Kinds of Sources, Kinds of Reading

My last post on academic writing was a reflection on how to use quotes. I want to follow up on this, because referencing is an essential element in academic writing. When we work on a topic, we’ll usually have to read many authors who also treated it. In fact, we will usually start with literature research and reading, even before we decide how to organize our work.

There are two kinds of sources and related readings:

  1. exploratory reading where we only try to figure out if a source is relevant to our topic
  2. topic-related reading once we know a source is relevant

Some sources are so obviously relevant (or so highly recommended by our director) to our text that we can immediately start with stage 2.

Rule 1: Write as you read. Don’t just read.

This rule is simple: if you know it is relevant, don’t just read it, type it into a document where you know you’ll find it again.

We all feel tempted to only read and not write, but it is inefficient for any type 2 source. Don’t be lazy. Academic reading is not only reading for fun. It is reading for writing. Once you really go into “writing mode” and your deadline is coming closer, time is more and more precious.

Anything that doesn’t exist in the same form as the document you write will only become a part of your text at a cost.You don’t want to lose time looking for quotes that are still in book form a second time, you want to be able to just copy-paste them.

If relevant sources are not in documents on your computer (or online, e.g. on google documents)  where you can easily find them when you start writing your text, you did something wrong. You will then lose a lot of time searching and bringing it into your document. If you use books from the library you often will have returned them. It can take many days just to get to one passage (again). This is frustrating if you know that you already had it on your desk when time was not so pressing yet.

To start, create at least two folders for your reading on your computer :

1. Readings (where you’ll order reading notes according to authors)

2. Topics (where you’ll order reading notes according to subjects relevant to you)

Rule 2: Create simple documents.

As soon as you start to read a type 2 source or realize that a source really is type 2, create a new document and put the complete bibliographical information at the top. You can do this on word, OpenOffice or wherever you want – but it is best to do it on the same program as the one you are planning to write your text with, so you don’t have compatibility issues when you copy-paste to your thesis document. Name the document after the author, then save the document in the Readings folder. Do this not only when a document is in paper form, but also when it is in electronic form. Once you go into “writing mode” the excerpts of your sources should be as similar as possible to the text you are writing for easy integration.

When another text by the same author appears, reopen the author document and create a new heading with the bibliographic information for the new text. This is also a good moment to add the reference to your citation management software (like Endnote, Citavi, Mendeley, Zotero…).

As you read, re-type or copy-paste any passage that could become relevant – or when they are too long, sum them up – into the document. Please always write the page number under any quoted passage. If a passage runs over two or more pages, put “[end p. x]” whenever a page ends in the quote. You’ll find an example from my own Reading folder at the end of this post.

Rule 3: Duplicate quotes.

I told you to create two folders, one for readings, one for topics.

As you identify the themes for your text (e.g. your thesis), also create thematic documents. This is the place where quotes or paraphrases should go based on themes rather than author. When you read a lot, you will often remember that you read something but without remembering where you read it. If you don’t have thematic documents, it can be very hard to find the passage again. This is true even when you have a powerful search engine, because passages may treat a topic without ever mentioning it explicitly.

Based on what you already know to be relevant themes for your text, you can create a first series of documents when you first start with this system. But you should keep adding new thematic documents as you go on reading whenever a relevant theme reappears in different texts. Based on this process, you will sometimes discover themes you had not deemed relevant when you started the research project. In my thesis on narrative in pictures, for instance, I discovered that authors regularly  distinguished narrative from other modalities. But what they opposed it to, often varied. Some made the traditional distinction between narration and description. But others opposed narration to argumentation, or to iconicity, or to ambiance, etc. So I decided to create a document that was called “What narrative is not”.

It would of course have been impossible to find all the things narrative is not for different authors with the search function on my computer without remembering each single distinction, because “narrative” was a key term in all of my documents and for each author the key-term was different.

In the subject document, write at least the author, name of quoted document and page where you found the quote. The full bibliographical info should either be in the author document or a bibliographical software you use. If one quote is relevant to more than two subjects, put it into two than more documents.

Why not stick to thematic documents alone?

Students sometimes ask me why the thematic documents are not enough. There are at least three reasons for this: having author documents as well allows you not to make your excerpts too short, to roughly contextualize quotes/paraphrases in the original publication and, most importantly, it prepares you for expanding your research beyond the themes you first identified as being relevant.

Having an author document as well as subject documents allows you to find relevant passages that are not on the themes you first thought were the most important to you. It also gives you a place for passages where you feel that they are “somehow important” or just “great in themselves”, but do not yet know in what context you may possibly use them. Such passages go into the author document, where you can find them later, sometimes years later, when you work on a related subject.

How it helps your writing process to work this way
  1. it will allow you to stay focused on your own writing and not to get dragged back into the argument of another author once you work on your own text.
  2. if you do it reliably and keep on working on the same topic for a while, it allows you to eventually not have to go online or to the library (very often) any more, because everything you need to build your own texts will already be on your computer. This makes you much more independent and much faster. For me it has been like this since I finished my Ph.D 3 years ago – and I think I can still go a long way with the sources on my computer.
Example Excerpts

Last but not least, here’s the promised excerpt from my reading folder. It’s a quote from a text by Sholmith Rimmon-Kenan:

“The disposition of elements in the text, conventionally called text-time, is bound to be one-directional and irreversible, because language prescribes a linear figuration of signs and hence a linear [end p. 44] presentation of information about things. We read letter after letter, word after word, sentence after sentence, chapter after chapter, and so on. There are some modern attempts to liberate narrative fiction from these constraints, but the liberation is never complete because a complete one, if possible, will destroy intelligibility.” (Cortazar, Beckett…)” (pp. 46/47)

The document is called “Rimmon-Kenan”, the heading of the section of the document is: Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics, Routledge London/New York, 2nd edition, 2002.

What complete bibliographic information is differs from source to source, but for articles in journals it is, for instance, “Author, “Name of Article”, Name of Journal, Year, Volume, Issue, pages where the article is to be found”. For monographs it is at least “Author, Name of Book, Publisher, Place, Year”.

The same passage could appear in a thematic document called “Time of the told and time of the telling.” It would then simply end like this: “(Rimmon-Kenan, Narrative Fiction, p. 46/47).

If you found this helpful, do not hesitate to comment or share.

My other recent posts on academic writing are here:

On the use and risks of quotes and references

How to pick a topic for your thesis

And here are two older posts with related topics:

How philosophers get to publish their own thoughts

Why I stopped writing by hand

“Man only lives to make his own life and those of his fellow citizens better. To advance faster and more effectively, we look at what others have done before us: We study.”

This is something Georg-Christoph Lichtenberg once said. He then went on to criticize those who read just to know what others said before them. When we read for writing, we should keep it in mind.

Be plausible, not exhaustive

This is more true for a Master thesis than a Doctoral one, but usually students are scared to death that they could forget an important reference. We imagine that the day the day of our defense someone might say: “I saw that you did not quote this tremendously important reference”. Here’s what my thesis director, Jacqueline Lichtenstein said when I brought this up one year before she retired: “This will happen anyway. But it’s not a problem. If you really haven’t read it you say “Thank you very much, I’ll definitely take it into account for my publication.” If you made an informed choice not to include it, then explain why. What’s important is that you construct your own argument, that it is believable as it stands, not that you have read everybody who had the same opinion. As Karl Kraus said: “The thought is not to the person who had it first, but to the person who has it better.” But don’t quote this in your thesis defense. I’m afraid you might come across as slightly arrogant.

Build your own building

There’s an image that helped me. It’s to consider a thesis like a building. We get some of the stones from a stone quarry and carve them. But some stones we’ll take out of other people’s buildings. These are ideas you refer to or passages you quote from other writer’s articles or books. While we need these stones, their role is to make our own building more sturdy and beautiful. To to so, we’ll need to have to work on the stones we take so they fit into our own construction.

The more elements we take out of the other’s building, the more foreign they will appear in our. Each imported stone certainly had a place in the author’s building, but – if they and their buildings are not the topic of our thesis – this place counts little for us. What counts is our own building. So we have to make sure you only take those stones that fit our construction and don’t take more.

This may seem plausible, but when we read a text there is a risk to get dragged into the authors thinking process and to feel we have to take it all. We don’t. Quite the opposite. If there are too many foreign elements, our readers will lose track of what we are getting at. It will also make us look more insecure and unoriginal.

There is a second reason, why you might want to “recontextualize” the ideas you take from others: ethics. You sure shouldn’t misrepresent their thoughts. This is right. You shouldn’t. But stick to the minimum. Don’t cut a quote so it means something different than it meant in the original context.  Don’t consciously misinterpret when you paraphrase. For the rest, think of your own construction first. As long as the general idea of your own thesis is not directly opposed to theirs there’s no reason for blame. Of course, it is even more important to be careful when you quote people in order to criticize them than when the quote is used as a piece of your own argument

N. B. As I was into the last years of my thesis, I realized that many of the most important things about writing are only said when you dig deep. So I thought I’d make them public for others who struggle with their thesis. This is my second post on academic writing. The first was on how to choose a topic for your thesis.

 

Choosing a topic for your Bachelor, Master or Ph.D thesis can be hard. I’ve done two Masters and a Ph.D and here is are a few important things I learned on the way and that your professors are unlikely to tell you. The first most important thing to know is that …

It’s not about the topic

People speak a lot about research topics. But the topic is just a very small part of what makes for a good topic. It is really about what that topic allows you to do while you work on it and after you are done. So don’t just accept a topic your professor suggests to you. Try to understand what kind of work that topic implies and see if that’s the kind of work you’d like to do for the next few months (or years). If your professor doesn’t seem supportive, choose another supervisor before it’s too late and you are stuck with having to get up to a job that’s not even a job and which you hate. Doing a thesis is not only about having the title in the end. It can and should be much more.

Thinking about what you would most like to do while you write your thesis – and what you don’t want to do – will help you not to suffer most of the time while you work on it day after day. Even if you like in principle what you need to do for the thesis, you will still sometimes not feel like doing what needs to get done. But having chosen a topic which in principle needs you to do exactly what you want to do helps a lot.

Know what you want.

You would like to meet new interesting people from a specific walk of life ?

Choose a topic which is based on qualitative research and for which you need to do interviews. Say you’d like to meet actors. Develop a topic where they are your experts. Don’t feel imprisoned by your field. Any field in the humanities will allow you to work on what you are really interested in. You are in education science? Work on how actors acquire the ability to retain long texts. You are in economics? Work on collaboration and competition between actors. Don’t forget: it’s not about the topic, but about doing the kind of stuff you want to do.

You want your topic to prepare you for your job?

Develop a topic where you need to meet the people you want to become.

Figure out if the people you want to work for (or with) in the future would be interested in the topic too. To do so you may have to talk to some of them a little bit. If you find it hard to connect to them, your topic might be the door opener – unless, of course, you want to work on contract killers, hustlers, the American president or, maybe, consultants at McKinsey. You want to do communication consulting? Work on how communication consultants position their own brand. You want to work in a gallery? Work on the way galleries try to position their artists. You get the picture. 

You want to get profound knowledge on a certain topic or author ?

Pick a library-based research topic where you have to read what has been written about the subject or by (and on) the author. Whoever or whatever you want to learn about, there will be a topic that forces you to do so. Once you know who or what you burn for, you can also ask your professor to recommend possible topics to you. But if you choose people like Hegel, Marx, Keynes, Freud, Foucault or a subject like free will, power, public healthcare or war be careful to specify a very precise take on the topic. And be aware that if you work on these kinds of figures or topics, you need a high tolerance for frustration and an iron will to be exclusive. However much you work on your thesis, you will know that you have not included everything relevant.

You want to develop your own thing (or theory) ?

Pick a rather exotic topic on which very little has been published. You won’t be able to not read and quote anyone else. But you’ll be able (and forced) to creatively identify sources. There are basically three ways to address such a topic: theory transfer, theory application and bricolage.

Theory application consists in taking general, fundamental and often rather important theories and trying to apply them to the chosen topic. You might try to apply script theory from cognitive science to still images, actor-network theory from sociology to the relationship between hospital staff and doctors or between curators and galleries or apply iconology from art-history to advertisement. Whatever works!

Theory transfer consists in taking a theory which has been developed for one specific case and applying it to another. Noel Carroll wrote about how actors’ personal identities relate to the identities of their characters in movies. You might try to apply and adapt his theory to how, for example, the personal identities of university professors relate to the identities of the institutions where they teach or how nightclubs pick the DJs that perform on Saturday night.

Bricolage means to take bits and pieces from different theories and putting them together. To analyze how a single picture can tell a story, I used Paul Grice’s concept of implicature David Herman’s concept of story scripts and Jean Matter-Mandler’s research on how we spontaneously provide causal links in narrative and many more. To get there, you need to read a lot of theory and play around with it like you would with Lego to find out what fits together. You’ll also often get a chance to make your own pieces, so you can articulate two different theories. For all of these to be successful you need a certain lack of respect. You are building your own building where a part of another persons theory is simply a brick.

You should’t care what the role of the brick you choose had in the building of the other theorist. Don’t feel like you have to perfectly understand her building project, even less explain it in your thesis. It will make you and your readers lose track and patience. Just understand enough to see what place the brick can take in your building.

Know yourself

You easily get bored by a topic?

Maybe do a Bachelor, but don’t do a Ph.D. Well, or choose your topic wisely. Don’t let it have such things as the name of an author, a time period, a geographic location, a specific institution name in it. Let it be “systematic”. My own topic was perfect for me. It was about how to tell a story with one picture. Fortunately, people have tried to tell stories with pictures since pre-history. It allowed me to read narratologists, comics theorist, film theorists, philosophers, art-historians, even child book researchers and archeologists. 


Your are prone to easily get distracted and being all over the place and are scared it will kill your thesis?

I would say choose a subject that has the name of an author, a time period, a geographic location, a specific institution in it. But this is a tricky one. If you are easily distracted, you might also get bored by a topic that has one of these. It might then be better to choose a “systematic” topic – and to take the thesis as a chance to learn to control your distraction.

These things help always: Turn off all push notifications on your phone, stay off facebook, netflix, instagram. Go to the library. Seeing others work helps a lot. Disconnect from the internet if you don’t absolutely need it. But don’t waste away your day smoking cigarettes and going for coffee with your friends. If it’s to hard go to another library. Only take a break when you really cannot focus anymore. I didn’t tell you it would be easy.

You are creative?

Choose a subject where you can develop your own thing.

You are not creative?

Choose a clearly delimited topic. For example one that has the name of an author, a short time period, a geographic location, a specific institution in it.

That’s all for today. Don’t hesitate to criticize, ask questions in the comments or tell me about your own experience.

Oh, and that’s me, academically speaking: univie.academia.edu/KlausSpeidel

Abu Ghraib

May 15 2008, this was the cover of The Economist. Pictures like this one taken by American soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison had been exposed and were taken to show that America used torture. But there was a whole series of pictures. Why did this one make it to the cover of The Economist – and later become an icon of anti-torture-activism?

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Why, for example, didn’t this picture make it? Wouldn’t it have been better? After all it wasn’t pixelated…

I think that there are several reasons for this.

First, the first picture is isolated, it is more iconic than a picture with more contextual information (a soldier looking at his photos). Second, the pose, with the arms held higher, is more Christianic, and thus stronger. But I believe the major reason is just the presence of pixels. It makes the picture look more authentic. The better the picture quality, the less the chances that a picture is non-professional, and the higher the risk of manipulation. If there are pixels, at least in 2008, then there is a chance that the picture is authentic. The picture had quite a career, both in politics and in arts. And below you see a collection of works related to this.

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But apart from the success in itself, I’m interested in what happened with the picture. It became more and more simple – and thus, I believe, more general and symbolic. Whereas the photograph with the soldier still connotes one specific moment and prisoner, the abstract picture can evoke every prisoner being tortured. Richard Serra’s drawing (the last on the bottom right above and in the center right in the right image below and the second in the center on the left), is particular insofar as he brings back expressivity to the stripped down symbolic image. In order to account for the differences between these pictures, we can, I believe, distinguish different degrees of specificity, following a chain developed by Scott McCloud in “Understanding Comics. The Invisible Art”. McCloud draws different pictures, in order to show how pictures differ in their degree of generality. His system  (see the three last pictures below) perfectly matches the Abu Ghraib imagery.

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Image

Ryan Gander, now one of the favourite schmusers of contemporary art institutions, currently has his second solo show in Paris this year at the FRAC Le Plateau. Given that he was only born in 1976 and graduated in 2000, Gander has had solo shows at an obscene number of high-level fancy art places.

Here’s a list from his gallery’s website: FRAC Île-de-France / Le Plateau (2013); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012); Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2012); Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich (2010); Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York (2010; Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2008); the Stedelijk Museum Bureau, Amsterdam (2007 & 2003); MUMOK, Vienna (2007) and the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco (2007). He has also shown in group exhibitions such as the Shanghai Biennale (2012); documenta 13, Kassel (2012); ILLUMInations, 54th Biennale di Venezia, Venice (2011); 55th Carnegie International, Pittsburgh (2008) and the Sydney Biennial (2008). Ryan Gander has been awarded numerous prestigious prizes, among others the Zürich Art Prize (2009), the ABN Amro Art Price (2006), the Baloise Art Statements of the Art Basel (2006) and the Dutch Prix de Rome for sculpture (2003).

Nobody should thus blame me for choosing some random semi-sucessful young artist to be complaining about.

I saw the show yesterday and was there for the curator’s show and tell. And frankly speaking: it upset me. I don’t want to dislike contemporary art and this is not a general post against Ryan Gander – I don’t know his work well enough – but this show is just, pardon my French, minimalist bullshit blown-up by discourse.

The first thing we see is a poster for “Imagineering”, a campaign to incentivize the English population to use their imagination more. It’s supposedly sponsored by the Ministry for Innovation and something. The truth is: Gander told an English ad agency to come up with a campaign, pretending that it was for the ministry – or so we are told. Probably he really told them that they should suggest a campaign as if it was for the ministry. In his gallery’s words: “Ryan Gander’s complex and unfettered conceptual practice is stimulated by queries, investigations or what-ifs”. “Queries, investigations or what-ifs”? Wow! What is that supposed to mean? That he just does whatever comes to his mind, inventing more or less – mostly less – interesting fictions. The fact is that contemporary artists who deal in fiction are usually less good at it than contemporary writers, film-makers or comic artists. I sometimes feel that it’s only because they are not good enough to create really engaging narratives – because it’s harder – that they pretend to be “deconstructing the concept of narrative” (or fiction or what-have-you). The concept of deconstruction comes in real handy. It’s like writers and curators had all gone through press-training where they were told: “Whenever a work is not really good at something, just say ‘The work deconstructs the concept something‘. It works every time.”

There are of course exceptions, artists interestingly working with the concepts of fiction, what-ifs and narrative, people like, ahm, Hubbard and Birchler,  or Matthew Buckingham and to some extent Cardiff and Miller. But most of them eventually fall prone to neo conceptual bs. Curators, gallery owners and collectors just don’t seem to be good at making the difference and you thus see fantastic exhibitions by quite deep artists followed by conceptual bullshit like this, or, much worse – oh yes, I’m not saying Gander is the worst among the young successful artists – the kind of stuff Stefan Brügemann produces.

Of course Gander has, like most artists, preferences that make him seem a little coherent. In his case (as in many artists’) these are things that are somehow linked to modern art (like the Bauhaus). What’s great about this preference is that those who know something about modern art – the art world basically – can feel smart when they get the reference. And if someone makes us feel smart, we like them. It’s as simple as that.

Sometimes he introduces some less well-know reference to someone that we – aka the artworld – all feel we ought to know about (like Ernö Goldfinger). And then we are even happier. The psychology behind this is somewhat more complex. I can’t really explain it, but in my earlier life, I did an internship with a priest (yup, it can be done). She told me: if you give a talk, make sure that every 30 minutes, there’s a something people don’t understand – they’ll respect you more. As it is, a lot of contemporary art (and philosophy I’m afraid) seems to be based on showing people their limitations. It also makes it clear why the artist got to do a show rather than ourselves. We like that. Maybe it’s a basis of learning. Maybe it’s masochism. But in any case, it’s another subject. Back to Gander. All his work is basically based on insider jokes and what I have sometimes called the “Oh-Yes-Effect”. “Oh yes! That’s what it’s about. That’s interesting.” Really? Is it?

The prototypical work of this kind is a comic kind face that reacts to the physical presence of visitors, moving eyebrows, eyelids and changing the direction of its look.
It’s about, well, the picture staring back (Got the fancy reference? Come on! You can do it!) rather than the opposite. Oh! Yes! That’s interesting! Or…well, look at what the face expresses just now:

Gander Face

Exactly.

It, of course, is no new theme. James Elkins wrote an influential book called The Object stares back in 1997 and Rémy Zaugg has extensively treated the topic of the picture staring – or not – in his work:

Zaugg-Blind Picture

What’s new with Gander is the application of  comics’ aesthetics to the topic of the work staring at us and introducing some not-too-fancy spectator detection technology. Now that’s an innovation! Imagineering – maybe.

Which brings us back to the beginning. After the poster, the FRAC show starts, with some kind of weird installation, that is, according to the catalogue, a “monolith”(get the reference? ;-). The monolith is, of course, one of the favorite references of contemporary neo-conceptualist bullshitters, the other being Devil’s Tower from Spielberg’s Close Encounter of the Third Kind (1977) . What’s great about them is that they are a pop. But they are also smart at the same time. So when you use them you can both show that you don’t take yourself too seriously and – whatever. Gander’s monolith has mirrored walls and stands in the middle of a dark room. But while most artists, like Etienne Chambaud, do little more than display the form, Gander added some meaningful mechanism inside the structure. As you can see yourself in the polished surface, the work is supposedly about – guess what!…Bingo! Confronting the visitor with his own image. Yes! You are right. It seems to be a topic in Gander’s work. Something critics like me can detect and talk about to show that they not only read Derrida, but also Elkins and what have you.

The visitor then moves from this very very dark and deep first room to a room where the advertising campaign for “Imagineering” is shown. The naming – which combines engineering and imagination and makes one think of engineers of the imagination, which is of course a wonderful thing to be thinking of – is one of the best parts in the work. Too bad Gander didn’t come up with it. He just took the name from Disney. It’s, yes, a ready-made name. Disclosure: I so prefer good advertising to bad art.

But the reference can, of course, be explained. According to one of the persons explaining the exhibition to visitors, the reference to Disney is a reference to childhood which is important in the artist’s work. Oh, yes! Childhood – a theme… .

The whole exhibition scenography is such that we move from a room which is nearly entirely dark (the first room) to a room that is overly well lit in ugly neons (the last room). In between, there are different shades of gray. It gradually gets lighter. As the curator told us, this could be interpreted as a point about moving from the dark into the light. “Things become gradually clearer.” Don’t they? Yes. They do. A little too clear as far as I’m concerned…

And I found the idea better when Falko used it.

Oh! The curator also evoked the fact that the curtains of the first room are slightly moving as with some kind of breath (ventilators really). Ryan Gander showed the same kind of installation when he was invited to the Venice Biennale. He had been given a large room and just made the wind blow through it. Refusing to show stuff. Reminds me of something Tino Sehgal showed at another Biennale. But we shouldn’t make us think of Sehgal, but something much older – much older – the curator fortunately told us what it can make us think of: pneûma to which the Ancient Greeks attributed life-giving power… Oh! Yes! That’s interesting. Setting up a couple of ventilators brings us right back to the Old Greeks. Welcome to contemporary art, dear.

The problem with this kind of “X can make you think of Y” is that if an artist doesn’t really have a clear stance on anything anything can make you think of anything. But that’s just what their work is about! It’s about “imagination, thought-stuff”, as the curator pointed out – as if thinking and imagining were (kind of) the same. And that’s when I started understanding why curators aren’t good at making differences…

The fact is: the less the artist does, the better. Because the less he will limit what you can legitimately think of (or imagine, of course).

Do I really have to tell you about the lamps which Gander built with plastic containers and plastic tubes he got at the local BHV DIY market-section  – leaving the name stickers visible to make sure everyone gets just how low-key the installation – which probably sold for tens of thousands Euros by now – is? Do I really have to comment?

It’s okay that a work is really about an idea, you know. I’m just asking that the idea be good.

The one room that I found relatively interesting is the last one (you see it in the picture above). It holds three marble sculptures based on the outline of little cabins his 2 or 3-year old daughter built at their London home with chairs and an umbrella and stuff.

The little transparent disks on the wall are said to be portraits – the fact is: Gander used them to mix the colors for portraits he painted, portraits which stay in the artist’s archive (I suspect them to be really bad). Each portrait goes with a little story from Gander’s life. A girl kissing him. A friend drinking and telling him about art, an aunt giving him sweets… etc. It’s a nice exercise in storytelling. It looks neat. And there’s one good idea in it: It’s an inverted portrait. What’s considered to be remains becomes the portrait and we have to imagine the portrait based on the remains of colors. What counts is what we imagine… Now, I didn’t research this. But I’m quite sure some artists did the same thing in the 60ies or 70ies already. It just feels like that kind of stuff to me. Is this a problem? Well, not really. Originality isn’t a value in itself. But then, if the idea is the main element of something and someone already had the idea just as well as you – or better – it’s a bit of a problem, I think… But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe nobody did it before.

By the way: the sculptures in this last room also show that great minds meet: Guillaume Leblon, a French artist whose references to modernity include Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier (Oh! interesting! I’m pretty sure Leblon and Gander know and like each other) also showed us some boxes his little kid played with in an exhibition I saw a couple of years ago… .

Some people call this “Conceptual romanticism”, I suppose. As you got by now I’d like to submit a new concept for consideration: self-centered minimalist bullshit.

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Exploding roses by Benjamin Hugard

(c) Benjamin Hugard

Je cherchais un autre texte de Barthes sur mon ordinateur, et je suis tombé sur des bribes que j’ai écrites il y plusieurs années sans penser à les publier un jour. But it struck me as being dirty theory, exactly  as I have defined it here: theory mixed up with accounts of experience. So here it goes…

Barthes : Fragments d’un discours amoureux, Éditions du Seuil, Collection Tel Quel, 1977

Observation magnifiquement juste : le discours amoureux est fragmenté, manque de rationalité.
Mes sensations (présentes) :
J’ai besoin de dire d’abord mes sentiments et sensations, même si elles n’ont rien à voir avec le livre de Barthes. Me dégager de ce reflux dans mon cœur. Je prends plaisir à écrire sur un livre intelligent, même adorable, profondément sincère, semble-t-il, et qui pourtant tombe dans la facilité. Il en est de ce livre comme des Lettres à un Jeune Poète de Rilke. Lu à 15 ans, ce livre a eu une influence plus profonde sur moi que je ne le souhaiterais. Il fonctionne de la même façon: on y sent la sincérité, on y trouve sa vérité (l’auteur dit clairement des choses que nous avons pu sentir obscurément) et on est séduit. On veut croire ce qu’il dit, parce qu’on l’a déjà ressenti et on ne l’a pourtant jamais nommé aussi clairement. Mais il on court le danger d’y croire d’autant plus qu’on ne l’a jamais ressenti que de manière obscure, comme quelque chose d’enfoui en nous. Alors c’est comme si, finalement, quelqu’un mettait à jour (ce qui est vrai). Mais cela ne veut pas dire que ce qu’il met à jour est lui-même vrai. Je prends un plaisir immense d’écrire ainsi, sans objectif précis (je n’écris pas pour une publication ou évaluation future). Je pense à ce que Wittgenstein dit à propos de Freud: on le croit parce qu’on aime les choses enfouies.

Parfois, Barthes (comme Rilke) tombe dans une opposition facile, comme celle entre « complaisance mondaine », « hystérie de séduction » vs. « intimité sacrée », « vérité » (Fragments, p. 23). C’est, bien sûr, impossible. Certes, la complaisance mondaine existe, comme aussi l’intimité sacrée. Mais être dehors, dans un café n’implique pas être dans la complaisance. Il y a des rencontres fortes et importantes au dehors, des vernissages qui finissent avec une vraie rencontre, un vrai dialogue. Tout n’est pas noir et blanc, comme les sages tendent trop facilement à le peindre. Et la force de l’expression bien trouvée, comme « complaisance mondaine », risque alors de faire oublier la complexité, risque de faire oublier que d’autres cas de figure existent et que, par exemple, le mondain n’est pas toujours complaisant. Il y a toujours beaucoup de vanité dans la reconnaissance de sa propre faiblesse et vanité parce qu’on sait que beaucoup de gens se sont rarement demandés s’ils étaient complaisants dans telle ou telle situation, s’ils se laissaient trop facilement flatter, etc.
Je pense qu’il faut donc lire ces livres (Barthes, Rilke) avec l’admiration qui leur est due, mais ne pas en faire des sortes de révélations. Il faut y voir la part d’écriture et la part d’exagération (ce qui est souvent la même chose).

Belle observation : le discours amoureux brisé par une remarque commune, banale, de l’être aimé, notamment dans un environnement social, avec d’autres où il se fond parfaitement. Une facette qui apparaît qu’on n’aurait pas voulu connaître (l’exagération de la bien-aimée lorsqu’elle est avec sa meilleure amie, sa manière de parler…). Et effectivement, l’importance du registre du langage est énorme. (p.36)

« C’est l’originalité de la relation qu’il faut conquérir » (p. 44)
Belle idée encore : l’originalité de la relation mettrait à l’abri de la jalousie, parce que les autres ne seront jamais comme nous. Si j’arrive à ne plus vivre le stéréotype, je ne suis plus obligé de réagir selon les stéréotypes, être jaloux, blessé etc. comme les autres.
C’est ce qu’on aurait voulu : cette conquête. On n’a pas su s’échapper.

Le rapport assumé entre être aimé et mère. Le rapport à l’être aimé serait comme l’a été le rapport à la mère. Au lieu d’essayer de se révolter, Barthes le prend pour acquis. C’est comme ça. Comme Jocaste qui dit à Œdipe : « Qui n’a pas encore rêvé de faire l’amour avec sa mère. Qui prend pour chimères telles, etc. vit mieux la vie. » Mais, bien sûr, elle finit par se suicider quand elle découvre que ce n’est pas seulement un rêve, un présage doublement mauvais (en teneur et aussi en degré de vérité).
Observation : lorsque l’amour a cessé on attend encore l’autre, comme une douleur dans une jambe amputée, l’attente. C’est comme avec les êtres chers qui sont morts ou avec les vêtements qu’on a perdus ou qu’on nous a volés. Et la douleur pique à chaque fois que l’on se rend compte que pourtant on ne l’a plus…. (p. 49)