Issue #25: Authorship/Anti-Authorship: Legal and Aesthetic
Roundtable on Jackson Pollock’s Modernism, counter-narratives to anti-authorship in the nineteenth century, in Fluxus, and in 1960s Brazil, also the beginnings of an Anti-Global art history.
Inside the issue
By analyzing the Gros case in relation to nineteenth-century French law concerning the droit d’auteur, this essay offers evidence against one of the central historiographical postulates advanced in anti-authorial criticism: that the displacement of an interest in an author’s meaning onto a reader’s productive activities represents or would have represented a subversive blow to the modern proprietary regime of authorship. More specifically, I will dispute the plausibility of certain supposedly critical alternatives to the author, be they Roland Barthes’s modern scriptor or his emboldened readers, by demonstrating that the criticality of these positions depends upon a mistaken view of what historical authorship entailed and, more tendentiously, by suggesting that these same alternative “authors” had already been furnished with rights of their own.
Eighteenth-century intentionality was less a directional striving or will, than disclosive, something that made us aware of our being in the world. What the senses do, in this sense, is to make the world available, rather than keep it at a skeptical remove. Perception…is a “skilled attunement.” It is Lajer-Burcharth’s singular achievement to give us a very different eighteenth century, a “luminous elsewhere” that’s also right here with us. And radically ordinary.
Again: is this Farago’s politics, or is this something deep in the DNA of global art history? Insofar as globalization concerns itself with “subject positions,” it seems clear that struggles for state power and deep changes to the relations of production and the exploitation of labor are not just beyond its grasp but irrelevant to it.
It might seem idiosyncratic to scrutinize such tiny details in such a large painting: Cathedral’s surface area is eighteen square feet, each dot I have discussed smaller than a dime. Yet my purpose in calling attention to Pollock’s small-scale painterly decisions, the evidence of which he left plainly in sight, is to demonstrate his fastidious concern with the integrity of his surfaces. From the perspective of their studied particularity, limiting the use of “all-over” to describe stylistically the putative uniformity of Pollock’s canvases forecloses the possibility that “all-over” might just as well designate the intentional character of every mark. In Pollock’s automatism, everything matters, at least potentially.
Helio Oiticica’s career tells the story of the democratic leap of art off the wall and into life, out of contemplation and into action and experience, from autonomy to involvement, from elite contemplation to democratic participation, from aesthetics to politics. This narrative, which carries the authority of being the story Oiticica himself wanted to tell at one point in his life, is not false. And yet the truth lies elsewhere: closer to the works themselves and, only apparently paradoxically, in the great political crosscurrents that tore through the Brazilian 1960s.
Fluxus containers, in summary, initiate the beholder (a holding, handling beholder, maybe a tool-being holder in the Heideggerian sense) to explore and take interest in the world. The boxes sensitize the user to a world where the public is overwhelmed and numbed by the excess goods proliferating, literally ad nauseum, in the world and landing in the seconds bins along Canal Street, where Maciunas made use of them as artworks. The kits express a collective obligation (or opportunity) to repurpose the excess manufactured articles of late capitalism.