Stutter: The Body and the Institution

Antonin Artaud holds enduring appeal because he occupied a state of contingency–much more than that of course–but here, I am making an argument against fixity and the structures that work to sustain it. Susan Sontag edited and wrote the introduction for Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings (Univ. of California Press, 1988). In her introduction, she commented on the changing hold of literary modernism and the way in which works are appraised, where standards are questioned and ideas of universality set aside. The standards applied instead, she said, are “…a particular culture’s confirmation of its notions of rationality: that is, of mind and community.” It is Sontag’s elaboration of rationality I pick out here. If a specific rationality is grounded in ideas and in the community that orders it, then the configuration of rationality can shift, is contingent, in part, on the community from which it is drawn.

American philosopher Alphonso Lingis posits a reading of community that must shape any functional culture and all the structures that reside inside it. It is his humane and inclusive ideas to which philosopher and theorist Elizabeth Grosz refers when she writes in Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space (the mit Press, 2001), “There is a community, a collective of those who have nothing in common.” She goes on to say that communities–those that make “language, culture and architecture their modes of existence and expression come into being not through the recognition…of common interests…and the establishment of universal, neutral laws that bind and enforce them but through the remainders they cast out, the figures they reject, the terms that they consider unassimilable, that they attempt to sacrifice, revile and expel.” These are the generators, this mobile, motile, loose assembly of individuals, this restless, shifting, tangential, unaccommodating polis who, through their fraying and rubbing of structure, ultimately keep the amoebic, unitary institutions from transforming all of culture, all of society into a mealy, thin soup. The opposite of that odious term “stakeholders” that bureaucrats require all applicants to engage, this group, this collective non-collective is, it seems, astonishingly productive.

Grosz addresses issues of time, suggesting it is necessary to loose the condition or measure of the present, a position that carries with it the status of things as they are–a permanence, a set resistant to change and movement. She wonders if readings of space can be subjected to similar contingent considerations. How, she asks, would virtual space, a space outside the one we now consider, be built and lived in? To think about this, we would have to leave go of “logical certainty, the guarantee of universal validity, the capacity to provide rules of procedure independent of the particularities of space and time.” What would be required instead would be experimentation, novelty, ingenuity. “It would not seek to be certain but rather to incite, induce and proliferate.”

These are unnerving, ungovernable ideas. They imply an individual acting independent of, or perhaps in reaction to, the status quo. Here again is the cast aside, generative uncommon, that source of slip and change. Here, too, is Artaud in a 1925 piece “General Security: The Liquidation of Opium.” The group on whose behalf Artaud speaks could well fit Alphonso Lingis’s assembly of the overlooked. “And you, lucid madmen, spastics, cancer patients, chronic meningitis cases, you are the misunderstood. There is a point in you which no doctor will ever understand, and for me this is the point which saves you and makes you august, pure, wonderful: you are outside life, you are above life, you have miseries which the ordinary man does not know, you exceed the normal level and it is for this that men refuse to forgive you, you poison their peace of mind, you undermine their stability.” The inclusion of Artaud’s rhapsodic charge on behalf of the souls addicted to opium is included here because it sings the cause and potency of those who are extra-ordinary and who serve to destabilize fixed power structures.

Elizabeth Grosz identifies architecture as perhaps unique in being a discipline uncertain whether to apply to itself the designation of science, technology, art or aesthetics. Looking outside itself for definition is a healthy position, allowing for a contingent, organic subjectivity.

While cognizant of the hazards of approaching architecture through a Deleuzean reading because, she says, “the Deleuzean enterprise is so resistant to the notion of application,” Grosz also says Deleuze’s work lends itself to understanding space and movement, and she uses, in particular, his idea of the destabilizing “stutter.” It’s an idea like the aftershock that brings down structures or loosens them from their foundations or undermines their soundness. Architecture is a willing partner in the examination and fits this brief discussion because as a discipline it occupies space and is material, and could engage the rethinking of time lodged in the present (including the past in a continuum). The present is the comfortable, immutable location of power since nothing can or needs to be done about the past, and the future could imply or require change to which power is never inclined. Architecture, then, can be party to, and example for, an appealing and necessary examination of the increasingly prevalent institutionalization of–everything.

The body isn’t a building, but it is, in its perception and in culture’s response to it, a construct. It may, in its persistent unruliness, be the last untrammelled domain, and certainly medicine’s institutionalized approach to treatment is “heroic” in its efforts to contain and stamp the body as a uniform entity. As a way of connecting the body to a discussion about the community with which dominant society has nothing in common, Elizabeth Grosz quotes from René Gerard’s The Scapegoat (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1986). Girard writes that if the disabled body, whose alteration may even have been the result of an accident, provokes an unsettling effect, “…it is because it gives the impression of a disturbing dynamism.” It is irregular, unusual, singular. It causes a disturbance, an interruption. “Difference that exists outside the system,” Girard writes, “is terrifying because it reveals the truth of the system, its relativity, its fragility, and its mortality.” And we’re back in the present with its fixed relationship to power; death having no niche in time is also problematic.

Of all the arts, Grosz says, it is architecture that offers embodiment the greatest acceptance. She says that like medicine, “architecture is a discipline that does not need to bring the body back to itself because it’s already there, albeit shrouded in latency or virtuality. Bodies are absent in architecture, but they remain architecture’s unspoken condition.” Sexual differences may not be recognized, and the charge of phallocentrism has been leveled, but, as Grosz writes, “Traces of the body are always there in architecture.”

Deleuze and Artaud share a conviction about the tight conjunction of body and mind. Grosz selects Deleuze’s writing on the correlation of thought and body from his book Cinema 2: The Time-Image, (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1993). Deleuze says, “The body is no longer the obstacle that separates thought from itself, that which it has to overcome to reach thinking. It is on the contrary that which it plunges into or must plunge into, in order to reach the unthought that is life.” For Artaud even that degree of separation doesn’t exist. As Sontag pointed out in her introduction to his writings, “The difficulties that Artaud laments persist because he is thinking about the unthinkable–about how body is mind and how mind is also a body.”

When Artaud writes about mind and body, the brief hesitations of Sontag and Deleuze seem unnecessary caesuras. “Sentiment means presentiment, that is, direct understanding, communication turned inside out and illuminated from within. There is a mind in the flesh, but a mind quick as lightning. And yet the excitement of the flesh partakes of the high substance of the mind.”

Elizabeth Grosz weaves ideas on thinking and thoughts throughout the section called “Architecture from the Outside,” from which the book takes its title. I’ve selected and listed them to buttress my observations about the increasing institutionalization of, as I’ve said–everything. Thoughts are dangerous this list will illustrate, because they advocate change, recommend rupture and are generated by individuals, all of which is anathema to institutions that want none of that. Not the thoughts, not the individuals who think them, and not the bodies who move the thinking individuals through space. Space is the medium of architecture; architecture is amenable to self-examination and change and, therefore, to the future as well as a contingent present, and architecture, as Grosz has confirmed, shows traces of the body throughout its discipline. That is the route of this ramble.

About thinking, from Grosz’s section “Architecture from the Outside,” Deleuze wrote in Difference and Repetition *(Presses Universitaires de France, 1968), “To think is to create–there is no other creation.” From Michel Foucault’s *The Order of Things (Editions Gallimard, Paris, 1966): “As soon as it functions, it offends or reconciles, attracts or repels, breaks, dissociates, unites or reunites; it cannot help but liberate or enslave…at the level of its existence, in its very dawning, [thought] is in itself an action–a perilous act.”

Grosz suggests that text is a process of scattering thought and could be used productively, following Deleuze, as little bombs dispersing ideas in unexpected places, leaving them to explode unpredictably, their residual effect being, as she describes them, “conceptual transformations that problematize, challenge and move beyond existing intellectual and pragmatic frameworks,” where they could “shake things up and produce realignments.” Deleuze’s own project (and also with Felix Guattari), Grosz says, is thinking about how to think, “to think while making or rather while doing: to think as doing.” And here is Deleuze again, more dangerously, seeking to give thought its ability to bring about transformation, “Count upon the contingency of an encounter with that which forces thought to rise up and educate the absolute necessity of an act of thought or a passion to think.”

Faced with institutions and disciplines resistant to change, Grosz says it is the action of the intellectual to “struggle against whatever in discourse and in practice functions to prevent thought.” She says, for Deleuze, these are the regimes of subjectification, signification and representation that insist on tying thought to “unity.” She goes on: “It is as if the forces of knowledge and power cannot tolerate difference–new, the unthought, the outside–and do all they can to suppress it by forcing it to conform to expectation, to fit into a structure, to be absorbable, assimilable and digestible without disturbance or perturbation.” Where, in this, would Alphonso Lingis’s necessary community of the alien, the other, reside?

If we assemble and follow through with actions on the above-listed charge on thought can we, in fact, up-end, destabilize or perhaps even provoke a stutter in the institutional hegemony?

The conversation with this book Architecture from the Outside is part of a sustained conversation I have with a friend. We’re not at long distance from each other or unavailable for a dialogue face to face. It’s just that this kind of conversation conducted and mediated through a text that becomes a third party, takes place in a space apart–held open, ongoing, not necessarily limited as to topic or duration, although there is a thread of consistency in that it is often about inhabitation. We give each other books and through them we speak and that’s how this one came to hand.

Volume 29, Number 1: Performance

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #113, published March 2010.

Border Crossings looks at contemporary art with interest, passion and thoroughness. Subscribe to Border Crossings today for as little as $24/year.