I do want to do something.

To the reader
November 28, 2007, 6:26 pm
Filed under: London notes


Yesterday 27 of November, I went to a talk, part of the Sweatshop series organized by the Serpentine Gallery.The topic was , “On engagements: Confrontations, Conflations and Lateral Engagements”.

A topic that particularly interest me since I am in a moment of my life where I am unable to take a decision, to face my positions, to take responsibility. Even worse, hear my heart beat.

A lot of things came out in the discussions. The speakers where Alexander Garcia Duttmann, Professor of Philosophy and Visual Culture at Goldsmiths.Maria Fusco, writer and director of Art Writing , Goldsmiths, and Tom Morton, writer and curators. The moderators were Lisa Le Feuvre and Edgar Schmitz.
Lisa Le Feuvre introduced the lecture series as following the organizers selfish interest in matters concerning them. She repeated the word selfish a few times. The attention to one’s own private interest, the following of passions, up to the point of falling in a certain madness came up in the discussion as one form of engagement. You engage with what matters to you. And what matter to you could be dictated by many things, one of them is your desires, whatever those may be. See where they lead you/us.
-But is being overwhelmed by something, being engaged?- There is a certain powerlessness in this engagement that does not quite make it contractual, if one considers engagement being this paradoxical position of which is the distance where one can say, I engage or I don’t.
I will come back on this later.
The second, or other direction/attitude towards engagement was formulated by Alex Duttmann and consisted of an erasure of the self towards something. To erase one’s fingerprints to achieved position, a goal, reach an answer. He quoted Kierkegaard and his reflexions on marriage. I am paraphrasing here but he referred to a passage where Kierkegaard was questioning the “whys” in marriage saying that the beauty in marriage is to have as little why as possible. The less why, the more love. This conception of engagement follows the idea of fidelity. I lead op faith based either on the very absurdity the act one is committing, or something that becomes obvious, because, you know, that’s it!

The “yes”, as I have understood it from Duttmann is coming closer to “the given”. He made a distinction at the beginning of his talk between engagement and the given. Engagement is what excludes the given. The given is a certain happiness. Something similar to stupidity. Engagement, once it comes closer to the given, becomes this sort of stupidity. In a contorted path, then, engagement is about saying yes to something that is already there. The engagement is in the affirmation of letting go. To let go, is engagement. ?


This is where the two approaches that were sketched out can meet. In an excess. Saying yes is an excess, something one jumps/falls/ is thrown into. Following one’s passion (the first approach), being excessive is also something that goes beyong the “I”. In both cases, engagement is probably the ability to configure the I and to position it. Saying yes, or saying no. Being in the moment or deferring that moment. Withdrawing into indifference and in boredom, being activists. Taking a decision or refusing to take it. The moment I say I, I am already describing a position, a place, a voice, a desire, a history, a language, a grammatical construction. What to do with the I is something else. And this is what can be scary. If I think that I am always already involve, I can direct, construct and build on that involvement. Directing my actions and my desires.


Do I have this power? Or is my only power the one of realizing that I have none, falling back into boredom, a narcissistic retreat into-with myself ( I am thinking here about Sara Kane’s adaption of Phaedra, Phaedra’s Love, where Hyppolitus pushes the limits of boredom and disinterestedness to exhaustion and abjection). This conception of engagement/disengagement brings also to mind Baudelaire’ and his poem, To the Reader, (Au lecteur), published in the Flowers of Evil. Baudelaire’s poem is somehow different because it contains an address, a relation between him and the reader bounded by hyppocrysie and the sharing of the knowledge and the fear before the terrible monster of boredom. In his address to the reader,there is a relation with, but also against boredom. Baudelaire is addressing, but is also maybe calling for.

“Mais parmi les chacals, les panthères, les lices,
Les singes, les scorpions, les vautours, les serpents,
Les monstres glapissants, hurlants, grognants, rampants,
Dans la ménagerie infâme de nos vices,

Il en est un plus laid, plus méchant, plus immonde!
Quoiqu’il ne pousse ni grands gestes, ni grands cris,
Il ferait volontiers de la terre un débris
Et dans un bâillement avalerait le monde.

C’est l’Ennui!- L’oeil chargé d’un pleur involontaire,
Il rêve d’échafauds en fumant son houka.
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère! ”

Engagement. An masturbatory narcissism or a leap of faith in the search of a transfigurative exchange. masturbation or sublimation?

Or simply an address.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

This is the comment of a friend, that I like.

l’engagement, je le pense militaire; c’est l’armée. c’est à dire une
idéologie avec ses principes, ses codes, ses punitions et ses
récompenses. ça va contre “chemin faisant”, contre le faire (contre le
désir). ça unit, mais univoque, unis vers.. c’est le but. et donc ça
le chemin tu le fais, et le voyage fait partie du chemin. on est pas
obligé d’aller jusqu’au bout; si on en a marre à la moitié on peut s’en

aller. c’est ça l’intelligence, les militaires restent jusqu’au bout.

Comment by M.

Dear friend,
Some have been there before.
Your troubadour, s

“As for my frenzy for work, I will compare it to an attack of herpes. I scratch myself while I cry. It is both pleasure and a torture at the same time. And I am doing nothing that I want to! For one does not choose one’s subjects, they force themselves on one. Shall I ever find mine? Will an idea fall from Heaven suitable to my temperament? Can I write a book to which I shall give myself heart and soul? It seems to me in my moments of vanity, that I am beginning to catch a glimpse of what a novel ought to be. But I still have three or four of them to write before that one (which is, moreover, very vague), and at the rate I am going, if I write these three or four, that will be the most I can do. I am like M. Prudhomme, who thinks that the most beautiful church would be the one which had the spire of Strasbourg, the colonnade of Saint Peter’s, the portico of the Parthenon, etc. I have contradictory ideals. Thence embarrassment, hesitation, impotence.”

Letter to George Sand, Saint Sylvester’s night, one o’clock, 1869. From Gustave Flaubert.

Comment by sidselnelund

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