video essay, 5’05, 2009
How I work
I could say that I’m not at all in interested in history. Yet all my work deals with history or, I should say, with the past. I use historical material to construct the past so that it speaks concurrently in the present, so that it is a living necessity. Why should we deal with the past? Because the threat of conformism is always at hand. We’re in constant danger; the state that we currently perceive as a state of emergency is no exception. It’s a continual state of emergency that will never end. As Walter Benjamin pointed out, a real state of emergency must be induced so that we can improve our position. My interest, therefore, lies in the present – which is why I can say that the past doesn’t interest me. And yet, without evoking images of the past, without the construct of history, there is no present. The past is concealed in every present moment. Unless past images impressed upon the present are distinguished, every present moment is condemned to conformism. I could also say that conformism doesn’t interest me. And yet all the work that I do is about conformism: It’s an internal struggle with conformism. The present confronts us with the doubts whether we are in fact facing the world from the best possible position. Only in confronting images of the past will we build a line of progress toward the future. If it is, indeed, still possible to believe in the future. But what other choice do we have? I’m always asking myself: Is what you do sufficiently autonomous and does it unconditionally capture the truth of the moment in relation to the surrounding reality. Am I not merely following given life patterns set in epistemological and socio-economical frames that I have embedded beneath my skin so that I can’t even notice what they’re like? This is always on my mind. I feel successful in doing this, except that failure is and has been present in this very idea from its inception. So, as always, I fail successfully.
I am, like pretty much all of us, a reader. Reading is not a passive activity for me; instead it’s a radical view of the world. For many years I pondered the hegemony of authorship. I’d always longed to be among the privileged who attribute meaning to words. Among those who determine and codify meaning. Instead, I just kept reading. At university they forced us to distil the meaning of words: to confirm a statement of the prior author through an exact citation, and thus also become an author. But there’s something perverted in this. It’s as if the privileged would allow others to have the same authorial privileges only if they confirmed the “indestructible” statute of prior authorships. I became an author based on this principle, but I did not feel fulfilled by it. Fulfilment still only came to me by reading. Then I understood why. I’m feel far freer when reading. All written texts are my endless reservoir that I’m reforming. I can change their meaning, switch it around, understand it, not understand it and connect it. I no longer see writers here as those who impose a literal meaning on me, but as entities that are on the same level as all others. They are part of all texts and hypertexts in the democratic field. This is how I read: I read ten to fifteen books at once. I read them in different rhythms; some I read in a day, some take me years. Then there are books from which I randomly read only a few sentences. I skip from book to book when reading. I employ a severe editing technique and stop reading in the middle of a sentence. I remember every word of some texts. But with other, fascinating texts that I become fully immersed in, I paradoxically can’t recall anything. Quite often it’s the case that I don’t understand some passages because they’re too complicated or else I understand them, but in a different way each time I read them. The library of texts that is formed in my mind is fragmentary and incomplete. It’s a kind of commonplace book, fully of excerpts and passages. I think this is probably a shared experience with all readers. I became a writer because the interpretation of the world that I’m presenting is subjectively autonomous and strictly in the same non-hierarchical relationship to other readers/authors freed from the hegemony of privileged authorship. All I’m saying is that there is no such thing as privileged authorship or, on the other end, passive reading. We’re all authors and we all have names. Just as Michel de Certeau wrote long ago: the reader doesn’t have to be an easily manipulable consumer; that’s just the view of the current epistemological order.
I work in a way that enables me to serenely say that I’m an independent individual that doesn’t control others and isn’t controlled by others. Let’s take a closer look at this. I’ll describe here the context of my life: I’m a solidly situated member of the middle class. I have a decent education considering the place I come from; I travel a lot. I live in Central Europe where most people are convinced that they don’t have to contemplate things, since the order of things in which they exist cannot be changed. I’m almost forty and I’m beginning to realise that I understand things too slowly to be able to change my life according to my ideas. But that’s obviously a bourgeois alibi. I live my life with a deliberate purpose and my work is also deliberate. But, like everyone else I suppose, I have this constant feeling that something is running through my fingers. I’m an artist. This means that in the culture in which I live I’m considered a free-thinker, who lives his life without regard for financial matters. The artist’s work is seen as a mission. Unfortunately, it’s not like this. My work is part of the circulation of goods, thoughts and ideas of our socio-cultural-economic frame, just like everything else. I work in order to escape this mould, to show myself and others that nothing is unchangeable, that everything can ceaselessly be transformed and our own ideas can be imprinted in it. My entire anarchistic gesture is, however, absorbed by the whole system that I’m part of. It is increasingly difficult to begin again each day. But there’s nothing else to do. Emma Goldman dreamt of a situation in which society exists for people, and not vice-versa. She dreamt of a state in which human society is transformed. Its models and organization will no longer be imposed upon us. I feel very strongly that this dream must be further realised. There’s also the need to be a historical materialist, a radical reader and anarchist in actions even more that I’ve indicated here, even more than me – Mr. Bourgeois par excellence.
In the living room, on the wall, facing the door was an enormous library. When he was small, he thought it was the biggest thing in the world. It had eight shelves. From the first shelf he often pulled out colored picture books and lost himself in the large format photography showing mammals in various duels or a field of cotton in Kazakhstan or porcelain figurines from Maisen or Baroque paintings by Flemish masters or the building of Nová Hut in Poland or schematic drawings of defunct buildings or facsimiles of Medieval manuscripts or cross-sections of the Earth or a map of the universe.
The second shelf from the bottom was low and reserved only for magazines, piled on top of each other.
The third shelf was taller, but not as tall as the bottom one. Here were field guides for birds, minerals, mushrooms and fish.
The fourth shelf was the past, which he could just barely reach from the floor. This was for literature, not a very interesting shelf since there were no pictures.
The fifth shelf was exclusively for his parents. He could only reach it from a chair and it held many brochures which he could not understand very well and which his parents often leafed through.
The sixth through eighth shelves were unknown to him. He didn’t know what kind of books were kept there, it was too high. Not even his parents took many books out from there. When he asked what kind of books were there, they regularly responded that he was still too young for them.
Once on the nightstand in his parent’s bedroom was a book which he immediately recognized from the spine. It came from the seventh shelf, fifth book from the window. The spine was ochre with no markings. But now he could clearly see the diagram drawn on the front of the book. It was a square divided into nine smaller squares. In each square were irregularly placed rectangles, on the edge were puffy shapes or cowering circles in the corners. The greatest mystery for him was the second, red diagram, which completely covered the first. It was placed in the middle of a large square and covered two-thirds of the original. Its shape was irregular, comprised mainly of interrupted lines. The most pronounced thing about it was the oval on the right side, and a cluster of amoeba-like things on the left side.
He opened the book randomly to page 52. Amid the sea of uniform text were several pictures on both pages. He was interested by the one at the bottom, which was the most complicated. A ragged line encircled points of varying size and the repeated letters ABCD. Under this shape there was an arrow pointing both ways. Under this was outlined the shape of a dog’s head with the eye in the wrong place. To the right of both was a tangle of lines at various angles. To this day he remembers the series of symbols, which he did not understand at the time and which today impart the meaning of concentration of production in the cities and depopulation of the countryside. Since he did not understand it he randomly turned to page 88. There were two drawings there. The one to the left was some kind of strange striped arrow marked with D J G H A D. The one to the right was of irregular shape bordered by a line, with markings underneath which today give the approximate meaning: Outline of layout composed solely based upon energy losses from walking to and for. He made one more attempt and turned to another page. There was the same diagram as on the front. He remembered only the series of letters underneath and quickly closed the book. Today those strange words came back to him: a p a r t m e n t e n g i n e e r i ng.