Post-structuralist Fun Pack
A Parable for Post-structuralism:
In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice why “un-birthday presents” are better than birthday presents. After applauding himself for making a good argument, he says “Glory!” Alice asks, “What’s glory?” Humpty replies, “It’s a nice knock down argument.” Alice objects and says “glory” and “nice knock down argument” do not mean the same thing. Humpty Dumpty replies, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
A word and its meaning; sound and sense; the ‘signifier’ and the ‘signified.’ Much of post-structuralist thought can be interpreted as coming out of a radicalization of Saussure’s “arbitrary nature of the sign” (A Course in General Linguistics, 1916), which told us there is no inherent relation between the “signified” (sound-image of word) and the “signifier” (concept of a word). The word “dog” has no inherent “dogginess;” we could have just as easily called a dog a “tree”, “polka-dot” or “fire.” Post-structuralism flourishes in this gap between signifier and signified—all its creativity, vitality and perspicacity comes from exploiting the instability between signifier and signified.
Post-structuralism is suffused with an intractable suspicion, as it scrutinizes the ways in which symbolic systems are employed to establish and perpetuate authority (if not domination). Post-structuralism can be understood as a discrediting project. It wants to discredit the notion of “truth” as universal, timeless and monolithic, but instead truth as an unstable field of competing epistemic claims (a seed planted by Nietzsche). It wants to discredit the assumption that words are capable of referring to a meaning existing outside of language, but instead meaning is only the effect (and not the cause) of language itself. It wants to discredit the triumphalism of humanism which posits that “man” is on a teleological trajectory towards progress, but instead diminishes man to a “strange empirico-transcendental doublet” (The Order of Things, Foucault), man as mere accident of historical discourses. It wants to discredit the notion of the Cartesian “subject” as rational, coherent & capable of free will—but instead the subject as imbricated in an invisible matrix of power struggles beyond its control, divided against itself. It wants to discredit the notion of a “work” as a hermetically sealed masterpiece with a single stagnant meaning which we have to ‘unlock’—but instead the “text” as an unstable tissue of quotations whose meaning is constantly deferred.
In its heyday, post-structuralism ignited a conflagration in the U.S. (though not in Europe), becoming a political football in the “culture wars” of the 1980’s (because of its ability to erode citadels of cultural authority), leading to the politicization of the humanities in the U.S. and the rise of the “Studies” fields (i.e. Culture Studies, Gender Studies, Postcolonial Studies, Ethnic Studies, etc. Even the difference today between a university department being called “Art History” versus “Visual Cultures” is an after-effect of post-structuralism). Lacan brought psychoanalysis into the domain of philosophy; Derrida brought literature into philosophy. Whereas once criticism was subservient to literature, post-structuralists brought criticism into such efflorescence that criticism challenged the primacy of literature.
This project will create a post-structuralist board game, a cartoon series called “Post-structuralist Comics” (and a Working Group called “The Arts of Post-structuralism”).
POST-STRUCTURALIST FUN PACK “Red Threads”:
Red Thread 1: The Russian origins of Post-structuralism: Originating with OPOYAZ [Общество изучения Поэтического Языка] (St. Petersburg) and the Moscow Linguistic Circle (1915-1924), the Russian formalists (i.e. Roman Jakobson, Viktor Shklovsky, etc.) were the forefathers of structuralism (as well as Soviet writer Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale (1928) taken up by Levi-Strauss who rewrote it for structuralism (1960).
Red Thread 2: Post-structuralism & Queer Theory: Foucault’s rejection of the supposed “objectivity” of historical knowledge and “universal truth” opens the door to the rejection of heterosexuality as a universal truth, instead recasting heterosexuality as a contingent matrix of discourses, institutions and norms which have been naturalized as “universal” or “normal”—i.e. a “truth effect”.
Red Thread 3: Far Right Co-Option of Post-structuralism: Whether it is the IDF’s use of Deleuze/Guattari’s “smooth & striated” space https://www.frieze.com/article/art-war, the Identitarian movement’s (Fabrice Robert) use of Gramsci’s ideas in spreading right-wing politics through culture (“métapolitique”), or Alexander Dugin’s embracing the post-structuralist idea of multiple truths, how has the Far Right repurposed post-structuralism for its own politics?
Red Thread 4: Post-structuralism & the Post-Internet Age: The ‘rhizome’ (Deleuze), the ‘trace’ (Derrida), the ‘death of the author and the birth of the reader’ (Barthes)—seminal post-structuralist ideas were effortlessly (and inadvertently) put into practice by the internet’s non-linear decentralized structure (i.e. hypertext [online texts dynamically changing in response to user input] as well as the de-monumentalization of the author function [once monolithic and hermetically sealed, authorship has now been deterritorialized by the internet (i.e. online forms of distributed authorship & communal writing [wikipedia, blogs, etc.])
Initiator of Project:
Andrea Liu (https://parsejournal.com/authors/andrea-liu/) is an art critic and artist working between New York/Berlin/Paris. She received fellowship awards from Banff Centre Jarislowsky Outstanding Artist Award, Center for Experimental Museology (founded by Arseny Zhilyaev) (V-A-C Foundation), https://redmuseum.church/en/museum-in-a-liminal-state-winners, Museum Fine Arts Houston & has been artist-in-residence at Centrale Fies Liveworks Performance Act Award, Art & Law Program, Ox-Bow/Art Institute of Chicago, Atlantic Center for the Arts. She has written for Afterimage, ArtMargins, e-flux (AUP), Social Text, New Museum, Parse, Movement Research Journal and she wrote catalogue/exhibition essays for visual artists Georgia Sagri (Deste Foundation, 2017), Kandis Williams (Soft Colony, 2017), Aditya Mandayam (Kunstverein Munich Companion Series, 2019), & Bob Gramsma (Edition Fink, 2014). She gave talks/panels/lectures at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (Productive Image Interference: Sigmar Polke Festival), Centre for Postdigital Cultures (Coventry Univ, UK), Royal Central School of Drama & Speech (UK), Goldsmiths, Yale University Whitney Humanities Center, CTM Festival (Transmediale Berlin), NYU Performance Studies (Affect Factory), Sorbonne VALE (Voix Anglophones Littérature et Esthétique), Université Paris VIII Vincennes – Saint-Denis, Black Mountain College Museum, Venice Center for Public & Digital Humanities, Geffen Museum (Los Angeles), Printed Matter (NYC) & CAA (College Art Association). She received her undergrad education from Yale and was curator of Counterhegemony: Art in a Social Context, a theoretical fellowship program for visual artists: https://www.e-flux.com/announcements/107432/call-for-applications-counterhegemony-art-in-a-social-context-artist-fellowship-program/
Contributor to Red Threads:
Maxim Spivakov: Maxim Spivakov is a visual artist and researcher. His work focuses on the technically-conditioned transformations of the aesthetic faculty and the reciprocal implications of technicity, sensation and desire. https://garagemca.org/en/exhibition/assuming-distance-speculations-fakes-and-predictions-in-the-age-of-the-coronacene/tour/maxim-spivakov