On January 20 antepress performed an experimental lecture on ekphrasis at the David Roberts Art Foundation, as part of Damien Roach’s exhibition Shiiin, Jet Stream, White Earphones.


An audio recording of the lecture has now been posted on the exhibition blog, From a Darkened Sunroof. My contribution to the lecture drew on my ongoing research into the instructional form of address, and particularly the potential for frustrated instructions to work as ekphrastic figures.

By issuing instructions to the other speakers – instructions that weren’t followed – I tried to create an alternative potential version of the lecture, which in turn caused the actual version of the lecture to appear as just one possible version of it. It was an attempt to make the lecture a reflexively ekphrastic event: an event that describes itself, using just itself as a description.

The address I made towards the end of the lecture talks more about this, and as it does so it combs through a number of other ideas I’ve been writing about. So here’s a transcript of my final section of the lecture, shot through with hyperlinks:

If I give you instructions and you never do them, it’s like asking you questions you never answer. What that’s like is like blowing a bubble and never letting it pop.

Can I ask you a question and never let you answer it?

Well, I say ‘let’ – who’s letting whom? Am I letting you not answer the question, or are you letting me keep the question safe from your answer?*

Dangerous.

It is dangerous isn’t it: if I ask you a question and you answer it, that’s it, that’s the end of my question. The end of the line…

– Are there goldfish swimming in the floor downstairs?
– Yes.
– Oh. Well that’s the end of that then.

“The categorical ‘yes’ cannot render what was, for a moment, only possible. Still more, it withdraws from us the gift and the richness of possibility since it now affirms the being of what is, but affirms it in response, thus indirectly and in a manner that is only mediate. So in the Yes of the answer we lost the direct, immediate given, and we lose the opening, the richness of possibility. The answer is the question’s misfortune, its adversary.”

The answer is the question’s misfortune.

It’s dangerous, answering; describing.

So if I don’t want an answer, what’s the object of my question, my instruction, my description? What’s the object of the things we’ve written down to read out to you this evening?

Writing can’t catch. It’s stuck on paper so it can’t catch. It’s a malapropism – I mean – it’s dyspraxic. Even if it could catch, the goldfish are too slippery. If there even are any.

The questions I’m asking you aren’t for answers; they’re so I’ve got the questions.

You can have them too, as long as you don’t answer them. Let me instruct you – and let me have you not do it. Let me describe you – but don’t be what I’m describing.

[…]

The object of my description isn’t Damien’s show. It isn’t the goldfish installed downstairs. It isn’t even the lecture we’re doing now.

The object of my description is to describe. I’ve got a verb for an object!

It’s an end in itself. It circles round and completes itself all on its own. It’s like a sentence that talks about its own grammar. Let the description describe itself. Like a simile. A metaphor. A whole new object. The prose of the world.

“There can be no commentary unless, below the language one is reading and deciphering, there runs the sovereignty of an original Text.”**

If the text is the commentary is the text – now what?

* I haven’t yet written about the relationship between making x do y and letting x do y. This is something I want to come to in the next few weeks.

** This is from Foucault, The Order Of Things (Routledge 1989 p. 45). I haven’t yet written about this text.

Contemporary art magazine this is tomorrow reviewed the show here.

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