Distributed for Zone Books. In a work that will become indispensable to anyone seriously interested in modern art, Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss introduce a new constellation of concepts to our understanding of avant-garde and modernist art practices. Formless: A User's Guide constitutes a decisive and dramatic transformation of the study of twentieth-century culture. Although it has been over sixty years since Georges Bataille undertook his philosophical development of the term informe, only in recent years has the idea of the "formless" been deployed in the theorizing and reconfiguring of the field of twentieth-century art. This is partly because that field has most often been crudely set up as a battle between form and content; "formless" constitutes a third term standing outside that opposition, outside the binary thinking that is itself formal. They chart its persistence within a history of modernism that has always repressed it in the interest of privileging formal mastery, and they assess its destiny within current artistic production.

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Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal. Log in No account? Create an account. Remember me. Facebook Twitter Google. Previous Share Flag Next. The modernist interpretation of modern art, which is an extraction that dares not speak its name, partakes above all in an ontological project: once art was liberated from the constraints of representation, it had to justify its existence as the search for its own essence.

Caillosi compares this condition to that reported by schizophrenics who feel themselves dispossessed and even devoured by the space around them. In the grip of this, he writes, 'The individual breaks the boundary of his skin and occupies the other side of his senses. He tries to look at himself from any point whatever of space. He feels himself becoming space. He is similar, not similar to something, but just similar.

And he invents a space of which he is "the convulsive possession". Ours is to connect it to a previous one, occurring two sentences earlier in the text: 'Whatever it [the informe ] designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm.

The informe is the unassimilable waste that Bataille would shortly designate as the very object of heterology. To say that the universe is informe is to say that it makes no sense and thus that it should be crushed like a spider or expectorated like mucous. Bataille's double proposition is thus not contradictory, the 'something like' not referring to a resemblance but to an operation; the spit or the crushed spider are not themes even though it is evident that Bataille chose them as examples because, besides their character as reject, they escape from geometry, the idea, morphology.

Metaphor, figure, theme, morphology, meaning--everything that resembles something, everything that is gathered into the unity of a concept--that is what the informe operation crushes, sets aside with an irreverent wink: this is nothing but rubbish. Or rather they produce the low, the base, as having always already been part of the high, as the stain it carries within it.

In his study of Bataille, Denis Hollier examines this methodical strategy of scatology, saying that one of its operations is to search for the dirty word, the word that will not only elude the world of concepts, or ideas, but will attack as well the order and propriety of that world. Accordingly he writes: If a metaphor always refers to a proper name, restricting in advance the field of its transpositions, scatological deconstruction of this sublimating process is produced by contact with an untransposable unspeakable: the search for the dirty name is a conclusive component of this tacit.

The dirty word is a word exposing its impropriety, but, rather than doing it by moving toward some desired proper name, it exposes what is not proper and unclean about the proper name, exposing the transposition every name, by itself, is already, the transposition betraying the unspeakable, that which cannot be names.

What seems to drive the repetitive pulse of one organ dissolving into the image of another is a sense of the erosion of good form, an experience of pragnanz in the grip of the devolutionary forces of a throb that disrupts the laws of form, that overwhelms them, that scatters them. And it is here that Duchamp invents the pulse as one of the operations of the formless , the pulse that brings the news that we 'see' with our bodies. Coming to this question after hearing the repeated dreams of trauma victims, Freud began to theorize the structure through which a patient is doomed to the compulsive repetition of an event, particularly an event which, far from being pleasurable, is an extreme source of anxiety and terror.

If this is so, he reasoned, it is because the event was one that the subject both witnessed and was absent from; which is to say that it happened to a subject who was, peculiarly, not there. This dream may be illusory on its face; but this is something that must be demonstrated nonetheless--which is to say that one must 'exit the domain of the project by means of a project. As we have seen, this is the way Beyond the Pleasure Principle would recast the propositions of "The Uncanny," in terms of the life and death of the organism, and speak of the trauma as a blow that penetrates the protective armor of consciousness, piercing its outer shield, wounding it by this effect of stabbing, of the punctum , the tuche.

Because, whether or not the feminine subject is actually at stake in a given work, it is the character of being wounded, victimized, traumatized, marginalized, that is seen as what is at play within this domain.

And it is the inevitable waste of the meaning system, the stuff that is no longer recyclable by the great processes of assimilation, whether intellectual as in science or philosophy or social as in the operations of the state , that Bataille wants to explore by means of his own procedure, which he names 'theoretical heterology.

Heterology is restricted to taking up again, consciously and resolutely, this terminal process which up until now has been seen as the abortion and the shame of human thought. Tags: art , books , theory. Post a new comment Error Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal. We will log you in after post We will log you in after post We will log you in after post We will log you in after post We will log you in after post Anonymously.

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L'Informe: mode d'emploi

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Formless: A User's Guide

Co-curated by Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss, its premise is to sift through the granary of Modernism with a sieve of a new design. Against the conventional idea of ineluctable progress from one -ism to another, against the concept of the primacy of pure vision so truculently propounded by Clement Greenberg et al. According to Bataille, 'formless is not only an adjective Actually, for academics to be happy would require the universe to take shape. All of philosophy has no other goal


Excerpts from Rosalind Krauss & Yve-Alain Bois's FORMLESS: A USER'S GUIDE


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