1. Not let this story dry
For the past year I have been periodically watching Glenn Beck. I am fascinated by Beck for many reasons that also repulse me. Beck, like any number of right-wing pundits, codifies ideology via certain reading strategies and codes of rhetoric. A large part of the rhetorical code of the Glenn Beck show stems not just from what Beck says, and the many images and sound tracks which the pundit ‘spins’, but also from his use of gesture—gestures deriving from his training in the theater. Since Reagan we have been living with a series of actor presidents and politicians. Our imploded democracy (an oligarchic and representative form of it) has been shaped by a media machinery which privileges affective composure over reasonable discourse, and noble lies over social justice.
There is so much to be said about what Beck says, and how he says it. About the Beck code, if you will, and of the paranoid and perverse ways that Beck reads everything from Mexican immigrants, to John D. Rockerfeller, to 9/11, to global warming, to the health care bill currently being debated in Washington. Beck’s rhetoric is conspiratorial. In it one discerns someone connecting the dots to suit their own purposes and the purposes of Rupert Murdoch, who continues to broadcast Beck at his own expense (Beck’s advertisers having withdrawn their support of the program). To read Beck would reveal Beck’s political ideology, but also crucial ways that the media is currently mobilized for the noble lies of the rich and invested. One need not watch Beck for long before they realize that Beck’s program, while it claims to be a watchdog for democratic values, is a vehicle for the most traditionalist social values, values which go back to right-wing thinkers the likes of Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and post-Goldwater Republicanism. Following William Carlos Williams, Beck also reveals to us the insanity of America's "pure products." What would it mean to take-up the insane and hateful affects of Beck, to process them somatically, to create something possibly beautiful out of them? What would it mean not just to recodify Beck’s gestures, making them available for analysis, but to undergo those gestures in order to transmute or expel them? A kind of exorcism or cleansing through sympathetic magic?
“Not let this story dry” (aka “The Dolors of Glenn Beck” or “Instant Tears”), will take up a proposition from Baruch Spinoza's Ethics: "The more an affect is known to us, then, the more it is in our power, and the less the Mind is acted on by it." I would like to re-present Beck as a series of affects in order that the Mind (consciousness, cognition) may become less reactive, more prepared for action and reflection. Participants in the performance will be provided with a few basic instructions: the first, to watch Beck videos on YouTube and to memorize three or more of his gestures; the second, to select footage of Beck’s speech and gestures at their most pathetic/histrionic; the third, to practice these gestures and speeches together and separately (as if to separate language-track and image-track) until they feel like the gestures/speech become more of less involuntary, something they can perform without having to think about them, that their muscle memories have assimilated.
I will also like to provide participants with some kind of basic score for performing their gestures with a certain frequency and intensity (like music). Their gestures and speech will be accompanied by projected video of Beck (sans sound), and myself reading selections from Spinoza's Ethics, Political Treatise, and related texts on affect and politics such as Brian Massumi's Parables for the Virtual and Sianne Ngai’s Ugly Feelings.
2. The Hole
While at _______, I aim to complete a manuscript-in-progress entitled "The Hole." One dimension of the manuscript that I would make use of the _______ to extend involves the manuscript’s use of documents and research materials about land use. Specifically, I would like to focus my research around the Frederick Law Olmstead archive, located in Boston. Olmstead designed America's first urban parks, including Central and Prospect parks in New York City, and he was an inspiration to Robert Smithson and other Land artists of the 60s and 70s. I also intend to write an essay to be included in the manuscript that will think through histories of land use in relation to cultural politics in the later half of the 20th century and early 21st century. This essay, for which I have already gathered extensive notes, will sustain a meditation on two uncanny images. The first is a photo-document of Claes Oldenburg at the site of his 1967 work, “The Hole.” In this photograph, one sees Oldenburg’s ‘sculpture’ amid New York City’s Central Park. Oldenburg stands in “The Hole”—roughly a 7x4 cubic foot excavation intended to resemble a grave—beside a group of adolescent boys. One can’t help but think about “The Hole” in relation to the Vietnam War, no doubt the most significant event of the era—socially, politically, and culturally. By way of the signature Land Art form of the earthwork (sculpture made from dirt and other natural materials), Oldenburg alludes to American imperialist violence. Insofar as it resembles a grave, Oldenburg’s sculpture enacts a perverse memorial for the young men dying in Vietnam, but perhaps also a memorial for sculpture itself insofar as sculpture, as it had been known, was being eclipsed by “performance art" and other emergent art forms born of real social conflicts in the 1960s. By correlating sculpture and the grave, Oldenburg produces a “non-site” (to use Robert Smithson’s terminology) whereby artworks can mediate the artist's complicity with the imperialist violence their work contests. In the spring of 2007, I was similarly struck by an image of a “nail house” in downtown Chongqing. A “nail house” is a house whose owners refuse to sell their property to developers and offers an emblem for the advance of Neoliberal markets in the Far East, as well as the continuation of land expropriation practices begun by Europeans in the 16th century. Somewhere between the images of Oldenburg's "The Hole" and Chongqing’s nail house—two images of collective mourning across periods and cultures—The Hole will contribute to an ongoing conversation among artists, poets, scholars, and public intellectuals around the simultaneous erosion of common spaces and democratic institutions, and the ways in which aesthetic practice might potentialize the revitalization of both.
3. Archive for the Future Anterior
with Sreshta Rit Premnath
The tense of the future anterior is one of potentiality. In the face of the present it imagines "what could have been" thereby positing “what still could be.”
We will begin our project by gathering an online video archive in which artists, writers, activists, scientists and colleagues from various disciplines discuss unrealized social and/or personal projects. The video interviews will present futures that never came to pass, but which may still hold the potential to be realized in the present. We hope that by producing an archive of future anteriors we may be able to alter the course of the future, as well as radicalize the way we narrate and remember the past.
Through our collaboration, we also wish to destabilize the simple dichotomies of personal and social, interior and exterior, memory and history by triggering the tense of the future anterior, wherein the stimulation of memory produces action. Likewise, we would like participants to draw upon their somatic experiences as catalysts for potential futures. To what extent can our bodily memory (sensory-motor memories, and also genetic code) germinate possible futures?
We wish to extend an already ubiquitous mode of self-publication, the online video, to include a (self-) reflective form of address. Like Augusto Boal’s “spect-actors” we envision that the contributor’s dual role of spectators and performers will not only encourage a reconsideration of private knowledge, but also suggest this possibility to other spectators – a possible public.
Besides establishing a continuous online archive for the future anterior, we also intend to host an ongoing events series featuring the archive’s contributors. This will include exhibitions in which contributors are invited to produce objects, time-based media, and live performances based on their accounts of the future anterior. We will also host readings and symposia by creative writers engaging the future anterior through fiction, poetry, essay, and hybrid literary forms. Putting artists in dialogue with writers, historians, scientists and other culture workers will be a crucial aspect of this project inasmuch as we believe that in our present epoch fields of knowledge should communicate and synthesize to invent a future we would want.
Thom Donovan lives in New York City where he edits Wild Horses of Fire weblog (whof.blogspot.com) and coedits ON Contemporary Practice with Michael Cross and Kyle Schlesinger. He is a participant in the Nonsite Collective and a curator for the SEGUE reading series (NYC). He holds a Ph.D. in English...