I can’t leave Tag um Tag alone. Here’s where I got to last week when I was writing about it in terms of what I seem to be calling its ‘event character’, following what I wrote about originality in repetition. Écriture féminine makes an appearance, which shouldn’t surprise me given the relationship I suggest in Afterward between gendered writing and my idea of ‘flatness’

Last month I considered Peter Dreher’s Tag um Tag ist guter Tag in terms of originality and repetition. My assertion was that the work’s unending repetition extends its visual stillness to the point of propositional flatness, so that we see not the fact of a painting, but the fact of its repetition. I argued that because of this, the work operates as a circular translation of itself, and thus short-circuits the alienation of the viewer by acknowledging and integrating their distance from the work.

Building on these ideas, I want to describe a relationship between the propositional flatness I perceive in Tag um Tag and some definitions of Alain Badiou’s ‘event’, in the context of post-structural écriture féminine.

To do this I want to consider Tag um Tag not just as an (incomplete and complete) work, but also as an (ongoing) project. What this duality means is that the point of creation remains present in the paintings as a continuous threat to the integrity of the work. The threat is double: that more paintings will be created, disrupting the present unity of the work; and that no more paintings will be created, disrupting the present continuity of the work. Thus as a work, Tag um Tag is continually on the brink of disintegration, and as long as it does not disintegrate it continually reasserts itself as present. It is a work in the present continuous: it is working.

So we have a work that exists over time, with the whole corpus of paintings shifting whenever a new painting is added, but also shifting whenever none is. Indeed, when the work is encountered in a gallery the numbers scratched into each painting show that they are out of sequence, with the effect that no sequence of paintings is safe: each is continually the potential site of a new interruption should the next painting arrive. Tag um Tag is a continuity of interruptions: a work constituted almost entirely by edges, to the extent that the subject matter of the paintings – beyond the fact that they reiterate one another – becomes functionally inconsequential.

Lomax cites Badiou’s analysis of “a simple event like the encounter of love”[1], which he uses to differentiate between a situation (love) and an event (the encounter). He explains that “[t]he event itself is the encounter. The encounter does not constitute the situation, it supplements it: there is what there was before, and then there’s the encounter.”[2]  The event supplements the encounter by supplying “a break or rupture in what is. […] However, a break, in itself, supplies almost next to nothing.”[3]  The event is positioned as an ‘extra’ supplement to the continuous flux of some ongoing situation: something that activates the situation by being external to it.

Returning to Tag um Tag, my immediate response is to ascribe this supplementary role to the repetition of the paintings: after all, it is the repetition that keeps open the possibility of rupture and in so doing continually asserts the all-consuming presence of the work’s edge. And indeed, the fact of repetition is quite literally external to the paintings, or at least, outside the economy of each individual canvas surface. But wouldn’t calling the work’s repetition its ‘event’ mean promoting the paintings themselves to the ‘situation’ of the work? Doing this would overlook the muteness of the picture planes (discussed above and last month) which are themselves stopped short of constituting the work by their repetition.

Instead, could the paintings be the event: the break in Being which silently “supplies almost next to nothing”? Then the situation – the Being, “what there was before” – would be repetition, and the paintings would be providing a supplement by pinning down, naming and making visible the atemporal, abstract, mathematical possibility of multiplicity that exists in the world. They supply almost nothing, but are the silent and detached placeholders for something altogether separate.

In support of this possibility I find Badiou’s assertion of the ‘evanescence’ of the event: something that “vanishes from being as soon as it appears”[5]  just like the individual paintings which are effaced by their immediate recourse to the mass, and like the mass of paintings which is effaced by the glare of each individual multiple. It is worth quoting Lomax at length as she elucidates:

“The event borders on being, it is as the very edge of being, but the event never quite obtains, in the present, the presence of being. […] We cannot say that the event is, but he [Badiou] insists that in its befalling, which is hardly a befalling at all, the event ruptures, produces a breach within, what is.” [6]

I am interested in Lomax’s particular reading of this aspect of Badiou’s event because of the similarity it bears to the opening pages of her book. In her first chapter she attempts to hold down the sense that there is something to be written that perhaps isn’t presently available to be written, or indeed thought. This is Lomax earlier on, describing the gradual coming-to-mind of the beginning of a thought of an event, which began as:

“more of a slow burning thought that has flickered here and there. Perhaps, more accurately, this occurrence had been a slow but persistent motion that has gradually warmed my thoughts. Or better still: that which has been hanging around and gently swaying. Hanging around and gently persistent but not heavy; no, not heavy with the stillness that comes just before the storm. Hanging around and perhaps abiding but not awaiting a lightning time – an occurrence such as this is perhaps best described by saying: it is in the air, prevalent yet indefinite.” [7]

Lomax is building towards the beginning of the event, but so slowly as to deny or doubt every attempt to reach a description of what there was before the event started to begin. It seems to me that she’s denying the event its chance to clot: resisting “captur[ing]” the subject of thought and gathering it “into a noun” , as Hélène Cixous would put it.

I read this gesture within the context of the post-structural feminist suspicion of logocentrism in Western thought, and the associated practices of écriture féminine. Such writing (I have in mind Hélène Cixous, Jane Tompkins, Peggy Phelan, Yve Lomax, Carole Maso, Jane Gallop, Nancy K Miller) typically defers or resists the moment of narrative or structural closure through such strategies as opening multiple entry and exit points in a text; disrupting the sign-signifier relationship through multilingualism and linguistic experimentation; interrupting the temporal relationship between the time of writing and the time of reading; and questioning the writer’s authority over that of the reader, so that the latter might “read while looking up”[8]  from the page.

The anti-sequential hanging of Dreher’s paintings now takes on an additional significance because it diminishes the biographical narrative of daily activity that might otherwise come to the fore in the work, and thus backgrounds the authorial role of the painter in the work. Unrestrained by the tug of authority, and with the freedom afforded by the apprehension of a work on the brink of disintegration, the viewer is able to enter and exit the work at will, and read the paintings while looking up from the page. The paintings do not ask for completion in themselves but rather in the distant elaboration of the situation they serve to articulate. They are “[h]anging around and gently persistent”[9]. They are heavy with stillness, “but not heavy […] with the stillness that comes just before a storm”[10]. Their stillness does not anticipate their completion, it is their completion.

It is specifically the stillness of the event in Tag um Tag that provides the void of the “mathematicians’ empty set”[11] – the clear, closed and delineated economy of the operating table  through which the work is able to subtract itself from the stuff of the world and simultaneously return in the differentiation of its own portion of Being.

[1] Badiou, A (1994) p. 87, cited in Lomax, Y. (2005) p. 165
[2] Badiou, A (1994) p. 87, cited in Lomax, Y. (2005) p. 165
[3] Lomax, Y. (2005) p. 165
[4] Ibid., p. 163
[5] Ibid., p. 163
[6] Ibid., p. 4
[7] Cixous, H. (1987) p. 90, cited in Blythe, I. & Sellers, S. (2004) p. 68
[8] Barthes, R. (1970) p. 52
[9] Lomax, Y. (2005) p. 4
[10] Ibid.
[11] Foucault, M. (1966) p. xvi

Badiou, A. (1994) Being by Numbers
Badiou, A. (2004) Handbook of Inaesthetics
Barthes, R (1970) “Writing Reading”, in Barthes, R. (1989) The Rustle of Language, California: UCal Press
Blythe, I. & Sellers, S. (2004) Hélène Cixous: Live Theory, Cornwall: Continuum
Foucault, M. (1966) The Order of Things
Heidegger, M. (1960) The Origin of the Work of Art
Lomax, L. (2005) Sounding the Event. London: I. B. Tauris