Vanessa Place: The Allegory and the Archive

The Allegory and the Archive/ Vanessa Place

But I must constantly repeat that I say all this in connection with repetition. Kierkegaard Je ne suis point la justice. PlaceWith luck, I ended yesterday on guilt and shame; now that you are in a proper frame of mind, we will consider—thankfully more briefly—allegory and the archive, which are, after all, ways of mediating and instantiating both. That is to say, how memorials are forgotten and made.

Allegory (from Greek: αλλος, allos, “other”, and αγορεσειν, agoreuein, “to speak in public”) is a figurative mode of representation conveying a meaning other than the literal. Medieval thinking accepted allegory as having a reality underlying any rhetorical or fictional uses. The allegory was as true as the facts of surface appearances.(Wikipedia)

So Wikipedia defines the allegory historically, as ahistorically represented in Wikipedia. One of the confusions about conceptualism appears to be this issue of the allegorical. We know what allegory was originally, Dante‟s Commedia, Bunyan‟s Progress, Langland‟s Plowman, and my copy of The Marvelous Career of Theodore Roosevelt (and the story of his African Trip). And we all remember that allegory is extended metaphor, wherein objects (signifiers) within a narrative equate with meanings (signifiers) outside the narrative. That there is always a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning, that synthesis between narratives lies with the reader, that personification within the literal is not determinative, and that the allusive is not necessarily the allegorical, but the allegorical is very often allusive. That the allegorical was further defined by Dante as polysemous in the sense of relating to past events (typological), present events (moral) and future event (anaological). That then Benjamin came with his ange of history, and, upon contemplating the state of German tragic drama, took the baroque too literally and found allegory confounded. So the neue allegory was the skull and the ruin, fractured renditions of imaginary castles.
Wikipedia is ahistorical because it remains paradigmatically unfixed. There is no “edition” or publish date by which to historicize any one entry or the archive as a whole.1
Benjamin wrote extensively and cribbed copiously on Baudelaire, poet of the allegorical; in his Passengenwerk (The Arcades Project), Benjamin writes of his desire to relate the figure of the modern and the figure of allegory, while quoting Baudelaire, who concluded that “almost all our originality comes from the stamp that time imprints upon our feelings.” Benjamin later quotes a 1933 edition of Les Fleurs du mal, which notes in turn that Baudelaire “always concentrates on the inner life, as Dante focused on dogma.” Thus, allegory, via Benjamin via Baudelaire via his 1933 editor is the psychic center that holds, or doesn‟t, as the allegorical internal/external (es-ternal) whole, represented by Dante, is crumbled. The modern allegory is one of despair, melancholy, the man on the move, motored by egoism, mystification, and purely private conversation.
Conceptualism similarly maintains there is no single allegory, and no potential allegorical loss. One of the legacies of post-modernism is that polysemousness is as promised; one of the differences with post-modernism is that there is no ache for, or cognition of, truth, not even in the absence or lack thereof. Rather, there is a recognition of the truth of the soup in which the individuated we and you stew. So that there is no divide between subject and object, hence the conceptual “sobject.” Defined by me in Notes on Conceptualisms as existing in an ongoing procedural loop, self-eclipsed by degrees. Thus the antique notion of dogma, or sacred text, or single allegory is as impossible as the modern conceit of sacred interiority. In this sense, all text is equally sacred in conceptualism. Sacred in the sense delineated by Giorgio Agamben as the man who murders, who can be killed for this murder, but who cannot be sacrificed—the murder of the murderer cannot be sanctified. His guilt makes him the exception to both the rule against murder and the rule favoring sacrifice, i.e., giving to the gods. In this way, Agamben‟s sacred man proves the rule that only the sovereign can determine who dies. In conceptualism, all text is sacred, but there is no sovereign, not even the sovereign that once was or was once. Moreover, all text is equally sacred, the living dead of the world, as text has overtaken text, subsumed text, overwritten text, but there‟s not time or space sense to this incessant juxtapose and jockeying, like amazon sales ratings, you may be #32 one day and 4,455,658 another. The blog hit or the Twitter-miss. On the other hand, you can also be issued in limited chapbook form, or spring, fully-formed via print-on- demand, i.e. fetishized or simply snapped into instantiation. No king or king of king determines who dies, for no one dies, just as no one decisively is. On the other hand, one man‟s garbage is another‟s madeleine. Our allegory is the abyss, but our abyss is a mountain, our mountain an archive.
Benjamin reported Baudelaire‟s condemnation, in 1852, of “the puerile Utopia of the school of art for art’s sake” Let us consider, in our post-Duchampian, Wikipedian time, the puerile utopia of the school of anything for any other sake, or, in other words, of anything that is immune from becoming art. So that art that may be extracted or pressed, like oil, from everything. Is this true? This changes the question from the utility of art to the art, that is to say, the excess or the residual, of utility.
Though I might aside here that my sense of ahistoricity is itself historical, and specifically American, as geography is always history. We are a people that like to be history-free, a people who pride themselves on assimilation of the melting variety, one in which it is good to fit and fit in and be as ordinary as your average, as uniquely fungible as any perfect snowflake or new masculinist lyric. So we URL our world, which is an historic gesture, historically bound, we‟re Whitmanesque sans Whitman, American without England, though English all the hypertrophic way.
Whereas conceptual art institutionalized the dematerialized, such as Lee Lozano‟s general strike piece (refusing to engage with the “art world”) and Yves Klein‟s proto-work Le Vide (The Void, an essentially empty gallery space, complete with opening party), conceptual poetry valorizes the immaterial. Immaterial meaning irrelevant, such as the yesterday‟s news of Kenneth Goldsmith‟s Day or the unimportant, such as the suburban banality of Rob Fitterman‟s Sprawl, or the neatly eviscerated, such as Craig Dworkin‟s grammatically-correct and contentless Parse or the scientifically and socially denuded, such as Kim Rosenfield‟s re:evolution, or my own vomitous—50k words = 1 sentence—baroque in Dies or the effectively impotent, such as my Statement of Facts. Immateriality also having to do with unreadability. In this sense, “pure” conceptualism is a surface allegory about unreadability because something has already been read (such as the NYTimes) or cannot be “read” (such as grammatical structures), and impure or sampled conceptual work concerns unreadabilty as the gaps and chunks in the mashup (such as when high evolutionary theory meets advice on the lay science of living), and the baroque is unreadable because its de trop (such as war itself). If modern art is that which thoroughly exploits a medium‟s surface, and the remainder in Lacan (the psychologist of the post-modern), is that part of the Subject which cannot be thoroughly absorbed into the Other, or the lack in the Other that defines the Subject by way of excess, then conceptualism (heretofore unpsychoanalyized) is concerned with the way that the surface excess of text mirrors the excess of the remainder. That is to say, what cannot be read. What is immaterial because it is dull and contentless, dense and difficult, erased or rococco‟d. These are specific ideas about immateriality, evidenced in specific allegorical forms. By specific, I mean multiple.
Thus, just as ahistoricity is a point of perspective, not a statement of fact, allegory is currently the alienation of realism from the real, and the real from the Real. By allegorizing the real, conceptualism emphasizes its non-reality, its material fabrication, its ubiquitous status as matter of fact, its essential uncontainability, its Reality. Newspapers, dictionaries, shopping mall directories, appellate briefs—all are represented outside their natural habitats, i.e. those webs of ethical and aesthetic conditions and assumptions, including the condition and assumption of communication itself, i.e., readability itself. This is when thinkership takes over and overcomes readership, when readership supplants thinking in the sense of the supplementary. Though it should be noted that there‟s a fight to the photo-finish.
In an appellate brief, statements of facts are that portion of the brief which presents, in narrative form, evidence that was presented at trial. Evidence presented at trial typically consists of two stories, one articulated by the prosecution, one by the defense. A story of guilt and a story of innocence. All stories are told under oath, all sworn to be true. They are “statements of fact.” In my book, Statement of Facts, I take statements of facts from appellate briefs that I‟ve written and represent them as poetry. The allegory here includes an allegory about law as subsumed by the case, the case as rhetorical gesture, as linguistic “fact.” The Law is revealed a speech act, a speech act that is fundamentally about witnessing.
The Law of the Father is Lacan’s response to the Oedipal complex: the child perceives that the mother desires something, and tries to make itself into that something. When the child sees the father intervening in this aspiration, the child must submit to this intervention. If the child understands the intervening father as the representative of a larger social law, a law also followed by the mother, the child will be non-pathologically normalized. The Law of the Father is thus about witnessing and is thus always the allegory of language itself, of ordered interpolation. In Statement of Facts, the Law of the State is an allegory for the Law of the Father. So too with poetry and the Law of Poetry. All that poetry is is witness. On a case-by- case paradigmatic basis.
Agamben analogizes paradigm and allegory as the “singular case that is isolated from its context only insofar as, by exhibiting its own singularity, it makes intelligible a new ensemble, whose homogeneity it itself constitutes.” In this regard, Agamben distinguishes between the exemplar—that which is to be imitated—and the exemplum, that which gathers together “a new intelligible ensemble and in a new problematic context.” The archive is exemplum as it is the fusion between paradigmatic structure and institution. The archive creates a gesture of equivalency between things archived (i.e. contained within an archive). To do so, the archive must be authored, that is to say, signed. In other words, it is the authority of the archivist that creates the archive, that says these things are gathered together, to be read as one thing. Let‟s think about signatures for a moment. According to my Black‟s Law Dictionary, signature is “the act of putting one‟s name at the end of an instrument to attest its validity,” to sign something is to “give it effect as one‟s act.” Thus, signatures literally “effect what they figuratively express,” as noted by Thomas Aquinas, they efficiunt quod figurant, for, just as in the holy sacrament, the “effect depends on a signator.” In 17th century ontology, exemplified by the philosophy of Lord Edward Herbert of Chirbury, every being presents the signature of unity, unity of truth, truth of good: quodlibet ens est unum, verum, bonum.
In Roman law, the dies fasti were those days on which courts were open and justice could be administered, when the prætor could pronounce the three words—“do,” “dico,” and “addico.” “Do” is to grant or give, “dico” to speak, “addico” to award. These “triverbial days” were thus days of instantiation and articulation, of bringing into being by speaking. In Latin, the index is the sign, or an informer, that which shows by means of the word, just as the iudex is the one who says the law, and the vindex the one who takes the place of the accused and announces himself ready to suffer consequences of the proceedings. Thus raising the relationship between event and its evidence, evidence and its subject, and subject and its sobjective effect, which are the fundamental questions of the index.
To be archives, materials must be preserved for reasons other than those for which they were created or accumulated. (T.R. Schellenberg)
Archival art tends to manifest in some form of uniform. Andy Warhol archived his documentary stuff—all his documentary stuff: invitations, letters, photos, souvenirs—by regularly filling a series of regularly shaped cardboard boxes. Once one was full, it was taped shut and shipped off to storage. At the time of his death, he had created the archival work, Andy Warhol’s 610 Time Capsules, now neatly shelved in Pittsburgh. Similarly, Gerhard Richter‟s work Atlas, consists of a grid of same-sized framed photos of newspaper clippings, photos, and sketches; project was begun in 1964, and is ongoing. Note the role of the signator, for Richter produced some of the original material, and some he simply collected. Too, a number of the photos are reproduced in two forms: blurred and un-, or focused and un- . Too, note how the un- follows and defines the originary intent, alternating, that is to say, what is the image and what does it represent. Benjamin Buchloch‟s essay on Atlas notes that trauma (the originating trauma of WWII) is the one link that binds image to referent in the work‟s archaic photo montage/barrage. Hanna Darboven‟s great installation piece Kulturegeschichte 1880-1983(Cultural History 1880-1983) was composed of 1,590 sheets and 19 sculptural objects: the work included postcards, pinups, documentary references, doorways, magazine covers, art catalogues, and kitsch. In her introductory essay for its Dia exhibition, Lynn Cooke describes the “libidinal exuberance” of Darboven‟s work, while at the same time, its pathos—there is no synthesis of referent or representation possible, no making it “readable‟—all that is is “the possibility, albeit qualified, of individual demurral.”
Raising for us the important question: what is “it,” that is to say, what is it that is to be read? In other words, while much conceptual poetry is archival, or has the features of the archive, and we can use archival art to understand this kind of conceptualism. It is perhaps more useful to consider how the archive helps us understand the allegorical, given that all conceptualism is allegorical.
Art historian and curator Charles Merewether has questioned the relationship between testimony and record, document and archive. In his consideration of aprés-bomb Japanese poetry and photography, Merewether quotes Allan Sekula‟s definition of a document as that which “entails a notion of legal or official truth, as well as a notion of proximity to and verification of an original event.” In post-Hiroshima Japanese photography, according to Merewether, truth is represented either as “a linear progression from past to present or by virtue of the fact that the camera as a mechanical form of reproduction provides a „source of factual knowledge‟ and „objective evidence. The document it produces therefore becomes the source and foundation of the archive and the archive itself authorizes the veracity of the document through its incorporation.‟” Merewether goes on to note that the post-bomb photographic archive became a comment on, not memory, but forgetting: “citation as representation” becoming the “mise-en-abyme of representation….” demonstrating “the impossibility of a lieux de mémoire.”2 The very fact of the very pictoral, i.e. representational, abundance creating a gap between seeing and having seen, a gap characterized by excess in refer-ent and representation, creating in turn, as Merewether puts it, “an archive of the unconscious, an archive of the avant-garde or an avant-garde archive.” Again invoking the remainder, the left-over of our own (arguably traumatic, though which trauma do you prefer, homecrown or soemthing with a more international flavour) present-tense existence, which poetry puts in the futur anterior—the what will have been. i\For it is the sense of what will have been that incites documentation.
Marjorie Perloff‟s forthcoming Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by other means discusses the role of citation in poetry, of “poetry by other means.” Poetry persists as taste, as selection. But taste must be framed.
Some citations: The Raqs Media Collective/First Information Report (2003): “because a document‟s raw material is rhetoric, the practitioner has to constantly evolve a rhetoric of rhetoric to make documents yield.”
Paul Ricoeur: “If history is a true narrative, documents constitute its ultimate means of proof. They nourish its claim to be based on facts.”
Whether factual or no, proof of memory or of what I forget, archival art assumes there is no great difference between event and evidence. Or rather, it taps into a desire to synthesize event and evidence, which the archivist may satisfy or cock-tease. I assume there can be no real synthesis, for there is always a gap between event and testimony, even if the difference is that of the country fact of the witness. Agamben has described tradition as that in which the traumatic event is suppressed or preserved, which comports well with Merewether, and a number of other archive thinkers. I would like to introduce here another definition of archive, put forth by Foucault: archives as “systems of statements.” According to Foucault, “the archive is first the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events.” That is to say, the archive defines statement‟s “system of its enunciability,” the “system of its functioning.”
Taking up from Foucault, Agamben distinguishes between the archive as a system of relations between the said and unsaid and testimony as a system of relations “between the inside and outside of langue, between the sayable and the unsayable in every language.” The archive presupposes the subject as a function “founded on the disappearance into the anonymous murmur of statements. In testimony, by contrast, the empty place of the subject becomes the decisive question.” Renée Green writes that “to be a subject and to bear witness are the same and that same is a remnant.” But we do not have to decide whether it is an object or link that is missing, whether the subject is functionary or functional. Put another way, we must not decide.
For if what a subject is is a witness and what a witness is is a subject, then subject is again defined in relation to object, that is to say an event, even a linguistic event, then we are back to our porous sobject. The one who witnesses some thing it is witnessed by. What is critical to conceptualism is that the one who witnesses is the one who decides what the allegory really is, what is really archived. The encounter is all that is provided. And as I have said, these encounters engage in the discourse of the slave, a discourse in which the signified, suppressing the fact of its excess, addresses the signifier with the language of the signifier, repeating the language of the signifier, producing the split subject, the subject pre-divided by language itself. So the key is not what trauma or whether trauma or this utopia or that utopia but the repetition that comes post-trauma and sans utopia, the Sisyphean move of reiteration, the patterned joy of the same all over again.
Kierkegaard put forth two metaphysics of time: recollection and repetition. Without one or the other, Kierkegaard writes, “all life dissolves into an empty, meaningless noise.” Recollection is the category favored by the Greeks, repetition “the new category that will be discovered.” In what has been called less a philosophical doctrine and more a thought paradigm, Kierkegaard encourages the “courage to will repetition,” arguing that, as contrasted to the causal bonds of recollection (the new traced to the old) the moment of repetition is when there is no causal chain (the old becomes new).
Why is the grid used in archival art? What is the allegory of the grid?
Are grids serial? Are they simultaneous?
Is there a difference between the serial and the archival, and, if so, is the difference necessary? Eighteenth century police archives have been described by contemporary art historian Arlett Farge as having “un effet du réel,” an effect of the real, an effect of accident, of contingency; Duchamp referred to his 3 Standard Stoppages (1913), 3 lengths of tailor‟s thread dropped from a height of 1 meter onto a piece of painted canvas, as “du hasard en conserve” (some chance in a can). Later archival art has leaned on chance, and then play, so that Andrea Fraser‟s Information Room (1998) involved her installing the library archive of the Bern Kunsthalle in a gallery, the spines of the boxes unidentified so that visitors, invited to search through the archive, didn‟t know what they were looking through or for until the boxes had been duly dug through, creating chaos out of order. While a nice riposte to the original impulse of the archive, this of course simply reaffirms the conceit that the archive is fundamentally order. What I am proposing is that the archive is no more ordered than any autobiography, that is to say, a real one, one that exists serially only temporally, but is an act of happenstance and repetition, recollection and accident. In myStatement of Facts, I narrativize criminal acts, sexual assaults, many of which are the result of winning the bad luck lottery: you happened to have an uncle who loved you too much, I happened to leave that window open. It was hot. So was he. Each of the thirty-three texts in Statement of Facts forces the question posed by Deleuze: What does it mean, therefore, to affirm the whole of chance, every time, in a single time?”
Books are structurally serial, i.e., they occur sequentially. Books contain their own grid, i.e., the page. I question the relation between the grid and the archive, or rather wonder if there is something in the immaterial one that wants its material other. In his book on the document in art, Sven Spieker argues that nonarchival collections are tied to Lacan‟s Imaginary, the library of books to the Lacanian Symbolic, and that the 19thcentury version of the archive, a gesture against contingency and chaos, was the embodiment of the Real. (The Big Archive 6) Not to deluge you, but the Lacanian categories or orders may be roughly and mistakenly equated with their Freudian counterparts: the Imaginary is the realm of the ego, concerned with image, imagination, deception. It‟s illusions are wholeness, synthesis, similarity. The Symbolic may be linked to the superego in the sense that it is also a structuring field, a realm of law and order, essentially linguistic. (Lacan‟s most famous aphorism being “The unconscious is structured like a language.”)3 The discourse of the Symbolic is the unconscious, the topical regulation of desire. The Symbolic is concerned with radical alterity, the big (A)Other, and thus is always a triadic structure. It is the realm of death. (The realm of the Soviet artist Aleksander Rodechenko‟s Productivist archive of Lenin photographs, for example, though Rodechenko wanted a commonplace mythos of the man, i.e., a monument of Lenin created from snapshots.) The Real is that which is neither symbolic nor imaginary. The leftover, the remainder, the excess. The abyss upon which we sit.
To quote Lacan: “At issue, in an analogic or anamorphic form, is the effort to point once again to the fact that what we seek in the illusion is something in which the illusion as such in some way transcends itself, destroys itself, by demonstrating that it is only there as signifier.” According to Kierkegaard, it is only through repetition that there can be transcendence because consciousness itself is “a relation” that is the contradiction/collision between what is and what was which opens up into the third possibility. And it is this third possibility which caused Delueze to say that repetition “is against the law.”
To quote Stewie: “Again, again! I love repetition!” (“Bird is the Word” Family Guy)
And so we know that the “same” of repetition refers to the effect of repetition, which is a forced consideration of difference. And here I may have snuck in—finally—meaning. In theory, repetition is endless, the old turning new turning old turning new, the eternal return, the come again again. The Danish word for repetition is gentalgese, “re-taking,” “taking back.” If something is taken back, it can be given again. This makes repetition brutal, unrelenting. Nietzsche countered this horror by advocating amor fati, love of fate, “that one wants to have nothing different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity.” The embrace of the same, which, again, leads to the new and different. In Tender Buttons, Stein wrote: “the difference is spreading.” Spreading as in spatial, spatial as in archival.
When I wrote in Notes on Conceptualism that all conceptual writing is allegorical, the question became what is it allegorical of—note the preposition. I did not include this preposition. I refuse to assume the prepositional position. If you, reader, writer, audience member, lecturer, do, then you have assumed the position of the enunciation rather than its reiteration. I have quoted a great deal in this paper, saying again what has been said before, gathering these statements into my own archive—this paper, this grid, this series. This allegory. The work I am interested in engages with various registers and disciplines outside those registers and discipline, or at least ostensibly outside, work that resists the false dyad of chance versus premeditation, but understands the triad that meditation is always canned chance—that perception is categorical as well as cant. And categories are contagious. It is a serious question to answer to what are you witness? It is a serious answer to question what is poetry?
Agamben writes, “Only he who perceives the indices and signatures of the archaic in the most modern and recent can be contemporary.” Put another way, and here I quote from the 1960 French film “Eyes Without A Face,” (Les yeux sans visage) “The future, Madam, is something we should have started a long time ago.” (“Le futur, Madame, est une chose que nous aurions dû commencer il y a bien longtemps.”)
To quote Walter Benjamin:

“The power of a text is different when it is read from when it is copied out. Only the copied text thus commands the soul of him who is occupied with it, whereas the mere reader never discovers the new aspects of his inner self that are opened by the text, that road cut through the interior jungle forever closing behind it: because the reader follows the movement of his mind in the free flight of day-dreaming, whereas the copier submits it to command.”

Poetry is witness. Put another way, quoting here from the 1960 French film “Eyes Without A Face,” (Les yeux sans visage) “The future, Madam, is something we should have started a long time ago.” (“Le futur, Madame, est une chose que nous aurions dû commencer il y a bien longtemps.”) What do you want with it?
Vanessa Place, Buffalo 3.2.10
1 When recent news of a Brad and Angelina split hit the Times UK online, one reader said that, being 19, she would not believe it until it appeared on Wikipedia. Thus the idea that truth is a matter of majority opinion, subject to popular rewriting, is now understood by everyone, up to and including sophmores.
2 Baudrillard, “In the exact duplication of the Real, preferably by means of another reproductive medium— advertisement, photography, etc—and in the shift from medium to medium, the real vanishes and becomes an allegory of death. But even in its moment of destruction it exposes and affirms itself; it will become the quintessential real and it becomes the fetishism of the lost object.” (L’écharge symbolique et la mort
3 We could make a small discursive movement here to note how the Freudian notion of the unconscious is hermetic, archival—a mollusk (whose inside Benjamin analogized to the 19th century domestic interior), and the Lacanian is synchronic, temporally pulsating, opening & closing—a vagina (whose interior was not so analogized by Lacan, though he did note that the Other is always woman = A). And how many others unwittingly note this analogue via Clam, Bearded Clam, etc., mollusk-based synonyms for vagina. Is there something envaginated about repetition? As contrasted, for example, with the famous Aristotlian cathartic arc?
Vanessa Place, 2010. This originally appeared as a chapbook, No Press, Calgary 2010.