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The Hole (Notes): William Pope.L’s Hole Theory

By Thom Donovan

In William Pope.L’s book, Hole Theory, the artist writes:

What I mean by having
Something is the fantasy
That having is possessing [and]*
That possessing is knowing

Therefore this sort of theorizing/[deodorizing]
Could only come from someone
Who believes in having things
As a political condition

Conversely, this theory
Could only come from someone
Who lacks something
As a political condition

Hole Theory engages lack
Across economic and cultural
And political boundaries
[Lack is where it’s AT]

1. Between having and not having things as a fantasy of possession, Pope.L cleaves lack as a cultural, political, and economic condition (of possibility). Theory (seeing, knowing) becomes founded on lack; theorization risks “deodorization”–desensitization and senselessness.

2. For Pope.L, how could one work otherwise as an African-American artist working out of the multiculturalism of the 80s? Via abjection (for instance, uses of waste materials, perishables, excrement in some cases) and ironic performance (crawling Manhattan sidewalks in a Superman costume, ‘wearing’ a 5 ft. long PVC pipe from his groin while strolling around Harlem) Pope.L attacks any easy affirmation of (African-American) identity.

3. One could say that he “deconstructs“ it; perhaps it is better to say that he is drawing on negative characterization in ways that draw-out both white-centric mis/understandings and fears of Blackness, as well as Black fears of being understood (for fear of re/possession?).

4. Pope.L also draws upon the association of African-American Blackness with homelessness, drug addiction, and insanity (the fate of many of the artist’s family members).

5. Perhaps, a la Fred Moten’s brilliant book In the Break, it could be said of Pope.L that he is drawing upon a radical Black aesthetic of “combativeness,” where to antagonize (or in Adrian Piper’s term “cataylze”) engages lack, negativity, and antimony as the starting point for theorization.

6. Central to the production of Blackness (as Moten also points out), is that which is irreducible to African-American history alone, though particularized by African diasporic cultures (is Blackness not then the condition of all struggle, insurrection, contestation in lieu of domination, persecution, genocide? The singular case substituting for the universal?).

7. That aesthetic expression makes visible contradiction—being opposed, being against—lacking belonging, lacking home or a being ‘at home’ from which overcoming or transcendence might be accomplished.

8. Hole Theory affirms what Tyrone Williams in his poem “I Am Not Proud to be Black” calls “sublime despair,” and what Theodor Adorno idealizes as a “methexis of the tenebrous” (the catastrophe of thought/theorization that potentializes art for the utopian—abandoned futures, futures not imagined or unimaginable).

9. When Adorno writes in his table of contents to Aesthetic Theory the heading “Black as Ideal,” I want to take Black both as hue and in terms of a social condition which embraces shadiness to produce the catastrophe of thinking which art should affirm in order for it to overturn the order of the current world/to affirm other worlds.

10. The idealization of Black affirms one’s participation in the shady, the opaque, absurd, incomprehensible. Through it this world flickers with an other/other ones.

11. Cross-outs of language under erasure—holding in suspension both language’s necessity and inadequacy—become more like venetian blinds, or the aperture of a camera rapidly opening and closing, albeit soundlessly (senseless in the best possible sense).

*The above quotation is taken from a facsimile of Pope.L’s book, Hole Theory, reproduced in William Pope. L: the Friendliest Black Artist in America (MIT Press, 2002). Brackets indicate language that has been hand-written into and at times over the type-set text.

Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, April 30th, 2010 by Thom Donovan.