PRINT April 1994


To the editor:
Though there was a lot to read in the October issue, I turned to the Rickels piece first to see if there was any more to it than I’d found in his book The Case of California. But the vast self-promotion on Rickels’ part—speaking of his works as “major,” etc.—and the mindless generalizations of both interviewer and interviewee were staggering. Rickels’ so-intricate game-playing with Freud et al. was a series of slipknots, and the California they were talking about was more recognizable to me from old Newsweek features than from anything in situ. I doubt very much if the equivalent of “In much the same way that Californians believe that everything can be cured” would have gotten past you if “Californians” were replaced by “Mexicans,” gays, black people, white males, etc.

If you see Rickels around, you can tell him that when, after a lifetime in California, I visited Germany last June, I did feel uncannily at home there and did not feel like a foreigner, not even as much as I do in New York (or as Rickels obviously and delightedly does in California). But the reasons for that lack of foreignness, I’d guess, are almost entirely personal and particular. Rickels can put that in his thesis—which seems to hold that in a construct like California there are no individuals, no personal and no particular—and smoke it.
—Greil Marcus
Berkeley, California

To the editor:
In the introduction to her interview with Laurence A. Rickels (October 1993), Catherine Liu claims that Rickels toured California and then took it to “the couch.” My question is, What part of California? Los Angeles? A part of Los Angeles? Southern California generally? Or was it perhaps the “techie” San Francisco Bay Area? Maybe the wine country? It was presumably not the agricultural Central Valley that she had in mind.

To personify “California” as a single analysand is like lumping New York City and Buffalo together. Surely Rickels puts too much stock in media myths of Southern California manufactured by turn-of-the-century real estate developers, disseminated on orange-crate labels, and perpetuated by “Hollywood”; these, it seems, are the clichés he “analyzes.”

Taking California to the couch, Rickels concludes that it is perpetually adolescent. Where does it get us to conclude that a myth developed to attack tourists is adolescent? Rickels seems to realize the mythic California that people come looking for is just that—a myth—when he states, “We project and hallucinate big time when it comes to California. In fact California doesn’t really exist except as a place holder that invites hallucination.” Then he forgets this insight and continues to hallucinate.

“Rickels shows how group psychology and the adolescent are intimately related,” but what is suggestive here gets lost in the shuffle. What do teenagers want? According to Rickels, they want gadgets: “the teen is the one who is always into technology.” But he makes no distinction between identities defined by gadgets—by a continuous desire for the new and novel, for the accepted new, which is an expression of a desire for power through technology—and the very different desire to know or understand technology. Since what the “group” Mr. Rickels belongs to thinks it wants in the way of new toys has already been defined and accepted by that group, these “teens” are not true “techies.” Society, the group, generally refers to “techies” as “nerds,” “dweebs,” or “dorks” always before (and sometimes after) they make a lot of money; society makes this group the “other,” just as Rickels’ does California and its supposed “perpetual adolescence.” Who precisely is the adolescent here? Rickels’ brand of pedagogy is like that of the male teenager saying, I am it and you, the female, should have sex with me.

The question for me is just why certain “groups” from the East feel a need to make California an “other,” and if we need to sustain these myths, thus buying into the usual East Coast tendency to bash California.
—Holly Crawford
Department of Art, University of California,
Los Angeles

Laurence A. Rickels replies:
The material I’ve been excavating lately packs a lot of heat. I was endlessly interested to see that my remarks on Nazi psychoanalysis in the Artforum interview were left untouched, rerepressed, while the interview’s coverage of my study of California immediately mobilized, displacement-style, but also along the fault lines of a direct hit or fit, an all-out reaction of defense. Skipping the Nazi beat to break for California (Crawford’s and Marcus’ station identification) gives protection, I mean projection, and draws the fire of displacement loading a pair of symptomatic responses. At its widest range, Crawford’s nonreading of the interview targets Catherine Liu’s introduction, an opener she provided to invite access to my work. That Crawford and Marcus both took the introductions and one-liners to be New York rudeness at a bicoastal cocktail party, and slammed shut the opening to the case with parting social-studies-style shots about what’s really happening, misses over and again the point of entry into my study. The bicoastalism I investigated is a discursive one, located inside psychoanalysis, between the conceptual placeholders “California” and “Germany,” and organized around Freud’s close encounter with group or adolescent psychology. These geopolitical markers are not bound to on-location sites of the here and now (to which Crawford and Marcus feel they have unlimited access). Besides, if they were consistent about this mode of misunderstanding, they should have been happy to discover that a literal consequence of my rereading assignment would be that the East Coast doesn’t even exist. One is always in danger of being constrained to know only what the other thinks you know. It’s the logic of psychological warfare in particular and journalism at large. The invocation of terms like California, adolescence, Germany, technology, or the group indeed runs the risk of this kind of misunderstanding (which Nietzsche was the first to take and run with). But it’s the only way, say, a gadget lover of facts can be brought to an encounter with thinking that is not already paraphrase or opinion. And yet it is an uphill struggle to make the adolescent short attention-span sit still long enough for the otherness of thought—of what’s futural, random, boring, not under remote control—to emerge. Crawford and Marcus prefer to channel-surf all the way to the social contexts and facts of life that make up the California I’m supposed to be breaking up with. The social-studies reproach only invokes scores of facts that are always settling another score. It flexes a command of censorship, a phobic response to whatever insists on coming together or on coming at you, growing stronger, even perpetual. That’s why, in response to an intrapsychic or discursive analysis of group psychology, Crawford and Marcus feel compelled to take it all so interpersonally. It gets Marcus out of the identification with me, the one by which he would turn my “thesis” into a pipe and invite me to “smoke” his experientially confirmed reservations about the discursive connection I put through between California and Germany. It doesn’t take much to push all the buttons in his projection booth: he’s the one busy checking out his competition in Newsweek. I mean, like, you know, is he a smoker or what? In other words, even these emergency-measured responses, given at the journalistic remove of nonreading, demonstrate that my work has been followed, obeyed—and in that sense understood—only too well. Read Crawford’s slips: “Where does it get us to conclude that a myth developed to a t t a c k tourists is adolescent?”

To the editor:
It was fascinating to read Gary Indiana’s “Critical Reflections” about writing for The Village Voice (January 1994), because I was his editor, and editors are rarely told by writers—sometimes for obvious reasons—what they think or feel about their work. However, I’d like to correct one error of fact. The article stated that the Voice’s “editorial bent” excluded disproportionate coverage of so-called alternative spaces because the emphasis was supposed to be on commercial galleries. My policy was, and is, exactly the reverse, as Gary’s articles themselves illustrate.
—Jeff Weinstein
Senior Editor, The Village Voice, New York