justify a new specialized branch of sociological research. A number of sociologists seem disinclined to recognize any aspects of everyday life beyond these trivialities. They thus accept the definition of it proposed by Henri Lefebvre — “whatever remains after one has eliminated all specialized activities” — but draw a different conclusion: that everyday life is nothing. The majority of sociologists — and we know how much they are in their element in specialized activities, in which they generally have the blindest faith! — recognize specialized activities everywhere and everyday life nowhere. Everyday life is always elsewhere. Among others, somewhere in the nonsociologist classes of the population. Someone said here that it would be interesting to study the workers as guinea pigs who have probably been infected with this virus of everyday life because they, having no access to specialized activities, have no life except everyday life. This condescending manner of investigating the common people in search of an exotic primitivism of everyday life — and above all this ingenuously avowed self-satisfaction, this naïve pride in participating in a culture whose glaring bankruptcy no one can dream of denying, and the radical inability to understand the world that produces this culture — all this never ceases to astonish.

This attitude clearly reveals a desire to hide behind a development of thought based on the separation of artificial, fragmentary domains so as to reject the useless, vulgar and disturbing concept of “everyday life.” Such a concept covers an uncatalogued and unclassified residue of reality, a residue some people don’t want to face because it at the same time represents the standpoint of the totality and thus implies the necessity of a holistic political judgment. Certain intellectuals seem to flatter themselves with an illusory personal participation in the dominant sector of society through their possession of one or more cultural specializations, though those specializations have put them in the best position to see that this whole dominant culture is moth-eaten. But whatever one’s opinion of the coherence of this culture or of the interest of one or another of its fragments, the particular alienation it has imposed on these intellectuals is to make them imagine, from their lofty sociological position, that they are quite outside the everyday life of the common people, or to give them an exaggerated idea of their sociopolitical rank, as if their lives were not as fundamentally impoverished as everyone else’s.

Specialized activities certainly exist; they are even put to certain general uses which should be recognized in a demystified manner. Everyday life is not everything — although its overlapping with specialized activities is such that in a sense we are never outside of everyday life. But to use a somewhat simplistic spatial image, we still have to place everyday life at the center of everything. Every project begins from it and every accomplishment returns to it to acquire its real significance. Everyday life is the measure of all things: of the (non)fulfilment of human relations; of the use of lived time; of artistic experimentation; and of revolutionary politics.

It is not enough to recall that the old stereotypical image of the detached scientific observer is fallacious in any case. It must be stressed that disinterested observation is even less possible here than anywhere else. What makes for the difficulty of even recognizing a terrain of everyday life is not only the fact that it has already become the ostensible meeting ground of an empirical sociology and a conceptual elaboration, but also the fact that it presently happens to be the stake in any revolutionary renewal of culture and politics.

To fail to criticize everyday life means accepting the prolongation of the present thoroughly rotten forms of culture and politics, forms whose extreme crisis is expressed in increasingly widespread political apathy and neoilliteracy, especially in the most modern countries. On the other hand, a radical critique in acts of the prevailing everyday life could lead to a supersession of culture and politics in the traditional sense, that is, to a higher level of intervention in life.

“But,” you may ask, “how does it happen that the importance of this everyday life, which according to you is the only real life, is so completely and directly underrated by people who, after all, have no direct interest in doing so — many of whom are even far from being opposed to some kind of renewal of the revolutionary movement?”

I think this happens because everyday life is organized within the limits of a scandalous poverty, and above all because there is nothing accidental about this poverty of everyday life: it is a poverty that is constantly imposed by the coercion and violence of a society divided into classes, a poverty historically organized in line with the evolving requirements of exploitation.

The use of everyday life, in the sense of a consumption of lived time, is governed by the reign of scarcity: scarcity of free time and scarcity of possible uses of this free time.

Just as the accelerated history of our time is the history of accumulation and industrialization, so the backwardness and conservative tendencies of everyday life are products of the laws and interests that have presided over this industrialization. Everyday life has until now resisted the historical. This represents first of all a verdict against the historical insofar as it has been the heritage and project of an exploitive society.

The extreme poverty of conscious organization and creativity in everyday life reflects the fundamental need for unconsciousness and mystification in a society of exploitation and alienation.

Henri Lefebvre has extended the idea of uneven development so as to characterize everyday life as a lagging sector, out of joint with the historical but not completely cut off from it. I think that one could go so far as to term this level of everyday life a colonized sector. We know that underdevelopment and colonization are interrelated at the level of global economy. Everything suggests that the same thing applies at the level of socioeconomic structure, at the level of praxis.

Everyday life, policed and mystified by every means, is a sort of reservation for the good natives who keep modern society running without understanding it — this society with its rapid growth of technological powers and the forced expansion of its market. History (the transformation of reality) cannot presently be used in everyday life because the people who live that everyday life are the product of a history over which they have no control. It is of course they themselves who make this history, but they do not make it freely or consciously.

Modern society is viewed through specialized fragments that are virtually incommunicable; and so everyday life, where all questions are liable to be posed in a unitary manner, is naturally the domain of ignorance.

Through its industrial production this society has emptied the gestures of work of all meaning. And no model of human behaviour has retained any real relevance in everyday life.

This society tends to atomize people into isolated consumers and to prohibit communication. Everyday life is thus private life, the realm of separation and spectacle.

It is thus also the sphere of the specialists’ resignation and failure. It is the reason, for example, that one of the rare individuals capable of understanding the latest scientific conception of the universe will make a fool of himself by earnestly pondering Alain Robbe-Grillet’s aesthetic theories or by sending petitions to the President in the hope of convincing him to change his policies. It is the sphere of personal disarmament, of an avowed incapability of living.

Thus the underdevelopment of everyday life cannot be characterized solely by its relative inability to put various technologies to good use. This inability is only one consequence (though an important one) of everyday alienation as a whole, which could be defined as the inability to invent a technique for the liberation of everyday experience.

Many technologies do, in fact, more or less markedly alter certain aspects of everyday life — not only housework, as has already been mentioned here, but also telephones, television, music on long-playing records, mass air travel, etc. These developments arise anarchically, by chance, without anyone having foreseen their interrelations or consequences. But there is no denying that, on the whole, this introduction of technology into everyday life ultimately takes place within the framework of modern bureaucratized capitalism and tends to reduce people’s independence and creativity. The new prefabricated cities clearly exemplify the totalitarian tendency of modern capitalism’s organization of life: the isolated inhabitants (generally isolated within the framework of the family cell) see their lives reduced to the pure triviality of the repetitive combined with the obligatory consumption of an equally repetitive spectacle.

One can thus conclude that if people censor the question of their own everyday life, it is both because they are aware of its unbearable impoverishment and because sooner or later they sense — whether they admit it or not — that all the real possibilities, all the desires that have been frustrated by the functioning of social life, are focused there, and not at all in the various specialized activities and distractions. Awareness of the profound richness and energy abandoned in everyday life is inseparable from awareness of the poverty of the dominant organization of this life. The awareness of this untapped richness leads to the contrasting definition of everyday life as poverty and as prison; which in turn leads to the repression of the whole problem.

In these conditions, repressing the political question posed by the poverty of everyday life means repressing the most profound demands bearing on the possible richness of this life — demands that can lead to nothing less than a reinvention of revolution. Of course an evasion of politics at this level is in no way incompatible with being active in the Parti Socialiste Unifié, for example, or with reading L’Humanité [French Communist Party newspaper] with confidence.

Everything really depends on the level at which this problem is posed: How is our life? In what ways are we satisfied with it? In what ways are we dissatisfied with it? Without for a moment letting ourselves be intimidated by the various advertisements designed to persuade us that we can be happy because of the existence of God or Colgate toothpaste or the National Center for Scientific Research.

It seems to me that the phrase “critique of everyday life” could and should also be understood in this reverse sense: as everyday life’s sovereign critique of everything that is external or irrelevant to itself.

The question of the use of technological means, in everyday life and elsewhere, is a political question. Out of all the potential technological means, those that actually get implemented are selected in accordance with the goal of maintaining the rule of a particular class. When one imagines a future such as that presented in science-fiction, in which interstellar adventures coexist with a terrestrial everyday life kept in the same old material poverty and archaic morality, this implies precisely that there is still a class of specialized rulers maintaining the proletarian masses of the factories and offices in their service; and that the interstellar adventures are nothing but the particular enterprise chosen by those rulers, the way they have found to develop their irrational economy, the pinnacle of specialized activity.

Someone posed the question, “What is private life [vie privée] deprived [privée] of?” Quite simply of life itself, which is cruelly absent. People are as deprived as possible of communication and of self-fulfillment; deprived of the opportunity to personally make their own history. Positive responses to this question about the nature of the privation can thus only take the form of projects of enrichment; the project of developing a style of life different from the present one (if the present way of life can even be said to have a “style”). Or to put it another way, if we regard everyday life as the frontier between the dominated and the undominated sectors of life, and thus as the terrain of chance and uncertainty, it would be necessary to replace the present ghetto with a constantly moving frontier; to work ceaselessly toward the organization of new chances.

The question of intensity of experience is posed today — with drug use, for example — in the only terms in which the society of alienation is capable of posing any question: namely, in terms of false recognition of a falsified project, in terms of fixation and attachment. It should also be noted how much the image of love elaborated and propagated in this society has in common with drugs. A passion is first of all presented as a denial of all other passions; then it is frustrated, and finally reappears only in the compensations of the reigning spectacle. La Rochefoucauld wrote: “What often prevents us from abandoning ourselves to a single vice is that we have several.”(2) This can be taken as a very positive observation if we ignore its moralistic presuppositions and put it back on its feet as the basis of a program for the realization of human capacities.

All these questions are now relevant because our time is clearly dominated by the emergence of the project borne by the working class — the abolition of every class society and the inauguration of human history — and is thus also dominated by the fierce resistance to this project and by the distortions and failures it has encountered up till now.

The present crisis of everyday life takes its place among the new forms of the crisis of capitalism, forms that remain unnoticed by those who cling to classical calculations of the dates of the next cyclical crises of the economy.

The disappearance in developed capitalism of all the old values and of all the frames of reference of past communication; and the impossibility of replacing them with any others before having rationally dominated, within everyday life and everywhere else, the new industrial forces that escape us more and more — these facts give rise not only to the virtually official dissatisfaction of our time, a dissatisfaction particularly acute among young people, but also to the self-negating tendency of art. Artistic activity had always been alone in expressing the clandestine problems of everyday life, albeit in a veiled, deformed, and partially illusory manner. Modern art now provides us with undeniable evidence of the destruction of all artistic expression.

If we consider the whole extent of the crisis of contemporary society, I don’t think it is possible to still regard leisure activities as a negation of the everyday. It has been recognized here that it is necessary to study “wasted time.” But let us look at the recent evolution of this notion of wasted time. For classical capitalism, wasted time was time that was not devoted to production, accumulation, saving. The secular morality taught in bourgeois schools has instilled this rule of life. But it so happens that by an unexpected turn of events modern capitalism needs to increase consumption and “raise the standard of living” (bearing in mind that that expression is completely meaningless). Since at the same time production conditions, compartmentalized and clocked to the extreme, have become indefensible, the new morality already being conveyed in advertising, propaganda and all the forms of the dominant spectacle now frankly admits that wasted time is the time spent at work, the only purpose of which is to earn enough to enable one to buy rest, consumption and entertainments — a daily passivity manufactured and controlled by capitalism.

If we now consider the artificiality of the consumer needs prefabricated and ceaselessly stimulated by modern industry — if we recognize the emptiness of leisure activities and the impossibility of rest — we can pose the question more realistically: What would not be wasted time? Or to put it another way, the development of a society of abundance should lead to an abundance of what?

This can obviously serve as a touchstone in many regards. When, for example, in one of those papers where the flabby thinking of “leftist intellectuals” is displayed (France-Observateur) one reads a title like “The Little Car Out to Conquer Socialism” heading an article that explains that nowadays the Russians are beginning to pursue an American-style private consumption of goods, beginning naturally with cars, one cannot help thinking that one need not have mastered all of Hegel and Marx to realize that a socialism that gives way in the face of an invasion of the market by small cars is in no way the socialism for which the workers movement fought. The bureaucratic rulers of Russia must be opposed not because of their particular tactics or dogmas, but more fundamentally: because the meaning of people’s lives has not really changed. And this is not some obscure, inevitable fate of an everyday life supposedly doomed to remain reactionary. It is a fate imposed on everyday life from the outside by the reactionary sphere of specialized rulers, regardless of the label under which they plan and regulate poverty in all its aspects.

The present depoliticization of many former leftist militants, their withdrawal from one type of alienation to plunge into another, that of private life, represents not so much a return to privacy, a flight from “historical responsibility,” but rather a withdrawal from the specialized political sector that is always manipulated by others — a sector where the only responsibility they ever took was that of leaving all responsibility to uncontrolled leaders; a sector where the communist project was sidetracked and betrayed. Just as one cannot simplistically oppose private life to public life without asking: what private life? what public life? (for private life contains the factors of its negation and supersession, just as collective revolutionary action harboured the factors of its degeneration), so it would be a mistake to assess the alienation of individuals within revolutionary politics when it is really a matter of the alienation of revolutionary politics itself. The problem of alienation should be tackled dialectically, so as to draw attention to the constantly recurring possibilities of alienation arising within the very struggle against alienation; but we should stress that this applies to the highest level of research (to the philosophy of alienation as a whole, for example) and not to the level of Stalinism, the explanation of which is unfortunately more gross.

Capitalist civilization has not yet been superseded anywhere, but it continues to produce its own enemies everywhere. The next rise of the revolutionary movement, radicalized by the lessons of past defeats and with a program enriched in proportion to the practical potentials of modern society (potentials that already constitute the material basis that was lacked by the “utopian” currents of socialism) — this next attempt at a total contestation of capitalism will know how to invent and propose a different use of everyday life, and will immediately base itself on new everyday practices and on new types of human relationships (being no longer unaware that any conserving, within the revolutionary movement, of the relations prevailing in the existing society imperceptibly leads to a reconstitution of one or another variant of that society).

Just as the bourgeoisie, in its ascendant phase, had to ruthlessly liquidate everything that transcended earthly life (heaven, eternity), so the revolutionary proletariat — which can never, without ceasing to be revolutionary, recognize itself in any past or any models — will have to renounce everything that transcends everyday life. Or rather, everything that claims to transcend it: the spectacle, “historical” acts or pronouncements, the “greatness” of leaders, the mystery of specializations, the “immortality” of art and its supposed importance outside of life. In other words, it must renounce all the by-products of eternity that have survived as weapons of the world of the rulers.

The revolution in everyday life, breaking its present resistance to the historical (and to every kind of change), will create conditions in which the present dominates the past and the creative aspects of life always predominate over the repetitive ones. We must therefore expect that the side of everyday life expressed by the concepts of ambiguity (misunderstandings, compromises, misuses) will decline considerably in importance in favour of their opposites: conscious choices and gambles.

The present artistic calling in question of language — appearing at the same time as that metalanguage of machines which is nothing other than the bureaucratized language of the bureaucracy in power — will then be superseded by higher forms of communication. The present notion of a decipherable social text will lead to new methods of writing this social text, in the direction my situationist comrades are presently seeking with unitary urbanism and some preliminary ventures in experimental behaviour. The central aim of an entirely reconverted and redirected industrial production will be the organization of new configurations of everyday life, the free creation of events.

The critique and perpetual re-creation of the totality of everyday life, before being carried out naturally by everyone, must be undertaken within the present conditions of oppression, in order to destroy those conditions.

An avant-garde cultural movement, even one with revolutionary sympathies, cannot accomplish this. Neither can a revolutionary party on the traditional model, even if it accords a large place to criticism of culture (understanding by that term the entirety of artistic and conceptual means through which a society explains itself to itself and shows itself goals of life). This culture and this politics are both worn out and it is not without reason that most people take no interest in them. The revolutionary transformation of everyday life — which is not reserved for some vague future but is placed immediately before us by the development of capitalism and its unbearable demands (the only alternative being the reinforcement of the modern slavery) — this transformation will mark the end of all unilateral artistic expression stocked in the form of commodities, at the same time as the end of all specialized politics.

This is going to be the task of a new type of revolutionary organization, from its inception.

This text was originally presented by tape recording at a conference of academic sociologists.

copied from:

A Taxonomy of Sound Poetry, Dick Higgins

I - For Starters, a Sub-History

Most sound poets and observers of the contemporary scene approach sound poetry as if it were a purely contemporary phenomenon, but this neoteric view simply does not hold up. It is true that some kinds of sound poetry are new in the sense of being without formal precedent. But just as "concrete" and other recent visual poetries have their analogues going back into folklore or into (for example) the Bucolic Greek poets, so sound poetry too has its close analogues. This is natural, since it is natural for anyone who is interested in poetry to try, at some point, isolating the sounds of poetry from other aspects of it and to try out the making of poems with sounds more-or-less alone; only if such an experiment were totally artificial could something so basic as a poetry of sound alone be entirely without precedent. But, to start our investigation, let us consider sound poetry not (as might be tempting) by some tight definition that gave a climactic structure to the argument of the critic or poet who offers it-the revelation-of-the-here-to-fore-unknown-truth kind of discussion-and simply use "sound poetry" as, generally, poetry in which the sound is the focus, more than any other aspect of the work.

Three basic types of sound poetry from the relative past come to mind immediately: folk varieties, onomatopoetic or mimetic types, and nonsense poetries. The folk roots of sound poetry may be seen in the lyrics of certain folk songs, such as the Horse Songs of the Navajos or in the Mongolian materials collected by the Sven Hedin expedition.1 We have some of this kind of thing in our own culture, where sound poetry fragments are apt to be used at the ends of stanzas, such as the French "il ron ron ron petit patte à pont" in "Il était une bergère," or the English "heigh down hoe down derry derry down" in "The Keeper." Similarly, in Black American music there is a sound poetry tradition, possibly based originally on work calls, which we find metatacized into the skat singing styles of the popular music of the 1930's, in the long nonsense-like passages in Cab Calloway's singing of "Minnie the Moocher," for example.

In written literature, by contrast, most of the sound poetry fragments are brief, onomatopoetic imitations of natural or other sounds, for example the "Brekekex ko-ax ko-ax" of the frogs in Aristophanes' drama, or the "jug jug jugs" of the birds among the Elizabethans. This use of sound has no semantic sense to speak of, although, on occasion, its freshness consists of possible overlaps between nonsense and sense. Even some recent sound poetry has an onomatopoetic element. For example, my own Requiem for Wagner the Criminal Mayor is above all a structural piece, but its sounds resemble the fighting of cats and also the so-called "Bronx cheer" of traditional calumny.

Some of the most interesting sound poetry is the purely nonsense writing of the periods in Western literature when nonsemantic styles and forms were not supposed to be taken in full earnest. One of their delights is the art with which they parody the styles of their authors' native tongues. Try this English example, for instance, from the Victorian, Edward Lear:

Thrippsy pillowins,

Inky tinky pobblebookle abblesquabs?

Flosky! beebul trimple flosky!-Okul scratcha-

bibblebongebo, viddle squibble tog-a-tog, ferrymoyassity

amsky flamsky ramsky damsky crocklefether squiggs.

Flunkywisty poom.


While not set up as verse and therefore not exactly sound poetry, this text is from the period when prose poems were re-developed, and it tropes the style of a conventional polite letter of its period quite admirably. Another well-known example from its time would be the nonsense words in Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky --'Twas brillig in the slithy toves. . ." and that kind of thing. The protagonist is equipped with a "vorpal" sword, and speculation on that kind of sword has been abundant ever since. When I was a child I had a science fiction magazine in my possession-long since vanished-in which two genius children invented a "vorpal" sword to protect themselves against an invasion of creatures from another dimension, and there are currently even a literary magazine in California and an art gallery in New York City named-what else?-Vorpal. Thus though no meaning has ever been assigned definitively to "vorpal," the word has become familiar as a sort of empty word, significant for its lack of meaning and for its harmony in a sentence of other, more semantically significant English words.

Similarly, in Christian Morgenstern's "Gespräch einer Haussechnecke mit sich selbst," from the famous Galgenlieder, a snail asks if it should dwell in its shell, but the word fragments progress arid compress into strange, decidedly ungrammatical constructs; these use a sort of inner ear and inner grammar of the German language which reveal a great deal about the sounds and potential of that language:3

Soll i aus meim Hause raus

Soll i aus meim Hause nit raus?

Einen Schritt raus?

Lieber nit raus?





Rauserauserauserause ...

which Max Knight has translated as follows:

Shall I dwell in my shell?

Shall I not dwell in my shell?

Dwell in shell?

Rather not dwell?

Shall I not dwell,

shall I dwell,

dwell in shell

shall I shell,

shall IshellIshallIshellIshallI...

Of course in German the last five words can be perfectly compressed into one invented word each, which cannot be done to the same extent in English. This illustrates not only the uniqueness of the German language but also the unique relationship between successful sound poetry and the effective use of the linguistic potentialities in any given language.

II - When sound poetry becomes conscious of itself as just another genre

At some point around the time of the First World War it ceased to be assumed that sound poetry could only be used for light or humorous works or as interludes in otherwise traditional pieces, or as something so unique that each poem appeared to be the first sound poem in history-assumptions that seem to underlie most early sound poems. The sense of pioneering was replaced by the sense of potential mastery, and a tradition of sound poetry was precipitated. Implicit in this development is the even more radical aesthetic shift which seems to have begun at this time (and to have become even more pronounced recently, since, say, the late 1950's) that it is no longer de rigeur that a poem must attempt to be powerful, meaningful or even necessarily communicative (a main assumption of the 18th and 19th century poetries). I have developed this observation more fully elsewhere, 4 but basically my argument is that poetries which used means which, while not unknown, were not usually taken seriously in the West, especially visual as well as sound poetry,5 could now be accepted as valid possibilities and genres.6 Thus the parole in libertà (1909) of the futurist F. T. Marinetti or the dada lautgedichte of Hugo Ball ( 1917), both of which flourished at this time and both of which, while they may include elements of humor, are not particularly intended as divertissements as is, for instance, the Edward Lear piece I cited. The cycle since then is a sort of arc of increasing acceptance of these genres as our mentality has shifted from the normative art of power in the late 19th century towards an art of experience and paradigm today. As a measure of just how much a Ball lautgedicht (a work which probably seemed quite esoteric at the time of its composition) is accepted, one can point to the use of Ball's "I Zimbra" in its surprising appearance as the lyrics to a recently popular song by the punk rock group, The Talking Heads.7 The punk rock song, like Ball's poem, opens with "Gadji bera bimba dandridi," which is not even anchored in the parody of any one language but is purely without reference to any known language. This in turn evokes the possibility of an artificial invented language, an idea which was also explored at this same time in the Russian Iliazd's "zaoum" or the German Stefan George's "lingua romana" pieces. In our taxonomy, then, works in an artificial or non-existent language will be the first class of modern sound poems.8

A second class comprises works in which the joy or other significance of the work lies in the interplay between the semantically meaningful lines or elements and those which are probably nonsense. It is thus related to the first class, and such pieces often use found materials collaged into the text, as it were, so that one gets either a shock of recognition or a momentarily heightened sense of immediate, concrete reality. These works parallel, conceptually, the early collages of Picasso or Braque with their inclusion of newspaper fragments among the forms on the canvas, or the use of photographs by the dadaists and such Bauhaus figures as Moholy-Nagy, or the objets trouvés of Marcel Duchamp. That traditional critics can still be puzzled by such works is indicated by the titles of the contributions to a 1972 issue of Text+Kritik devoted to the writings of Kurt Schwitters, the German near-dadaist who flourished in the 1920's and later. Sample titles: "Kurt Schwitters' Poem 'To Anna Blume': Sense or Nonsense?" or "On the Function of the Reality Fragments in the Poetry of Kurt Schwitters," etc.9 Another such device, though not one that fits into sound poetry, would be the "newsreel" passages of John Dos Passos' USA trilogy, which I only mention as a parallel paradigm.

A third class might be called "phatic poems," poems in which semantic meaning, if any, is subordinate to expression of intonation, thus yielding a new emotional meaning which is relatively remote from any semiotic significance on the part of words which happen to be included. If, for example, one were to wail the words "blue" and "night" repeatedly over a period of time, the initial function of those words to establish a frame for the wail would soon become unimportant by comparison with the musicality of the wail itself and the residual meaning of the two words would come to seem more like an allusion than a conveyor of meaning. One would have, in effect, an invocation without anything specific being invoked. This is precisely the effect which one gets from the recently re-discovered recording by Antonin Artaud of his "Pour en finir avec le jugement se dieu," which was originally recorded in the late 1940's a short time before the poet's death, broadcast (causing a great scandal), and then lost for many years until Arrigo Lora-Totino unearthed it in the archives of Radiodiffusion Francaise.10 Here Artaud uses more-or-less conventional words, but they are, as I have suggested, essentially allusions-or perhaps illusions, since so few can be understood anyway. Instead Artaud's emphasis is on high sighing, breathing, wheezing, chanting, exclaiming, exploding, howling, whispering and avoiding.

Poems without written texts constitute a fourth class. They may have a rough schema or notation that is akin to a graphic musical one (and there are those who regard a magnetic tape as a sort of notation), or there may be some general rules, written out like those of a game, which, if followed, will produce a performance of the work. But by comparison with the role of the written text and the heard result in traditional poetry or in the previous sound poetries that we have discussed (except, perhaps, the previous class, the phatic poems), they are relatively unnotated. Highlights in this class would be Henri Chopin's explorations of the voice by means of microphone and tape recorder, François Dûfrène's very phatic crirhythmes series (which, perhaps, constitute a transitory class between the phatic poems and the un-written-out ones), or the highly sophisticated tape recorded poems produced in the recording studio by such artists as the Swedes, Bengt Emil Johnson, Sten Hanson and others." A very large portion of the recorded literature of sound poetry, especially in Europe, is of this type, presumably because of the inherent close connection between such works and audio recording as an industry. Although this is also the class in which most American sound poetry falls, the American literature tends to be aesthetically naive by comparison to the European (and Canadian) works. The artists seem ill at ease with the very "performance" of their "texts." For example, there are some ten records in the Poetry Out Loud series edited by Peter and Patricia Harleman, which seem somehow like an extension of the beat poetry of the 1950's with its heavy jazz influence, its anti-formal bias and its dogmatic insistence upon the freshness of improvisation.12 There exist also similar records edited and produced independently by John Giorno, whose work tends to sound improvised even when it is not. These have isolated fragments of rich material, but most are heavy-handed in their unformed iconoclasm. Fortunately, even in America, there are exceptions such as the works of Jackson Mac Low, Richard Kostelanetz and Charles Stein which are not of this sort.

The fifth class is the notated sound poem, which comprises the largest volume of sound poetry to date. By "notation" here I am referring to the normative sort of musical notation, in which there is some kind of correspondence between space, time, word and sound and some form of graphic or textual indicator of these elements. Some of these notations closely resemble musical notations and have elaborate scores, such as the work in the 1940's of the lettriste Isidore Isou or the monumentally complex works that came out of Germany in the 1950's, such as Hans G. Helms' Golem or Wolfgang Harig's das fussballspiel/ein stereophonisches hörspiel, a page of which is reproduced herewith:

Harig's das fussballspiel ("the soccer game") is, as its cover proclaims, "a stereophonic radio play," the word for which is, in German, appropriately enough, "hörspiel" or "hear-play." The resources called for on the depicted page alone are one chorus which evidently is working in unison here with a second and third chorus, a man and a woman. The work was first broadcast by Sudwestfunk in Stuttgart on April 11, 1966.13

However, it could also be argued that any text, when it is taken as a work of art by a person who does not understand the meaning of its words, is conceptually transformed into a sound poem of this class. For example, in February 1960, during a now-legendary performance of some "Happenings" at New York's Judson Church, Claes Oldenburg (who later became celebrated as a pop artist) read aloud to his American audience from a Swedish translation of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Since Oldenburg's Swedish is excellent, what the audience heard was all the phatic and phonetic materials of the Swedish language. Once the spectator gave up trying to understand the semantic meaning of the words, the result was fresh and meaningful on another plane.

Another such development is the use of a work which was presumably designed for an experience in some other medium in poetry, to produce a sort of intermedial translation. For example, there is the intertextual and intermedial relationship of sound poetry and concrete poetry. Concrete poetry is, quite roughly, the genre of visual poetry which uses writing or the letters of the alphabet presented visually or systemically, as opposed to visual poems which are photographic, environmental, conceptual, temporal, etc.14 Concrete poetry became a widespread phenomenon in the 1950's and 1960's. However, occasionally the need to perform concrete poetry "live" would arise. So when the poets would be asked to read their work aloud, they would often use the printed texts by analogy to musical notations, thus transforming them into notated sound poems. So close is the connection between sound poetry and concrete poetry, in fact, that many artists have done both and, in fact, one of the first phonographic recordings of sound poetry as such, the 1966 -konkrete poesie/sound poetry/artikulationen," by its very title indicates the near-identity of sound and concrete poetry; some of the artists included, such as Ernst Jandl, Franz Mon and Lily Greenham, are known in both areas, and Ms. Greenham has toured in Europe and North America with her live performances of concrete poetry translated into sound poetry.

Finally, within this fifth class there is another hybrid, sound poems which are also radio plays, or which seemed designed to be heard not as a unique experience but as part of something else, so that the sound of the words is accompanied by the meanings from some different area of experience. One hears the text with only half one's attention, as one hears most radio broadcasts with only half one's attention; this is more or less inherent in the nature of radio, that one plays it while watering the house plants, while driving through heavy traffic, or while sorting out the addresses in one's address book. My own Le petit cirque au fin du monde and Ommaje are of this subclass. The first is a "hear-play" written in French, a language I do not speak well, so that the errors in it are part of its texture, and it was broadcast repeatedly over the public address system at the University of Vincennes by Jean-Jacques Lebel's students during the May 1968 insurrection in France, a perfect environment for that piece.

These, then, are the five relatively modern classes of sound poetry:

1 works in an invented language,

2 near-nonsense works

3 phatic poems,

4 un-written-out poems, and

5 notated ones.

Obviously some of the modern works being generated today still fall within the three classes I described earlier in older sound poetry:

1 folk varieties,

2 onomatopoetic or mimetic pieces, and

3 nonsense poetries which trope their own languages.

For example, there is no doubting the modernity or avant-garde credentials of the Toronto-based group, The Four Horsemen, whose members perform both separately and together. In their performances they allude constantly to folk or popular culture, to the extent of wearing the kind of elaborate, almost psychedelic clothes associated with rock and roll groups-and they even trope the style of rock and roll to the point of listening to each other take riffs and solos and playing off each other as any tight rock group would. Their presentations are deliberately popular and light-spirited in order to minimize the gulf that usually exists between performer and audience in the new arts. Yet, formally this work belongs to two of the oldest of sound poetry traditions-the folk and nonsense traditions. In no way does this work to the detriment of their achievement, but rather it serves to remind us of something very deep within us which sound poetry expresses clearly when it is at its best-the love of the sound of poetry.

III - Some Boundaries and Non-Boundaries of Sound Poetry

Now that we have examined some eight classes of things that sound poetry is, it might be fruitful to turn our attention briefly to some things that sound poetry either is not, or is not yet.

One thing that sound poetry is not is music. Of course it has a musical aspect-a strong one. But if one compares typical sound poetry pieces with typical musical ones, music is usually the presentation or activization of space and time by means of the occurrences of sound. This is the nature of the most traditional Mozart piano pieces or Irish unaccompanied airs as of the most innovative John Cage musical inventions. But any poetry relates space, time and sound to experience. Thus sound poetry points in a different direction, being inherently concerned with communication and its means, linguistic and/or phatic. It implies subject matter; even when some particular work is wholly non-semantic, as in the microphonic vocal explorations of Henri Chopin, the non-semantic becomes a sort of negative semantics-one is conscious of the very absence of words rather than, as in vocal music, merely being aware of the presence of the voice. Thus, for the sound poet certainly and probably for the audience as well, the creation or perception of a work as sound poetry has to do with questions of meaning and experience which are not essentially musical. We identify what we are hearing more than we would if we were listening to music. We are very concerned with just who or what is saying or doing what.

Some of the things that sound poetry has not yet become are intermedial. Intermedia are those formal, conceptual areas of the arts which fall between already accepted media, such as visual poetry falling between the visual arts and poetry. However there is always a tendency for intermedia, experienced with increasing familiarity, to become themselves new media. Thus, taking sound poetry no longer as an intermedium but as a medium, it would be exciting if the sound poets would explore these three new intermedia: (1 ) those between sound poetry and linguistic analysis, (2) those between sound poetry and sculpture, to produce profoundly three-dimensional poetic constructs and not merely analytical ones, and (3) between sound poetry and the environment.

In the first of these new intermedia, we could use electronic means to apply the analyzed sounds of one language to the conceptual structure of another to see what aesthetic effects would be made possible. We could write English with the transformations of German. We could generate new categories of what the linguists have called "illegal" sentences-sentences that have no possible correspondences in the physical world (e.g., Noam Chomsky's famous "colorless green ideas sleep furiously"). All sorts of new macaronics would be worth exploring-puns and mixtures among different languages, not to be humorous but to expand our experiences.

In the second new intermedium poems would appear in situations and points of space, and would move towards other situations and points of space in an exciting way. Masses of sound and word, physical presence of more words-these things would enable new poetic structures to enter into our experience.

Finally, the third intermedium could exist in environments and situations which we do not normally regard as poetic. We could have poems for sauna baths, for sunsets, for the experiencing of elections from among the apple trees. We could use aspects of these places that would aestheticize our relationships to them, as, traditionally, a prayer was supposed to spiritualize our relationship to its circumstances-a prayer for night time, a prayer for those who were lost at sea. There is a lot to be done in these areas and more.

Barrytown, New York

October 2nd, 1980


1 Henning Haslund-Christiansen, The Music of the Mongols: Eastern Mongolia (1943; New York: Da Capo Press, 1971).

2 Edward Lear, The Complete Nonsense Book (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1934), p. 10.

3 Christian Morgenstern, The Gallows Songs (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966), pp. 28-29.

4 I have developed this argument more fully in three parts of: Dick Higgins, A Dialectic of Centuries: Notes Towards a Theory of the New Arts. Second Edition. (New York: Printed Editions, 1979), pp. xi, 3-9, 93-101, and also in: Dick Higgins, George Herbert's Pattern Poems: In Their Tradition (New York: Printed Editions, 1977), pp. 18-19.

5 The early history of visual poetry is my subject in the work listed in footnote 4, above. Its bibliography will also be useful for anyone seeking to explore the matter farther. For a similar discussion of sound poetry, but one which continues into modern times as well, the best such article in English is that of Stephen Ruppenthal and Larry Wendt, "Vocable Gestures: A Historical Survey of Sound Poetry," in Art Contemporary 5 (1978) [ La Mamelle, Inc., P.O. Box 3123, San Francisco, CA 941191 , pp. 57-8, 80-104. A large study of the subject by Henri Chopin is due to be published shortly in France, which should help fill in the gap in historical scholarship in sound poetry.

6 For an example of a naïve attack on visual poetry, see Hippolyte Taine, History of English Literature (New York: Holt & Williams, 1872), v. 4, p. 54. Another such attack is in Joseph Addison, Spectator 58, many editions.

7 The Talking Heads' "I Zimbra" is on their album, Fear of Music (New York: Sire Records, 1979), SRK 6076.

8 Many excellent examples of such work are given in Eugene Jolas, "From Jabberwocky to Lettrisme" in Transition Forty-Eight (1948), v. 1, n. 1, pp. 104-120.

9 Text+Kritik (1972), n. 35/36, pp. 13 and 33.

10 Arrigo Lora-Totino, ed., Futura/Poesia Sonora (Milano: Cramps Records, 1979), 5206 304. This seven-record set contains a large book of notes with many materials that are unavailable elsewhere.

11 Recordings of highlights of seven of the International Sound Poetry Festivals, held at Stockholm from 1968 to 1975, can be found on five records from Sveriges Radios Förlag, RELP 1049, 1054, 1072, 1073 and 1074, and on two from Fylkingen Records, RELP 1102 and 1103.

12 Poetry Out Loud (St. Louis, MO: Out Loud Productions, 1971 to 1977).

13 Ludwig Harig, das fussbalspiel: ein stereophonisches hörspiel (Stuttgart: Edition Hansjörg Mayer, 1967).

14 I say "roughly" because, for purposes of discussion, I am ignoring the sub-genre of concrete poetry which is either calligraphic or is written in non-legible writing. Many fine anthologies of concrete poetry have appeared. For example, one of the largest, one which is technically out of print but which is often found, is Emmett Williams, ed., An Anthology of Concrete Poetry (New York: Something Else Press, 1967).

15 Anastasia Bitzos, ed., konkrete poesie / soundpoetry / artikulationen (Bern: Anastasia Bitzos, 1966). Ms. Bitzos produced at least one other such record as well. There also are several records of Lily Greenham's sound poetry translations of concrete, for example: internationale sprachexperimente der 50/60er jahre / international language experiments of the 50/60ies [sic] (Frankfurt am Main: Edition Hoffmann, ca. 1970).

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Survival Research Laboratories

Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) is an industrial machine performance art group based in San Francisco, California

SRL was founded by Mark Pauline in November, 1978 and through late 2006, SRL has conducted 48 shows throughout the world, mostly in the Western United States. SRL shows are essentially performance art installations acted out by machines rather than people. The interactions between the machines are usually noisy, violent, and destructive. A frequent tag-line on SRL literature is "Producing the most dangerous shows on Earth". A side effect of the group's activities is frequent interactions with governmental and legal authorities.

Early performances featured animal skins and cadavers animated by mechanical endoskeletons while more recent performances feature some large and technically advanced robots that reflect a paranoid militaristic imagination. In the SRL workshop, a high value is placed on found or re-purposed materials and machines. An example is the The Big Arm which is a telemetrically controlled robot made from an abandoned back-hoe which drags itself around by its "arm".

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Make Podcast: Survival Research Labs Walkthrough

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Process Aesthetics, Eternal Networks, Ready-Made Everyday Actions, and Other Potentially Dangerous Drugs, Estera Milman

A point that I want very much to establish is that the choice of these "ready-mades" was never dictated by aesthetic delectation. The choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with a total absence of good or bad taste in fact a compete anesthesia.

I realized soon the danger of repeating indiscriminately this form of expression and decided to limit the production of "ready-mades" to a small number yearly. I was aware at that time that, for the spectator even more than for the artist, art is a habit-forming drug and I wanted to protect my "ready-mades" against such contamination.

- Marcel Duchamp [1]

In "An Introduction to Dada" originally published as an insert to Robert Motherwell's influential 1951 edition of The Dada Painters and Poets, Tristan Tzara presents a number of statements on the interrelationship posed between art and life that coincide, to an uncanny extent, with Robert Filliou's 1963 definition of the "Eternal Network." Tzara insists that participants in Dada "had repudiated all distinction between life and poetry" [2] and had determined that "the real aim of art (was) integration with the present-day world." [3] Although this posteriori reflection is specific to the actions of a World War I era avant-garde, it further corresponds to myriad mid-century artistic strategies that revolved around the so called "art/life dichotomy" including the environments and happenings of Allan Kaprow, the correspondence networks of Ray Johnson, Fluxus, the Nouveaux Réalistes, and Arte Povera. Furthermore, an expanding community of contemporary artists continues to rally around a banner dedicated to the inseparableness of art and life. Tzara explained that participants in Dada sought to integrate art with their present day world because "it seemed to us that literature and art had become institutions located on the margin of life." [4] However, despite the Dadaists' (and the Surrealists') attempts to dissolve distinctions between life and poetry, the institution of art's position within life did not shift closer to center. The proposed marriage lacked prerequisite reciprocity. Life, after all, did not ask to be integrated with art.

First and foremost, mail art networks are "cultures." In their pure, transitive state (that is to say, outside the museum, gallery, and alternative space system), correspondence works are overtly transactional; they serve as a means by which community itself is established and through which members of the culture interact. However, mail art networks differ from other communities through their self-determined classification as "art" cultures. As a result, participants in contemporary art networks, despite their successful repudiation of all distinction between receiver and art maker, have had little more success moving away from the margin of life than did their early twentieth-century precursors. That such is the case is dependent, to a certain extent, upon their unwillingness to liberate themselves from the myth that the aesthetic is exclusively dependent upon art and consequently upon the artist. Spectator/artist and artist/spectator remain mutually contaminated by a self-injected habit-forming drug.

In early 1913, Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912), a painting that made simultaneous reference to both Cubism and Futurism, was concurrently described as a masterpiece and an "explosion in a shingle factory." The painting was reproduced for sale in postcard form and featured as the sole illustration to appear on the menu for the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, Inc. March 8th's Beefsteak Dinner for their "friends and enemies of the press." Large crowds had regularly gathered around the work as it was exhibited; more often than not, these spectators were less interested in actively participating in an aesthetic situation than in a media event. "The rude descending a staircase (Rush hour at the subway)" and other caricatures of the painting had appeared in the press, and the American Art News had offered a price to the individual who could locate the nude in the School of Paris piece. [5] In short, Duchamp's Nude had become both symbol of modernity and unchallengeable popular hit of the International Exhibition of Modern Art mounted at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City, an event that is credited as having served as the American public's tumultuous introduction to the amorphous construct, "twentieth-century European modernism."

It should be noted that the reception of Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 during the 1913 Armory Show was not an art situation that Duchamp orchestrated. Unlike his friend and colleague Francis Picabia, who traveled to America for the exhibition's opening and actively participated in a well-staged dialogue with the mass media, Duchamp's appropriation into the event was dependent upon chance. The show included four works by Marcel Duchamp, five by Raymond Duchamp-Villon, and nine by Jacques Villon. The press, having had its curiosity whetted by the thought of an European avant-garde family, chose to reproduce photographs of the brothers "at home" (that is to say, as they participated in everyday life) in popular Sunday supplements. The public responded well to the promotional prompt and the stage for the subsequent reaction to the painting was artfully set.

Duchamp would eventually become the master of the constructed art situation and of the art of allowing himself to be positioned by others. He would be appropriated by Tzara into Dada and later by André Breton into Surrealism and, although he would never become a card-carrying member of either movement, he would come to serve as paradigm for both. Furthermore, Duchamp would leave behind a legacy that continued to deeply affect our waning century and which, barring unforeseen circumstances, promises to continue its impact on the next. In fact one could easily go so far as to insist that it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine the direction that the arts of our own period would have taken without his influence. He would serve as mentor to the composer John Cage (and through him to a new generation of artists including Ray Johnson, Allan Kaprow, and Dick Higgins); would deeply influence Merce Cunningham, Terry Atkinson and the Art-Language group, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg (the precursors to American Pop) and Claes Oldenburg, Richard Hamilton and the British Independent Group, Robert Morris and other Minimalists, the Situationist International, George Maciunas and other Fluxus people, among a host of others. I would posit that one cannot speak of eternal networks, process aesthetics, or any of the other art actions that maintain as their conceptual armature a purported insistence upon the inseparableness of art and life without hearing the echo of Duchamp's voice. It would be naive of us to assume, however, that he would have unconditionally approved of these contemporary manifestations of the Duchampian legacy. Aware of the danger of indiscriminate repetition, Duchamp "publicly" withdrew from the art world in 1923 (one decade after his triumph at the Armory Show) and devoted himself to chess.

Duchamp's overt references to chance procedure have left their indelible mark upon his disciples (for example, the integral role that chance plays in most forms of process art). His experiments with language have undeniably influenced contemporary artists working with performance scores, visual poetry/language works, concept art, etc., as has (at least on the surface) his insistence upon the hegemony of ideas over normative aesthetic titillation. However, it is through his invention/implementation of the concept of the ready-made that he most deeply affected the contemporary arts. That such is the case is ironic in view of the fact that the ready-made is probably the least well understood of Duchamp's transactional activities.

In 1913, the same year that his Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 fortuitously became the pivotal symbol of the New York Armory Show, Duchamp fastened a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool in order to enjoy watching it turn and, a few months later, added green and red dots to the horizon of a commercial print of a winter landscape and retitled the resulting piece Pharmacy. In 1914, he purchased a bottle-rack based on his personal response of visual indifference to the object. Deliberately chosen in a state of "complete anesthesia," Bottle Rack fulfilled all requirements for what, in 1915, Duchamp would identify as the "ready-made." He would later distinguish between the ready-made, the ready-made-aided, and the reciprocal ready-made. In the process, Duchamp provided a potentially dangerous formula for succeeding generations of art makers who profess alliance to so-called non-heirarchical "new aesthetic media."

While it is true that Duchamp's ready-mades liberated art making from the re-presentation of nature at a point in time when the issue was of vital importance to the artists, the ready-mades were not about the aestheticization of everyday materials and mass produced objects. They served instead as initiators of art-centered situations-interactions that made direct reference to the fact that Art itself was a culturally specific, man-made construct. A brief discussion of Fountain (1917), one of Duchamp's most well-known ready-mades, and of its subsequent misinterpretation, will hopefully illustrate my contention.

In 1917, Duchamp anonymously submitted a urinal signed by one "R. Mutt" for inclusion in a supposed "unjuried" show mounted by the newly founded Society of Independent Artists in New York. Fountain was "shown" behind a curtain and Duchamp resigned in protest, having succeeded in testing the Society's charter. In 1963, Robert Morris produced an assemblage (which made use of everyday materials) in homage to Duchamp. One of Morris's historians writes:

In certain instances, Duchamp's objects provided a scenario for Morris's theatrical games. Fountain (1963), a play on Duchamp's readymade of a urinal placed on its back, consists of an ordinary galvanized steel bucket hung at eye level. Unlike Duchamp's inverted urinal, Morris's homage does not function as a static object [emphasis mine]; inside the bucket, and well above the viewers line of vision, water noisily circulates through a pump. What might have been a silent pun on modernist history instead becomes an endless performance piece, a kind of aural ballet mecanique. [6]
What is implied in the above statement is quite simply that through his use of artistic privilege, Duchamp "signed" an everyday static object and, in the process, magically transformed it into Art; whereas Morris surpassed his mentor by appending theatricality, performance, and temporality to the process. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While Morris' Fountain functioned comfortably within a pre-ordained, sanctified artistic space and was, from its inception, intended to maintain its objectness, Duchamp's ready-made was deliberately intended to serve as mere catalyst for a cultural interaction. To describe the 1917 Fountain as "a static object" is ludricrous, particularly in view of the fact that the piece was not completed until some time after Duchamp removed the urinal from the Society of Independent Artists' Exhibition. The "exhibition" of the object was but one increment in the collaborative event known as "the Richard Mutt Case." The specifics of how this particular art situation was activated are essential to our understanding of the piece. The event in question was the testing of the charter of the newly established Society of Independent Artists, a charter that Ducahmp himself had been instrumental in composing. The urinal merely activated the interaction.

They say any artist paying six dollars may exhibit. Mr. Richard Mutt sent in a fountain. Without discussion this article disappeared and was never exhibited. What were the grounds for refusing Mr. Mutt's fountain: 1. Some contended it was immoral, vulgar. 2. Others, it was plagiarism, a plain sheet of plumbing.

This statement appeared as the opening text of The Blind Man, No 2 (Marcel Duchamp, Henri-Pierre Roche, and Beatrice Wood, eds., New York, May 1917) opposite a beautifully printed photograph of Fountain by Alfred Stieglitz. It was through the publication of the little review that the completed piece was realized. Thus, the event is a collaboration between the editors, Stieglitz and others who contributed to the issue. It should be noted that the editors of The Blind Man attempted to publish the little magazine without making use of editorial censorship (any article was to be accepted with a contribution of four dollars) [7] and that the issue devoted to "The Richard Mutt Case: Buddha of the Bathroom" was not "marketed" through "normal" channels but was distributed by hand.

Robert Morris' 1963 Fountain is housed in a private collection. Duchamp's 1917 version is no longer extant. (Having served its intended purpose, it quietly disappeared.) There are, however, a number of subsequent editions of the object scattered throughout numerous collections. It could be argued that the later versions lack the specific transactional characteristics of the original. Duchamp was aware of this and, in yet another attempt to short-circuit our assumptions about the institution of art, issued the facsimiles as part of his self-professed "whoring period."

In 1953, Duchamp organized the exhibition, Dada 1916-1923, at the Sidney Janis Gallery-in New York, and designed the exhibition catalogue which served as the poster for the show. It was printed on very thin paper and presented to the public at the opening as a crumpled ball of tissue. Included on the poster-exhibition catalogue is a manifesto by Tristan Tzara entitled "DADA vs ART" wherein the poet states:

Dada tried to destroy not so much art as the idea one had of art, breaking down its rigid borders, lowering its imaginary heights subjecting them to a dependence on a man, to his power humbling art; significantly making it take place and subordinating its value to pure movement which is also the movement of life.
Was not Art (with a capital A) taking a privileged, not to say tyrannical position on the ladder of values, a position which made it sever all connections with human contingencies?

In 1965, on a Fluxus broadside, George Maciunas, the movement's8 primary organizer, published a manifesto which attempted to distinguish between "ART" and "FLUXUS ART-AMUSEMENT."

To justify artist's professional, parasitic and elite status in society, he must demonstrate artist's indispensability and exclusiveness, he must demonstrate the dependability of audience upon him, he must demonstrate that no one but the artist can do art.

Therefore, art must appear to be complex, pretentious, profound, serious, intellectual, inspired, skillful, significant, theatrical, it must appear to be valuable as commodity so as to provide the artist with an income.

To raise its value (artist's income and patrons' profit) art is made to appear rare, limited in quantity and therefore obtainable and accessible only to the social elite and institutions.


To establish artist's nonprofessional status in society, he must demonstrate artist's dispensability and inclusiveness, he must demonstrate the self-sufficiency of the audience, he must demonstrate that anything can be art and anyone can do it.

Therefore, art-amusement must be simple, amusing, unpretentious, concerned with insignificances, require no skill or countless rehearsals, have no commodity or institutional value.

The value of art amusement must be lowered by making it unlimited, mass-produced, obtainable by all and eventually produced by all.

Fluxus art amusement is the rear-guard without any pretension or urge to participate in the competition of "one-upmanship" with the avant-garde. It strives for the monostructural and nontheatrical qualities of simple natural event, as game or a gag. It is the fusion of Spike Jones, Vaudeville, gag, children's games and Duchamp.

Most participants in Fluxus insist that Maciunas' manifestoes present his own perspective and, thus, are not true "Fluxus Manifestoes." None of the Fluxus people signed the above. That such should be the case is based, in part, on the fact that the statement outlines a kind of self-destruct mechanism directed not only at Art (with a capital A), but also at the myth of artistic privilege. [9] In homage to the late and talented impresario of Fluxus (the movement that is credited as having served as direct progenitor of contemporary Eternal Networks) we should keep in mind that having purportedly liberated ourselves from hierarchical definitions of great Art, we run the risk of being left with little other than great Artists and famous "signatures." To do less would simply not be keeping it honest. In his "Dada Manifesto 1918" Tzara claimed that "morality is an injection of chocolate into the veins of all men." [10] So too is art, it would seem, at least for its makers.


1. This essay first appeared in print in Eternal Network: A Mail Art Anthology, Chuck Welch, ed., Calgary, Alberta, Canada: University of Calgary Press, 1995. Marcel Duchamp, cited in Hans Richter, Dada Art and Anti-Art, London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1978, p. 89.

2. Tristan Tzara, "An Introduction Dada," in Robert Motherwell, The Dada Painters and Poets, Cambridge and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1989, p. 402.

3. Ibid., p. 405.

4. Ibid., p. 403.

5. For an in-depth discussion of the International Exhibition of Modern Art, see Milton W. Brown, The Story of the Armory Show, New York: the Joseph H. Hirschhorn Foundation, 1963. The winning entry for the American Art News' contest is entitled, "It's Only a Man" and is reproduced on p. 110.

6. Maurice Berger, Labyrinths: Robert Morris, Minimalism, and the 1960s, New York: Harper & Row, 1989, p. 34. Despite his unfortunate misinterpretations of the transactional nature of Duchamp's ready-made, Berger's analysis of his subject is both intelligent and informed by the best intentions. In his introduction to the text, the author makes clear that his own perspective stands outside "formalism's aestheticization of the object." See "Introduction: Robert Morris Outside Art History," p. 5.

7. See "I Shock Myself': Excerpts from the Autobiography of Beatrice Wood," in Arts Magazine, Special Issue, New York Dada and the Arensberg Circle (May 1977), vol. 9, p. 136.

8. I am fully aware that surviving members of the Fluxus community insist that Fluxus was not a movement. Dick Higgins, for example, uses the term "tendency" in his attempts to distinguish Fluxus from earlier movements such as Dada and Surrealism. This is not a new strategy, however. In the late Teens and early Twenties, Tristan Tzara, Dada's primary impresario, professed a similar insistence that the World War I era movement was not a movement but a constellation of individuals. In fact, the term "tendency" appears in his "DADA vs ART" manifesto which was published in the 1953 Sidney Janis catalogue/poster:

It should be noted-and this is a trait common to all tendencies [emphasis mine] that the artistic means of expression lose, with Dada, their specific character. These means are interchangeable, they may be used in any form of art and moreover may employ incongruous elements, materials noble or looked down upon, verbal cliches, or cliches of old magazines, bromides, publicity slogans, refuse, etc. Tzara also makes reference to Duchamp's experiments with chance procedure and to his discovery of the ready-made in the manifesto.

9. It is important to note that few of Maciunas' co-participants in Fluxus would have defended Art's privileged and "tyrannical position on the ladder of values." Nonetheless, fewer still were able to liberate themselves from the assumption that the Artist's experience of the everyday is somehow more valuable, and thus deserving of attention, than similar experiences of "non-professionals."

10. Reproduced in Motherwell, p. 81.

above copied from: