- After Criticism: New Responses to Art and Performance
Allen S. Weiss once relayed an anecdote about misspeaking the title of John Cage's 1961 book Silence as "Silences," a slip that revealed the inherent impossibility of conflating all possible forms of silence into one idea. At the core of After Criticism: New Responses to Art and Performance is this same impossibility in regard to criticism, and with it, experience, narrative, and history.
Gavin Butt introduces his book by stating that criticism is "in trouble" (1). Constricted by capitalistic economies of epistemic reproduction, undermined by poststructuralist eradication of an authoritative position, and entangled in postmodernism's "warp and weft of the cultural text" (3), the critic finds herself against a wall of hermeneutic practices "operating as an authorizing meta-discourse for contemporary critical maneuvers, whilst simultaneously working to constrain the production of new concepts and/or methods of critical procedure" (4). Or, as David Joselit suggests in the roundtable discussion in October's 100th issue (to which Butt refers), critical discourse has become, not necessarily to its detriment, a mode of interpretation rather than a "mode of judgment that carries weight" (2002:203). Ultimately, Butt wants to enable a "go[ing] beyond of criticism" through a "concern with the processes of aesthetic creation and interpretation," "an abandonment to the act of criticism itself […] with a view to opening up the possible futures of criticism by actualizing them in the present-ness of the critical operation itself" (17).
The three sections of the book—Performing Art's Histories, Distracted and Bored: The Critic Looks Elsewhere, and Critical Responses/Performative Processes—each reflect a departure from "constative" description, to conjure J.L. Austin, of the artwork toward criticism as an "embodied—and performative—condit[ion] of production" (10). Rebecca Schneider's "Solo Solo Solo," in Performing Art's Histories, engages black cultural heritage, art criticism, and the paradox of how to define "solo" performance, a "uniquely 20th-century term" (27), to argue that the performer-audience relationship is always inherently collective. Schneider's processual "cuts," "leaps," and "riffs" between performance histories, and her own present-ness in the act of writing, works in thematic and structural conjunction with John Seth's "Iterant Improvisations" in Critical Reponses/Performative Processes, a completely navigable stream of consciousness that runs from The Sound of Music to John Coltrane to Gabriel Orozco, and further.
In "This is I," from Performing Art's Histories, Niru Ratnam discusses the problems of claiming one's subject position via artist Francis Newton Souza's move from Bombay to London to New York in (unsuccessful) pursuit of a place in the Western canon. Alluding to Homi K. Bhabha's notion of cultural mimicry, Ratnam writes, "The staking of the claim […] lies in working from the inside of a number of narratives to produce something momentarily new" (73). Through this, Ratnam offers a neat counterpoint to José Esteban Muñoz's "Utopia's Seating Chart," a cultural mapping of pre-Stonewall queer (dis)identification through the work of the New York Correspondence School in the Distracted and Bored section. [End Page 178]
Between these two essays is Jennifer Doyle's "The Trouble with Men, or, Sex, Boredom, and the Work of Vaginal Davis." In Davis's 2000 Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Care, the performance artist impersonated art world It Girl Vanessa Beecroft, who was invited to that year's Whitney Biennial. The audience's confusion of the two artists, believing that Davis was Beecroft, allowed for the momentary possibility that "a Los Angeles-based Amazonian black drag queen with solid welfare class roots had been officially sanctioned by a major museum as a representative of contemporary American art" (94). Misrecognition becomes a method for critiquing the inequity of representation, and Davis's "dialectical relation to the institution of the art world […] expressed through Beecroft's work" grounds Doyle's argument that the "dialectical is always already a little bit queer" (83).
In Critical Responses/Performative Practices, Kate Love's "The Experience...