At last I’ve got round to starting Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature by Deleuze and Guattari. The chapter I read this morning begins:

A major or established literature follows a vector which goes from content to expression: a content once given, in a given form, one must find, discover, or see the form of expression suitable for it. What is clear in the mind is spoken. […] But a minor or revolutionary literature begins by speaking and only sees and conceives afterward (‘I do not see the word at all, I invent it’) [The Diaries of Franz Kafka]. The expression must shatter forms, marking the breaking points and the new tributaries. Once a form is shattered, the contents, which will necessarily have broken with the order of things, must be reconstructed. Sweeping along the material, getting ahead of it. ‘Art is a mirror, which goes ‘fast’, like a watch – sometimes.’ [Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka].

It was happy to come across that paragraph this morning, because the other thing on my list for today was write about a piece of work I completed a couple of months ago, in an attempt to see what’s going on in it. The piece of work is an audio recording, and I spoke it before I saw it. What I have to do now is try to understand some ways of seeing it.I’m not convinced of the value of sitting down to write/think out what’s going on in a finished work which I’ve made myself, I think making more work would be a more productive and interesting way of doing that. But my MA will require various things of me in June, among them – yes, in bullet points:

  • Clarity of aim: precise question or discussion of a clearly defined topic
  • Thoroughness of research in areas that are relevant to chosen topic
  • Relevance of chosen critical framework

If there’s one thing I’m structurally lacking it’s CLARITY OF AIM. In my work there is not a PRECISE QUESTION OR DISCUSSION OF A CLEARLY DEFINED TOPIC. I have plenty of aims: they arrive in lists last thing at night and first thing in the morning sometimes with actual boxes next to them to tick when achieved. Today’s list of aims, for instance, was:

today-list

The aims I write out in my lists are the things I have to do in order to make the work I make. They can be technical (buy videotapes; return library books), or professional (email so and so asap about such and such), or intellectual (try to work out what it is that Borges does that Kafka doesn’t that makes Borges safe and Kafka at risk), or strategic (read a certain essay about Borges to find out more about where he and Kafka relate; get more sleep; write about a piece of my work that I still can’t understand but which I think might be interesting), etc.

But I don’t know if it would be possible, or helpful, for me to have any broader aims than these for my work. Once I find myself interested in a certain thing then there are straightforward steps I can take, but I can’t set out to have an interest in a certain thing. I haven’t ever written on a list, say, “make some artwork about simultaneity in fiction” (nor even, now I think about it, “make some artwork”). It wouldn’t work at all. If I knew in advance what I wanted the work to be then the work would already be done, exhausted, and going ahead and making it anyway would be like telling a joke when everyone already knows the punchline.

The aim of a work can’t come before the work. Or perhaps: the aim is there, like some kind of primeval soup of significance, but it’s inaccessible while I’m at work. Either way, any aim there might be is inaccessible until it’s retrospectively sought by burrowing back into the work once it’s finished. (If I started burrowing while the work were still alive it’d end up all starched and artificial and intentional.) An important thing to add is that I’m no more likely to discover an aim in my work than the next person – and in fact I might have the least chance of anyone, since there is so little differentiating any given one of my works from the stuff around it in my room/life/mind.

It becomes nonsensical to even speak of an ‘aim’, since any aim is ostensibly absent during the making of the work, and needs to be constructed anew once the work is made. None of these are new ideas.. we’ve been questioning intentionality since Barthes and friends started to talk about the death of the author and it’s no leap to assert the same thing from the perspective of the author. Of Sol LeWitt’s Sentences On Conceptual Art, I think the following are interesting here:

22. The artist cannot imagine his art, and cannot perceive it until it is complete.
25. The artist may not necessarily understand his own art. His perception is neither better nor worse than that of others.
26. An artist may perceive the art of others better than his own.
28. Once the idea of the piece is established in the artist’s mind and the final form is decided, the process is carried out blindly. There are many side effects that the artist cannot imagine. These may be used as ideas for new works.

In reference to (28), I have trouble making any useful distinction between what LeWitt is presumably calling the ‘effects’ of a work and its unanticipated ‘side effects’. I agree that an artwork produces effects impossible to predict or imagine in advance, but if we accept this we have to accept the same is true of all the effects it can produce. Effects (if the plural is even appropriate here) aren’t neatly separable into primary and secondary, like the useful and incidental effects of a medicine. To privilege certain effects over others privileges the intentions of the maker.

But something must be done. I can see the point of the MA assessment criteria: they want to know that I’m working with some kind of purpose and self-awareness. The MA is ‘practice-based research’, and that means I need to be working along some kind of research trajectory. I can’t conjure an aim for my practice, but in its stead I can present a (hard-earned and personal) understanding of its effects, and a reflection on these effects as they appear in the discursive contexts of the work’s creation and reception.

In the end these two things – the effects and the context – might add up to this elusive underlying aim, but anything like a perfect correlation would be a happy coincidence.

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