Jan Verwoert 8: Positive Bleeding: Shared Profanity and the Touch of the Animal-Soul: 28.05.2009
This evening will continue along the lines drawn up in the previous talk: towards the notion of a critical sensualism and defiant materialism. The question that arose in the the last discussion was prompted by the final scene of Carl Th. Dreyer's Joan of Arc (1928). After a stunning materialist rendering of profane faces in motion, Dreyer ends the film by changing the key dramatically: as Joan burns at the stake, a flurry of symbols erupts, "You burned a saint" someone shouts, a riot starts, all prompted by the sacrifice of Joan's face to a symbolic order, the law of morality. Why this sacrifice to the symbolic? Could we not imagine the emergence of a defiant community without such sacrifice? On the materialist basis of shared profanity? Not in the sign of the sacredface, but in the spirit of the profane joy and pain of shitfaces: as an insurrection of creatures being shitfaced together, like in the (proto)Situationist paintings of Asger Jorn, Constant or Karel Appel?
To philosophically develop this intuition of a politics of profanation, the evening will begin with some thoughts on how Kurt Vonnegut, in Breakfast of Champions (1973), embraces profanity as the spirit of a different possible America, in defiance of an America that sacrifices itself to stories of romance and ambition—to continue with Giorgio Agamben's notion of profanation as a means (not of debasement or secularization but) of bringing the sacred back into the sphere of communal use and enjoyment through rituals without myths.
With these ideas in mind, we will return to an unanswered question that arose earlier in the series of discussions: If, symbolically, our exchange through art is governed by rites of keeping and sharing secrets, which rites do we want to embrace, which reject? Could we now not distinguish between a strategical art that strives to succeed economically through the savvy symbolic rarification of its secret as oh so special—and a defiant materialist art that dares to share the profanity of its secret in the moment of celebrating its obscene opacity? Bless the Cramps! Yes: "Everybody has heard about the bird." Nothing rare about the bird. Still, the joys of the bird are secret and boundless!
As the bird knows and shows: On the threshold to the symbolic (its narratives and economies) defying the sacrifice of our joy and pain, we might gather as creatures in motion and witness each other's lives through touching our anima(l)/soul. Riffing on this notion of an animal philosophy delineated by Derrida in L'animal que donc je suis (2006) we will then follow the motion of animals into the history of painting—pursue some cats in Balthus, dogs in Velázquez, lizards in Lorenzo Lotto and lions in other places—to try and grasp how their anima-tionality, the motion of their soul, their wiggle, animates painting materially, i.e. profoundly profanely.
In pursuit of the animal/soul, we might arrive at an understanding of what Artaud may have ment, when, rejecting Breton's Marxism as ideological, he proposed a counter-materialism of the soul and a different ethos of the secret as the spirit of surrealism's insurrection in Surrealisme & Révolution (1936): "Dans cette révolte nous engagions notre âme, et nous l'engagions matériellement. (..) Car le secret du surréalisme est qu'il attaque les choses dans leur secret." How to engage the soul, materially? Some final sketchy thoughts regarding Lorenzo Lotto's San Jerónimo penitente (1546), Urge Overkill and positive bleeding as a means to profane the soul and get down with the creatures.