PRINT Summer 1995



To the editor:
Are there other readers who were stopped in their tracks, as I was, by what Michel Serres said to Laurence Rickels in your April issue [“Theory on TV: Making a Killing”]? The man remarked, “If you follow the evolution of representation, it becomes fatally more like murder. Murder is the essence of representation, the birth of representation.”

How does Serres know this? If he means literally that the act of murder and the act of representation are the same—a serious charge—he should show us the bodies of people done in by a picture. Can’t do that? Well, maybe he meant a pictorial representation is like a murder, or that it inspires or is somehow accountable for murders. Any representation? He doesn’t qualify it. How about Las Meninas? How about the photograph of Serres in the interview? In fact Serres doesn’t have anything to say about representation, but only wants to express a resentment against it so deep that he equates it with the taking of life. Only iconoclasm is innocent. As repressive ideas go, this one has a long history, since it was preceded twenty years ago by Susan Sontag’s metaphor of a photograph as a “soft murder.” Next time you take a picture of a loved one, remember that!

—Max Kozloff
New York

Laurence A. Rickels replies:
Murder the mother of representation? It is a tall tale and order, which gets filled out by a certain French translation (cheer-led by Serres’ mentor René Girard) of the Totem and Taboo story. According to this exchange rate, when Freud addresses murder and mourning we need to read sacrifice, the representational economy of murder. (The only time Freud takes up “sacrifice,” it’s not with regard to the preying together that keeps the family of man staying together, but rather with focus fixed on our earliest sense of loss and credit established whenever we have to hand it to mother and accede to the order of toilet training.)

Mr. Kozloff was stopped dead in his tracks by his own free association with photography and murder. He’s right to wonder if photography is really all that determined by the referent in surefire ways, or if that connection isn’t rather the side-effect of our resistance to viewing the relations of photography as inter- and intra photographic—in other words, as syntactical rather than semantic. (However, speaking with the degree of caution I’ve earned in clinical psychology, I must add that it’s OK to admit ambivalence, even or especially when taking a shot at your loved ones.)

Just the same, the overkill of Serres’ remarks on representation should be kept fine-tuned to the tube that the interview does have a squeeze on. The polyhistorical panning that informs Serres’ comments is precisely on TV. Serres’ (or Girard’s) running commentary on the not-so-happy media of exchange or sacrifice is unthinkable without television and its countertransferential reception, the splitting off and split-leveling of the short yet immortal attention-span of the ego. TV is not haunted in ways we have become customized to via photography, film, and the other works of transference. It’s the summoning of all the examples, standards, or names of history, complete with their respective but not-respected time zones, within one clearing or Lichtung (Heidegger) that’s TV. The question in the “Theory of TV” sessions can never be that of why television, say, is matricidal, but rather, for example, How are we put in our state of receivership by the tubes we’re tied to? It is, to paraphrase Serres, today’s Oedipedagogical question par excellence.

To the editor:
In my parallel universe: bell hooks = BELL HOOKS [“On the Q.T.,” March]. Don’t stop, BELL, don’t ever stop!

—Paul Dacey
Brooklyn, New York

To the editor:
I was appalled by Jenifer Borum’s contradictory and slanted review of Nancy Azara’s recent sculpture and collage exhibits [Reviews, March]. On the one hand Borum praises Azara’s work for its artistic virtues and sensual power. On the other hand she damns the work as politically outdated ’70s feminism.

Borum’s notion of vanguard feminism is itself rapidly going out of style. Contemporary feminist theorists have begun to reassess many of the ’80s critiques of “essentialism” as reductive of what is, in fact, a set of complex intellectual and political issues. Instead of dismissing important work like Azara’s as essentialist, deep-thinking feminists are exploring what is essential to us as thinkers, artists, and activists.

—Berenice Fisher, Ph.D.
New York University, New York

To the editor:
I was truly disturbed to read Jenifer Borum’s review of Nancy Azara’s recent exhibits. Though upon a second reading of the review she appears to like the work, it seems as if she can’t resist contemptuously misrepresenting its feminist and spiritual themes. This is especially unsettling in this time of antifeminist rhetoric pouring forth from Washington. Feminism in whatever form is far from “quaint or simplistic,” and Jungian underpinnings are far from “dated,” given the enormous success of recent psychology work utilizing such perspectives.

Borum’s casting of Azara’s work as dating from an earlier and less relevant time is not borne out if we consider the wonderful recognition this art received at a recent opening at a local college: students were attracted to and moved by the work, intrigued by its messages. Maybe we might be served well by hearing the voices of a group of people who have no direct knowledge of the battles and misrepresentations of feminist politics of the past, but are receptive to its basic premises.

—Suzanne Iasenza, Ph.D.
New York

Jenifer P. Borum replies:
A few words in defense of my allegedly “appalling,” “disturbing” review of Nancy Azara—a review that was actually quite favorable. I assure Dr. Fisher that I’m well aware of the current recuperation of essentialist feminist theory, and while I know I’m supposed to be fashionably impressed by this and other manifestations of ’70s retro chic, I agree with Eddie Vedder when he sings, “It’s someone else’s sentimentality.” It doesn’t work for me. Fisher claims that my praise of the artist’s work contradicts my thumbnail crit of earlier feminist theory, but I was simply drawing out a tension between the work itself and the purple writing that drags it down.

Although Dr. Iasenza claims to have read my review twice, I encourage her to read it once again. I did not contemptuously misrepresent spiritual themes, but rather proposed that romantic writing misrepresents art with a spiritual dimension. As for the new wave of Jungian thought, it’s even less pertinent this time around, considering that contemporary discussions of identity and difference demand a measure of cultural specificity and political precision that the notion of archetypes fails to provide.

Finally, as a prochoice activist (member: Ladies Auxiliary of the Church Ladies for Choice) and a critic devoted to the work of multiply marginalized artists, I resent being lumped together with the right-wing backlash against feminism simply because I challenged one artist’s work. Even worse than the "politically correct’’ stereotype itself, I find, are academics like Fisher and Iasenza who actually fit that stereotype by blindly conflating legitimate criticism with personal attack.

To the editor:
A particularly inspired piece of writing—and thinking—in Greil Marcus’ “Real Life Rock” column in the January ’95 Artforum. As always, excellent, excellent, excellent. Marcus’ “Top Ten” has been a critical part of my monthly reading for many years—it just keeps getting better and better.

Please keep up the hammering.

—Bill Gubbins
Executive Vice President,
Channel One Communications Knoxville, Tenn.