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Saturday, November 3 • 9:00am - 10:30am
5.D. Eruption and Disruption

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PANEL. Eruption and Disruption

"Non-speech and the Convulsive Body in the Plays of Daniil Kharms"
C. Dylan Bassett
University of California, Santa Cruz 

Daniil Kharms’s plays are obsessed with eruptive bodily outbursts—hiccups, burps, stutters, coughs, snorts, snores, and vomiting. These outbursts sound like language, yet they cannot be interpreted as such—and so they disclose the limit of language and gesture toward its outside. Suspending the human voice, they approximate that which is beyond communication—an independent sound material produced by an unseen internal source, always in flux, always becoming. We might say, then, that Kharms stages not only surrealist and absurdist narratives (or antinarratives), but also individual “non-speech” acts. For Kharms, non-speech—which includes both incongruous semantic structures such as non-sense or incompatible logic, and literal soundmaking—lies beyond the realm of linguistic representation and signification. Non-speech fails to produce, perform, understand, preserve, or communicate anything outside of itself, and instead enacts and describes its own internal reality. It therefore denotes the ever-present “outside” of language, and accesses what Gilles Deleuze calls “the region beyond memory.” Indeed, many of Kharms’s plays are made up entirely of semi-verbal convulsions in which the act of (almost-)speaking appears as an involuntary physical occurrence, a deconstructive practice, or a wholly corporeal experience independent of human will or reason. These convulsions—whether violent or merely grotesque—rid theatrical dialogue of its metaphorical properties and grant it an autonomous ontological stature. By these means, Kharms showcases a state of constant interruption—an ongoing ontological metamorphosis that ironically produces a quasi-metaphysical experience. In this presentation, I explore the function of bodily outbursts in three plays—Elizaveta Bam, A Failed Performance, and The Story of Sdygr Appr—to show how non-speech 1) collapses the distinctions between theatre and ordinary somatic experience, and 2) reveals a region of radical unknowing and alterity within the self. I argue, then, that Kharms’s plays do not encapsulate human experience, but—like a sudden hiccup—disrupt it. As an always-self-interrupting structure, his theatre is thus able to untether singular experience from constituted, universalizing meanings.

“The Unconscious of the City: Surrealism’s Spectral Nature”
Effie Rentzou
Princeton University

One of the most memorable descriptions of nocturnal Paris appears in an account of the taxi ride that took Louis Aragon, André Breton, and Marcel Noll to the park of Buttes-Chaumont in Le Paysan de Paris (1926). The book unfolds under the agrarian trope of the title, all the while subverting prevalent associations with pastoral or nature related themes. While the first part of the book dedicated to the “passage de l’Opéra” usually attracts the most critical interest, the second part, “Le sentiment de la nature aux Buttes-Chaumont” is crucial for understanding the sense of intertwined urban existence and selfhood that is emanated by the text, precisely through the treatment of “nature.” The park, characterized by Aragon as the meeting of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s dilemmas and economic reality of Parisian life, is described as the “unconscious of the city” and becomes the locus of a denaturalized, artificial nature presented in the form of fragments and textual traces of sign-posts and inscriptions. This is a process that creates out of nature a “modern myth,” a feeling rather than an actual objective existence – similar to gestures within modernist aesthetic from Baudelaire to Apollinaire, that naturalize the city and urbanize nature. While it is a commonplace to talk about the centrality of the city within surrealism and modernism in general, this paper will proceed from the other side of the equation, unearthing those traces of an altered nature that undermine the discourse of the soil as foundation or anchor of belonging and of the nation, that were so widespread during the 1920s and 1930s. The paper will discuss surrealist treatments of nature from Breton‘s and Eluard’s L’Immaculée conception to Max Ernst’s Histoire naturelle, as philosophical and epistemological perspectives, but also as social and political positions that disrupt nationalist tropes and create the imaginary of a cosmopolitan existence in which nature becomes fantasmatic and a vector of detachment instead of attachment to a soil and a tradition.

"Crisis and Surrealism. Poetics of Surreality in Andreas Embirikos’ Υψικάμινος (1935)"
Ioanna Kostopoulou
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Recent comments on the current economic crisis have linked criticism of monetary policy with the terms of “surreal” and “surrealism”. The attempt to understand and analyze a crisis often reflects the failure of crisis management and the limitations of language. Managing the unmanageable and trying to grasp the physiognomy of (absurd) events has been historically a driving force for the development of poetic concepts and narratives. Unlike the approach of the practitioners of (economic) crisis management, the will to cope with the reality after World War I, results – in case of André Breton – in the desire for “an absolute reality, a surreality.” Methods of unleashing the unconscious become for the surrealist something more than a therapeutic procedure: As writing techniques, they contribute to the “par excellence revolutionary” potential of surrealism. Andreas Embirikos’ prose poems in Υψικάμινος (Blast Furnace), along with his speech On Surrealism (1935), epitomize the blast of a “surrealistic bomb” (Elytis), introducing the Athenian public to “new, progressive ideas” such as psychoanalysis and French surrealism in times of literary conservatism and political devastation. In this paper, I will argue that the particular relation between political circumstances, the political as such, and surrealism can be understood as the formation of a certain economic/political unconscious and poetological discourse. In these terms, Υψικάμινος can be read as a surrealist experimentation with dreams and poetics of desire (Yatromanolakis) and at the same time as a manifestation of the concern to unite poetic with political goals.

Speakers
CD

C Dylan Bassett

University of California, Santa Cruz
IK

Ioanna Kostopoulou

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
avatar for Effie Rentzou

Effie Rentzou

Princeton University

Chairs
avatar for Claire Howard

Claire Howard

Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin


Saturday November 3, 2018 9:00am - 10:30am
Room D. Bertrand Library: Traditional Reading Room (second floor)