lne Gevers curator  \  writer  \  activist

Bricolage of the Fool

Last Sunday the exhibition VICE-VERSA-VICE: one and the other and the same, curated by Donna Confetti opened. Together with the exhibition the project contains a video programme, discussions, performances by invited guest artists, a symposium, film screening, and, at wednesday the 11th of the 11th (the number of the Fool) the closing event.

As our programms cross in some very interesting ways, we decided to pick date and time to actually elaborate on the similarities and differences between the mad Other and the Fool. Hence our conversation today, which I will contextualize with some general sketches around the distinction between the Mad Other and the Fool. To do so I will take into consideration two main notions that might help us to understand certain historical developments as well as contemporary artistic and intellectual discour­se: the notion of kynical irony and the bricolage as tactic of survival.

Although we will discuss the distinction between the mad Other and the Fool later on (as Donna can be much more explicit about the tactics of the Fool than I can), one of the differences is that are generally accepted is that the mad Other has no choice, being the victim of internal and external processes and conditions whereas the Fool has deliberately chosen those conditions. Of course this is a rather stereotypical distinction and I suppose that it becomes interesting only at those moments when the dividing lines cannot be drawn that easily anymore. (In fact one might argue, with Krystof Wodickco f.i., that making people laugh or actually playing the role of the fool is the only way in wich outsiders can survive. This certainly is true when we look at history. Weren't it always the outsiders, wether strangers from the outside -other countries/ cultures- or strangers from within -women, the poor, the madmen- that survived by amusing the others? And don't we find there the keynotion of kynical irony, in playing the game with those who are in power, meanwhile living your own truth?)

As we have seen in previous lectures, even when I described severe cases of schizophrenia a.o. the main question is wether there are 'other modes of survival', other weapons than taking refuge in the symbolic order, in abstracted language, that protect the subject from being devoured by 'the gaze of the object' (the Real). A kind of resistance of wich we cannot be aware. Without falling into the trap of romanticizing the madness of the Other we have to accept our limitations in being able to see, under­stand or analyse that other language, that other 'culture' that does not belong to our civilised culture of the self-same. Especcially the position of Michel Foucault is important here. The way he reveals the 'other side' of Freud and thus demystifies psychoanalyses as an important aid to explain or cure madness, is quite revealing. I quote him again: "certainly he (Freud) had freed the patients from an institutionalised ife within which his 'liberators' (Pinel and Tuke) had alienated him, but he had not freed them from what was the most essential in this existence (..). He has shapen the psychoa­nalytical situation, within which by a genial 'turn' (a kind od shortcir­quiting) the alienation has become abstracted from (the patient), because it has become a subject within the doctor. The doctor remeans, as an alienating person, the key of the psychoana­lysis. Perhaps it is because psychoanalysis has not abolished this last structure, but instead led all the other structures to coincide within this one, that she eventually could not hear the voices of insanity -and she never will- and she cannot decipher the signs of madness either. Psycho-analysis can discover some of the forms that madness takes, she remains distanced however in relation to the souvereign 'work' of madness. What is so essential within this 'work' she can neither liberate, nor transport, and she certainly cannot explain". In reference to this 'souvereign work' of the mad, Foucault points at the lightning works works of Holderlin, Nerval, Nietsche or Artaud, which since the end of the 18th century are the only 'locations' in which the life of the insane manifests itself, works that cannot be connected with any of the 'curative' alienations we know of. On the contrary, they resist out of their own potential that gigantic moral imprisonment that was said to be the liberation of the insane.

As for now, these different worlds remain seperate. I explained in the first two lectures that representing the mad Other, or even imitating insanity, makes little sense. We do not know what it is. We can only see some external signs (in terms of deviations in langua­ge, symbolic and social behaviour), only on the level of how we can categorize it on the scale of fully identical to completely different. We are limited in 'curating the mad of the Other' unless we are willing to turn to our own madness, our own idioty (living only for oneself), our own imprisonment in language and the symbolic order. We have already looked at a great number of artists who took it upon themselves to reveal something of this inner madness, wether it is the incarceration within the operations of language and writing at the turn of this century (Alfred Jarry, Marcel Duchamp, Franz Kafka, Antonin Artaud) or societies' imprisonment in its own mechanistic and uniformalistic instrumenta­lism (Dada, Surealism among whom Max Ernst, Duchamp, Schwitters). One of the formal tactics in order to undermine the supremacy of an instrumentalized society that idolizes and celebrates its technic, its administration and its rationality, was of course by making use of exactly those characteristics and then invert them. This is how we can read the assemblage-principle of both Dadaist and Surrealists, formal tactics that are so essential to the 'anti-aesthetical' practices of which they would become famous. Through the assem­blage-principle they inverted the system they were captured in from within and as such show its uglyness, its abjectness, its wounds. In fact they laid bare the violence that was necessary to achieve the symbolic order but which has been sublimated to fully abstracted heights. According to Adorno the montage is: "the expression of a subject who, because he can no longer speak, must speak through things, through their alienated and injured form". As such it is also possible to interpret the intentionally incoherent conjunc­tion of cries, noises, canavalsque gatherings and absurd buffoony (Arthur Cravan, Jacques vache, Tristan Tzara a.o.). Surrealism eventually resolutely sided itself with insanity. There was no connection anymore with the conscious, well-adjusted and civilised individual. In a kind of mimetic regression its other side was being exposed, as it were, the speechless chaos, the bloody tracks and the abject remains to which rationality bears its succes in its attempt to reach total control. 

Another tactic in order to reveal the madness of societies' means-and-end logic has been the turn to non-production and becoming the in-famous hero. The connection between non-production, or production only for the one who produces (living your life only for yourself), and madness can be mirrored when we look at the actual meaning of the term 'idioteness'. In Le Reel, traite de l'idiotie Clement Rosset explains idiotness as "simple, particular, unique (..)In fact, all persons are equally idiot as the result of their existence for themselves only". The second defenition of the idiot is more known: it is the irrational reaching towards pathology, the immaturity that approaches folly. To this Rosset adds: "somebody who is derived from his intelligence, who has lost his reason". It is here that the notion of idiotness fluently transforms into the strategy of the ironic. Some historians even went so far to state that the whole of modernity could be categorized by the invention of laughter (Satie, Duchamp, Eduard Manet or Smuel Beckett). It is through laughter and ironie that art and idiotness come close enough to become like 'strangers' in our culture, intruders in a society full of norms and rules (forbiddens). I would even suggest: it probably only works when they merge in such a way that clear distinctions no longer can be made.

To explains this more at length I would like to introduce Peter Sloterdijk's introduction to what he calls 'cynical reason' and 'kynical irony'. In his book Critique of Cynical Reason (1983) (two volumes) - a careful play with Kant's Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1781)- Sloterdijk maker an attempt to explain the difference beteen 'cynical reason' and (his invention) 'kynical irony'. Cynical reason is, in his opinion "enlightened false consciousness" (quite a cynical defenition, p. 37). The cynic knows his beliefs to be false or ideological, but he holds to them nontheless for the sake of self-protection, as a way to negotiate the contradictory demands placed upon him. In other words: a subject who recognizes the reality of aesthetic conflict or political contradiction (compare the Freudian fethishist who recognizes the reality of castration or trauma), but who disavows it. Yet the cynic does not disavow this reality so much as he ignores it, and this structure renders him almost impervious to ideology ctitique, for he is already demystified, already enlightened about his ideological relation to the world (which allows the cynic to feel superior to ideology critcs as well, a bit like how the West feeling superior to those non-Westerns striving for the 'illusion' of identity). Ideological and enlightend at once, the cynic is, to quote Sloterdijk "reflexively buffered": his very splitting armors him, his very ambivalence renders him immune. Opposed to cynical reason is what Sloterdijk names "kynical irony", although the two are not always so distinct. In fact the one follows from the other (both cynicism and kynicism are constants in history) and according to Sloterdijk it is only within a balanced situation between these two states of mind (perceptions of things) that a third version of the notion of cynicism can evolve and become a "phenome­nology of polemic states of awareness" (Hegel/Bakhtin). But what is this kynicism? Where cynicism embodies repression, kynicism shows resistance, where cynicism comes near to a splitting of the self, kynicism becomes the embodiment of this resistance (p.366). Sloter­dijk tries to explain kynicism by referring to the boldness of antique kynicism (p.180).

The boldness of for instance Diogenes, according to Sloterdijk, contains of a method, a manner of argumenting -kynismos- to which any serious thinking (philos­ophy) untill today has no reply. Wether we call it the first real dialectical materialism or, compared with the great systems of Greek philosophy, even an existentialism, what in fact is being practised is the embodiment of a certain theory. In this elementary vision there is no division between the person and the cause, between theory and practice. In fact the embodiment of a certain conviction here implies: making yourself the medium (which is the opposite of demanding a certain behaviour according to a certain set of moralistic ideals etc). So Diogenes picks his nose when Socrates conjures his daimonion and speaks about the divine soul; he reacts upon Plato's doctrine of the Idea's by letting a fart, masturbates in public as to illustrate Plato's theory of Eros. He despises faim, has no consideration for architecture, refuses to show respect, parodizes the narrartions of Gods and hero's, jokes with the public women and tells Alexander the Great to move out of his sun. Of course these are just a few ordinary examples out of a life full of provocative behaviours which can be read as subversi­ve variations of a low theory, pushing the practical embodiment in a kind of groteske pantomine to the extreme and as such contrasting the 'elevated theory' that has cut off the ties to a material embodiment ever since Plato. As such one can say that Diogenes has started the resistance against the got-up thing of the 'discourse' in European philosophy. It is a straightforward assault upon the swindling of idealistic abstractions and the schi­zophrenic silliness of a thinking that takes place only in our heads. In fact Diogenes replies to the languages of these philosophers with that of a fool; he makes use of the same tools, first by turning the idealistic truths into their materialistic opposite, second by doing so publicly. For instance, when Plato had defined the human being as an unfeathe­red, two-legged animal, and was fully applauded for it, Diogenes plucked callow a chicken, brought it to Plato's school and stated: "here is Plato's human being". In his own writings he added to Plato's defenition "with flattened nails" (Diogenes Laertius VI/40). Where Plato, Aristoteles and the others can be considered to be power­thinkers (even though Plato's irony and his dialectical manners still reflect some of Socrates' plebeian streetphilosophy), Diogenes and his others contrast this with an essential plebeian reflection. 

Throughout history the threat of this kynical cultural revolution (by laying bare on the streets the low, separated and particular, by showing the opposite of abstract ideas and moral convictions) has been picked up time and again. Sloterdijk himself mentiones art as the region perse that has revived time and again this neokynical undercur­rent (to express the desire for existential nonsplittedness). Germany-oriented as he is, he recognizes this (neo)kyni­cism in Goethe (Sturm und Drang), Nietsche (kynisch realisme), Heidegger (while Adorno is in his opinion a victim of a neokyni­cal impuls), within popular culture embodied by figures such as Tijl Uilenspie­gel (the plebeian, protokynical of modern history) and Hans Sachs (petitbour­geois jokes), and of course in Dadaism, although Dada has a kynical as well as cynical element according to Sloterdijk (Raoul Hausmann, Johannes Baader, Richard Huelsen­beck, Georg Grosz (p. 627,641 Hausmann)). Among the these social developments that have survived as possible containers of this neokynicist undercur­rent -in a more or less institutio­nalised form- he mentiones carnaval (Bachtin), universi­ties and the notion of the boheme (see the arts).

Michel de Certeau is a second theorist who has made an interesting contribution enabling us to read and estimate the strength of the fools' counteractions. Although Sloterdijk at some points can be practical in relation to what kynicism might be today ("Kyni­cism learns us (..) manoeuvrability, decisiveness, and listening to the possibilities of the moment"), De Certeau actually limits himself to think about the tools only. He thinks of these tools as 'bricolage' and he explains this bricolage by taking as example the ambigui­ty that subverted from within the Spanish colonizers' 'succes' in imposing their culture on the indigenous Indians. Submissive, and even consenting to their subjection under the Spanish regime, the Indians nevertheless often made of the rituals, representations, and laws that were imposed on them something completely different from what their conquer­ors had in mind; they subverted them not so much by rejecting or altering them, but by using them with respect to ends and references that were foreign to the system they just had to accept. To quote De Certeau: "They were other within the very colonization that outwardly assimilated them; their use of the dominant social order deflected its power, whcih they lacked the means to challenge; they escaped it without leaving it. The strength of their difference lay in (different) procedures of 'consumption'". Many other groups in society, among who the 'common people', use the culture that is disseminated and imposed on them by the 'elites' producing the language in a similar ambiguous way. De Certeau calls this kind of 'productive consumption' a manner of bricolage. Wether it is in language (within which we privilege the act of speaking which takes place within the field of a linguistic system), walking or cooking, its users make -bricolent- innumeral and infinitesmal transformations of and within the dominant cultural economy in order to adapt it to their own interests and their own rules. This even counts for the most weak and victimized groups in our society. De Certeau for instance also compares the 'signifying practices' of consumers within their jungle of functionalist rationality with the 'wandering lines' (lignes d'erre) drawn by autistic children as studied by F.Deligny. "These children trace "indeterminate trajectories' that are appearantly meaningless, since they do not cohere with the constructed, written and prefabricated space through which they move. They are sentences that remain unpredictable within the space ordened by the organizing of techniques and systems. Although they use as their material the vocabularies of established languages (those of television, newspapers, the supermarket or city planning), although they remain within the framework of prescribed syntaxes (the temporal modes of scedules, paradigmatic organisations of places, etc.), these "traverses" remain heteroge­neous to the systems they infiltrate and in which they sketch out the guileful rules of different interests and desires". It is in this context that I want to point at the importance of De Certeau's division between strategies and tactics. To quote De Certeau: "I call strategy the calculation (or manipulation) of power relationships that becomes possible as soon as a subject with will and power (a business, an army, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated. It postulates a place that can be delimited as its own and serve as the base from which relations with an exteriority composed of targets or threats (customers or competitors, enemies, the country surrounding the city, objectives and objects of research etc) can be managed". A tactic, on the contrary, "is a calculated action determi­ned by the absence of a proper locus. No delimitation of an exteriority, then, provides it with the condition necessary for autonomy. The space of a tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play on and with a terrain imposed on it organized by the law of a foreign power. It does not have the means to keep to itself, at a distance, in a position of withdrawal, foresight, and self-collection: it is a maneuver "within the enemy's field of vision" (...) and within ennemy territory". "It operates inisolated actions, blow by blow. It takes advantage of "opportunities" and depends onthem, being without any base where it could stockpile its winnings, build up its position, and plan raids. Wat it wins it cannot keep. This nowhere gives a tactic mobility, to be sure, but a mobility that must accept the chance offerings of the moment, and seize on the wing the possibilities that offer themselves at any given moment". A tactic is an art of the weak, of women, of employ­ers, citizens, starngers, minorities, artists, the excluded.. They who are wityhout power, without the means of representation. But they are the ones, whenever the time is right, who will be able to invert, to transform, to make changes and produce new meanings. In that sense their role is subversive and productive..

Ine Gevers

conversation between Ine Gevers & Donna Confetti