Monday, February 12, 2007

leaf lounge(s)

I AM en route to Auckland... now in LAX Maple Leaf lounge next to Koru (another leaf lounge), none-the-less symbolic... awaiting Air New Zealand flight 021 to Nadi and Auckland. My flight from Halifax to Toronto was upgraded which provided plenty of leg room and a tasty dish of tabouli (which turned out to be Kasha in disguise) hummus and turkish bread. My, how Air Canada is responding to multi-culturalist edicts these days! The AC flight from Toronto to LAX sat me next to a couple from India who had brought their own rice and vegetable dish with them. They were reading hindi newspapers and as they slept soundly for most of the trip I suspected they had departed from London. I'm curious about whether I will see them again on the flight to Auckland.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

not too philosophical...please

And please don't feel you have to be too philosophical... unless of course you want to!

soon to an other

I AM.....soon to appear in the Artspace Gallery and on the streets of Auckland to offer I AM buttons to those who will wear them and to respond to questions about the i am another to installation and website. I wish to encourage people to participate in communicating about othering on this blog site.

Friday, February 2, 2007

a few more reflections on I/Thou... as such

I will draw attention at this point to Badiou’s useful interview with Peter Hallward who asks rhetorically: "Where do you stand in relation to the contemporary obsession with the other, with the valorization of difference as such?" And "how", he adds, "do you avoid this question once it’s been admitted that it is not a matter of claiming a particular essence (sexual, racial or religious), but of developing a critical position that takes account of the fact that where people are oppressed, they are oppressed as women, as black, as Jewish or Arab? Alain Badiou has characteristically interesting and provocative responses to these questions. "When," he says "I hear people say we are oppressed as blacks, as women, I have only one problem: what exactly is meant by ‘black’ or ‘women’?"

Badiou is not being facetious. He follows this with: "if this or that particular identity is put into play in the struggle against oppression, against the state, my only problem is with the exact political meaning of the identity being promoted. Can this identity, in itself, function in a progressive fashion - that is other than a property invented by the oppressors themselves?" With this powerful comment, Badiou goes on to discuss Jean Genet, an important writer for both post-colonial and queer studies. "In his preface to Les Negres Jean Genet said that everything turns around the question: what/who are black people, and for starters, what colour are they?" You can then answer, says Badiou, "That black people are black. But what does black mean to those who in the name of the oppression they suffer, and make it a political category? I understand very well what black means for those who use the predicate in a logic of differentiation, oppression and separation"(my emphasis). "Just as I understand very well what French means when Le Pen (the extreme right wing politician) uses the word. When Le Pen champions national preference, France for the French, [he means] the exclusion [of immigrants], the Arabs and so on."

Thursday, February 1, 2007

I /Thou

Enough of i am.
What of alterity with which we began... pray tell? Alain Badiou presents a few intriguing arguments around the questions of difference and alterity. In the first two chapters of his book on Ethics he articulates a response to Levinas’ position on the other, upon which his own provocative position on ethics is based. Levinas argues that it is impossible to arrive at an ethics in relation to the other because of the "despotism of the same, which is an incapability of recognizing this other." Same and other conceived ontologically under the dominance of self-identity ensures the absence of the other in effective thought which he (Levinas) argues suppresses all genuine encounters with the other….thus barring an ethical opening to alterity itself! This conundrum, argues Levinas, is the problem of western metaphysics, and an undesirable remnant of its Greek origins. According to Badiou’s reading of Levinas, the antidote to this problem is to shift the implicit same/other dialectic to a different foundation or origin point, one not tainted by metaphysical thinking, specifically the subject/object, reality/appearance oppositions; and in so doing Levinas "proposes a radical, primary opening to the other conceived as ontologically anterior to the construction of identity." For Levinas everything is grounded in the immediacy of an opening to the other which disarms the reflexive subject. The "thou" [tu] therefore as a result, prevails over the "I". This, Badiou asserts, has the status of Law in Jewish thought. For Badiou, the ineffable authority of the altogether Other- that is God - implicit in Levinas’ enterprise makes his ethics "essentially a category of pious discourse" with its own rules and regulations, hence upholding and reproducing the omnipotence of religious dogma. Moreover, with this parasitical or symbiotic attachment between religion and ethics, if we remove one from the Other, if would result, according to Badiou, "in a dog’s breakfast!" He writes, that "our suspicions are aroused when the self-declared apostles of ethics and of the right to difference are clearly horrified by a vigorously sustained difference… For them African customs are barbaric, Muslims are dreadful, the Chinese are totalitarian." In fact, he argues, "these others are only acceptable if they become good others, which is to say they should be the same as us which serves to evacuate the use value of difference and otherness as a political and/or ethical category.

another victory over death?

Phenomenologically life - being - is always on the threshold, that is being with (mitsein) death. If Heidegger’s dasein is ontically construed as "a being -for death" then perhaps Van Gogh’s death choice was governed by what Jean Luc Nancy refers to as "the phantasm of metaphysics," already, as he says, "proposed in Christian theology," in which the ego, the subject/ I, pronounces his/her own death (the Cartesian ego sum mortuus), and secures an afterlife - transfiguration (nachleben). Nancy writes: the "I cannot say that it is dead, if the I disappears in effect in it's death, in the death that is precisely what is proper to it and most inalienable it's own, it is because the I is something other than a subject." This is the crux of the phenomenological das/(s)ein, where subject hood meets the hermeneutic challenge(s) of life before an ego (I) can be (ir)rationally constituted. And what if the hermeneutic challenge precipitates questions about the value of (a) life that has been marked by frustration lack - failure - manquéhood? Notwithstanding Antonin Artaud’s prohibition, Van Gogh’s death may be an opportunity to recognise the phantasmatic character of ideology for magisters ludi with suicide as the compensating mechanism to ameliorate failure and transform the end into a redemptive prelude to transfiguration and apotheosis.

another victory over death?

And what are the questions we are posing here?
Are I AM/ i am declarations simple affirmations of self-hood in the face of the subordinating and potentially alienating power of the altogether other?
Or are they perhaps examples of the artist submitting to acedia - melancholy - the noon day demon; affirming his will according to that phantasmatic ideology which the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben discusses as "a dialectical leavening capable of reversing privation as possession." And further, "since its desire remains fixed in that which has rendered itself inaccessible, acedia is not only a flight from, but also a flight toward, which communicates with its object in the form of negation and lack." Victory over death ...or a death wish? More on this later...

I am another to myself as such

i am another to myself
i a man ot her to my self
i am a not her to myself
i amano the r to mys elf
i a manot her tom ys elf
i a m a n o t h e r t o m y s e l f

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

McCahon's I AM

The use of the statement I AM is readily recognisable in the New Zealand context as an homage to Colin McCahon, particularly the seven paintings that contain this declarative affirmation in various forms. New Zealand art historians have made much of McCahon's agnostic/existential reworking of the powerful injunction proferred by Jesus of Nazareth, who told his disciples: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6). Less has been made of the super ego injunction McCahon's "I AM" had on his art disciples and acolytes. My detournement of I AM to i am another to myself is an attempt to shift the philosophical coordinates of the phrase away from theology and existential philosophy to more contemporary debates around identity politics, alterity, power and language.

I am indebted to Charlotte Huddleston curator at Te Papa Museum in Wellington, who when I informed her of this work, consulted with William McAloon, Te Papa's resident McCahon expert. Charlotte subsequently corresponded with me about seven MCCahon paintings that feature I AM in one form or another including I am scared She informed me that one is missing and only known through photographs taken in the studio. The first cubisti I AM was painted in 1954 . The phrase also appeared in Victory over Death 2 from 1970 and Gate III which is at the Adam Art Gallery (in the Victoria University collection).

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

More thoughts on alterity

A few more thoughts as we spend time in the gallery. A number of viewers have responded to the money trail idea by placing loonies in replacement for buttons that they have taken from the shelf. This is very gratifying and links the I Am another to myself with capital and desire!

Monday, January 22, 2007


I AM buttons and the website URL were placed on a shelf for exchange with $1 loonies at the annual MFA Group exhibition at NSCAD University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was a fine exhibition opening with many visitors enjoying the event and savouring the art, snacks, wine and beer. The successful beer slogan "I Am Canadian" was visible in the bar adjacent to the Anna Leonowens Gallery. How does "I Am.....Canadian" participate in the reprodution of a multi-cultural Canadian identity?

Friday, January 19, 2007

More thoughts on alterity

Perhaps a few dictionary definitions courtesy of the web will provide some entry to the discussion.


\Al*ter"i*ty\, n. [F. alt['e]rit['e].] The state or quality of being other; a being otherwise. [R.]

For outness is but the feeling of otherness (alterity) rendered intuitive, or alterity visually represented. --Coleridge.

1. The state of being out or beyond; separateness.

2. The state or quality of being distanguishable from the perceiving mind, by being in space, and possessing marerial quality; externality; objectivity. "The outness of the objects of sense." (Sir W. Hamiltom)

Source: Websters Dictionary

(01 Mar 1998)

I am another to

Welcome to this blog site established by Bruce Barber to accompany the Artspace exhibition Moment Making February 3rd - March 3rd curated by Laura Preston. The installation in the gallery will consist of a large painted IAM with vinyl addition of letters another to IAM buttons will be distributed to members of the public walking past the gallery at 300 Karangahape Road, Auckland on Saturday February 17th and at other times during the week.

The button action, gallery installation and website including this blog provides an opportunity to explore and discuss alterity, negotiating some of the philosophical coordinates established by Fanon, Bhahba, Levinas, Ricoeur, Derrida, Agamben, Butler, hooks, and Badiou among others. The primary questions for members of the public to explore will concern self-hood, ethnicity and the identity of the other. Can we say that "otherness/alterity" is a social fact of life and/or a cultural construct? That we are all marked as others - to each other - and this becomes ipso facto our identity? Cannot one also be an 'other' -- a stranger -- to oneself, as many writers from Rimbaud to Kristeva have asserted? What does this suggest with respect to our political struggles and aspirations? Derrida posits: “no difference without alterity, no alterity without singularity; no singularity without here now” (Jacques Derrida, 1994). Does this suggest a philosophical conundrum at the point of the singular?