Diedrich Diederichsen

  • 1981: Scritti Politti’s “Jacques Derrida”

    IN 1982, TWO TENDENCIES, neither exactly a trend, came together in a curious moment: the release of a single by the band Scritti Politti. What was notable though was not the A side, “Asylums in Jerusalem,” but the tune on the flip side, a lite, elegant number called “Jacques Derrida.”

    Tendency 1: It is hard to believe just how long a handful of narratives dominated the development of pop music; perhaps the most influential was the vulgarized version of the great countercultural fantasies of the late ’60s in which wave after wave of nonconformist young warriors do battle against the forces of the

  • Mike Kelley’s writings

    JUDD AND JORN, NEWMAN AND GRAHAM, Asher and Smithson—when the writings of a visual artist are published, the question that immediately arises is how the texts relate to the larger oeuvre. Explanation, expansion, justification—do they constitute an entirely separate project, as with Judd? Or should they be seen as an extension of the work, as was the case with Smithson and, even more so, with younger artists close to Mike Kelley like Frances Stark, Jutta Koether, and John Miller. The first volume of Kelley’s writings, Foul Perfection—essays and criticism (poetic works, texts as


    ARTIST-PUBLISHED MAGAZINES around 1972 were concerned primarily with art. This is not as tautological as it sounds. While artists’ magazines have always dealt with art, criticizing, representing, or promoting it, what was new in the late ’60s and early ’70s was that certain forms of art could happen only in such publications. Be it Interfunktionen or Extra, magazines followed the Conceptualist lead and operated as alternatives to, or expansions of, the gallery or museum; at least after Dan Graham and Robert Smithson, magazines became a place where art was not only reviewed but realized.

    The first

  • Diedrich Diederichsen

    1. Various Artists (Modulations & Transformations, Volume 4) The best archive of new electronic and post-electronic, activist and non-activist music was this Mille Plateaux series. Volume 4 is the most baffling, and full of cool contradictions.

    2. Sun Ra (The Singles) The hero on whom all can agree—from postcolonialists to pop musicians, from afrofuturists to archaeologists of the essential—died at the start of a decade that became his alone. The last Gesamtkünstler of the century will project beyond it the longest.

    3. X-102 (Rings of Saturn) This stands for Detroit techno as the best electronic

  • Diedrich Diederichsen

    1. Doctor L, Exploring the Inside World (Barclay/Polygram) Every important development in pop music over the last two years has come out of France. Daft Punk took funk’s thirty-year-old tradition of the endless groove and branded it with microchip-size beats sequenced in a new house style. Air proved that the industrial production of atmosphere can be doubly negated—the pastoral becoming pastoral again. Now there’s Doctor L: above all, trip soul in a generous, modernized, psychedelic Norman Whitfield tradition. Everything but the vocals is sampled, yet the musical codes from three decades

  • the new capital

    IF IT’S POSSIBLE to enjoy what’s taking place in Berlin at the moment, it’s only by watching the failure of all the strategies the state has cooked up for the most insane representational commissions in art, architecture, and other symbolic forms. Two extremely disparate parts of the city that spent half a century under the most dissimilar conditions are expected not only to coalesce, but to assume the role of capital of a new nation-state called Germany. Of course, every undertaking here is, to say the least, overdetermined, but this fact can’t serve as an excuse for a cultural offensive that


    IF THE CURRENT LIAISON between the worlds of pop/rock/underground music and contemporary art is anything to go by, artists seem to have something to learn from pop music, and vice versa. From Charles Long’s collaborations with Stereolab to Raymond Pettibon’s album covers to Mike Kelley’s various projects (from the recent reformation of his old Detroit band Destroy All Monsters, with artist Jim Shaw, to his Documenta contribution with Tony Oursler in the band The Poetics), contemporary artists are not only drawing on the semiotics of pop music but increasingly moving between the two worlds. Some

  • Heiner Müller

    IN THE MIDDLE OF AN INTERVIEW with Brigitte Mayer, her face is suddenly frozen. Rather than her voice we hear a professional reader reciting a poem of Heiner Müller’s about a beautiful woman’s neck and cheeks—perhaps those of Brigitte Mayer, Müller’s widow and executor of his literary estate? As vulgar as such televisual machinations may be, the broadcast demonstrates the continued public fascination with the dead author, his young widow, and his two-year-old daughter. A year and a half after his death, Müller remains the most conspicuous and certainly the only figure in the literary industry

  • Jailhouse

    PAINTERS MARCUS AND ALBERT OEHLEN are no strangers to the world of music. Albert, better known for his abstract canvases, has worked for years in the various incarnations of multitalent Mayo Thompson’s Red Crayola; brother Markus had a mid ’80s disco hit in Germany with his 12-inch “Beer Is Enough” and still plays in many combos. but like other former punk rockers who’ve taken their cues from a do-it-yourself aesthetic, over time they’ve professionalized their dilettantish discoveries, turning them into techniques of taste. With JAILHOUSE, the brothers Oehlen team up with Rüdiger Carl, a “real”

  • Kai Althoff

    EARLY 1996 AT the Galerie Daniel Buchholz: Kai Althoff sits on a mattress, stripped to the waist, and smokes. On a turntable spins his as-yet-unreleased disk predating his founding of the band Workshop, one of the leading electronic/dance-music groups in Germany today. With its excessively monotonous and unrelated patterns within a limited range of timbres, the music sounds like an experimental adaptation of Can, Cologne’s most important contribution to music since Stockhausen. Althoff’s chest is painted in eccentric violets, browns, and reds, the colors of wild berries, as are two candles in

  • Table of the Elements

    AT A TIME WHEN many are describing vinyl as thoroughly “auratic” (in Benjamin’s sense), recording labels are attempting to make CDs “unique” through any number of desperately ingenious packaging ploys (using cardboard and metal, among other materials). Atlanta-based label TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS is clearly ahead of the game: putting a conceptual spin on the “inauthenticity” of CDs, the label has gone back to the hardest form of hardware: pure, chemical substance. Fans of avant-garde and atonal music are still referring to two recent releases—by Chicago’s Gastr del Sol (the brilliant collaboration

  • Diedrich Diederichsen and Jutta Koether


    With few interesting new things in rock, THE RAGE FOR HISTORICIZATION remained the best event of 1995. There were CD retrospectives ranging from the Velvet Underground (the schoolboy decadence on the previously un-issued pre-Warhol ’65 recordings was especially good fun) to the Beatles. On television, although the syndicated History of Rock and Roll regrettably failed to tell the whole story because it relied entirely on the outrageous views of musicians, PBS/BBC’s Rock and Roll gave us more to chew on. Particularly interesting (in a year when profits from Brit pop releases went



    We’ll Always Have Paris

    Lourdes, 8 July 1940: a refugee sensing fate closing in around him, Walter Benjamin writes Hannah Arendt and ruefully quotes an aphorism that will shortly be an epitaph: “His laziness supported him in glory for many years in the obscurity of an errant and hidden life.” “This ain’t Paris,” mutters Babylon Dance Band singer Chip Nold on the group’s belated debut (Matador), “It’s not the 19th century.” This incandescent one-shot reunion recorded over a decade after their break-up offers “errant and hidden life” as pure revel (and reverie). Desperation is Nold’s


    Almost every work of Modernism . . . is the solution of a problem.

    —Peter Szondi, Briefe, 1993

    IT IS ONE OF ALBERT OEHLEN'S AIMS to demystify the process of painting. When he began his career, in the late ’70s, the “classical” rejection of painting that led to Conceptual art and other “critical” approaches to artmaking had become an institutionalized norm within the art world. Oehlen rejected this position as too mechanical, monocausal, and moralistic; though he had no interest in any sort of rappel à l’ordre, painting remained for him the definitive visual-arts medium, the determiner of art’s


    IT'S AN OLD STORY: the Author rejected by high culture pops up in another part of the culture industry heretofore deemed vulgar. Just as the literary author is pronounced dead by Roland Barthes in Le Degré zéro de l’écriture, he is reincarnated as film auteur in the pages of Cahiers du cinéma. While the movies have long been the favorite stomping ground of illegitimate intellectuals (Pierre Bourdieu’s name for those without legitimizing academic credentials and careers), younger generations have discovered new authors in the most diverse areas of the culture industry (cameramen, comic-book

  • Lipstick Traces on the CD

    MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, what makes a bad music critic bad is the dream of describing music in some inspirational way that will unite text and sound, making the writing somehow the correlative of the music. The idea of the MC (music cassette), CD, or flexidisc accompanying a piece of writing is a symptom of the contrary belief: the idea of music as the ultimate indescribable, metaphysical medium. In Greil Marcus’ case it’s usually the opposite: his descriptions work independently from the sound of the music he writes about, and are often more interesting in themselves than in relation to their

  • News from Germany

    German TV news and newspapers are still reporting small-scale attacks on foreigners (attacks they now mention almost as an aside), but news of larger brutalities comes more rarely these days. This winter, hundreds of thousands marched through West Germany’s inner cities with candles to demonstrate silently against “xenophobia.” (The more appropriate term “racism” is seldom used.) Without overemphasizing the relationship between the simultaneous appearance of racism on the streets and the infiltration of the cultural mainstream by neoright intellectuals, it is striking that this neoright has

  • Greil Marcus' European Dream

    Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, by Greil Marcus. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989, 496 pp., illustrated, $29.95.

    GREIL MARCUS’ LIPSTICK TRACES is a story of radical European dissent, and a story of the possibilities of negation as a cultural force. The book sometimes reads inspirationally—as an American mirror image of the European enthusiasm for and, often, overvaluation of dissidence in the United States, especially that of the tight-lipped, insane variety. Marcus’ approach to such European dissident groups as the Anabaptists and the Sex Pistols is