A reading (and writing) of Laure Prouvost’s publication The Artist Book carried out whilst riding on trains. (NB this is double posted from my doctoral research blog).
Sheffield to Lincoln 26th January 2016
Front Cover: A facsimile of Bataille’s L’Abbe C defaced.† Her title, her name, her publisher, scribbles of marker (markers of scribbles), a painted pink bum/arse/ass/behind. Overleaf, in biro, she writes (I read):
‘our feet go slowly go deep in the earth like in cotton wool mixed with fresh orange juice with little fishes going on between the toses […] this page so conscious she is in a book.’
and writer>reader>writer already embodied in the pages.
‘Mis under standing mis translation miss communication as a defence or not grasping.’
and I’m thinking – she is a Miss (a Missy!) of mistranslation. So I look up méconnaisance (again) and it means ‘……..’ or at least that is what I think it means.‡ And (because she is French?) I think of Voltaire, and the imperative to speak in a language one does not know.§
Then: nothing/title/nothing/Chapters which are various/nothing/a statement of nothing (she is bossy boots Miss Mis translation).
Chapter 1: is Biography and a butt plug of subsections. Promises of facts and secrets and…
‘those open moments with other people, those forking-path moments that neither really control.’ (p11)
And the stroke of the marker that cuts us off, that marks the section break is granulated with forceful imprecision.
And I pull page from the words to see the spread, the text unjustified, left aligned, a ragged edge of language…
‘but biographies, like lives, need key moments – episodes that mark a turning point and start us off in a slightly different direction. I can’t be sure the following story is a precise recollection of the facts, but suffice it to say as an opening anecdote, it more than serves its purpose.’p12
Leeds to Sheffield 28th January 2016
I open the book and make a mental note to look at Hélène Cixous and Mireille Calle-Gruber’s Rootprints: memory and lifewriting, but have no idea why.**
I continue to read:
‘the view of this delightful behind was picture perfect, as if on display purely for the artist’s delight […] it was the act of looking of discovering – of a slightly unhinged delight of being in front of something utterly unexpected – a heady self-satisfaction generated by the gaze of the artist’s eyes.’ p12 (my italics)
Three delights. To digress: I recall a conversation with David Peace regarding iteration, repetition, the same word too often and clumsy in a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a book, supposedly A VERY BAD THING. (The editor of Jake Arnott’s first novel The Long Firm said dryly, pencil poised above the late stage draft, ‘perhaps we should retitle your little book ‘The Hoarse Whisperer?’, referring to the repeatedly described speech of his protagonist.) David iterates, incantational, and it is a kind of magic. What is her delight? Delight in experiencing / remembering / fabricating this incident, and perhaps a delight in playing with an anecdote, that of a child’s glimpse of a strange adult’s arse/bum/behind, which is of a kind that more often that not that might presented within a traumatic context, but which she narrates as a temporal precursor to a positively generative space.†† As she tells us: ‘From that moment on, whenever the artist picked up a pen, pencil, or later a paint brush, the first thing that would appear were two semicircles side by side, joined in the middle. It became a way to kickstart the excitement that was felt on that Autumn Wednesday afternoon and was a sign – or warning – of the potential of images.’p13
Then: A sparkling paragraph in which ‘the only hope we have is for people not to be literal readers’ (p13) and I am full of the sense of being spoken to (and is the skill of this book to make the elusive author the reader’s ‘longed for other’?) – her eyes on mine – no longer played with I am empassioned, though I am still a toy, the mouse to the textual cat. I do not even trust that it is she who is writing…
On Page 14: begins the subsection The Artist and Drugs. I am diminished by the coolness and shut out by the characters and on this page I am no longer her friend. On pages 16, 17 and 18 I am trying to think about my response to the text and why it is now resentful. I am locked out of thinking by the sense of inadequacy created through my reading. To be detached, analytical, rigourous. This seems to be a state I will never attain. Or perhaps these pages bore me? Or is it that I know nothing about literature but am trying to write about writing? Am I enacting an ‘Art Writing [which] sustains all forms of art criticism, including the experimental and the hybrid. The art work may be intensely engaged with, or it may be the starting point for fictional and poetic developments.’‡‡ Am I an arse/bum/behind?
Pages 19 to 24: Six pages of photographs, snaps, monochrome, amateur, holidays, relatives, mountains, groups and some of them are her and some are not and some are absurd all of which we know is part of the game of this book – by now we know it.
‘Summer ’58, Albania’ (Laure, you were not yet born…)
‘Bloody-single-minded-manipulation’ (it is you, glamorous adolescent)
‘New York, 12’ (?)
‘The tragic event’ (a landscape, smoke)
‘History’s fool’ (kitten)
I am now very cross with this book.
Page 27: The language changes, an external voice remembering L, and from every word ending in ‘ing’ (say that out loud) the ‘g’ has disappeared. This voice is…
Suddenly I am surrounded by very large men who talk loudly, gossip disguised as an address on meetings and targets, bitchiness reframed as performance assessment and I can no longer think to read and write.
Afterword: The Artist Book, memory, and ‘autofiction’.
My original research proposal states that the ‘meta-aim of my research is to create a process of enquiry that positions auto-fictive practice as having multiple voices or personas, and as being conceptually spatial; and to express this process within a multi-modal methodology that centres on art-writing but which includes material forms that emerge as having a productive relationship with the enquiry.’ Or to put it another way (possibly), to feel my way through an exploration of a making/writing practice and context that is narrated by the preoccupations of memory and memoir. How does an encounter with Laure Prouvost inform this? The book seems (so far) to be preoccupied with speaking, telling and recounting. It overtly points to itself as an autobiography, but equally overtly points to its own duplicity. Auto-fiction plays with the contradictory voices of the fictional and the autobiographical, and The Artist Book does this not just in textual, but in material and visual ways. The cover is of a work of fiction (L’Abbé C) appropriated by the artist through the use of writing and mark making (on the back cover she drawers her own face over that of Bataille), creating a palimpsest that I will (at some point, hopefully), relate to an exploration of palimpsests of memory and desire (unconscious drives) in relation to memoir.
* Ulises Carrión, in his 1975 text The New Art of Making Books, states that A book is a sequence of spaces. Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment – a book is also a sequence of moments.
† L’Abbé C (1950) is Bataille’s first published novella, and narrates the relationship between two brothers – one a Catholic priest, the other a libertine. Phonetically, in French the title sounds like ‘L’A B C’, or the alphabet. I have no intuition as to the relevance of either of these facts regarding LP’s intentions.
‡ in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, under the subsection OF THE GAZE AS Objet Petit a, Lacan precedes a reference to méconnaisance thus:
‘That in which the consciousness may turn back upon itself – grasp itself […] as seeing oneself seeing oneself – represents mere sleight of hand. An avoidance of the function of the gaze is at work there’. p74
And I’m positioning Prouvost as the author/other who regards herself with a deliberately self-deceptive gaze, in order to, perhaps both consciously and unconsciously, place the reader (me, and I am susceptible to such) within the same framework of uncertainty.
§ ‘One should always cite what one understands least in the language one least understands’. Voltaire, from Micromegas, (1752)
** ‘How can we see what we no longer see? We can devise tricks…’p4 ‘I know that it’s by being unknown to myself, that I live’.p8 ‘Here is difference between us, which is to say that we have been fabricated, moulded, written by millions of elements and authors ending in a different chapter. For you, if I take you literally, there is always breaking and for me, in a certain sense, not.’p14
†† Joanna Drucker addresses the potential of a ‘generative space’ for both artist and audience throughout her 2014 essay After After in The White Review, in which she articulates a possibilities for moving past ‘forms of fatigue’ in art and art writing. ‘Refamiliarisation, shift, generative and provocative engagement are the thought forms of aesthetic activity.’
‡‡ ‘11 Statements Around Art Writing’ was co-authored by Maria Fusco, Michael Newman, Adrian Rifkin and Yve Lomax, and appeared on Frieze bog in October 2011. In previous thoughts on the statement I reference in the text above I think I have wondered if the term ‘hybrid’ provokes an idea of a clunky limbo practice rather than an ‘Art Writing’ that could be generated within a creative ‘making’ space, that is, a practice / methodology that might be more at one with the interests and aims of practice led research.
Bibliography / Further Reading
Carrión, Ulises, A Book is a Sequence of Spaces (1975), reprinted in Book, James Langon (ed.), Birmingham: Eastside Projects: 2010
Calle-Gruber, Mireille and Cixous, Hélène, Memory and Life Writing, (1994), trans. Eric Prenowitz, London: Routledge: 1997
Drucker, Joanna, After After, in The White Review, November 2014 http://www.thewhitereview.org/art/after-after-2
Fusco, Maria, Newman, M., Lomax, Y., and Rifkin, A., 11 Statements Around Art Writing http://blog.frieze.com/11-statements-around-art-writing/
Lacan, Jaques, the Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (1973), trans. Alan Sheridan, London: Karnac: 2004
Provoust, Laure, The Artist Book, London: Bookworks: 2013
Voltaire, Micromegas (1752), in Micromegas and Other Stories, trans.Douglas Parmée, Richmond: Alma Classics: 2014