Curating the Mad of the Other
In previous seminars I often explained what 'curating' ideally should be. I clarified how I -in my own practice- tried to use it as an instrument to question dominant (curatorial) practices and raise cultural/social issues that were of my (and others') concern. I preferred to describe curating as a practice of "opening up of spaces"; an exhibition method that affirms the convergence of different languages, within which different discourses could relate to one another. As such I referred to exhibitions as "spaces of transformation". Of course I had to admit that the actual situation mostly is far from this. What I described and still aim for in my work seems more related to an artistic attempt to transgress certain boundaries than it is to the more classical, hierarchical exhibition methods. My ideal exhibition aims for the shifting of (subject) positions and transformation of (cultural) identities and as such wants to question the status quo in terms of language, our systems of classification, the symbolic order. No surprize therefore that the examples I took were mostly works of avant-garde artists, especcially in the form of performance-pieces, installations, and interventions in general. With the exception of a few inspired museum directors (Alexander Dorner, Pontos Hulten, Willem Sandberg, Harald Szeemann), my ideal notion of 'curating' is not practiced by institutionally accepted curators or exhibition-makers. To make a distinction I once invented terms that could differentiate between the institutional practice of curating and its 'Other', one being the dominant practice focussing on the object and the author while the other embraces artistic and curatorial attempts that move from conventional practices towards an orientation on the (multi-disciplinary) context and the observer (the 'object' and 'author' oriented model versus the 'context' and 'observer' oriented one). The context- and observer oriented model focusses on the signifying and transformative process as a result of all the agents involved having 'a voice' instead of favouring the so-called autonomous object (the work of art) at display as the only signifyer.
Today I am certainly not the only curator who tends to follow this line. Although most curating is still practiced within institutions and exhibitions most of the time are expected to voice the position of the institution, more and more exceptions challenge the rule. The institutionalised and ritualised exhibition models of the eighties have now become replaced by new curatorial ideas and experiments, as multidisciplinary as they are contemporary, progressing in direct dialogue with the developments in art production itself. These new models of curating are much more flexible and reincorporate many of the referential and conceptual concerns first touched upon by the avantgarde artists in the '20's and later in the '60s and '70s, at the heart of which is a rethinking of the conventional role of the spectator as a passive consumer. Contemporary issues are 'cultural difference', the shifting of (subject) positions, (gender) identities and the possibilities of social and political interventions by artists/curators, contextualized in terms of the media and urbanisation. Are these new forms and models of curating then indeed realizing what Bruce Ferguson hoped for when he quested for another form of curating, outside of institutions? Are these the new "cultural querilla's", practitioners who have the skills and the experience of the dominant styles and ideas at play in exhibiting art, but deliberately undermine them or act against prevaling rules? Are they as radical as they make us believe?
Within this and the next lectures I want to focuss on the installation as the discipline of curating and as possible tool to transgress boundaries, to go beyond limits and to open up space for radical transformations. In order to do so I will focuss on perhaps the most extreem example of 'Otherness' which on the one hand has been a source of inspiration for artists throughout centuries but which, on the other hand, has never overcome its position of the ultimate outsider: 'the mad Other'. The mad (since the 18th century classified as the insane, the idiot, the imbecile) is the excluded 'other' who does not come from other regions, nations or cultures, but is a stranger that seems to haunt us from within. This group is interior to society (like women are for men, and the poor for the rich), but still, or perhaps because of this, we keep them at safe distance in order to protect our sense of self-same, our illusion of a having a coherent and unified identity. The mad Other is an outsider whose non-integration in terms of exclusion and excommunication still is fully excepted.
Within this first lecture I will focuss on the impossibility of 'curating the mad of the Other' because of its contradiction in terms. If there is one thing that cannot be 'curated' in terms of represented (annexed, appropriated) it is the very difference that makes the other Other. Because of the limitations of our symbolic order, our language, we seem to have no other option as to annex this Otherness and bring it into our system of the self-same, thereby adjusting it till it fits the stereotypical assumptions we already made of it. All we seem to be able of is to measure otherness in terms of the same, to compare and measure it along a scale from absolutely identical to absolutely different. However, by assimilating the other to the terms of the self we necessarily rob it of its very 'difference' that makes the other 'Other'. To come close to the madness of the Other involves accepting these limitations, accepting our own imprisonment in a system that seems to have become fully selfcentered and selfsufficient, our own idioteness. Within this lecture at how we construct this 'madness' of the Other, why we keep it at distance, and what it might be that we are so afraid of. We will look at some examples of works of artists and writers who have attempted to mirror the blindspots of our culture, the imprisonment within a language that seems to only refer to itself and therefore cannot fullfill its promise of communication. Artists who thus envision the loss of humanity.
The next lecture will focuss on examples of avant-garde artists who have -in their abjection of this culture of fear- tried to incorporate this 'madness of the Other' by using different tactics, among which: return to pre-symbolic or non-symbolic presentations, transgression of taboos (on the level of aesthetics, normalcry), and non-production. As Foucault said it is these artists who will find in the non-place 'a place' from which to see the madness of ourselves, of our order and our culture. In the third lecture I will turn to tactics of the second and third generation of avantgarde artists in relation to this 'madness of the Other', which sometimes have proved to be become perfect tactics of survival (Cadere, Thek, Oiticica). Contemporary strategies/tactics of curating will be discussed in the fourth lecture, thereby preparing the arena for inviting a few artists/curators as guests. Artists who aim for spaces from which the Other -not necessarily the mad Other- may speak.
To be able to answer the question why it would be impossible to curate 'the mad of the Other', I need to define the practice of curating more precisely. Curating (exhibition-making) is, to put it plainly: the production of meaning through the display of objects and artefacts from others (other individuals, other cultures) within the context of (usually) a museum. The practice of curating can be compared with any other system of signs, including the usage of language: rather than for instance words or images the elements exhibited are 'things', but the signifying practices involved are quite similar. Within a museum the signifying practice is likely that of arrangement and display within a physical space, which is of course different from a layout on a page of an illustrated magazine or even a spoken sentence. There are however resemblances. The exhibition can be regarded as a 'system' or 'practice of representation' which works quite 'like a language'. Every choice -to show this rather than that, to show this in relation to that, to say this about that (labeling), how much space is left open between this and that- is a choice about how to represent a specific work, an individual artist, another culture etc. Germano Celant, the promoter of Arte Povera in the '70's and since then an active exhibition-maker, commented on the practice of exhibition-making as follows: "In all exhibitions, past and present, the intervals of wall or space between artworks (the "territory" of the individual work) automatically establish a linguistic connection, in the sense that their regularity or overall plan creates the visual and volumetric terms of the exhibition. This rhythmic measuring off of the space extends connections between works and creates an expository phraseology, whereby objects can be arranged for their similarity as well as their contrast. For this reason the totality created by an exhibition can be subordinated to the infinite possibilities of the personal language of a single producer (in the case of a one-artist or retrospective show), and can also be seen as the demonstration of an argument (in the case of a thematic show)". It is clear that each choice in terms of selection and presentation has consequences for the meanings that are being produced. In other words: curating as an act of presentation (of words or things) involves interpretation, mediation, appropriation and assimilation, and therefore is an act of representation. Therefore curating cannot claim to be fully abstract and desinterested; it is not an autonomous practice with its own priviliged meta-language and, as such, it cannot be allowed to overlook its relation with the social, economical and ideological circumstances that determine its conditions.
It is important to gain insight in how an exhibition constructs and conveys meaning in a manner similar to language and to analyse the diversity of ways in which exhibitions create representations of others. By interrogating the historical nature of museums and collecting we can for instance forefront questions of discourse and power (its politics). One must note that the demand for the establishment of a controlled process capable of orienting the public was, throughout the 18th and 19the century, not dictated only by artistic requirements, but was, in fact, conditioned by the industrial culture that loathed general formulas and imposed a principle of identification for all products (see my earlier lecture The Museum and the shaping of knowledge). Exhibition making, as well as other 'educational methods' historically have had a specific disciplinary role to play and as such affirm existing ideologies and myths. At the same time we should allow ourselves to see the how myths are actually being constructed (its poetics). Eventually, we will run against the limits of curating. It is even, I think, an ethical responsibility to do so. We have to continuously ask ourselves: what can be represented and what cannot? For example, if I want to show a work which adresses the non-place, the non-representable, how do I as a curator who is supposed to give every work its clear and unequivocal place, then reconcile the irreconcilable? To put it differently: how do I represent a work that itself represents the tension between representing and presenting the non-representable, between place and non-place? How do I reconcile the artistic engagement with 'saying the unsayable' and the insititutional demand to give these works an unambigeous place? How to bring such works of art into the 'order of things' (order of language) if they tend to refer to another order and speak another language or present different perspectives of seeing and experiencing? How to contextualize them within this 'system' without appropriating them at the same time, without reducing them to sameness at the very cost of its difference, without swallowing them in the name of giving them a place? Seen in this light curating remains a dubious practice, despite the many radical promises. Although there is need for order, for putting things in the 'right' place, there is also another ethics: the indignity of speaking for others. The question is not only: how far can we go but also where is our limit? Even if we have the courage to put an end to this presupposing sameness whenever we encounter 'difference' , to stop speaking for others and using our symbolic power to create 'myths' around others, the question remains wether we ever can give space to the Other adequately. Is is possible to curate the mad of the Other? It is time to investigate its boundaries as well.
Paraphrasing Ludwig Wittgenstein on the limitations of common language the theologist/philosopher Michel de Certeau noted in his book 'The practice of everyday life' : "We are all subject to (..) ordinary language. As in the ship of fools, we are embarked, without the possibility of an aerial view or any sort of totalisation". In other words: we have entered the order of language (the symbolic order), but we can never come out. We are caught within the system of ordinary language, wether we are artists, philosophers, curators, or just ordinary people. There is no priviliged position outside that would autorize us to deal with the relation between words and things, between language and the real world of experiences. To quote De Certeau: " And since one does not 'leave' this language, since one cannot find another place from which to interpret it, since there are therefore no separate groups or false interpretations and true interpretations, but only illusory interpretations, since in short there is no way out, the fact remains that we are foreigners on the inside -but there is no outside. Thus we must constantly 'run up against the limits' of ordinary language- a situation close to the Freudian position except that Wittgenstein does not allow himself an unconscious referent to name this foreignness-at-home".
The only thing one could say is that at least we have a home, because isn't this exactly what the mad has not? A home, a place to reside end to speak from, even if it is only symbolic? The schizophrenic, the madman, the wild child a.o. can be said to be representing the 'non-place'. They lack a 'home' -even metahporically- where they can retreat, be safe and rest untill they feel apt to another encounter with the world outside (even if this binary relation between inside and outside cannot hold within our contemporary society), they lack the notion of a 'self' they can recognise and be at ease with for a few moments.
There is no such thing as inside and outside for the mad Other, neither is there a surface such as the surface of language as described by f.i. Gaston Bachelard and Gilles Deleuze. There is only a lack of surface, a lack of boundaries. Where Bachelard and Deleuze speak of the painfull transition when moving from the inside to the outside of this surface or vice versa, or even when we experience being stuck within this inside, within this symbolic order, within the order of representation, there are also people who experience this world entirely different. They live in a world where inside and outside make no difference. For them the inside and outside are blurred in such a way that there is no safe place to go to. There is no split between the self-same and the Other, between me and the world. No retreat. No place to stay, no place to speak from, no places where the 'I' resides. For those who never succeeded in entering the symbolic order or whose symbolic firmanent proved to be insufficient, those whose escape routes are blocked and who are confronted with nonintegration, desintegration or only fragments of integration, this undiscutable place where, according to Mikhail Bakhtin "the everpresent excess of my seeing, knowing and possessing in relation to any other human being is founded", does not exist. For those who are constantly moving and wandering, going from place to place, physically and mentally, never being at rest, there is only 'non-place'.
Michel de Certeau, whom I quoted earlier, has also done quite an amount of investigation to be able to narrate the stories of such wanderers throughout the centuries. In his book The mystic fable he gives an historical analyses of the mystic discourse of (or about) presence of God (without of course being able to share the status of this discourse). With the use of four discursive practices -eroticism, psychoanalytic theory, historiography and 'the fable' -he presents a framework that enables him to investigate his subjectmatter. His interest is in how, throughout history but especcially since the 13th century, when theology became institutionalised, spirituals and mystics were obliged to seak elsewhere and otherwise to be able to speak. Finding no place within the dominant discourse, within the sphere of language and representation, they had to take up the challenge of the spoken word and be displaced toward the area of the 'fable'. As such the mystics formed a solidarity with all the tongues that continued speaking but nevertheless had no place within the symbolic order. Their discourse was marked by the assimilation to the child, the woman, the illiterate, madness, angels, the 'language' of the body etc. With the term 'non-place' De Certeau refers to 'the saying of the Other'and his book is dedicated to the historicizing of those 'Others' and how their 'languages' inspired the mystics in ever new ways. Within his book he pays special tribute to the non-place of the idiot woman and the mad man of the dark ages. Their non-place is a place to loose oneself. It is also this non-place which -by contrast- legitimizes the place of the others, of the community as a whole (Foucault: it is the excluded who gives rise to the joining of those who are included). The non-place is also (perhaps the only) place from which to see the delusions of our language and the symbolic system as a whole. This non-place, from which there is no certain or safe return, is the only 'place' from which to see the madness of ourselves. Artists and writers who are familiar with this non-place, such as Holderlin, Nerval, Nietsche, Van Gogh, Artaud etc, are able to recognize and discern the madness of humanity, of language, from there.
I will turn to De Certeau again. He writes his book more or less chronologically and declares thata it is already at the 4th century that the idiot woman makes possible the community of all other inhabitants of the convent. Quote: "She takes upon herself the body's most humble functions; she looses herself in the unassertable, below the level of all language. But this 'disgusting' castaway makes possible for the other women the sharing of meals, the community of vestiary and corporeal signs indicating that they have been chosen, the communication of words. The excluded one renders possible the entire circulation". Being the object of disgust she allows the institution, as a family, to form and manifest itself according to a law, "the wording of which might be 'all but one', yet 'one' who maintains the abjection of the inner madness of 'all'". At the same time the idiot woman mirrors those who are alike. De Certeau: "in repeating our words and our stories, she insinuates into them their deceitfulness. Perhaps while the sym-bolos is a union-producing fiction, she is diabolos, a dissuation from the symbolic through the unnameability of that thing".
Throughout his book De Certeau continues describing the different cricumstances within history; circumstances and rules that fully control our judgements on what is normal and what diverts from normalcry. As we shall see the terms used to differentiate the 'good' from the 'bad' change along the centuries throughout history. A 6th century example of the mad Other is an idiot man who never speaks, just laughs. His laughter represents the non-place, a 'place' where every distinction is lost, where there is a play of identities shifting to and fro, like semblances. The man who laughs is laughed at whil he wanders around at the townsquare, but he is left there in peece. He still is part of the community.
Towards the end of the Middle Ages times have changed profoundly and so has culture and its various institutions. Other elements come into play, other norms and values are agreed upon and shifts are to be expected in relation to the distinctions that are being made. For the first time now the mad "Other' is kept outside of the citygates. The insane or fool is either imprisoned in cells that are -symbolically- placednear the outside walls of the city or they are send away with the 'ship of fools' in the hope they will never return (or is so, they will return without their madness). However, the idiot still is feared and celebrated at the same time. Erasmus (1466-1536) wrote The praise of Folly and in King Lear (1605) also Shakespeare focusses on the dangerous insights the madman may have. During the 16th and 17th century the 'abject' Other is assigned with different characteristics. The stereotypes have changed again. De Certeau describes examples of the 'figures of the wildman' and the 'nomads', inventions of the 14th and 15th century, that helped to shape the discovery of the 'savages' of the new World in the 16th century. What is presented, despite the variaty, is the silhouette of untamed desire, now cruel, now sedictive, issuing forth from the forests to haunt the marketplaces and homes, while "a fledgling bourgeoisie learns the ascetism of a productive rationality". According to De Certeau the wildman (he who has taken refuge in loss) represents an important intermediary stage, bridging between the mystic subject of the early Renaissance and the economic subject of the 18th century. Whereas in the 17th century he is still posited in opposition to the values of work, scriptorial economy and territorial and social classification, which were established by exclusion of their opposites, which was the being without productivity, without letters, place or 'condition', the wildman was to disappear completely by the end of the 18th century. He became then replaced by more contemporary 'Others': the primitive, the colonised, and the mentally deficient. It is only at this period that a first attempt of classification is made, related to a growing interest in what this madness actually is.
De Certeau's favourite example of the wildman without a place is Labadie the Nomad (around 1760). Labady's story about an inner journey that was transformed into a geographical one is that of indefinite space created by the impossibility of a place. Or, as De Certeau puts it: "Labadie falls out of the places that cannot hold him, and that becomes a walking (..) He is, then, forever expelled from the place where he is, and surprised by the place that comes next: the former intolerable, the latter providential; the former a sign of corruption of societies, the latter a proof of his election. He goes from disequilibrium to disequilibrium, from miracle to miracle. The only 'natural', ever imminent thing, is the movement of falling. His life is the reverse of a pilgrimage". Labady is an example of someone who lacks, someone who makes efforts for his work -his autobiography- to become an autonomous whole, but which appear to be just fragments time and again. Fragments that seem to say: the "I" is no longer there. His nomadic life is the spatial manifestation of the permanent relation in which he stands to the law of his loss. For him, nothing holds. He experienced the law of that fall of minds, which is also the law of separation (Aristotle) and of desintegration.
One of the philosophers who have critically analysed the cultural formation of patterns of control and exclusion, in history and contemporary times, was Michael Foucault. Next to his books on the notions of power, surveillance and on the institutionalising of prisoners, the insane, the poor and the homeless, short writings on these issues have been published in the four volumes called Dis et Ecrits. One of these articles is called Madness, the Absence of Work, which he starts as follows: "Perhaps some day we will no longer really know what madness was. Its face will have closed upon itself, no longer allowing us to decipher the traces it may have left behind. Will these traces themselves have become anything to the unknowing gaze but simple black marks? Or will they at the most have become part of the configurations that we others now cannot sketch but that in the future would constitute the indispensable grids through which we and our culture become legible? Artaud will belong to the foundation of our language, not to its rupture; neuroses will belong among the constitutive forms (and not the deviations) of our society. Everything we experience today in the mode of a limit, or as foreign, or as intolerable will have returned to the serenity of the positive. And whatever currently designates this exteriority to us may well one day designate us".
I started with a quotation of Foucault on madness because Foucault sees an intrinsic relationship between madness and language. Not only does Foucault pose the problem of a society, formulating from the nineteenth century on so clearly that madness was the truth of the human laid bare while nevertheless placing the insane in a separated space, neutralized and pale, he also attempts to clarify why madness is so intrinsicly connected to the kind of action and speech that make us human. As madness came into being in a society starting out from limitations, not from freedom, it is within language (the largest organisation of prohibitions) that madness became identified. Madness can be regarded as forbidden language -the language of those who, against the code, pronounce words without meaning, of those who utter sanctified words or, those who bring forth forbidden meanings-:madness is language that is excluded. Already since Freud it has become clear how madness and language are even more basically connected. As Freud discovered that madness is not apprehended in a web of significations it shares with everyday language, but shows the disruptive image of a signifier that is absolutely not like others, madness becomes no longer like "the ruse of a hidden signification but like a prodigious reserve of meaning". A reserve that can be interpreted not so much as a mere supply, but as a figure that retains and suspends meaning, where meaning might come to lodge although it very well might not, a process that might continue till infinity. This is where madness and language relate to each other, in such a way that they even make one another possible. They shape each other in a kind of silent rapport. One could say that, the more our actions and our speech become fixed and restricted in their meaning, as a result of prohibitions and rules, the more madness will become excluded from it and from our culture in general. But what is at stake is that with this exclusion of madness we are loosing something else as well. We loose that aspect which perhaps is most responsible for our human condition: the capability of freely negotiating meaning through action and speech. We loose the possibility of creating ever new languages, idioms and forms, transgressing the space of the one existing language that leaves no place for what Lyotard calls the "Different", a language that tolerates no other than itself. It is only in different languages that are open to a diversity of meanings, that the "Different" (that what cannot be said within an existing langage and therefore must be kept outside) may be kept alive, enabling human beings as pluriform as possible to relate to one another, understand, and form ever new conditions to survive (implicating an acknowledgement of their suffering and the harm that has been done to them, exactly those aspects that cannot be expressed in the dominant language that is responsible for this harm).
It is therefore possible to interpret the exclusion of madness from language as a metaphor (or even the symptom) of a bigger loss. The loss of communication, of action and speech altogether, the loss of exactly those conditions that make us human. We are heading to a society where ethical and aesthetical norms have become distanced from reality, so far removed from the lived experience that they are virtually deprived from any meaning at all. Through the exclusion of madness (the mad of the Other and Otherness) we are truly becoming idiots in the sense of becoming prisoners of a system that exists only in itself (Jouannais 83). In a cynical way Nietsche referred to it as follows: " Speaking is a fine madness; with it man dances over and above all things". According to Foucault we are already far on our way in the cruisade to eliminate every trace of the mad of the Other from our culture. With the exclusion of madness (for Foucault all forms of transgression in terms of language), he states: "there will be something else which will not take long to die, that which is already dying in us (and whose very death bears our current language) (....)This is the homo dialecticus : the being of departure, of return, and of time; the animal that loses its truth only in order to find it again, illuminated; the self-estranged who once again recovers the unity of the self-same".
What Foucault mourns is the closure of our symbolic order, the system called language. What he mourns is our imprisonment: the fact that language and writing dominate our lives, our bodies and our souls in such a way that we cannot relate to or experience anything outside of this order. We ourselves are near to closing the doors that might free us, out of fear of finding the stranger in ourselves (Kristeva). Since the 18th century, when a new scriptural practice was established, artists and writers started to envision what this could mean or, eventually, put their own experiences into images and words. We only have to recall the writings of Dostojewski (19de eeuw), and later Celine and Blanchot (20e). Time and again they have forcefully given account of the processes of being entrapped in being and of their inner revolts in order to free themselves. During the early 20th century the most phantastic machines emerged, either as visual objects or in writing:
Le Surmale (1902) and Le Docteur Faustroll (1911) of Alfred Jarry, Impression d'Afrique (1910) of Raymond Roussel, Marcel Duchamp's Le Grand Verre: La mariee mise a nu par ses celibataires, meme (1911-1925) and Kafka's Die Strafkolonie (1914). All of these are myths of an incarceration (imprisonment) within the operations of a writing that constantly makes a machine of itself and never encounters anything but itself.
Take Le mariee mise a nu: its celibacy is purely scriptured, Characters are transformed into cylinders, drums, ruins and springs together and painted on the 'glass', where their perspective representation mixes with the objects behind (the glass is a window) and in front (the glass is a mirrow too). They represent not only the dissemeination of the subject of painting, but the lure of communication that the transparancy of the pane of glass promises. De Certeau remarkes: "These productions are fantastic not in the indefiniteness of the reality that they make appear at the frontiers of language, but in the relationship between the mechanisms that produce simulacra and the absence of anything else. These novelistic or iconic fictions tell us that there is no entry or exit for writing, but only the endless play of its fabrications". On another level, these tragi-comedies, fragments of myths, recognize the impossibility of communication, of which language is both the promis and the phantasm.
What is it that makes us so anxious to build those walls around us and exclude the Other, which actually is -as Foucault and others stated- such a vital part of our selves? Why do we expell the homeless, the migrant but especially the schizophrenic, the mentally handicapped as those 'abject' bodies and minds that seem to represent everything we cannot deal with: chaos, desintegration, loss of self, loss of place and loss of meaning.
Our homes, our symbolic shelters, our 'tokens of integration', would not be safe anymore if we were to give them free entrance. Therefore these wanderers, who do not know of any place, geographically or mentally, who cannot stop or find any boundaries and who even don't know how to distinguish their self from anybody else, belong to the most vulnerable and inflictable groups of our society. We do not seem able to accept their non sense, their placelessness, we do not want to know of any other speech outside of our shared language, so they are expelled, excommunicated and forgotten about as soon as possible. Through distancing, stereotyping and desinterest we exclude illness, strangeness and death from our lives as if it never existed. The identity and integrity of these 'others',however, is being violated time and again, not only fysically, but much more so symbolically and culturally. Without listening to them, without trying to make sense of their 'nonsense' we already have given them their place. We have marginalised them by distancing ourselves from them in all manners possible. Yes, we have given them a home but one that we designed, based on our needs and order, and we demand from them to feel at home in those places and we urge them to try and become like us, to become the same.
Among the signyfying practices aimed at signalling 'difference', stereotyping is one of the most succesfull. In order to maintain the social and symbolic order, stereotyping deploys the strategy of 'splitting'. It divides the normal and the acceptable from the abnormal and the unacceptable. It then excludes or expels everything which does not fit, which is different. The sociologist Richard Dyer makes a distinction between typing and stereotyping and argues: "a system of social- and stereo-types refers to what is, as it were, within and beyond the pale of normalcy (i.e. behaviour which is accepted as 'normal' in any culture). Types are instances which indicate those who live by the rules of society (social types) and those who the rules are designed to exclude (stereotypes). For this reason, stereotypes are also more rigid than social types..Boundaries ..must be clearly delineated and so stereotypes, one of the mechanisms of boundary maintenance, are characteristically fixed, clear-cut, unalterable". Needless to say that stereotyping tends to occur where there are gross inequalities of power. Foucault called stereotyping a 'power /knowledge' sort of game. It classifies people according to a norm and constructs the excluded as 'other'.
Within the field of cultural studies various disciplines have adressed the issue of stereoty ping from their specific perspective (linguistics, dialogistics, anthropology, psychology). I would like to make a quick yourney into the psychoanalytic approach of the role of 'difference' and then examine the notion of stereotyping as a necessary, defensive mechanism with which we assign ourselves and others 'a place'. The argument of Freud and his interpreters Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva and Melanie Klein, with all the variations within their theories, is that the 'Other' is fundamental for the constitution of the self, to us as subjects, and to our sexual identity. Freud introduced his theory of our forming as subjects by narrating on the erotic attraction to the mother within the early development of the male child (which he called Oedipus complex), as such providing us with a (male-oriented) model of how sexual difference of both sexes is constituted. After Freud Lacan argued that the child has no sense of itself as a subject separate from its mother untill it sees itself in a mirror, or as if mirrored in the way it is looked at by the Mother. Through identification "it desires the object of her desire, thus focusing its libido on itself". It is this reflection from outside oneself, or what Lacan calls "the look from a place of the Other", during this mirror stage, which allows the child for the first time to recognize itself as a unified subject (actually to 'misrecognise',according to Lacan, as the subject can never be fully unified), which enables him to relate to the outside world, to the 'Other', to develop language and take on a sexual identity. In other words: the very young child stops experiencing the world as a mere extension of the self and copes with its anxiety of losing control by adjusting his mental picture, thus being able to enter into the symbolic order. According to Melanie Klein the young child copes with this problem of a lack of a stable self as soon as he begins to distinguish between the world and the self by splitting its unconscious image of and identification with the Mother into 'good' and 'bad' parts, internalizing some aspects, and projecting others on to the outside world.
All these interpretations of Freud have in common the notion that subjectivity can only arise through the symbolic and unconscious relations which the child forges with a significant 'Other' which is outside itself -meaning: different from itself. This first split, which marks the implication in the symbolic and imaginary code that needs to become solid in the years to come, is the root of all stereotypical perceptions. The deep structure of our own sense of self and the world is built upon the illusionary image of the world divided into two camps, 'us' end 'them'. Even if later on (still early in development) this primitive distinction between 'good' and 'bad' in most individuals is replaced by the illusion of integration, making a difference between 'self' and 'other' remains an imaginary necessity.
Especcially at moments when self-integration is threatened stereotypes arise. Often they even become stronger than needed in order to preserve our illusion of control over the self and the world and they can take on pathological forms, within individuals but also within cultures at large. As culture can be said to be the whole set of practices concerned with the production and exchange of meaning, basically by assigning them to different positions within a classificatory system, the marking of 'difference' through typing and stereotyping can be said to be the basis of this symbolic order at large as well. Also here binary oppositions between 'us' and 'them' are crucial for all classification. Stable differences are a prerequisite in order to classify them. Again there are of course no real boundaries between 'us' and 'them', the 'same' and 'other', but symbolic boundaries are needed to keep categories 'pure', to give cultures their unique meaning and identity. Although those boundaries are not stable and are constantly shifting and changing, we live in the illusion that they are clear and fixed. What unsettles cultures most is 'whatever is out of place', which is the breaking of the unwritten set of rules and codes. Whatever is 'out of place' and as such threatens the symbolic dimension sets a culture to retreat towards 'closure' a gainst foreigners, intruders, aliens and other 'others'. They are expelled and excluded as part of the process of purification. To quote the anthropologist B. Babcock (The Reversible World, 1978): "Symbolic boundaries are central to cultures. Marking 'difference' leads us, symbolically, to close ranks, shore up culture and stigmatize and expel anything which is defined as impure, abnormal. Paradoxically, however, it also makes 'difference' powerful, strangely attractive precisely because it is forbidden, taboo, threatening to the cultural order".
Stereotyping is a form of symbolic power and empowerment through representational practices. Actually it is one of the first signifying practices we learn even prior to our entering the symbolic order. The setting of clear symbolic boundaries belongs to the aquiring of language and once they have been installed they cannot easiliy be crossed. Why then is it so important to create such division-lines, to keep hold of this illusion of the self-same? Why do we keep urging the Other to become the same, on punishment of being expelled or idiolized so as distance is assured? Are we afraid of their Revenge some day? (Louis Borges introduced his story The Revenge of the Mirror People with the following lines:"Here begins the great revenge of otherness, of all the forms which, subtly or violently deprived of their singularity, henceforth pose an insoluble problem for the social order, and also for the political and biological orders". It is a story about the mirror people who, after years of acceptance, suddenly began to revolt against the slavery of the same, the slavery of resemblance. Suddenly the status quo was being smashed by the violent resurgence of otherness. Such "Otherness' may also emerge from within our 'inner selves', if we only would allow to recognize its symptoms).
In order to gain insight in how precarious this 'devision line' between our own states of mind and the madness of the Other is, I would like to investigate one, in my view outstanding detail Lacan talked about when explaining the danger of a subject's loss of control. Following his seminar on the Real, Lacan gave a seminar on the gaze. Like Jean Paul Sartre Lacan makes a distinction between the look (or the eye) and the gaze. He locates this gaze in the world, that is to say: as with language so the gaze too preexists the subject, who "(being) looked at from all sides is but a stain in the spectacle of the world"(72,75).As such, Lacan challenges the old privilege of the subject in sight and in selfconsciousness as well as the old mastery of the subject in representation. Moreover, the Lacanean subject is fixed in a double position, meaning that there does not only exist a cone of vision emanating from the subject, but there is also one that emanates from the object, being the point of light, as he says. This is the gaze. (afb).To lacan it is not only so (as in Renaissance treatise on perspective) that the picture I look at is reconstructed in the depth of my eye, but that I am in the picture as well. Or: the subject is also under regard of the object, photographed by its light, captured by its gaze. Within the superimposition of these two cones, where the object comes in place of the point of light and the subject merges with the point of the picture, the image comes in line with the screen. Screen stands for the transformative moment when the object turns into an image; it is our schema of representation. The screen mediates the object-gaze for the subject, but it also protects the subject from this object-gaze. That is, the screen as it where captures the gaze and tames it into an image. We, as normal human beings, are able to protect ourselves from the gaze of the objects because of our access to the symbolic, which is -in this case- the screen at the site of viewing and picture making. It is here that we can manipulate and moderate the gaze. It is the screen that allows the subject to behold the object at the point of the light. Without it we would be blinded, or, touched by the Real, imagined by Lacan to be violent, even killing, if not disarmed first. Schizophrenic and autistic subjects, all who fail to enter the symbolic order, or who fail to keep hold of it, are- as it were- delivered to the mercy of the gaze. They have no screen to protect themselves and they are literary smashed time and again by the Real. They don't have access to the tools that would enable them to tame that gaze, and they cannot enjoy any of the tools we have made within our symbolic world. If contemporary art refuses to pacify or tame the gaze as this has been done throughtout the centuries, as if to refuse to unite the imaginary and the symbolic against the real, how is this done? If these artists want the gaze to shine, the object to stand and the real to exist, how far can they go? It is in this that we might understand the horror of being devoured by the gaze, as we might, at the same time, get to understand our own loss, which is the Real that we will never encounter (because we are unable to represent her). We are able to survive (or refrain from madness) because of our illusionistic belief in the absolute supremity of our look over the gaze of the objects in the world around us. We are in control and we cannot afford to doubt it, not even for a minute. It is however this same control, disguised in a bourgeois class-society, later the industrialised and mediatised society directed at production and the circulation of goods and information, that has been the target of avantgarde artists of this century. Their tactics (strategy is actually the wrong term, see De certeau in Practice), have been of vital importance for the production of art and survival of art today, while on the other hand it lays bare the madness of ourselves. Ine Gevers
(Next lecture: more about it. Tactics of discerning the madness of our culture, the madness of ourselves. See also Jean-Yves Jouannais' description of tactics in the form of - nonproduction, transgression of boundaries, and return to the primitive state of childness. Old and new avant-gardes and other examples: Cadere, Thek, Oiticita, because of the fact that their tactics are, in my opinion, not explored enough and are still very usefull in attempts to subvert existing dogma's and powerrelations at this very moment).