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The Human as a Non-human Event: Matthew Goulish & Lin Hixson

An Interview with Sector2337

Last summer I found myself in the company of Every house has a door’s Matthew Goulish and Lin Hixson discussing the first performance series Sector 2337 would host. Not surprisingly it began as an ambient conversation — they asked about what Sector’s first show was going to be, and as I began to describe The New [New] Corpse, an invitation began to form. What would they think about co-curating a night of performance art?  The Dead Weight Performance Series bookends our inaugural exhibition, occurring first on October 8th (just before the gallery opened) with Carlos Martiel and Jesse Malmed. The final installment is on December 18th (a week after our first show closes) with Amelia Charter and Jefferson Pinder. Recently I had the opportunity to ask Matthew and Lin about their curatorial approach to this series.

Caroline Picard: Ever since I read your description of the Dead Weight Performance Series, I have been thinking about the human as a “nonhuman event.” What does that mean? And how do you see it appearing in the four Dead Weight artists?

Matthew Goulish: We meant that phrase as a provocation and invitation to the artists. It resulted from philosophical thought, and now in practice it suggests to me a distillation of the complex systems of human existence, their separation, as if reducing the human to one aspect, and allowing that reduction to take the stage and impel the human in a nonhuman direction. Carlos Martiel lined up eight prone figures under flags. They became people as bodies, and bodies as objects, with a patriotic inflection, perhaps ironic. The classic uncanny arises in that confusion between living and dead. Jesse Malmed’s language often appeared to adhere to game-like rules or technological structures, simple devices such as to tell a joke as if it is serious, to tell a serious story as if it is a joke, to leave out the punch line, to alphabetize three figures who have the same first name as if that act is of value. Each of these suggests a mind becoming a machine through its work. Its work is to do the work that transforms it into a machine. I do not know Amelia Charter’s plans yet, or Jefferson Pinder’s in detail. I suspect Jefferson (based on previous work of his that I know) will compose with repetition of body types and activity in a way that destabilizes distinctions between individual and group, suggesting militarization, training, or a performance of servitude, with social and historical overtones. Amelia I believe has an interest in those embodied behaviors that converse with the intersecting logics of use value (labor) and dance. When she performs, she appears possessed by a spirit in excess of the human. I think one can understand each of these cases through that phrase, the human as a nonhuman event. Lin and I had observed trends in these artists’ practices to which we wanted to respond by devising an invitation that might serve as permission, or license to contribute in a certain direction.We offered an idea that excited us in relation to their work.

CP: Can you talk a little bit about how the two of you, Matthew and Lin, work when you curate performance? How is it different from organizing a new  work of your own with Every house has a door? 

Lin Hixson: When curating, I am looking from the outside. When creating a performance, I am looking from the inside. To me, what is fascinating about these vantage points is that they are vectors, in motion, and directed toward the same locale – a meeting place where people come together to experience the performance. In both the curated and created performances, a topology of connection occurs between the inside and the outside. To bring the curated performance to the point of presentation, I remain an outsider guided by the artist on how to meet the interior needs of the work contextually and physically. To bring a work I am creating to an audience, I remain an insider attentive to articulating the requirements of the work on its journey to the outside. Both involve listening and moving back and forth. But the starting points are in opposition.

CP: How do you negotiate a desire to make an audience feel generally welcome while also responding to the individual artists’ work, and the architectural demands of a given setting? What balance are you aiming for?

MG: The question for me is one of a play between immersion and distance. The standard of display in an art gallery to my eye has an individual viewer in mind. Galleries work perfectly when I am the only visitor. Arriving as one in a collective audience, whether at an opening or to attend a performance, nearly always poses problems. It is difficult to engage with the work when you cannot see it because you only have a clear view of the backs and heads of the people standing in front of you, or when you remain concerned with what to do with your own body during the entire event. The free-for-all you encounter, or the half-hearted attempt at transforming the gallery into a performance space, might prompt you to question the honesty of the invitation. On the other hand, visual art practitioners and supporters seem justifiably skeptical of ideas of “theater,” I suppose because of the perhaps accurate history of threadbare seats, sticky floors, and audience members hiding and napping in semi-darkness. Lin and I like the curatorial challenge of importing elements from across this habitually policed boundary, or assessing the actual possibilities of the room and allowing, in the concept of the event, a measure of space for all bodies concerned. I have used the word hospitality, and by that I mean framing and orienting the event as legible — visible and audible — and honoring the contract that the invitation assumes. In practice that might mean raising levels of viewers or performers, providing chairs in a thought-out arrangement — small gestures that require a degree of care, attentiveness to the requirements of the performance and what audience configuration it necessitates, as well as the accurate anticipation of the effect that a room’s volumes and organization will have on individuals within a group of specific number. Lin says I am an architect at heart. But I have learned from her how to attend to the singular possibilities of the relationship between the performance and the room in which one finds oneself.

CP: How has the performance series been developing in your minds since we first started planning it in August? What do you think happens to a series like this, when its first and second parts take place a month and a half apart?

LH: Since we first starting planning and talking about the series, it has become a reality. The first evening of performances with Carlos Martiel and Jesse Malmed took place on Oct. 8 and the second evening with Amelia Charter and Jefferson Pinder will happen shortly on Dec. 18. For me, the process of curating these works moved from the abstract to the concrete and then opened up again, engendering deeper understanding and possibility. For example, we began with the idea of the series engaging a dialogue between human and non-human in a way that considers the human as a non-human event. As curators, putting together the performances of Carlos and Jesse involved finding performers, finding a lectern, turning the lights on at the right time, turning them off again. Orienting the audience in the right way, setting up risers with no chairs. Setting up risers with chairs. These are all obvious things in producing a performance. The abstract idea turns into the unfolding of a chair. It is now prosaic and straightforward. But it is part of the construction of the performance and part of the construction of its meaning. When the performances took place, when the flags of Carlos and the texts of Jesse, inscribed bodies with matter and words with architectural physique, an unanticipated way of seeing the non-human and human event occurs and unfastens a new way of approaching the world.

November: What it looked like

We had a great opening season, and here are some pictures to prove it.

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“Laura Goldstein’s poems vibrate with urgency—of bodies, of capital, of language, of all the things that comprise us.”—Megan Kaminski. Laura Goldstein reads from her new book, “Awesome Camera” (Make Now Press, 2014).

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Kelly Christian presents a lecture exploring chronological shifts in the “labor of death.” She speaks to how the corpse was traditionally handled prior to the professionalization / medicalization of death, framing that in opposition to contemporary funerary practices.

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Eric Elshtain reads from his new book, “This Thin Memory A-ha” (Verge Books, 2014) “while we go headlong / to eat the arms of charlatans // rescuing every rickety magician / from salvation.”

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“Elemental and unsparing, quiet and startling, Arnold’s supple syntax is a source of gravity and vertigo. It is an acute expression of a mind’s awareness of the tragedy of effacement: in burning through it, we gain a keener sense of our predicament.” John Palattella, The Nation.

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Patrick Durgin of Kenning Editions organized a reading with Trisha Low and Rodney Koeneke.

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“Like a moth to the flame, Trisha Low is hard not to notice, much less look away. Maybe it’s because she is a futurist-inclined, teenage-girl-defending, performer-cum-writer whose work stretches the boundaries of everything for which women are both shunned and condemned: confession.” — Bookslut

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“Structure is on fire, and tercets are on fire, and process is on fire, and motion is on fire; while the poem has learned to preen and turn, pivot on, and no longer hurts, or points at a world, or even at its status as an internally consistent verbal object, only at the most tiresome conditions of its own production.” Rodney Koeneke, Eutruria (Wave Books, 2014).

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“Why, for instance, the word “woman” holds its own intention. One day on the street I found a fissure. I thought it was my sex. I thought it looked like the sea. An amoeba. I was not afraid to be seen. I was afraid to be dismembered. Do you see?” — Andrea Rexilius

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“When the TV laugh track laughs for me, I feel bad for the TV” — Mathias Svalina read at Sector 2337

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Joel Craig reads from a new poem, transcribed in part on twitter: “I finally joined Facebook / it’s fucking / freaking / me / out/ we are all spatialized / time / paramedics.”

"Everything about Mairead Case is poetic. She is propelled by a desire to expose all the beauty in the world." — Abby Sheaffer reflects on our wonderful recently-relocated-to-Denver reader.

“Everything about Mairead Case is poetic. She is propelled by a desire to expose all the beauty in the world.” — Abby Sheaffer reflects on our wonderful recently-relocated-to-Denver reader.

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JoelFelix talks on the privileges of the lyric field in models of the beloved, the erotic & the holy fool. His book was reviewed here by our own Devin King.

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Daniel Borzutzky organized a reading with Sarah Fox, Justin Petropoulos, & Paul Martinez Pompa.

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“We are separated slightly, towards each other” — Justin Petropoulos. Here is his tumblr page.

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“No matter how much I wash my hands they still smell like hands” — Paul Martinez Pompa

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“One day I woke up rearranged like a sleepwalker misplaced upon a terrain of erotic grenades. Am I a manifesto? Am I cloudless, now?” —Sara Fox, My First Flag (Coffee House Press, 2013).

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“Even sleep and time must release its prisoners” John Tipton reading his translation of Sophocles “Ajax” (Flood Editions).

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“It wasn’t until the second century AD that the sophist Philostratus first argued, in his biography of the mystic Apollonius, that phantasia, or creative imagination, was a more important quality in the artist than mimesis.” — Monica Westin, 3 Quarks Daily. Though Westin read from a different paper at Sector, there were some nice resonant frequencies to 3 Quarks.

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One visual snippet of what happens after our speakers are finished.

and a couple video excerpts from a recent night of performance

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Life in Print: The Origin and Duration of The Green Lantern Press

Caroline Picard

 Variations of this talk were given at High Concept Laboratories in July of 2014, and at Western Illinois University, Macomb IL in February, 2013. Most recently it was printed in a one-off newspaper to celebrate the launch of The Green Lantern Press’s new home at Sector 2337. See the newspaper format here.

I began The Green Lantern Gallery and Press in 2005 in a second-story loft style apartment. Between 2005 and 2009, I hosted monthly contemporary art exhibitions, public programs, and published limited edition, slow media books. Since its inception, I have exhibited over 65 living artists, published 35 books and held over 250 public events. By platforming a variety of disciplines, I have been able to engage a wide audience, encouraging a diverse, interdisciplinary discourse. While I continued to live in the same apartment until about six months ago, I stopped curating exhibitions there in 2009. The press, a kind of steady workhorse, continues unchanged, even as we continued to host live readings and performances up until our closing in December 2013. I could go on about the logistics of that enterprise, but the title of this talk is Life in Print a title that I hope will mark a more general trailhead, into the woods so to speak, of how publishing relates not only to my interest in the book as a curatorial site, but also its ability to inspire an interdisciplinary dialogue, one that has deeply effected my own creative production, and overall domestic life.

I started the space for a number of reasons. I have long been interested in creating a non-commercial, cultural venue for the public, particularly a venue that challenged traditional expectations of public space by coopting the home — what is generally considered a site of domestic privacy — and using it as a public platform. The Green Lantern was at once an apartment; visitors necessarily passed through our kitchen to use the restroom. They felt like guests when they visited, even without necessarily knowing their hosts personally. Within that implicit dynamic lay a rather unusual compact. On the one hand, I had to trust the conventions of civility, that a visitor would not take advantage of the space he or she was visiting. On the other hand, our visitors had to trust the house they entered wouldn’t compromise them in any way; they necessarily assumed the venue was forthright in its intention. The apartment/gallery/performance space wasn’t haunted as some summer sleep away camp. Nor did it use its public programming to Shanghai visitors off to sea. No one was going to get killed. Those scenarios are hyperbolic, but I mention them to highlight a delicate tension — because when one enters a house anything is possible. Imagine all those anxieties that go into a dinner party with relative strangers, or at the home of a distant relative: I went to such a dinner party once and there were neither enough chairs nor enough cutlery; after finally stealing a seat from someone who left to smoke, I was loathe to get up and go to the bathroom for fear of losing my highly prized position at the table.

Or another time — I visited some old friends of my parents and they made this amazing tomato fish soup. The aroma in the kitchen, the warmth of seeing old friends, the decadence of a so many spices I had never heard of: I reveled in the atmosphere. I had just got off a plane a few hours ago, so it was really something to suddenly arrive in a bustling kitchen with incredible food, particularly when our own kitchen was such a modest and utilitarian place, all clutter, no cabinetry built piece-meal by various past inhabitants. When I sat down, I had about two bites of this soup — all the time raving about how amazing it was, when suddenly my host got up excitedly. He said he had forgotten something. He went to the cupboard and pulled out a bottle of Sambuca. When he returned to the table he doused our soup with about three turns of the stuff and everything thereafter tasted like licorice with an essence of fish. It was horrible. But of course, I had already made such a fuss about how good it was, I had already exclaimed 1,000 times over how hungry I felt, how rarely I cooked fish, what was this recipe, etc. I was compelled to finish my bowl, and when it was finished I was entirely drunk.

I remember later thinking how interesting the power dynamics at play were. I was more or less trapped within the bounds of friendliness and hospitality. I felt obliged to go through with the ordeal and eat my share, but with every bite I was forced to measure my own willingness to participate, to suppress a sense of disgust and apprehension. The only alternative would have been to disrupt the course of events and, perhaps, risk the friendship (or at least the dinner mood). This is what I mean when I say that by coming to our house, strangers ran a risk. They had to trust something about the situation at hand.

The same is true of reading a book, taking a class, going to a film or a performance — or, say, coming to a lecture. What’s intriguing about these scenarios is the way one is asked to give oneself over to them. To trust that no great harm will come, even if one might feel alienated by the experience. While it always sounds easy enough, it requires some bravery. I make a point of this as I scan through these various images of past exhibitions and public events, because so often one is exposed to culture by way of vetted and conventional means. We go to a museum, or a university, we go to a blockbuster theater or mainstream publisher — and while those points of access are essential, they exist within convention, locked into established hierarchies where what is at stake is clear from the start. By transforming the home into a public space, the Green Lantern Gallery inadvertently challenged the relationship between viewer, venue and art object (even if that object was a performance, a film, or someone reading). All of our events were free, further underlining a sense of intimacy around aesthetic experience. Before and after whatever event a discourse emerged from the audience (its own temporary community) based on the mood and experience at hand. The overall feeling lay in the hands of that audience, and in a way they collectively, and sort of accidentally, established what was at stake. It was very like a dinner party. Like many artist run exhibition spaces in Chicago, the Green Lantern became a kind of watering hole.

For my undergraduate degree I studied at a very small liberal arts college with a Great Books program in Annapolis, Maryland. I graduated in 2002 and moved to San Francisco right after the dot com bubble burst. During that first year that I was out of school, I worked at an artisanal cheese company called The Cowgirl Creamery in Pt. Reyes Station, about an hour north of the city along the coast. I was one of the lower-rungs on the ladder, but my experience there remains formative. I was deeply affected by the ethos of the organization that had teamed up with a family creamery — Strauss Farms — in West Marin. By forming that partnership and going organic, Strauss Farms was able to stay in business. They could dictate their own price points and stay private. The emerging partnership had added benefits for the dairy and the creamery alike — and by emphasizing the hand made character of their cheese, Cowgirl Creamery was able to focus on ethical food production. I loved it because it was the first time that I was directly implicated in the production of a physical product. I was part of every step of the cheese making process.

When I started the Green Lantern Press, co-founding editor, Nick Sarno, and I wanted to borrow that same slow-food model and apply it to the world of publishing. We would work directly with local artists, print limited editions and, explore the physical book as a curatorial site, to create interdisciplinary bridges between visual and text based languages. I approached the book in exactly the same way that I had the gallery, the only difference being that the book is a portable space, with an emphasis on text. The book also has the ability to enforce immediate intimacy with its audience. Unlike a gallery it is not easily viewed by more than one person at once. However, it’s textual bias often makes subsequent conversation a little bit easier.

At the Cowgirl Creamery, I made 300 cheeses a day. Like them, I believe in a “slow media” approach; with the exception of two recent projects — Ghost Nature and another forthcoming title, Mothernism by Lise Haller Baggeson — each book is a text-object printed in small editions of 250 – 500. For the first eight years, I commissioned Chicago-based silk screen printers to create our covers by hand, I used local designers to layout the text itself, and printed all of our books in Minnesota. Often I solicited contemporary artists to reproduce images of their work within the book itself. By approaching the humanities this way — where different disciplines overlap and inform one another in one site — I opened up dialogues that otherwise tend to be discrete — connecting the literary world to the art world, for instance, which can then be applied to philosophical discourse, and performative practices.

In 2010, I published a chapbook of poetry, CLOPS. This is my husband, Devin King’s book, actually, and represents a landmark in our relationship, in so far as we had never spent much time together before this project — the poem itself is a re-examination of The Odyssey which reflects the Green Lantern Press’ historical interest. It is also a good example of how I connect the visual projects of contemporary artists with text-based projects of contemporary writers. Before CLOPS came out, I hosted an exhibit by Brian McNearney called The Goddess of Scale Outside of Her Temple. McNearney’s show investigated the full scale replica of The Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee. McNearney made a number of artworks that examined replication, and the place of authenticity — he was especially interested in the original statue of Athena from the Ancient Greek site, what was allegedly stolen and melted down by Christians. In Nashville, a replica of that same idol was produced, although it was scaled up 42 feet and based on a composite of small Roman Kistch objects, much like small Catholic sculptures of Mary that one might find in a backyard. As McNearney put it, “the scale and material shifts from the lost Greek original made out of gold and ivory, to the provincial mass produced Roman versions, through to the plaster and gold leafed modern copy [in Tennesee], and finally the numerous souvenir figures that are [subsequently] scaled back down from said copy and sold, allow for a very odd study of the degradation of a monumental image over the course of centuries.” [1] Color plates from that exhibit pepper Devin King’s long poem, a poem that similarly appropriates, digests and recreates a touchstone in literature. I will just quote an early part of CLOPS as an example, for like McNearyney’s visual works, Devin uses words (rage, shield, and island for instance) that immediately affiliate his work with The Odyssey, while remaining nonetheless estranged from the original Greek text:

To begin, there was the war.

            In these letters are letters and I was one among them. So was
            He, that man of rage. I kissed him and from him I took a
            Shield. The world has hammered into it, with the ocean as a ring.
            Later I used the shield as my raft. And upon my friend’s shield I
            Lived among islands as my thought’s eye. [2]
 

This book, like many Green Lantern publications, acknowledges the past, representing an old story in a new context, with contemporary ends. An inevitable distortion emerges in the process of translating that history; a totally new text results.

A year before CLOPS, I reprinted a newspaper from 1821 originally written by a fleet of English sailors. The North Georgia Gazette was printed on board two ships in the northernmost part of the earth. They had gone in search of the Northwest Passage — a veritable golden fleece of shipping routes. After bearing through the summer ice with relative ease, it became more and more difficult to move forward: the ice was hardening up ahead just as it was behind them. By November they were icebound. Between November 1819 and March of 1820 the crew remained stuck to a crust on the sea. Three of those months were spent in complete darkness. No previous British expedition had wintered in the Arctic. During that time the men took measurements of the earth; they were looking to locate the Magnetic North Pole. Under Captain Parry’s command they kept a strict schedule and scrubbed the deck each morning with stones. Once a week they put on plays for one another where members of the crew often dressed in drag. Edward Sabine, a senior scientist, edited 21 issues of a newspaper over the course of that winter. The paper was another instrument to pass the time and on their return to England, the periodical was published in 1821.

Most other Arctic expeditions from that time met tragic ends. Casper David Frederick is one of countless painters to have depicted the expectations of such a journey. In his painting, The Sea of Ice, a striation of ice crust has buckled up from beneath the surface, breached and frozen again. The nature captured here is not exquisite and pure, but ugly and sharp, composed of massive teeth-like shards. The only indication of scale is the mast and hull of a fallen ship in the distance, its presence diminished by the energy of the flanking, barren landscape. The most successful Arctic expeditions from the time were completed by Norwegians who observed and copied Inuit techniques to survive; they used sled dogs to cross the ice and, among other things, wore seal skin coats. The British meanwhile insisted on military principles and wore government-issue uniforms. It was no wonder so many English lives were lost. And yet, in the case of Captain Parry’s crew only one sailor passed away from scurvy. That remarkable success rate is phenomenal given the odds— the seeming endless dark, the constant anxiety that the ice beneath them might, at any moment, crush a ship’s hull, the malnutrition and perpetual cold.

Parry brought a box of costumes with him — dresses and bear-skins and capes. With these, the men put on plays for one another on a weekly basis. The Gazette included, among other things, “Theatrical Reports” or reviews of each performance. As a rule, Sabine only published happy news and consequently the text is riddled with inside and sometimes cumbersome jokes, like an arcane Onion. There are poems, spoof advertisements (“WANTED, a middle-aged Woman, not above thirty, of good character, to assist in DRESSING the LADIES at the THEATRE. Her salary will be handsome; and she will be allowed tea and small beer into the bargain” [3] ), letters from pennames like A Spectator, Simon Set-Right, Peeping Tom the First and Meredith Makeshift. In the midst of all this, there is a particularly touching poem entitled, Reflections On Seeing the Sun Set for a Period of Three Months. November, 1819. [4] They did not expect anyone else to read these texts necessarily, nor did they anticipate the arrival of a special critic who might send them to Broadway.

They made art for themselves and, I would argue, it was that singular endeavor that kept them alive.

“Tis’ said, when the sun in this region is low,

The bears take a long nap — but we did not so,

While our bosoms were swelling

For deeds of renown;

We had snow to be melted, ere dinner was drest,

We had beer to be brew’d, and ‘twas some of the best —

But what I most admired, while we wanted the light,

Were the plays that amused us once a fort-night…” [5]

The Green Lantern Press published a limited edition of The North Georgia Gazette in 2009. It came out the very first year that the Northwest Passage opened as a consequence of global warming. It was not enough to simply reproduce that original text, however. At the time I had some very enthusiastic volunteers, Lily Robert-Foley and Tobias Bengelsdorf. Robert-Foley transcribed the entire text and Bengelsdorf copy edited all of it. You can imagine the conversations we had together as we tried to decide whether to adapt the text to American English, or preserve the archaic (and in some cases just bad) grammar of the original. These conversations forced us to recognize how much we were altering the text by way of transcription. We ended up adding color plates by contemporary artists who’s work seemed to complement the subject matter. Bengelsdorf and Robert-Foley culled an excerpt from the Captain’s log, which we included as well. In the process, Robert-Foley kept a running log of end notes (which we published at the end of the Gazette), where she reflects on her role as a transcriber. In her words:

“The job of the transcriber is to copy. It is not to rewrite or translate. Her job can never be to interpret a text. In this sense, transcription represents the illusion of pure reading — a reading that does not alter the meaning of the text at all. This is the dream that there is an original, objective meaning, an ultimate reading, a Northwest Passage.

In this case, however, the transcriber enters and exits history at a whim; over the course of transcription, the place from where the text speaks truly…evaporates.[6]

She goes on to suggest that the transcriber alone has a “secret tunnel” into the text, and organizes her end notes in three categories: a series of notes where she fictionalizes the life of the sailors as she imagines it. A series of notes that represent the autobiographical world of the transcriber, and lastly, a series of notes offering theoretical commentary, many of which reflect on the act of transcription itself. She alone is able to transgress the Captain’s rule, and in so doing articulate some of the desperation those men must have encountered. For instance, in note 10 she writes

“The Gazette is slathered high with shields, masquerades, feigned, jolly, costumed lies to protect them. This Gazette buckles under my trampling boots, [boots] that make cracks appear, holes in the ice floe through which I can just barely make out their lonely, darkened faces, the terror of cold, darkness, punishment, isolation, boredom, ghosts, and the fear for friends and brothers — the horror that keeps them from writing is the horror I’ve been excavating.” [7]

Here again, there is a past — in this case an incredibly marginalized past that is intruded upon and transformed. The book was part of a group exhibition I curated in 2010 that travelled to Providence, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Those sailors wrote from a place without a guaranteed audience. They had no way of knowing whether the papers they wrote, the experiments they executed, journals they kept, would ever return from the arctic landscape. Nevertheless, they put on plays for one another, wore sometimes girlish costumes, published writing — investing in the idea of posterity. Creating something for a hoped-for audience, an audience that would only exist if they were to survive their conditions and escape the ice. To believe in such an audience is as life-affirming as the fictions they made for one another.

We included a 7” record in with the book as well, and during the exhibition that record, Grain Advance by Nick Butcher, played on a loop. Grain Advance is a mirror replica of an original, vintage historic record. Butcher pours wood glue on the record, applies paper to the back and, when dry, the paper pulls the wood glue cast. That cast is then played. The sound is ghostly, full of pops and static. The needle gets stuck in tracks and loops over and over itself. Here too, the meaning of the original record is lost. A shadow remains and that shadow creates a new audio space, one the viewer inhabits. The audio space, the way it repeats itself, is also a measure of time, whereby the repetition and monotony, thwarts our sense of progression.

In my collection of short stories, Psycho Dream Factory, I adopt similar tactics, except that I appropriates celebrities and juxtapose them with famous artists, creating a dialogue between them. In one story I presumed that Michael Jackson’s death was a hoax, intended as a publicity stunt. In the story he is seen texting a living French artist, Orlan, who is known for her elaborate plastic surgery performances — she had plastic surgery to make herself look like Boticelli’s Venus de Milo, for instance, and the Mona Lisa and so on and so forth. Or, in another story I open with a literal description of one of my favorite pieces at the Art Institute — a life-sized wooden sculpture by Charles Ray called Hinoki. Ray came allegedly came across this fallen redwood tree in California.

An older gentleman, he came upon a fallen Redwood, collapsed and soundless in the yellow grass. The sun was hot, it stole the sound and smell from the air, except sometimes the man heard a buzzing fly land and when it landed everything was more silent than it had been before. The man studied the log, imagined its figure wearing away with rot, wood mites and termites and peculiar worms, until it wore down into dust—the shit of insects—and fed the dull earth.

Instead, the man took a cast of the tree:

“He hired a team of employees and who gathered around its stupendous girth. They raised the dead log on pedestals—sweating, the whine of the chainsaw—cutting the trunk into eight, three-foot cross-sections. They took elaborate photographs of each of the tree’s parts. Like a murder scene, quadrants of the surrounding area were taped off. Surrounding tree trunks bore neon pink spray paint on their bases. Everything was documented. Everyone wore rubber gloves.

“They took a cast of the trunk’s massive breadth, width, and length in sections, then sealed the tree with soap. They poured wax around its parts, just before nightfall, and in the night the wax hardened and in the morning they cut the wax off in clean, re-sealable pieces. They sent those pieces to Japan in a very cool box.

“In order to do these things, the original tree trunk was destroyed.

“What came back:

“The tree—a new one, it resembled the original—came back without the wax, for the wax had been burned to make the new tree. This new trunk arrived in the same eight, three-foot cross-sections. Its parts made of wood, not Redwood but Hinoki. Its surface had been carved in a myriad of patterns, different borring strokes; the surface of the replica was carved to look like the surface of the original. This new wood blonder and clean-looking, though with the same hollow core as its predecessor.

“There was a note attached to the mid-section.

“Someone was asked to translate: Once put together, this tree will last 400 years, before hitting a crisis of 100 years, during which it will crack. Thereafter it will last another 400 years before it begins to decompose.” [8]

My story continues to describe Woody Allen finding a young man who looks exactly like himself and convincing the young man to take over his life (thereby leading his fans to believe that Allen would live forever). The beautiful thing about Ray’s tree is the way these artists — Charles Ray, the woodworkers, the assistants — managed to translate the original into a totally new material — creating a text out of a non-human object. This talk keeps returning to the idea of translation, posterity and ownership and this is simply another example of that same process.

Isolated Fictions returns to Chicago this summer at the Hyde Park Art Center, as part of their show, “The Chicago Effect: Redefining the Middle.” Once again, a kind of translation takes place; this latest curatorial “reenactment” features some of the same works, some variations of the original works, some entirely different work. The show itself is a translation of a translation of a translation. To extend the original idea of marginality, the exhibit is set to take place at the Art Center’s first floor hallway. Perhaps most of all, though, (and this is where my sentimentality gets ahead of me, maybe) this version of Isolated Fictions marks the dawn of a new project, just as it marked the closing of another one so many years before. The Green Lantern will translate itself again, becoming a gallery/bookstore in Logan Square that I am opening with Devin this October. In this new space, we live upstairs. The gallery is on the ground floor, in a storefront. Nevertheless, I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, I want to say something about France. We moved out of the 1511 N Milwaukee Space when I got a curatorial residence in an old Medieval City in the middle of the country. Bourges was organized in concentric circles around a partially existing Roman wall, therefore even though it was took about 20 minutes to walk across its diameter, I regularly got lost. Its logic was not intuitive to me; I have been indoctrinated by Chicago’s grid and the logic of its history as my pedestrian activities will testify. I went there to organize two exhibitions and one symposium that also included a student exhibit.

The project was called Ghost Nature. It ties into how we identify space, how we think about the impact of delineations, emphasizing also some ecological concerns implicit in The North Georgia Gazette. In this case, however I try to think outside the human frame of reference, posing the question: What if Nature, as a binary opposite to the industrial undertow of human culture and capital production does not exist? In other words, if public and private space is porous, could human and nonhuman distinctions be equally flexible? How do we relate to for the furious multitude of colliding, irregular and uncoordinated parts in our galazy? Using a wide range of media, from performance, sculpture, photography, drawing, and video, the ninetten artists in Ghost Nature investigated the borders and bounds between human and nonhuman experience, undermining vernacular strategies of landscape representation. An iteration of the same show took place in Chicago and Bourges concurrently at Gallery 400 and La Box.

Here is a letter I wrote just after the first opening. I had been living in Bourges for about 3 weeks by the time that I wrote this:

“…It is quite nice here — we are living in what was once a Jesuit College, originally built in the 1600s, it’s since been coopted by a national “beaux-arts” university, though it feels like quite a ragamuffin structure with a student body of about 200 and some windows broken, or sections of the building propped up by scaffolding… The show went off without a hitch except for an incredibly dramatic install day — I have never in all my (short) life felt an install go from 95% finished at 11 am the morning of the opening to 65% finished by 3pm. It was the sort of thing where I’d been in there almost every day the week before working with a team of three with whom I periodically thought how strange, interesting and sometimes difficult it was to install a show with a language barrier. (I speak some French, but not enough). By contrast, the situation with Gallery 400 seemed like a breeze, even with the time change and geographical difference. At 2:30 the director of the school and the director of the gallery arrived on the scene to check everything out, and insisted on changing the position of one projector and swapping out a shelf. These seemingly small details spurred on an entire circus of activity — to such an extent that I really felt as though I was the useless and bumbling foreigner in the midst of a Jacques Tati movie (have you ever seen Playtime? There is an amazing restaurant scene that I’m reminded of). The proposed shelf have to be built from scratch, so a couple of professors began to busy themselves with that. There was much discussion about how best to accomplish the new projector position — whether another shelf had to built, how old chords would have to uncovered from their plastic sheaths, resituated and recovered. A very large ladder was brought in. Several screws in the old projector hanging mechanism were stripped so the thing had to be pulled out, leaving large gaping holes in the drywall. The wall designated for the new shelf was similarly scarred, and everyone fretted over whether the putty would dry in time for the opening. Given that I always want to be useful and had to get the floor clean to install the last two works I took it upon myself to clean the floor. Vacuuming was easy enough, though when I asked for a mop I was told to use this mini Zambowee-looking contraption, that I was supposed to fill with soapy water and then steer around the gallery. Not surprisingly, my lack of experience (I didn’t know you had to press a valve to stop the water from dripping out) caused a puddle of water which flooded an electrical socket in the floor, causing the power to go out around 4pm. (there were five video pieces on display — one of which was still being tweaked by a technician who was trying to convert it to the European TV system). Needless to say, I had never felt something spin so quickly out of control. Someone had the (I guess?) good sense to pull out a hairdryer to dry the out the socket, and in about 45 minutes the power was back on, the new shelf in place, spackle painted, projector rehung, video tweaked: it was all working in the end. And, miraculously, people came!”

Thankfully, subsequent efforts were less complicated. Or complicated in different ways. My French improved. I had a better eye for what an acceptable shelf would look like to my French cohorts and, maybe most importantly, realized that as a curator it was ultimately less complicated if I was particular in the beginning. In other words, I should have said something about the position of the projector from the get go. It would have saved us all a world of trouble. Yet also I learned about the structure I inhabited, and how to use its strengths. Everyone took a mandatory two hour lunch, for instance — so that had to be accounted for. As I mentioned the Internet was bad, but I learned about a 90s era wifi spot, Le Wake Up Café, that became useful for downloading videos.

There was also something really beautiful about doing the same project in two different locations: the first in Chicago, with peers I admired, in a space well-known to me. The second in a foreign country, amongst new peers. In this case, I was the guest in one frame reference — that of my French employers — whilst acting as a host to those artists, writers, and performers who participated in the Ghost Nature project — 16 of which were able to come at different times. Here again, I was aware of the incredible trust afforded by all sides. I imagine we were all holding our breath to see if it would work. I like to think the bilingual catalogue we produced reflects that subtext. As someone who regularly works with language I was shocked at how alienating it was to try and proof the French. In fact I simply could not, for even basic things like spacing before colons, the position of apostrophes in relation to quotation marks: all of that was different. As different as walking through a city laid organized on curved lines when one expects them to be straight.

And now. This new space. I’m terrified. It’s good. To be terrified, I mean. It feels like something big is at stake, and maybe I’m stretching into unknown territory. I’m not sure I will be good at this. Recently I spoke to a fundraising professional about the work I was doing. When I mentioned we were opening a for-profit alongside a new iteration of the non-profit, his eyebrows shot up like I was crazy. Because everyone knows it’s hard to start a business, just like it’s hard to run a nonprofit, so doing both is obviously idiotic. And maybe he’s right, but Devin and I want to see it play. Sector 2337 is for-profit, with an incidental liquor license and the ability to sell books. We will house a carefully curated book store, with most of our inventory on-line and one bookshelf on the floor featuring select titles that relate to the exhibitions, and public programs at hand. Otherwise we’ll host three exhibitions a year. One group show, two solo shows, each for about three months a piece. The Green Lantern Press will take up office in this space as a nonprofit; we hope to fund artistic projects through that non-profit, reinforcing the non-commercial nature of the space. We’ll see, is what I keep telling myself. If you’re reading this paper now, it means we are open. You may even be at the opening, or maybe it’s the day after the opening. Either way, you find yourself in the dream Devin and I have imagining for years…

Maybe with that, it’s a good time to close with a quote from Cesar Aira’s book, Ghosts. The book takes place in South America, in the middle of a growing industrial city; it centers on a family living in a high-rise construction site. Everything smells like cement. Halfway through the middle of the book the main character, a thirteen year old girl, takes a nap. At this point the whole family is asleep–enjoying a siesta before the evening, when the family will have a New Year’s party on the roof. Up until this point, the action of the book takes place on a vertical plane as characters laboriously climb up and down half-built stairs. With this collective nap, the author introduces a horizontal axis, describing other human communities and the way their various architectural habitats reflect respective social priorities. In light of that digression, the book’s monolithic skyscraper becomes one of many possible futures. In order to draw that conclusion, however— in order to shift from a vertical axis to a horizontal one, Aira uses the medium of dreams:

“There are societies in which the unbuilt dominates almost entirely: for example, among the Australian Aborigines. Instead of building, the Australians concentrate on thinking and dreaming the landscape in which they live, until by multiplying their stories they transform it into a complete and significant ‘construction.’ The process is not as exotic as it seems. It happens every day in the western world: it’s the same as the ‘mental city,’ Joyce’s Dublin, for instance… The visible landscape is an effect of causes that are to be found in the dreamtime. For example, the snake that dragged itself over this plain creating these undulations, etc. etc. These curious Aborigines make sure their eyes are closed while events take place, which allows them to see places as records of events. But what they see is a kind of dream, and they wake into a reverie, since the real story (the snake, not the hills) happened while they were asleep.” [9]

_____________________________________

[1] Brian McNearny on The Goddess of Scale Outside of Her Temple, The Green Lantern Gallery, 2008.

[2] Devin King, CLOPS, The Green Lantern Press, 2009, p. 2

[3] The North Georgia Gazette, (Edited by Tobias Amadon Bengelsdorf, Caroline Picard, Lily Robert-Foley, and Nick Sarno), The Green Lantern Press, 2009, p. 104.

[4]  The North Georgia Gazette, The Green Lantern Press, 2009, p. 106.

 

[5] “Song from the Northwest Passage, written by Mr. Wakeham and sung by Mr. Palmer,” The North Georgia Gazette, The Green Lantern Press, 2009, p.189

[6] Lily Robert-Foley, Transcriber, The North Georgia Gazette, The Green Lantern Press, 2009, p. 205.

[7]  Robert-Foley, Transcriber, The North Georgia Gazette, The Green Lantern Press, 2009, Endnote 10, p. 208.

[8]  Caroline Picard, Psycho Dream Factory, Holon Press, 2011, p. 23.

[9] César Aira, Ghosts, New Directions, 2009, p.61 – 62.

 

NewNewCorpse-Installs-01-300 for web

Installation Photographs of The New [New] Corpse

Our October group show, The New [New] Corpse is up until December 11th; below you’ll see the works of Benjamin L. Aman & Marion Auburtin, Joseph Grigely, Young Joon Kwak, Jason Lazarus, Carlos Martiel, Heather Mekkelson, Aay Preston-Myint, Rachel Niffenegger, Xaviera Simmons, Shane Ward, and Shoshanna Weinberger. Come by and see the show in person! We are open Wed-Sat from 2pm-6pm and later on evenings with events.

The New [New] Corpse, Installation View, Sector 2337, 2014. Photo by Joseph Rynkiewicz

The New [New] Corpse, Installation View, Sector 2337, 2014. Photo by Joseph Rynkiewicz. Left to right: Joseph Grigely, “Songs Without Words (Faust),” 2012. Pigment Print, Edition 2 of 3, 35 x 29.5″;  Joseph Grigely, “Songs Without Words (Sekou Sundiata),” 2012. Pigment Print, Edition 2 of 3, 35 x 29.5″; Shane Ward, “Victory,”2014. Lead, flocking, granite, extruded polystrene, 58″ (h) x 14 x 14″; Carlos Martiel, “Break the Night,” 2014; Heather Mekkelson, “Debris Field: dependent clause,” 2008. Steel, ceramic, tile, gypsum, board; Jason Lazarus, “Untitled (Vienna, Austria),” 2008. Photographic print, 35 x 27″.

Rachel Niffenegger, "Slit Witch (Night) Gown with Insignia," 2014. Steel epoxy, white witch costume, pig foot, acrylic, 70" (h) x 26" (diam).

Rachel Niffenegger, “Slit Witch (Night) Gown with Insignia,” 2014. Steel epoxy, white witch costume, pig foot, acrylic, 70″ (h) x 26″ (diam).

The New [New] Corpse, Installation View, Sector 2337, 2014. Photo by Joseph Rynkiewicz

The New [New] Corpse, Installation View, Sector 2337, 2014. Photo by Joseph Rynkiewicz. 

The New [New] Corpse, Installation View. Left to right: Carlos Martiel, "Break the Night," 2014. Documentation of a 2014 performance at Art League Houston; photograph by Alex Barber, 16 x 24"; Heather Mekkelson, "Debris Field: told them to look after the younger ones," 2008. Aluminum blinds, handbag receipts; Jason Lazarus, "Untitled, (Vienna, Austria)", 2008. Photographic print, 35 x 27". Photograph by Joseph Rynkiewicz.

The New [New] Corpse, Installation View. Photo by Joseph Rynkiewicz. Left to right: Carlos Martiel, “Break the Night,” 2014. Documentation of a 2014 performance at Art League Houston; photograph by Alex Barber, 16 x 24″; Heather Mekkelson, “Debris Field: dependent clause,” 2008. Steel, ceramic, tile, gypsum, board; Jason Lazarus, “Untitled, (Vienna, Austria)”, 2008. Photographic print, 35 x 27″.

Aay Preston-Myint, "Of Their Slaves and Of Their Marriages," 2012. Wood, metal, plaster, plastic laminate, enamel, cake, food coloring, frosting, approx. 49" (h) x 16" (diam).

Aay Preston-Myint, “Of Their Slaves and Of Their Marriages,” 2012. Wood, metal, plaster, plastic laminate, enamel, cake, food coloring, frosting, approx. 49″ (h) x 16″ (diam). Photo by Joseph Rynkiewicz.

Shoshanna Weinberger, "Posthumous Pin-Ups," 2014. 15 ink/collage drawings on paper; 11 x 10 ft.

Shoshanna Weinberger, “Posthumous Pin-Ups,” 2014. 15 ink/collage drawings on paper; 11 x 10 ft. Photo by Joseph Rynkiewicz.

Benjamin L. Aman and Marion Auburtin, "Loop Island," 2011. Ceramic and modified musical mechanism, dimensions variable. Photo by Joseph Rynkiewicz.

Benjamin L. Aman and Marion Auburtin, “Loop Island,” 2011. Ceramic and modified musical mechanism, dimensions variable. Photo by Joseph Rynkiewicz.

Young Joon Kwak, "Aggregate Body (Book)," 2014. Edition of 50 + 2 Exhibition copies, 12 x 12  x 1/2".

Young Joon Kwak, “Aggregate Body (Book),” 2014. Edition of 50 + 2 Exhibition copies, 12 x 12 x 1/2″.

The New [New] Corpse, Installation View, Sector 2337, 2014. Photo by Joseph Rynkiewicz

The New [New] Corpse, Installation View, Sector 2337, 2014. Photo by Joseph Rynkiewicz. Left to right: Aman and Auburtin, “Loop Island;” Preston-Myint, “Of Their Slaves and Of Thier Marriages;” Aman and Auburtin, “Loop Island;” Ward, “Victory;” Mekkelson, “Debris Field: told them to look after the young ones;” and Xaviera Simmons, “Super Unknown #2,” 2010, 89 x 42″.

GodBlessTheSquirrelPage

THE CLICHE

by Moshe Zvi Marvit

Originally published by Tramp Quarterly

The literary cliche was born in 1892 in a comparative anatomy textbook. It was not used in the 20th century outside of this comparative anatomy textbook until it was employed to describe a set of motives in the 28th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It is not surprising that the term has proliferated so widely in just over a century. Nor is it surprising that the first use of the term was in an anatomy textbook, so long as it was comparative. The surprising thing is that the term did not exist before the turn of the 20th century. Well into the modern era, after Kant and Hegel and Marx, after the Civil War, and after Frege had mapped out the foundations of what was called at the time “common-sense philosophy,” there was still no way to describe the overflowing concept that is the cliche. Of course, this question of what we had before the cliche has now become a cliche, so it will not be investigated here. Instead, the question will remain throughout: what is the cliche? Though we all fill in the blanks of our lives with its easy colors, and though everyone tries to be original in the matters one holds important, very few have stopped to ask what the benefits and uses are of the cliche.

The cliche is perfect, easily communicable, and marks an end. The perfection of the cliche should not be understood primarily in terms of value, but rather in its denotation of completion, or absence of absence. Though its positive connotation is in part intended, this position flows from its neutral quality of perfection. The cliche is as whole as a literary piece can be. Though the incompleteness and ambiguity of language is constantly bemoaned by analytic philosophers and mature seventeen year-olds, the cliche offers an escape. It offers a rare moment of language serving as an exact coincidence and representation of that which it was intended to describe.

The cliche is also supremely communicable, as it means the same thing leaving the speaker’s lips as it does entering the listener’s ears. There is no gap or possibility for miscommunication within the cliche Of course, the application of the cliche is according to the discretion of the speaker and may be as easily misapplied as any other turn of phrase. If a man inserts himself in the middle of a line and then justifies himself to the lady behind him with the following cliche, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” then the cliche is perfectly clear. But he is confused. This understanding that the onus lies in the application rather than within the cliche allows one to see that the cliche is as a weapon. One must choose his weapon carefully, knowing full well that it must be appropriate to the situation and that another weapon may be used against it. The cliche can be countered and contradicted by another cliche. This is, in part, a mark of its perfection. Each cliche is a complete system, wherein no internal elements are antithetical. But when two systems come into contact, they often contradict each other on their own terms. The cliche has a remedy to this tension. It switches the focus from commensurability to comparability. To make commensurate is to be original. It is to recognize complexity and immanent difference and yet seek common enough elements for an ordinal understanding. To compare is to reduce bodies to their most commonly known elements and then hold the objects within view. It is an unfair, but highly useful act. Dust jackets require comparisons to Hemingway and Joyce, though these comparisons belie their efforts. To make the whole world commensurable is the near impossible task of being an artist. The artist places the two editions on the same shelf and understands them beside each other. To make the whole world comparable is to be agreeable, it is the action of an individual on a first date. This man is constantly trying to sell.

The closing is said to be a thrill for the salesman, but it is agony for the artist. The closing, or end, is always a cliche. How could it be otherwise? To finish neatly, where all the elements wrap up nicely, is cheap. To end arbitrarily, and thereby imply that life-real life-does not have quaint endings, has been done before and is no more tender. The ending must then be a cliche of the author’s own choosing. It is why every instance that a novelist has defined the novel, whether Sterne’s Tristam Shandy, Proust’s Remembrance, or Joyce’s Ulysses, the format has been dually declared epitomized and dead. How can one begin a work of genius when the ending must necessarily be recycled? This question has no answer and suggestions will not be attempted here.

In order to avoid the cliche, there must be a sense for the creative impulse. It is indeed a nice thought to picture the author alone in his study creating a text from nowhere. Or perhaps listening to the melodic tones of a muse. But to imagine creation taking this form is to imagine the quaint artist, the eccentric painter, the reclusive genius. These are all personality traits, but not traits of creation. The creative process begins and ends in the interpretation of the world. The way one approaches the world, postures before it, and makes meaning of situations, is the act of creation. Everything else is filtering, reduction to formats-the forms already in place. The act of creation is in interpreting events as original. It is understanding the differences and similarities of a man on his knees in a church and a man on his knees at a porn shop. The subsequent acts of arrangement and connectives are as acts of taxidermy or quilt-making. That is, they are recycling.

But if creation is in original interpretation then the artist is splintered. And once again, the cliche is whole and perfect. In its perfection, it is easily transferable-a fungible good. When it is offered, it is offered as an answer, with all the qualities of finality and endings that answers carry with them. So once again the cliche sneaks to the end; and the end taints the beginning. The investigation again leads back to the practicality of starting something originally while knowing that it will have to end generically.

The central concern of this question cannot be answered here. But a secondary concern of motivations can be teased to some degree. In particular, the question of motivations for this essay will be answered.

Perhaps this essay begs the question: “Why now?” Why question the cliche, which has become nearly ubiquitous, more than one hundred years after it was first used to describe comparative anatomy and sets of motives? The answer will not satisfy, because it is not a cliche. It will not fully answer, again, because it is not a cliche. The answer arises out of circumstances; it is because a new text has been written that can accurately be described as circumscribing the topics of comparative anatomy and motives. It goes beyond inter-special anatomy and encyclopedic intentionality and explores the anatomy of bodies, cities, and language. Its motors are intentionality and motivation, and its governor (if we can extend the mechanical metaphor now in use) is the cliche. The text is God Bless the Squirrel Cage. It is both a plea and a prayer, the title that is. In the text, the cliche becomes a religious matter, whether devil or god, to a devout atheist. Its name is not to be spoken, but its reach is felt constantly. The text explodes the cliche by overworking it, turning it on its head, and eventually understanding its immense benefits and uses. The work that the text does, that we need it to do, ultimately allows this essay to close thusly: Le fin.