(en) Artaudmania - Homage to what ?

Peter McGregor (p.mcgregor@nepean.uws.edu.au)
Thu, 5 Dec 1996 16:59:13 +1000

In the context of the global Artaudmania - apparently Derrida is doing a 3
hour paper at MOMA (New York) at the NY homage - please
use/publish/disseminate (advice appreciated) - copies of our detournement
of their official conference publicity available on request. Comments

Homage to what ?
Peter McGregor
for AS-IF (Anarcho-Situationist-Insurrectionary-Fuckwits)

During the 1920s & 1930s the forces of barbarism were organising themselves
into a movement called fascism. The war against these forces broke out in
Spain in 1936, & it can be argued that had fascism been crushed there &
then, the Second World War could've been prevented ...
George Orwell was one of many foreigners who went to Spain to join the
resistance to fascism. His tribute 'HOMAGE TO CATALONIA', focuses upon a
region where the resistance went beyond defeating fascism. In Catalonia
people were going for total social revolution - as a solution to the kind
of exploitative social system that fostered fascism.

In the 1980s & 1990s barbarism has changed its face & name to neo-liberalism.
Since January 1, 1994 there has been a rebellion in Chiapas, the region of
southeastern Mexico bordering Guatemala. This was launched on the very day
that NAFTA(North America Free Trade Agreement), came into effect, in order
to indicate a refusal of the neoliberalism that NAFTA stands for. The
rebels called themselves Zapatistas (EZLN), embracing the values of the
Mexican revolution of the 1910s, embodied in the anarchist Emiliano Zapata.
Could this be the outbreak of the war against neo-liberalism ?

The 100 Years of Cruelty conference (12-15 September, Sydney) seemed an
opportunity to raise this question. The flippancy & ambiguity in the
conference organisers' publicity - 'celebrating' 100 years of cruelty; 'the
need for cruelty is as great, if not greater than ever' - suggested the gap
between experience & its representation that Debord attacks in his concept
of the spectacle.
Here was a constituency of learned people, well aware of the continuing
historical actualities of barbarism, yet compromised by their
academic/artistic positions.
So, Johanna Trainor & I produced a glossy leaflet, HOMAGE TO CHIAPAS,
detourning the graphics & rhetoric of the conference publicity (see
attached). It was handed out AS-IF it was official, at the Derrida
session, & people took it in that spirit.

The image we substituted for Artaud's was apparently a puzzle: was it the
dreaded Saddam (in the news at the time), or Gaddafi, or Assad ? One
suggestion was Burt Reynolds ! Nancy Burson's (1983) composite of 'Big
Brother'(of Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, Hitler & Khomeini) seems benign, but
maybe that is the contemporary expression & representation of cruelty - 'we
were doing it for their benefit', says Senator Herron about the stolen
Aboriginal children. (2)
Instead of indulging the spectacle of cruelty, with the conference's list
of stars, we listed, chronologically, some of the barbaric cruelties of the
spectacle over the last 100 years.
Some conference participants got our message & came back for more copies.

Would people believe that Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva & all the
conference presenters had produced a joint paper, supporting revolution, &
urging people to go & join the Zapatistas ?
How did Jacques, Julia, etc. respond to the question: "Why should WE go
join the Zapatistas ? YOU haven't !" We'd sure like to know.

According to one of the conference organisers, Alan Cholodenko, Derrida's
appearance(sic) was a 'central moment in the intellectual life of this
country'. Who are they kidding ? The Clancy auditorium was less than half
full, while the Dalai Lama was drawing thousands, as Noam Chomsky had done
last year.
Until Derrida & this academic/artistic milieu make the jump off the fence -
away from the critical-distance posture - & engage with the struggles for
freedom (like Chomsky & the Lama), their appeal, & what they have to offer,
will remain limited. It's not just the abstract, convoluted language, but
the displacement of human agency & the mystification of subjectivity that
loses many of us: what are Derrida, Kristeva et al DOING to change the
world, & what do their analyses suggest we can do to overthrow barbarism ?
Where & how does their appropriation of radical others - like Artaud -
transcend recuperation ?

The conference's claim for Artaud's voice as 'irrecuperable' was an ironic
contrast with their own terms of engagement with his life & work - their
use of intellectual & artistic 'stars' & performances, the reduction of
cruelty to spectacle, & the reign of ideologies of the fragmentary.

Our (written) text (aka Chapter 24, of Raoul Vaneigem's THE REVOLUTION OF
EVERYDAY LIFE !) is the best appraisal we know of Artaud. Raoul sees
Artaud's life's work as a somewhat contradictory COMPOSITE, rather than
separating & romanticising its parts. (3)
The Situationists have these wonderfully illuminating & empowering
critiques - detournements - of the totality that much post-modernism lacks.

We learnt much about the last 100 years of cruelty - & its representation
- in producing this leaflet.
To cite Bosnia (or Rwanda) in general seems too much of a generalisation.
It is incidents like the 16 June (1995) Serb shelling of people queueing
for water in Sarajevo (7 killed, 10 wounded) that reveal everyday
Of Babi Yar, as the beginning of the final solution, rather than Auschwitz
as the culmination.
For an OZ leaflet to not mention Bougainville & West Papua was grossly
incongruous: Max Watts' "Some Cardinal Rules (for) Australian Media &
Military Reporting on Bougainville" cleverly dissects official
representations of cruelty.
Also, we may have underemphasised the preeminent role of the USA as empire,
in what has after all been called the American century. Consider for
instance, the coups & their legacies, against say Mossadeq in Iran (1953) &
Arbenz in Guatemala (1954), but also that 'theatre of cruelty' staged by
the US & USSR, the Cuban missile crisis (1961), where the world was held on
the brink of nuclear war. (Thanks Jack.)
Species-ism as a globally widespread & systemic, yet apparently unconscious
(?) mode of cruelty only got a token mention. The banality of, & hence the
tolerance for, the daily taken-for-granted cruelties to animals is but
another aspect of global capitalism's drive to dominate & devour nature.

So, whether time will be longer than rope is up to us: more cruelty or
beyond cruelty ?
The barbarism of a third world war or a
no-peace-without-justice-freedom-&-equality dividend ?
PS : I have had to postpone my own joining of the Zapatistas - I couldn't
get permission... My Faculty turned down my study leave application
(would've been quite a lively sabbatical) : what could I learn, what kind
of research could be undertaken, with insurgent third world indigenes &
other rebels ? Why, they're even/actually opposed to free trade !
(1) In August this year the Zapatistas, & their expanding international
solidarity movement, held an 'International Encounter for Humanity &
against Neo-Liberalism', & issued 'The Declaration of La Realidad'. We had
intended to include, as the leaflet suggests, The Declaration of La
Realidad, courtesy of Subcommandante Marcos et al, but just couldn't fit it
in. Next time.
(For more info on Chiapas & the EZLN,
http://www.peak.org/~justin/ezln/ezln.html or

(2) Another of Burson's composites (Beauty (1982): Jane Fonda, Jacqueline
Bisset, Diane Keaton, Brooke Shields, Meryl Streep), is touring Oz as part
of the BEYOND RECOGNITION exhibition of Contemporary International
Those familiar with Burson's work may notice that the left & right sides of
the face have been flipped, for the technical reason of allowing the white
lettering of THE GREAT LEAP FORWARD to be visible: Mao et al have a lot to
answer for, but we wanted to focus upon just one specific, but massive,
cruelty of theirs.

(3) Some things may get lost a bit in the translation, & do remember, it's
at the end of a whole book !

(4) Sadie Plant's THE MOST RADICAL GESTURE reveals this contrast.

(5) The ROCK AGAINST CRUELTY concert has been postponed, & is to be held in
December (check details with SARA, Student Action for the Rights of Animals
Peter McGregor works as a lecturer in media studies in the Faculty of
Humanities & Social Sciences at UWS, Nepean
Johanna Trainor works as a teacher of photography in the Faculty of Arts &
Media at the Hunter Institute of Technology