Discipline in our Time: the wartime rants of a performance artist

Discipline in our Time: the wartime rants of a performance artist (A VERY ROUGH IN-PROGRESS DISCUSSION)

June 28, 2012 at 4:40pm

1: agency and discipline (the snow globe)

As we are supposedly rolling in the wake of a fairly successful obliteration of formal “discipline” as defined colloquially and variously across time-based arts, moreover as we are completely without hope for hard capital or emotional support of our practices within the capitalist body politic, we may imagine ourselves (silver lining) “free” of an aesthetic and formal social contract, free of the internalized, automatic self-discipline[1] that once drove our performance art predecessors sharply in through the fleshy wall of the art-industrial mitochondria to reside forever inside its pressurized silence, recursively spitting out little pieces of self.

Though we (and by “we” I mean “those who self-identify as artists working with time-based forms”) occasionally attempt to construct a disciplinary factory again, and/or mourn its absence, and though we increasingly work outside disciplinary modes of manufacture, “we” are not “free” of capitalist modes of production or of capital-based modes of consciousness. Our captivation with(in) capitalist modes of production and capital-based modes of consciousness operates throughout all layers of our practices, forcing us to aesthetically and modally reinforce existing social programs for sense and value.

This leaves many wondering if it is possible for an artist to formally affect the social structures that construct (discipline) and are constructed by (disciplined by) human action and interaction at large. Perhaps it is only the performance of a more conscious engagement/direct affect that even appeals to us. This discussion will focus on the idea of so-called “disciplined practices,” and on the practice of constructing particular rituals and rationales that might have structural agency.


2: cautionary tales (coal dust)

During his time in the United Kingdom, the “holistic” sociologist Karl Mannheim attempted to apply his bountiful bouquet of ideas, as plucked from Marx, Weber, Lukács, Husserl[2], etc to practical social structuring.  He sought a prescription, a formula, a disciplinary tightrope to walk between theory and act, writing “Let us take the attitude of a doctor who tries to give a scientific diagnosis of the illness from which we all suffer.[3]” As he was collapsing practically into this “free scientific enterprise,” Mannheim was seduced by the power of an age-old formal dichotomy projected between the forms of “ritual” conception that produces and is produced by “simple men” and “rational argument” that supposedly produces and is produced by “educated men.”

Mannheim, as bounded by his temporal, axiological, cultural, class-and-belief-based, and epistemic horizon[4] as much as any other human being, found this dichotomy a welcome lubricative sense within his own thought processes. Though he warily (and accurately) called it the “planned system of the Catholic Church” in his Diagnosis of Our Time: Wartime Essays of a Sociologist[5], Mannheim’s subsequent writing relies on and is influenced by this dichotomy in, for example, his conception of “utopia” as an idea belonging to “ascending” or “marginal” groups, with “ideology” belonging, on the other hand, to “dominant groups.”[6]

Likewise, this dichotomy of epistemic discipline, (ritual vs. rational played in stereo with simple vs. educated) can be seen in Mannheim’s work as he seeks to channel “un-eliminated and undigested” values, ideas, philosophies, and beliefs into a “new social order.”

Mannheim’s desire for and approach to “re-structuring” the nation-state was born out of a time and site of “disciplinary chaos.” As a supposed fabricator of social situations/structures myself (among other artists perceiving of themselves and their own operations in similar ways), living in a time of perceived disciplinary chaos, Mannheim’spractical adoption of this ritual vs. rationale epistemic dichotomy can be considered active in this discussion. This ‘adoption’ as a verb becomes a performance act that compounds the fundamental influence of the dichotomy itself on artistic discipline and within conceptions of “discipline[7]” at large[8].

First, I give you this (subjective and) cautionary tale of Mannheim’s adoption of this dichotomy and its relationships (ritual vs. rational played in stereo with simple vs. educated), and separate this dichotomy out of his writing as such, because I believe his process of adoption to be a good example of demi-conscious capitulation to social structures which determine, define, and distribute a certain reality as capital. Demi-conscious, and therefore slightly hopeful in the face on monolithic determination of social structure, yet only demi-conscious, and therefore leaving us suitably skeptical of any transformative powers of the self.

Second, “Mannheim’s dichotomy” itself lets us in through the back door of the fatally closed monolith that late capitalism so often seems to be. Once inside this monolith, we follow a long hall down to the kitchen, where we discover Hume’s table, and lying there on the cool wood is the dreaded question: what is the role of art in society? Such an absurdly compound question is visible in and activated by the current rhetorical spit-fest between those working in performance who argue that (on the most extreme ends, since this is a discussion of a dichotomy[9]):

1.) Art(making) is valuable because it provides autonomously alternative, or transcendent “sensibilities,” gives voice to Other visions of reality, etc, thereby providing revolutionary potentialities, including rupture of existing schemas, re-distribution of sense, and/or practice of alternative modes of social interaction

and those that argue that

2.) Art(making) is never autonomous, as it is engaged as a ‘natural’ or even ‘biological’ part of human existence and that its events, acts, processes, and systems, etc, are and should be recognized as inseparable from daily life and intellectual/emotional metabolisms, even seen as totally governed by/a product of its context within larger social structures and human systems.

Here, I align the first argument in its most extreme form with Mannheim’s “ritual/simple” and the second in its most extreme form with “rational argument/educated.” I practice this alignment through the trees of my own historic clearing in the forest. I declare, today is a time in which “rituality” implies “insensibility,” while “rational” implies “sensibility.” These terms have grown even more dichotomous in my time; dominant sensibilities rule that ritual actions are part of “belief systems” which cognize cause-and-effect relationships existing outside “reality” (i.e. outside science.) Ritual behavior is also discussed in the “fields” of performing arts, where ritual is enacted for “symbolic” (referential) reasons. Even when ritual actions such as hand-shaking are identified as such, the word “ritual” is a label stuck on by an outsider, James Cook observing the practices of Hawaiians, while rationale is a set of explanations offered by those who truly know the “real reasons” behind a phenomenon[10]. As such, the ideal of ritual vs. rationale’s relationship with cause-and-effect is semantically dichotomous as “nonsense vs. sense.”[11]

For Mannheim (as for the Catholic church) this ritual vs. rational dichotomy connoted different communicative vehicles for belief/theory equaling a utilitarian worldview. The former vehicle would entail images, emotional “manipulations,” symbolisms and representations, allegory, metaphor, and physical practices such as semiotic gesture and re-enaction of historic narrative. “Rational argument” then would entail the direct dissemination of “information” in the form of Biblical (or economics, philosophy, social sciences, performance theory) texts orated or read, debate between candidates to political or religious office, interpretive discussion, direct action, and statistical analysis. These clustered sensibilities allow us to examine both class>value structures and relationships between aesthetics and value structures.

My agenda here is propelled by concern that debate about the capability of agency or lack thereof on the part of performance artists is being formalized around these dichotomies. I am concerned that discipline, as a mode of agency, is being reduced to distinctions between these perceived spheres of nonsense/ritual/simple vs. sense/rational/educated. This rough division weakens our consideration and makes it very possible now for us to demi-consciously capitulate—as Mannheim did—to the valuation-schemas of the very structures our work might seek to parse. Additionally, this reduction of authorization and location of practice within and solely in relationship with these dichotomies forces us to reinforce existing social structures which continually self-cannibalize any new social tissue.

3 codes for sense (I am a simple man, and I sing a simple song)

In accordance with the physical shudder that Mannheim’s designation “simple men” hopefully produces in the body of any reader of this essay, the conception of this dichotomy between what we can presumptuously call ritual sense vs. rational sense is also perhaps one of the greatest I-beams supporting the social structures of late capitalism.[12]

This becomes more obvious when we begin to free-associate regarding these socially-separated spheres, allowing ourselves to recognize collective, temporal sensibilities claiming “ritual sense” as insensible, female, spiritual, Other, poor, nonexistent, futile, fantastical, while “rational sense” may be connoted with the concrete, male, empiric, enriched, valuable, real, and the scientific. Likewise, we could argue for or against the aesthetic association of the above-listed Catholic distinctions between the two modes of conversion/religion dissemination. As a binary, this dumb dualism of clusters is one of many powerful  insensibilities as form[13] that lies somewhere in a foxhole, defending itself as doxa[14]No matter what is “located” within either of these spheres, the dichotomy is consistently reinforced as existent.

While the “disorientation” or even “rupture” of this dichotomy (and the re-delegation of certain labels to one side or the other) has been the intention of many “effectively” practical acts of resistance, undertaken in the name of “political” artwork. Unfortunately, dissertations on and negations of a vast, vague dualistic clusterfuck such as this one, or internal arguments that this “characteristic” or “quality” belongs on the other side of a perceived binary, simply serve to reinforce that binary. This is the recursive spectacle of Modernism, and post-modernism, and hypermodernism, and neo-modernism, those words issuing forth in clouds of pot smoke.

I would like reiterate that these dichotomies remain operative even as they are commonly split into different sets of concepts. Perhaps it is fair to say that these dichotomous conceptions remain as containers for capitalized fact-objects that can be mixed-and-matched like Wal-Mart dishes. Since I mentioned Derrida in some footnote, I want to stomachnote here for anyone who cares about Derrida, that while his deconstruction argued for a disruption of the systems of dominance present in “existing binaries,” here I am talking about the structural function of a binary’s “différance and the operation of that “conflictuality” as well as about the fetishizing structure of the binary itself as a “code” for sense.

An ability to re-order and re-locate self-identifications and self-assign authority is temporally/historically embedded in our time and is dependent on artists’ ability to brand and market themselves as bourgeois, feminist, of color, “high,” “poor” etc, in conflux with the currency of fact-products about the self, and ultimately inside the intention of and as a product of participation within capitalist social structures.  These “self-identifying” aesthetic and formal choices then revolve around the smaller elements inside this dichotomous bundle, resisting the side of the dichotomy where “oppression” has shoved us, rather than the dichotomies themselves. Likewise, ethical, theoretical, and economic advocacies, opinions, and arguments debate their location, not the performance act of localizing(“localization”?).

Artists (the generalization alarms are keeping me awake) often ideologically align themselves with one side of this grand dichotomous worldview or the other, either self-identifying as “nonsensical,” transcendent, outside, simple, ritual, spiritual, as a shaman or prophet, etc, or as a “sensical,” labor organizing, cultural ambassador, deep throat journalist, documentarian, scientist, performance researcher, problem solver, etc. The words can be re-arranged but the fissure is comprised by the act of localizing, identifying, separating, and dichotomizing.

I am in no way suggesting that my own dichotomizing for the purpose of this discussion here is in any way “accurate” or somehow less harmful. This is a discussion of sense, and senses are slippery sources for essays. The slippage is most shocking when we begin to attempt to give examples. For example, movements towards nonsensical, simple, ritual, “transcendent” arts practices often envision themselves as escaping into something “higher” than existing social structures and existing dichotomies. However, both the art-market “bubble” discussed in books like The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art[15] and conceptions of “high art” as its own autonomous “art historical” epistemic trajectory, in continuing to perceive this separation and serving to reinforce existing capitalist conceptions of value, “remove” art away from anthropological positions. Art is thus seen to be selectively understood by “Educated men” or by “other artists” or by “discerning ears/eyes/minds” AND/OR to be “natural,” or “ritual” in its creation AND/OR as it is constructed by and constructs its own special value. While more left-politically grounded artists and theorists might despise various “elitist” conceptions, many of the most radically leftist conceptions are also here amongst these “freedom seeking” movements, arguing that art is capable of ideological AND/OR total aesthetic removal from the way reality works by “following its own ritual non-logic” or “being insensible.” All of these particular views/arguments/conceptions also serve to continually emphasize the value of art.

This “ritual” or “transcendent” side of the supposed dichotomy we are giving “examples” of here becomes even more complex when we see how even the most radical (often Marxian) art theorists such as Erika FischerLichte and Sylvain George argue for epoche/bracketing out/rupture/autonomy. George in Qu’ils reposent en révolte (des figures de guerre) writes:

“Art is not political owing to the messages and feelings that it conveys on the state of social and political issues. Nor is it political owing to the way it represents social structures, conflicts or identities. It is political by virtue of the very distance that it takes with respect to those functions. It is political insofar as it frames not only works or monuments, but also a specific space-time sensorium, as this sensorium defines ways of being together or being apart, of being inside or outside, in front of or in the middle of, etc. It is political as its own practices shape forms of visibility that reframe the way in which practices, manners of being and modes of feeling and saying are interwoven in a commonsense, which means a “sense of the common” embodied in a common sensorium”

In this statement, we find a “radical” distancing,” the construction of a ritual space for “Other” versions of sense, which are presumably alternative to capitalistic, conservative sense “embodied in a common sensorium.” While I very much would like to agree wholeheartedly with George, and I too have been (and remain) seduced by Monsieur Jacques Ranciere and likewise yearn for my work to be transcendent in its relationship with dominant sensibilities, this “practical” application of his social philosophies to a concrete argument for the function of art serves to maintain the dichotomies we are discussing here, operating as a vision for a ritual utopia; Mannheim identifies “utopia” as a ritual practice belonging to “ascending” or “marginal” groups[16]. Missing this point a little, Paul Riceour generously credits Mannheim with the idea that “a utopia is always in the process of being realized”[17](and therefore, we might add, never possible.)

Likewise, on the other side of the proverbial coin, the confusion multiplies exponentially through examples.  We can find a similar mix of differing politics and arguments for similar conceptions: art may be perceived both anthropologically and sociologically as being “inherent,” as a human right even, implicating that the arts need to be brought into communities but also that “arts in education” are more valuable than “elitist” art made by so-called “professional artists” and/or that art-making should not be reserved for the trained. Joseph Beuys’ “everyone is an artist” quote can be used by the NEA to justify budget cuts for art-industry laborers just as a young theater director begins to collaborate with women in a prison using the same quote in her artist statement. Social sculpture blends with decreasing valuation of concentrated artistic practice, the fibers of argument constantly splitting and fraying.

Ideologically, movements towards “rational” artistic practices, “pragmatic,” “engaged” or “social arts practices” often cognize themselves as “documentary” (sensible, rational, “real”), insisting that their support or “synthesis” of a “diverse array of voices” via rehabilitory, therapeutic practices seeks inclusion of other “marginalized demographics.” We can only assume this rhetoric drives us towards formal construction of a “more accurate” view of society or humanity, as a “diverse cultural ecosystem.” Largely, interview-based and “in-community” practices pursue the same Platonic omega point that the sciences do, and often use the same scholarship and theory to support a universal vision, a holistic worldview of “everything categorized and in its place” that will eventually involve a universally-educated Everyone. The more “politically radical” in-moment intentions of such projects are to red-rover bring-over those who are seen to be stuck on the “ritual” side of things onto the rational side of the still-maintained binary, to “sensibilize” unsensible visions; these intentions often serve to convert, conform, and conjoin perceived“simple men,” simultaneously reinforcing their status as “simple men” and negating any existing cultural or artistic rituals/rationale these humans might practice. The aesthetics of this ideology value formal processes of ideation, from representational and Aristotelian modes through more “experimental” “problem solving” modes. Again, we see Riceour’s discussion, following Mannheim’s binary distribution of the “utopian” with the “insensible” and “ideological” with the “sensible,” reinforcing the dichotomy ritual vs. rational and the dichotomy between transcendent/inherent.

The above clusters of description are not criticisms, they are senses of clusters of sense. My position is that these dichotomies are “false,” thus I have difficulty identifying them by anything other than their glaring fissures in sensibility (to me).

4 commonality (Istvan Meszaros summary)

It is interesting to note that both of these clusters of intention and conception that I’ve focused on above, somewhere and variously deal with “commonality” and often seek commonality as a chief priority and goal. My speculations as to the socio-historic steerage in this direction are plethoric and would only serve to further clutter this discussion. You can think about it and write your own “discussion” if you are so moved. I am more interested here in why current cognition of political, social, economic, and structural improvement so often fails to recognize that universal application is also a capitalistic mode of consciousness. I am interested in the “reasoning” behind this particular declaration as you may be in why I might declare such a thing. Most simply, I got it from Istvan Meszaros.

Istvan Meszaros tells this whole story of universal application and capitalism far better than I could ever hope to (he also takes over 1,000 pages in 2 volumes) in his Social Structure and Forms of Consciousness. I’ll summarize my take on his texts as they relate to this little piece of writing by applying his train of thought to performance:

Enlightenment era theorists, say Descartes, and subsequently many phenomenologists, Hegel and Husserl for example (failings, gentlemen, yet we all declare so much and mean so little of it…), believed that there are such things as formal laws of reason, or, if we’d like to continue to use Rancierian vocabulary, “universal sensibilities.” First, Hegel as for many subsequent constructors and distributors of sense such as John Locke, Rousseau, Rawls, etc one could follow the turtles down (past Kant, past Hobbes) and align laws of reason/sense with laws of nature. This has allowed our current dominant social systems to maintain themselves as not only “rational” but also as scientifically natural. The designation of “natural,” “sensible,” “reasonable” then becomes most sought after by all and aligned with other items/classes of persons/performances which are also deemed valuable. Meszaros’s invites us to ask not “what are the formal laws of reason/value/nature/sense?” but rather “what, now, is considered sensible and why?” Halfway through this text, I became more interested in asking “what discipline towards determining what is sensible is being considered sensible?” and by then Meszaros had answered both of the last two questions in this way: a “formal law of reason/sense” has increasingly meant an epistemic process that formally reinforces current social systems as “natural” or as “sensible.” Thus, existing dominant social structures (those of capitalism) operate causa sui (Becker, Freud) or self-perpetuate via their own forms of self-causing “reality,” or via autopoiesis if you prefer biological analogies. Meszaros draws this self-production diagrammatically as a psychotic ourobouros, the circle that becomes the eye/I of god, containing all existence. He is not the only one who argues this, you can find similar theories and allusions in Badiou, Zizeck, Luhmann, and other white, male, European thinkers. It is a conception of God, certainly, and we know that God too is a capitalist.

Because of this general answer to the question of “what is a formal law of reason,” Meszaros sees capitalism and its social structures as monolithic, pseudo-deterministic regimes of consciousness-form and forms-of-consciousness, falling into the paradox of agreeing with capitalism’s self-applied universalism and “natural inevitability” on one hand while straining for “conceptual loopholes” on the other. While I agree of course that it is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to recognize that capitalism is a form of consciousness that involves our bathtimes, our bones, and our sweet nothings, I do not feel the result of this brand of pseudo-determinism as a particularly pessimistic emotional experience for those of us working in time-based arts, and so I lean away from his, dare-we-say, rationale. Rather, I experience artistic acceptance of his rationale’s threat that I will be assimilated as a threat only, not an inevitability, as the coin is perpetually still in the air.

To unpack a little bit: as artists working in time-based mediums, we may have no way of knowing how much agency we may have until we recognize the influence and “symptoms”of determined structures within our practices and respond in accordance and as part ofthem rather than attempting to negate and accommodate ourselves into the “pure” and “right” ways of doing things. We must perceive dichotomization as a performance act.

Often, our art work is not valued highly enough within existing social structures to satisfy us that it is “right” and “good” in any way. We are being disciplined by a withholding, disinterested parent and punished for our failures to be valuable. Likewise, there are too many artists and art theorists for all of them to accept any individual’s art work as universally, “commonsensically” valuable in an autonomous, “transcendent” sphere. This drives us to continue performing our own sense of value, justifying our acts, insisting on our side of the avant-garde battle at any given time.

Perhaps even more relevantly, we are required to perform our own justification via dichotomization by the “free market”’s relationship with “art labor;” there is no empiricproduct>value structure for our work at this time, though value may be temporarily awarded if we, in turn, reinforce/provide value to the identity, designation, or in-dichotomy position of a gallerist, collector, foundation panel, or trustee of a private money-distributing entity.

5 discipline

In order to even begin to think about how a discipline of testing our agency and recognizing dominant dualisms/dichotomies might be embodied in practice, I have further bastardized Meszaros and combined his similar list, Rauschenberg-style , with Ranciere’s conceptions of sense and emancipation vs. stultification, with Althusser’s rejection of homo economicusand so on, but I am wary of all of these old theoretical minds getting all up in here. I want to generate other ideas, which I perceive as both anonymous and as belonging to me, also I know that they have been said many different ways in many different times. Thus (and without apology), here is a numbered list of disciplinary operations of both and all sides of the above two perceived dichotomies which are interrelated, and which are programmatically embedded in our social situation and operate in our performance practices in “disciplinary” ways. I will not continue to utilize the dichotomous conceptions of sense, but rather attempt to identify the practical implications of the dichotomies themselves and recognize the dichotomization of performance modes. Again, this is list is of evidences and symptoms that performance art’s discipline is—like Mannheim’s discipline—a part of capitalist social structures on the level of our very cognition/consciousness and even being demi-consciously seduced by them:

  1. Insistence on the creation of performance via scientific and technocratic methodologies, i.e. insistence on the existence of “performance research” and on “solving problems” as a dominant justification for our acts. Let’s call this disciplinary operation SCIENTIFIC INTENTIONS.
  2. Negative determination and cause-and-effect creative forms, overwhelming usage of Judeo-Christian negative logic including suppression of historical and cultural (horizon-al) temporality/denial of states of flux/insistence on holism and staticity of definition/eco-logics, reflectionism, formalism as related to the above. SITUATIONAL NEGATION.
  3. Mimetic formalism and the application of structures such as matryoshkas of dichotomous categorization, individuation of the author as product, and aesthetic “movement” towards the closure of acts into objects and senses-of-being into fact-products. CLOSURE OF PERFORMANCE.
  4. The designation of “common sense” given to social structures and existing aesthetic forms (such as “narrative”) and their interrelated and intercausational modes of consciousness. Put simply, the prevention of application of theory and ideological to discipline, prevention of the conceptual leap between an artist-agent’s decision and the post-situational analysis of their decision’s operation within/on social structures.COMMON SENSE.

Each of these numbered “programs” (if we are to be Varela’s machines, analogically) are relevant both as resultant practical modes for performance-making based on the deterministic capital-based social structures which we simultaneously construct and are constructed by, and as those elements which keep our work (for example, this piece of writing) bound by and situated in opposition to existing social structures. These operations have no opposites, though they may (may) be used consciously as disciplinary agencies, operative in something like this writing, or a live discussion, or a performance.

6 symptoms of structure operating in performance

All performance exists in relationship with one, some, or all of these disciplinary symptomatic programs, yet our agency lies in our disciplinary use and modal re-organization of them. I have attempted to use examples where I can think of them, but at this point can only hope to connect with my imagined readers (very specific people) through past and future conversations about specific performances as such.


“Science” is bent on being applicable to all without question and places this intention above all else. It is an ideological staple, a “salt.” In this way, science as a dominant mode of rationale becomes a mode of production that is self-interested in its own autonomous value and reinforces this value by authorizing itself to determine reality a-historically and a-contextually once and for all; science is authorized to pursue and develop a monopoly on sense, outside of temporality, subjectivities, and other “para-doxical contexts.” This allows a scientific fact to apply to all of existence while making that which does not reinforce its own value insensible/irrational. Such insistence can reinforce an aspect of sensibility which has been defined and modally (Seriously, with self-conscious absurdity, or as per intention of the scientist) offer sense as universally logical. In performance, this means it is meant to be experienced in the same way/as having the same meaning by all who are present.[18]

Within capital-based structures, the more consumers of a particular sensibility there are, the more valuable is that sensibility’s inherent logic. Turning idea into commonsense becomes part of modes of production.  Ideas are turned into commonsense, we assume, via a process of valuation. In the time-based arts, this valuation must be based on function before qualitative and quantitative judgments. This leaves us inevitably with the pickle of the dichotomy “transcendent vs. inherent.” Thus, when scientific methods are used by performance artists, their acts need to keep justifying themselves. They are forced to argue that such acts are either valuable as insensible/transcendent/autonomous OR as sensible/inherent/engaged.

Performance-makers, likewise to Mannheim, often adopt this “rationale” in and of itself, arguing that their practices are scientific so that they may be deemed sensible within dominant modes of sensibility-production.  There is no other way to involve oneself in social epistemics or to assign value to artistic practice.

Value is, in and of itself, scientifically assigned because our current conception of value is inherently fact/product-driven.

Beyond this discussion of “scientific value” there is also scientific methodology, which garners the same criticism: it seeks empiric results, it seeks its own empiricisity.

I certainly do not intend to negate the history of “scientific thought” and its “common alliance” with “free thought” and science’s suffering at the hands of theological persecution. The history of science’s modes of inquiry and political/social/religious implications is a grand tale. Scientific modalities have been seen as “ray of light through the darkness of intolerances and various insensibilities (see witch hunts, phrenology, etc). I am not speaking against SCIENCE, as such, I am considering the implications of its modal applications to performance in this very moment. I am simultaneously (and in a different essay) arguing for the application of performance methedologies TO “science,” and the use of performance by scientists.


The most obvious and veritably inevitable level of capitalization rooted in social structures-as-consciousness can be seen in the objectification of “experiences,” persons, images, and ideas expressly formalized and packaged as “a performance” for an audience’s consumption. If “a” performance can be recognized as such, it can be consumed as such.

Additionally, the promotion of signs and symbols as proofs of a (single, collectively interpretable mythic or scientific) reality serves to further “objectivize” a performance. These signs and symbols may be intentional sign-posts towards a sense proposed by the artist, When signification is used as communication between an artist and audience, audience members are fused into a single interpretive body, lead by an artistic dictator. Towards the communalizing of sense, closure of performance in this way is effective.

It is my opinion also that “closure of performance”  is a weak structure, one that is currently being targeted and intentionally transgressed through performance discipline both because it is narcissistically fun to do and because the structure is weak. In fact, I think it’s very easy to transgress closure of performance while maintaining the other disciplinary operations. This transgression can be sought unconsciously or consciously:

When signification is “unconsciously” embedded or “expressed” in performance, via lack of intention on the part of the artist, who declares “I am a humble conduit” I have no choice but to believe that artist, and to accept behavioralist/materialist conceptions of the self as chosen by that self, and to see that self as a recursion of operating disciplinary structures. Some choose not to have agency and to practice the closure of structures indefinitely.

When closure of performance is transgressed consciously, in its most extreme “post-modern” forms causing signification to occur aleatorically between artists and audience members and/or between the artists, and/or between the “creator” and the “performers,” closure of performance can be destructuralized. Deconstruction (binary dehierarchization) of these relationships can result in “open” or truly “indeterminate” performance, presumably. However, the binaries often remain, regardless of whether their relationships are rearranged.

Performance art’s traditional disciplinary exclusion of all semiotic systems (text and musical systems, symbols, as well as other signifiers such as costume, setting, and character “traits”) in performance art once served to combat the closure of performance/the commoditization of performance art work, though substances (flour, blood, milk, etc, that which creates indextual asemicism) can also be “read” as meaningful, and in increasingly collectivizing/empricising/scientific ways as the acts defined and closed as “pieces of performance art” accumulate in time. Additionally, experiences, images, tasks, actions, and/or bodies continue to “close” as systems of signification, restarting the paragraphs above.

The process of closure is a process of valuation, objects are qualitatively and quantitativelycompared as “more” of them are identified, making judgment of value and sale of the performance to an audience possible. In this vein, “performance movements” and “schools” (“action art,” “fluxus,”) further identify and commodify performance art in the same way that paintings and other more obvious art-objects (which are simply luxury goods) are cognized and involved in capital-based social and economic structures.

Likewise, debates about the authenticity of “re-performances” are reactions to attempts to commodify the original artist and turn her into a more efficient factory for the production of performance objects. Performances can be meant to be re-performed, but re-performance is not an stable or consistent operation across all performance art work, it has difficulty serving as a closure.


This performance is about something and not about other things. It leads interpretation via linguistic and semiotic modes and dictates meaning (see above), colonizes experience of individual audience members and unifies towards value as we have variously discussed above.

Additionally, this mode also considers performance acts as occurring outside of time and space, thus making them more valuable (scientific, even). The re-performance of performance art acts and re-creation of performance situations speaks to situational negation on a grand scale, negating the temporal and contextual elements of its situation, hence the many arguments about the current slew of re-performance scandals in performance art and dance. Feminist art theorists such as Lucy Lippard and Peggy Phelan help us align privacy with authenticity, and liveness with situationalism, deftly juggling shifting clusters of concepts rather than constructing hard binaries. Due to the circulation of these ideas, conversation topics (Ambramovic anyone? Crazy, right?), there is a strongnegation of situational negation in dance especially, claims that work is too static in its situation as well as non-operational in its existent form, as a “work of art” in the galleries or performance spaces that further provide the closed performance-object a “neutral” situation and site. Likewise, the body, we say, has been negated in its living-ness. These attempts to expand consideration of situation are disciplinary engagements with the social structure of situational negation, and I am proud to be experiencing work with these concerns.

The only sour note here is that situational negation is also present in performance theory as a social science, as theorists argue “for” or “against” modes of performance based on inherently subjective concerns. Artists are then expected to align themselves with trains of thought and advocate for their ways of working against all other ways. This anti-disciplinary approach is also in pursuit of capital-based valuation; identification of a product fabricated to consistently cause (in turn) a particular result, feeling, sense, or meaning.

Negation of situation, ultimately, is an act that is being performed all the time, regarding aspects of situation, howsoever defined. To engage disciplinarily and seek agency within the structure of perpetual negation, we must acknowledge that some of the aspects of any given situation will be negated, as we are human beings with limited sensory capabilities, bandwidths of attention, and so on (and are different in our ways of sensing and attending). Thus, we are forced to focus on our choices between aspects of situation, all within a matrix that mutually locates economic and socio-political situation and situation of the performer’s breathing. The matrix points are so close together that they make the universe shimmer.  The choosing is the agency.


Communalism of sense, as I have said, is a tendency and a project of capital-based social structures. The intentional direction is then towards a collective or common “sense” that can be applied outside of context and can be valued as an existent and replicable practice, i.e. as a technique (related to “scientific methodologies”). To technicalize is to homogenize.

Common sense can be most strongly and intentionally constructed through the use of capitalistic modes in performance work itself. These are common sensical structures so “hard-wired” as to seem obvious, because they are so often used and reinforced in common conversation, AND because certain aspects of their sense make performance that transgresses practically (in practice) non-operative as such.

1. Conception of the audience as an empiric body, a cohesive “folk” that will turn together and experience the performance as “closed,” i.e. will all consume the same product. This common sense is best reinforced, as we discussed above, via modes of intentional semiotic communication. It is constantly casually reinforced by the fact that after a performance it can be discussed by those who were a part of the situation. If no two people can agree that there was a performance, there was no performance.


2. Breaking down of artistic products into elements or parts. Most consciously pursued in the theater, Brecht and subsequently Brook’s attempts at “essentialization” and “dialecticism” towards holistic understanding of “performance in society” keeps us thinking of performance as “production,” as assembly, or fabrication from components towards one monolithic computer. This “common sense” is envisioned by criticism but also by any artist who deals with materials. It is almost impossible to not think of a performance as a computer made of binaries, but the decisions as to how performances are “broken down” or “dialecticized” allows some disciplinary agency.

3. Separation of situation of performance from the performance object or “piece.” Again. However, this speaks to 1, there is no performance if it can’t be defined as such.

4. Reliance on artist>product>consumer paradigms. This common sense involves even the development of performance practices, or performance practice (owned or accumulated by an artist as an individual). The artist then builds a work towards consumption by “an audience.” This conception relies on each element of practice, its theoretical justification, its style, its material existence, as a process resulting in the production of capital goods, i.e. performance.  “Process-based” work deals with this  Artist>Product>Consumer paradigm (which Kandinsky footnotes in his On the Spritual in Art) and its alliance with common conception of ourselves as creators, the art as something, and the receivers as receivers. This is a linguistic, semiotic, economic, and emotional structure that can only be dealt with through poetry, whilst its functioning older sister nesting doll controls our ability to feed ourselves.


7 subversion (the ghost in the machine, that is a joke)

The question of whether or not there is any “escape”  from “common sense” can only be resolved temporarily and via disciplinary agency. I think it is worthwhile to note that insistence on the “subjective” nature of construction and interpretation of sense is not my point here, “subjectivities” too can be “valued,” especially when the artist-factories from which they issue are individually authorized and commoditized. Nor am I hoping that the reader of this essay will try to wind through all of this garbage in search of an “ultimate subversion” that solves the paradoxes and interparadigmatic problematics of these social structures operating as artistic practice. I am not proposing subversion at all, only a more equal relationship.

The monolithic horror of some kind of ultimate ouroborous has been plethoric yet disappointingly homogeneous. Yesterday, at the show I went to, everyone seemed to be arguing for “radical insensibility,” a kind of headlong run at the wall in hopes of smashing through using our craniums and queer bodies. We do not know what might be on the other side, we imagine it will be a place where we (who?) are dominant, deemed “sensible.” Thus, we argue for disorientation of existing sensibility via modes of juxtaposition (collage, association, poeticization, non-linearity of logic, etc). This is Derrida’s way of dealing with binaries, that is Modernism. I see ourselves, Mannheim-like, falling prey to the pleasurable lubrication of easy thought, the comfort of fact-products themselves sorted out. Omega. Likewise, we continue to perceive ourselves as negatively determined (see negation of situation), following Hegel’s insistence that:

“One is the positive, the other the negative, but the former as the intrinsically positive, the latter as the intrinsically negative. Each has an indifferent self-subsistence of its own through the fact that it has within itself the relation to its other moment; it is thus the whole, self-contained opposition. As this whole, each is mediated with itself by its other and contains it. But further, it is mediated with itself by the non-being of its other; thus it is a unity existing on its own and it excludes the other from itself.” (Hegel, Science of Logic-Essence)

With this type of “sense” in mind, we might conclude that performance can not and will not be able to subvert the social systems of capitalism, not as a mode of production, and not as a form of consciousness.

Lest we bare our bosoms to the knife at that thought, I propose that we may, perhaps, both capitulate within social systems and subvert them, failing therefore to reflect the forms of logic that construct dichotomous modes of rationale.

In conclusion however, I would like to offer some thoughts regarding the Mannheim cautionary tale: Mannheim could not see the negative implications to the ritual vs. rational dichotomy, i.e narrative conflation of lack of education, poverty, and insensibility with “ritual” and conflation of education, wealth, and sensibility with “rationale.”  Furthermore, his acceptance of the necessity of this dichotomy in his prescriptions for the construction of a new social order after World War II was an acceptance that “sensibilized” the extreme absurdity that the structures of capitalism formalize/formulate, reinforcing them as scientific and thus natural (for example, warfare).  Mannheim is among almost all other thinkers of his time and of ours in this demi-capitulation.

This is difficult to express formally, because we are talking about what Mannheim sought: he sought a formal structure that could apply to all of humankind (SCIENTIFIC INTENTIONS), he sought this through a wholesale process of negation and accommodation of past ideas in search of an eco-logical final state (SITUATIONAL NEGATION). He closed his conceptions of labor, value, and social existence, viewing social structures as operations occurring mimetically and bio-logically (CLOSURE OF PERFORMANCE). He took formal systems, such as hierarchization, dichotomization, capitalization, and domination as “common sense” forms, denying agency and authorship. He also (historically, epistemically) preceded individualist and technocratic movements and events that allowed “sense” to be perceived as such. (COMMON SENSE).

Unless we, as performance artists, intend to reinforce the dominant sensibilities of capitalism through our every act in the way that Mannheim ultimately did with his writing, we must be conscious of and develop discipline which works in non-dichotomous (yet perhaps hostile) relationships with its very cognitive/co-constructive programs. I do not know if this can be done through “consciousness,” but I imagine that it can be done through the consciousness of consciousnesses, which I am here calling “discipline.”


[1] See Foucault’s Discipline and Punish for a discussion of this term

[2] The Alienated Mind: The Sociology of Knowledge in Germany, 1918-1933, David Frisby

[3] Karl Mannheim, Diagnosis of Our Time: Wartime Essays of a Sociologist (p. 1)

[4] See Gadamer’s Truth and Method 

[5] Ibid, Mannheim, p. 23

[6] Mannheim, ibid p. 5

[7] Discipline” in the Foucaultian sense, or otherwise, as we can allow the term “discipline” to breathe in its definition, now become loosely synonymous with terms like “construction” and now tightening up to mean “the performance of fluxuating practical theory of influence, both of what is influencing (“disciplining”) action and of what and how this disciplined action influences (“disciplines”) and is cognized/re-cognized as being disciplinary.

[8] Though this “adoption” it may also be perceived as analogous to the simple inhalation of coal dust, the depth of agency is subjectively projected in retrospect, always.

[9] really two dichotomies, and the problematic of their divisions and associations…or none…I have been this confused my entire life.

[10] This idea of “radical subjectivity” (or various other terms, a veritable jungle of terminology) is overwhelmingly present in contemporary post-colonialist history, historiography, anthropology and sociology scholarship, stemming from the influence of late-phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty, and so on).

[11] This can also be identified as of Derrida’s “elemental oppositions” and a cornerstone dichotomy in much subsequent French, French-African, and French-Canadian philosophy.

[12] See Fredric Jameson for use of the term “late capitalism,” also applicable is Zizeck’s term “the end times.”

[13] Insensible forms of and laws for human existence that are deemed sensible by metabolizing existent social structures (for example, monetary systems which are based in “faith” and thus could be categorized even by dominant schemas-for-sense as insensible)

[14] See Bourdieu’s Outline of a Theory of Practice, however this word has quite an etymologic history, Wikipedia provides a gateway if you google it.

[15]Don Thompson

[16] Mannheim, Karl: Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge

[17] Riceour (Lectures on Ideology and Utopia, p. 273)

[18] the impossibility of this, plus ensuing discussions of authenticity, liveness, and situation are another essay.

Reinhard Laube (2004) Karl Mannheim und die Krise des Historismus


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