CRITIQUE. Adam Budak. Eyelids closed - Adam Budak contextualizes Dénes Farkas's work. KUNST.EE 2013, 2
“At the end of a life people assign it a weight or a general trend, a moral trajectory. They
ask whether it was sad or happy, failed or successful, asking this just as if there can be some consensus after the self as remembered
is safely consigned to the common estate of history, which is ultimately everyone’s destiny and thus everyone’s business. Like a willing weather, the spirit moves through time, and against its time. Thus, the spirit is dry, when all outside is wet, cold, when all is hot and confused, while all others are certain. The spirit wonders at this difference, while those outside see the spirit coming in the guise of a man and try to form an opinion of what the weather must be like inside, some saying calm, others saying stormy, and still others saying that it is an impertinence to ask and better not to know, though in fact nobody really does.”
Bruce Duffy,The World as I Found It
“If I don’t trust this evidence why should I trust any evidence?”
Ludwig Wittgenstein,On Certainty“The world? A text?”
Maurice Blanchot,Reflections on Nihilism
“In each site of that nocturnal beyond, the illumination and protection of the secret are retained-contained together, inseparable. The excess of what is withheld from vision. Source of lightning.”
Luce Irigaray, Elemental Passions
The Ladder and Slippery Ice
Before concluding his groundbreaking seventy-five-page early philosophical work,Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in 1921, with the iconic one-sentence proclamation of modesty and humility, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent,” thirty-two- year-old Austrian philosopher of language Ludwig Wittgenstein explains the mechanism of the functioning of his thought and the challenge it sets up: “My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)
He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.”1Each proposition contributes a rung to the ladder; thus, the ladder, together with the philosopher’s enigmatic numbering system, serves as a vehicle, pro viding a way, steps, to understand the text as a whole. The ladder too, with its implicit act of climbing up, allows for an overview of text, language, and philosophy, and most specifically, the limits of language — an overview that proves the nonsense
of the propositions. As both a collection of propositions (the rungs) and the possibility of an overview (the climbing up), the ladder is a metaphor for what Tractatus is endeavoring, which is nonsensical but, as Nana Last emphasizes, is “enlightening in moving the reader beyond its propositions.”The imageof movement reappears in a more dramatic and paradoxical rendering in Wittgenstein’s later work,Philosophical Investigations, first published posthumously in 1953: “The more narrowly we examine actual language, the sharper becomes the conflict between it and our requirement. (For the crystalline purity of logic was, of course,not a result of investigation:it was a requirement.) The conflict becomes intolerable; the requirement is now in danger of becoming empty. We have got on to slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk: so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!”An image of an immobilized philosopher stuck on an extended plane of frozen ice is a figure of an entangled thought, which helps Wittgenstein to analyze language’s complex surface and clear structure and to fight against the fixity generated by the collapse of language and the logic in Tractatus, which restricts language and our ability to navigate within it.
In terms of philosophical approach,TractatusandInvestigationsare located at opposite poles: between a systematic, abstract, and ideal conception of thought, language, and the world and a pre dominantly unsystematic treatment of empirical linguistic material. A house designed by the philosopher-cum-dilettante architect for his sister, Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein, in Vienna and constructed between 1926 and 1928, occupies this formative moment of passage in the philosopher’s life and work: it is a performative expression of both the nonsensical propositions structured along the verticality of a ladder and the tormented mind intimidated by the ideal condition and instead striving for friction and the desire to walk. It is here, in the slippery space of negotiating the conceptual and the empirical, that the narrative of Evident in Advance begins to unfold.
Approaching Evident in Advance
Estonian artist Dénes Farkas’s post-conceptual photo-based practice engineers the substructures of society at the moment it renews and remakes its identity. Through minimal means, the artist constructs quasi-cinematic spaces of contemplation, where the plot awaits its au- thor and the characters are absent. Silent déj. vu interiors with no apparent spatial hierarchy become the potential crime scenes of a rep- resentation in yet another crisis and decline. Farkas’s social geo metry is a cartography of failure and dysfunction. His visually reduced, rebellious spectacle of language announces a new melancholy of a world in doubt.
Farkas’sEvident in Advanceinvestigates the elusiveness of language, the (im)possibilities of utterance and the logic of infinite retranslations. Guided by the adventurous storyline of American writer Bruce Duffy’s groundbreaking novel, TheWorld as I Found It— a mélange of fiction and reality, truth and fakery, where history, biography, and philosophy are intertwined in a witty narrative of the lives of three philosophers, Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, and G. E. Moore — the exhibition is orchestrated as a composition based upon slightly varying sets of a score: the articulations of the same story, created from the carefully deconstructed master-narrative of a novel, are spatialized within a given physical parameter and the mental shell of the viewer’s perceptive field, as if tirelessly imitating the “attempt at precision” in Wittgenstein’s house. Here, we are at the threshold of the construction of a meaning as an ongoing study of repetition and silence. How do we understand the same word or sentence in dissimilar surroundings? How do we communicate in contrasting situ ations? How do wewritespace? The Proustian paraphraseà la recherche du recit perdu
(mis)guides the authors of this project. In order to receive instructions for how to navigate in the exhibition’s real and imaginary space,
it is necessary to open and study the specially conceived books — genuine guides to a written space and its logic, compartmentalized between an archive, a classroom, a library,and a museum. Rooms act like words in a lost sentence before its articulation. What are we saying? And why (are we sayingthis)? Farkas’s installation is a study in the accessibility of language and its Wittgensteinian “beforehand evidence.” Despair conducts the deconstruction of text and the assemblage of installa- tions. Space deliriously blurs between writing and reading. Deception and frustration take over the stage in advance. Despite using the same words, the same sentences, and even
the same logical constructions, we are still in danger of maneuvering through misleading areas of meaning and common sense. Like characters in search of the author, we are playing with the fragments and resetting the acknowledged codes of a game. But we are also ceaselessly trying to decipher the borders — the end and the beginning — and, last but not least, the center — a guarantee of the meaning of the story , a story that might not be constructible, or one which does not exist at all , a phantasmagoria of sorts (but evident in advance...). “A story? No. No stories, never again,”Farkas obsessively repeats after Maurice Blanchot, while rehearsing his art of ultimate denial and rejection.
As a proposition,Evident in Advanceis “an absent book” and yet “the book to come.” A piece of spatial rhythmical writing, it is choreographed as a quintet of interiors, autonomous though intertwined, poetic fragments of a quasi-domestic setting: a library, a garden, an absent cinema, a spatial book, an obsession chamber.
Imagined as a bridge and governed by excess, the library is a realm of the redundant: a spatial phantasm, woven from similarity
and repetition, a display of knowledge, lost in a vertigo of tautology and contradiction. Farkas’s haunted library of one book over 10,000 copies is the artist’s ultimate “attempt at precision” that eventually leads toward the discovery of an absolute absence. “Making a book,” Edmond Jabs explains, “could mean exchangingthe void of writing for writing the void,”5and he adds, “leaving the book, we do not leave it: we inhabit its absence.” Farkas, the librarian and author, recalls Bruce Duffy’s character, who “as a young man he had won- dered if there was a prior order to the world and, if so, where its value might be found. But now he wondered not only where the value might be found, but how it was transmitted — a path of inquiry that inevitably led him back to that harsh medium of memory, pain. Where do you feel grief? he would write. Is the absence of feeling a feeling?” Like the central hall in Wittgenstein’s house, which distributes space and spatial concepts and acts to create a series of intermediary connections to guarantee philosophy’s clarity, the library
in Evident in Advanceis a transitory zone that radiates its order all over the place and allows an overview of adjacent satellite rooms where the tension between the accu mulation and the void escalates and where the grammar of slow-motion imagery unfolds.
Simplex Sigillum Veri
The garden is the world — the locus of liminality where the subject and language
are being defined. A deserted, monochromatic oasis of color saturates the content of emptiness and silence. A light filters through the words in Blanchot’s manner, while the book opens with a hypothesis: “The thinking, presenting subject; there is no such thing. If I wrote a book called The World as I Found It, I should also have there in to report on my body and say which members obey my will and which do not, etc. This then would be a method of isolating the subject or rather of showing that in an important sense there is no subject: that is to say, of it alone in this book mention could not be made.”Non-belonging and refusal mark the (impossible) subject’s condition in the face of the essence of things and their meaning. Wittgenstein the gardener and Duffy’s partly fictitious, partly real character contemplate “simplex sigillum veri”:“He remembered thinking that the problem was really one of a profound simplicity, a thing so simple that it seemed almost insurmountable. And then in that unaccountable way in which things dawned on him, appearing as if planned in queer relief, he looked down and noticed how the snow outlined an empty footprint. White space had formed around a black space where once a foot had stood. The logical space might admit the foot; or it might negate it by saying — the foot must not stand in this spot. And then, feeling as if he had touched cold iron, it struck him: the sublime oddity of being able to say, ‘This is not how things are, and yet we can say how things are not (...)’ Walking home later, not so much sorry as empty, Wittgenstein wondered if a man might build a machine around his life by which he might become decent. The full bucket, this was easy to fathom, but to realize that in emptiness also there was pain — this he did not expect. Nor was it much recompense when his germinal idea came to him, and he saw, like a piece of logic, what it is to be both true and false, as well as empty.” The Withdrawn The absent cinema offers access to the (intimate) realm of the withdrawn. The denial of a visual alienates and alerts critically. It is both a therapy session and a tortuous act of deliberate incoherence. We are at the core of Farkas’s “meaningful meaninglessness” — actors in an absurd “dysfunctional game,” victims of a structural slapstick, puzzled by a failed expectation and non-delivery. The moving image chamber is an ascetic reading room in the semidarkness of an imagined self: a (motionless) voice of an invisible protagonist is hopelessly progressing in dissensus with the written subtitle, projected on a monumental, empty surface of light. A monologue unfolds while the text disjoins and separates. If, as Jabès claims, the “readingVis a daughter of light,” what then could the writing be? A void, the writer echoes. An illuminated void, he perhaps repeats. “Writing is the opposite of imagining,” the author concludes. Alienated sentences materialize on a screen of a meaning yet to come, moving along and against the words recited in the background, and producing a schizophrenic narrative of an entangled mind. The viewer insecurely skates on the slippery surface of thin Wittgensteinian ice powered by a cacophonic friction which simultaneously proliferates and subtracts the (possible) plot, erasing previous content and neutralizing all imagined acts of will. The new page is being filled with letters and their games and, most likely, new utterances are being pronounced in an overwhelming silence. The character talks to his will in isolation and humility: He closed his eyes, wishing his expanding will to be smaller, milder, more reasonable. But the will was not compliant it would not be ordered about like some cringing subordinate. SAY, ventured the riddling will or mind. SAY, said the soul, which is as various and contrary as it is many. SAY this kite is your will, with this much line and this much scope under the general sky. And just as in an aeroplane there is thrust and drag, so the thrust of will must be factored over fear, chiefly the fear of rampant willing, that hellbent runaway. And then, as Wittgenstein realized this, he pictured in his mind the following equation:
W /F = S
W being Will
F being Fear
S being Scope.
A trilogy of will, fear, and scope: a withdrawn cinema of anxiety, suspended disbelief, and childhood’s dream. Estrangement leaves
the author’s confused mind in a state of
a devastating limbo. Again, we are on a tormenting stage of absence and withdrawal,under the general skyof disappearance and suspense. “Absence: stubborn heaven of the neutral”13leads the viewer-cum-reader to a realm of the generic: Farkas’s rigorous act of writing architecture as a tireless endeavor of an ambitious, though fatalist, explorer. Writing about Samuel Beckett, Alain Badiou points out his work’s fundamental tendency towards the generic. Beckett’s character is, always and everywhere, a man of trajectory (going), of motionlessness (being), and of monologue (saying). Imitating the Beckettian paradox, Farkas’s phantom character navigates between words as if measuring distances in vain. The word as a “distance within non-distance”emphasizes the absurd and impossible simultaneity of “going, being and saying.” Detachment and reduction are strategic
agents of an inherent determination at work. Like Adolf Loos’s architectural thought and Wittgenstein’s architectural-cum-philosophical logic, Beckett’s writing is an ascetic act ruled by a strict principle of economy, which excludes any mere circumstantial ornamen- tation or stylistic amusements. Wittgenstein’s gesture of purification, expressed in the house and his aesthetics as clarification (simplex sigillum veri), pronounced in Tractatus, set up a paradigm for the exercise of stripping bare in Beckett’s fiction: the necessary and progressive purging of the characters and the ultimate purging of the space of trajectory.
Badiou observes that while portraying generic humanity’s major figures — voyage and fixity — the author of Endgame orches- trates two seemingly contrary ontological localizations — a closure and a wandering. Closure’s aim is to make “what is seen” coextensive with “what is said,” whereas wandering’s ambition is to generate a space which itself is “a sort of motionless simplicity.” The site of being, referred to as a “black-grey,” is the result of such a fictive purification. Badiou describes this apparatus as follows: “What is the black-grey? It is a black that no light can be supposed to contrast with; it is an uncontrasted black. This black is sufficiently grey that no light can be opposed to it as its Other. Abstractly, the site of being is fictioned as a black-grey enough to be anti-dialectical, distinct from every contradiction with the light. The black-grey is a black that has to be taken in its own disposition and that forms no pair with anything else. What is effectuated
in this black-grey, in which the thinking of being is localized, is a progressive fusion of closure and of open, or errant, space. (...)
The enclosed and the open become merged together in the black-grey, and it turns out to be impossible to know whether it is destined to movement or rather to motionlessness. The figure that ‘goes’ and the figure that ‘remains at rest’ are superposed in the site of being.” Farkas’s book is a dialogue of Beckett and Wittgenstein: displayed as a massive cube
of light, it is an oneiric structure, hosting nocturnal landscapes of uncanny volumes, a black-gray, immobile vessel, like Beckett’s apparatus, to bewalked inor walk around, all-accessible, but simultaneously, a carrier of a spaceremoved, a ghost house. A quasi-generic stage of a seemingly absent action, the artist’s architectural construction, composed of four large-scale illuminated photographs, is a palimpsest which bears memory imprints of the rigidly designed, already iconic outlines of Wittgenstein’s house. Farkas’s evocative spatial vocabulary favors places of flux and passage
— multiple staircases, endless corridors, and discontinuous hallways, disappearing out of contrasts, empty rooms unfolding in enfilade, inviting to processional routes and parcours, punctuated by a forest of identical pillars, dead corners, and secret paths. Repetition choreographs the well-balanced pace of space’s appearance and disappearance, evoking rhythmical patterns of the glazed surfaces. Clumsily crafted, weightless paper models of a (temporary) world as a “house turned logic”are the icons of the elemental and the basic: familiar places of po tentiality, incomplete (mental) sites to be named and inhabited, antiheroic and anti-monumental frames of human existence. Such is Farkas’s portrait of Wittgensteinian language: a labyrinth of paths with proliferated views and possibilities of approach, a symphony of austere and rigid verticalities, allowing the horizontal lines to enhance the score with dignity and grace. Badiou lists the tasks and the conditions of the writing of the generic: “Presenting in art the passage from the misfortune of life and of the visible to the happiness of a veridical incitement of the void. It requires the immeasurable power of the encounter; it requires the wager of a nomination; it requires the combinations of wandering and fixity, of the imperative and a tale. It requires the framing of all this in the division of the night, and, then, under rare conditions, we can again say with Beckett: ‘Stony ground but not entirely.’”Farkas is a Beckettian architect who practices thenegativespace of a narrative sleepwalking and concep- tual impasse. Resisting precision (“precision means effacement”), the artist experiments with precariousness and failure. His vulnerable worlds are ready-made shelters of insecurities and frustration. We are at the limits of the thinkable, at the limits of a sensible language, in the shade of a luminosity (“There is such a thing as the impression of luminosity”).
The failure accumulates. Forced to depart
the realm of dreams, it migrates in search of a more suitable habitat and company. Portraying his antihero’s life (“Now Russell called him tragic, a brilliant failure”), Bruce Duffy refers to the dramatic memory of his childhood: “Dreams, like walls, do attain different sizes. Dreams do exceed our capacity to contain them. As so as a boy, and even now, Wittgenstein had imagined an acid so corrosive and pure that no vessel could contain it. Error was the sin. Suicide was the result and cause, and life was the first error, an infinite regress. He couldn’t stop it. Clear through his ulcerous heart the acid ate, burning through the bedding and dripping blackly on the rug, burning down through the floor and agesof coal, burning clear down to hell where devils dance, then falling through space and never cooling, and never ridding itself of the cutting virulence of truth, black heart, falling and falling and never stopping... Logic is not forgiving.”Obsession and trauma shape the shell of an ultimate chamber: the realm of the entangled. The image of language in Wittgenstein’s and return to the rough ground, and depicted by images of mazes, paths, and roads. Farkas’s obsession chamber as a language factory is a navigation panel where the relationship between the entan- glement and the clarity, and, consequently, the transformation from fixity to movement, are constantly set in doubt and questioned. This is a room of friction: both located and dislocated, a static but unstable self and its futile attempt at systematization, exposed to inevitable error and confusion. Following a Beckettian method — “it works only when it fails”— Farkas, anti-Bartleby, is immersed in a meticulous and hopeless labor of deciphering the logic and the structure of language. The philosopher’s goal — “this entanglement in our rules is what we want to understand (i.e. get a clear view of )”— becomes the artist’s own radical pursuit and primary obsession. Partly storage, partly an archive, a delirious room of entangled thought and obscure classification, a voluminous dictionary, which chronicles all-available and ever-thought- through entries to The World as We Found It— a desire and a fiction (sometimes and always too quickly and too prematurely) called a truth and reality. Evidence (in advance) — an (imaginary) encyclopedia.
After over 3,000 words (in this essay),
the author and the reader are reaching
the ultimate shelter — a self-reflection, a self-evidence, anabsolute failure(of this essay), the closed eyelids of the character: “Looking up, he would see misty flumes pealing down the fjord’s sheer rock walls, the water tearing to rags, then to mist that infused his nostrils with the smell of rain. As through clearest crystal, the light streamed through him, with nothing now to impede it. Like a slow rain, the sky was falling, light to air, air to light; like the sound of a single struck key, it left an afterimage, that slowly burned on his closed eyelids.Red sky. Red Wittgenstein.
Red sky. Red cow. Red Wittgenstein. (...)
Red light. Red cow. Red Wittgenstein.