A Feeling Event: Boredom, Regret, Lack of Poetic Value?

This event demands not only a series of repetitions across years, but insinuates by including the date included, that a huge and elastic group has repeated this event year after year. Events repeat on a more fundamental level as well allowing performers to produce “events” (in quotation marks) because it is a different structure now: I am following — following instructions; I am mimicking as a form of event-making. I did not invent the constraints in 1966, but I am acting it out now as if quoting the events of, say, Dick Higgins, Ken Friedman, Yoko Ono, or others. Peter Frank’s definition of seven different types of events already identifies internal structures, but the issues of signature, and time, of events gets little if any attention. The structure of repetition relates to the geographic distance (as opposed to the immediacy and presence) and musicality (of works waiting to be performed by others). Still, these issues do not completely express the inherent “event-ness” (in quotation marks) of the event structure. It does not exist as an original that one can recover like art historians recover the Mona Lisa, or even trace its provenance. Events become events as “events,” and that has significant implications for the meaning, signature, and social function.

Events are, at least in part, about the context and structure of art, performance, events, and everyday life. The event corrodes the neat structure that opposes the mundane repetitions to the originality and special-ness of art and performance. The event resists reducing its essence, its event-ness, down to a structural opposition between the real original thing (let’s call it art) and the repeated constraints of instructions. As Ina Blom explains,

Now, the event seemed to name nothing but a series of disappearances: instances of boredom so intense they undermined all traditional concepts of aesthetic “attention” and “appreciation”, indications so minimal or insignificant they could hardly count as artistic creation, a radical and continual erasure of the very frameworks of artistic situations and a general refusal of “dedication”, “seriousness” and “professionalism” in the name of art.

 Events parody the profound, challenge the supposed privilege of the sublime, and, in spite of that mockery of sincerity, play a game with structures. They move the play to a meta-structural level. Playing with our habituated notions of time, space, life, death, and even the structure of events, events play with infrastructure and convention.

Shortly before the poet, publisher, musician, and event-performer Dick Higgins’ death, he visited the school where I taught. I had brought all of his books and pamphlets, which I owned, in a large bag thinking that I would like him to sign my copies or draw a little picture in each of them. A curator (friend of mine) saw the books, and scoffed, “Are you going to have him sign those?” I felt so ashamed that I was reducing Higgins’ work to a commercial exchange with monetary value, instead of the more profound poetic value of the event instructions and poetic events contained in these works. I said, “No,” lying], and put the books back in the bag. Dick Higgins left Philadelphia and went to Toronto where he did a performance of an event by following the instructions to “yell as loud as you can for as long as you can.” He performed the event, went back to his room, and passed away. Signing a book seemed at the time a habituated, mechanical, and disingenuous form of respect for the author of the events; it was in retrospect, precisely the mechanical and repetitive aspect of the signing that I should have had Higgins perform as an “event” or “signature.”

The atmosphere of the poem-event I have chosen involves boredom, regret, and lack of poetic value in its conjuring of feeling. 


3 thoughts on “A Feeling Event: Boredom, Regret, Lack of Poetic Value?”

  1. While reading your engaging thoughts on how “the event corrodes the neat structure that opposes the mundane repetitions to the orignality of art and performance,” I remembered one of the incidents narrated by Claude Levi-Strauss in his essay “A Writing Lesson” on his repeated encounters with the Nambikwara societies
    Simply summarized, the story describes how the members of the Nambikwara society who have never been exposed to any sign of written language because they used to communicate only orally, come to be involved in a genuine exchange of gifts, during which they are handed sheets of paper and pencils. Because of their unfamiliarity with such writing instruments, their initial reaction is one of total confusion as, at the beginning, they did nothing with them” until one day when “they were all busy drawing wavy, horizontal lines.” It is a significant moment which celebrates not only their initiation in the art of drawing as a prewriting stage but also their yearning for learning how to properly imitate it as “they were trying to use their pencils in the same way as I (Levi-Strauss) did mine, which was the only way they could conceive of” At this stage, the event displays “the orignality of art and performance.”
    And yet, since the tribe members notice that their first drawings could not reach that stage of visual similarity with the anthropologist’s writing, the majority of them gives up scribbling excepting the chief who, although hadn’t been previously exposed to such an activity, manifests “further ambitions.” Thus, he asks for a writing-pad and starts scribbling, pretending otherwise that he is writing. By speculating both on the others’ unfamiliarity with writing and also on “a tacit understanding” with the anthropologist that “his unintelligible scribbling had a[n] [actual] meaning,” the chief basically grasps the power of writing and turns it into his advantage simply by reiterating the movements similar to the actual process of writing, or as you put it, “mimicking as a form of event-making.”

  2. Thanks. This is wonderful and it has set-off a chiasmatic eureka in me.

    I am working on a project on the machines, and para-literate machinations, of reading — and talk about Levi-Strauss, but oddly I never made the connection with this mimicking as a form of event-making and my work on reading … now it came together …


    It also makes me think of Lorenz’s ducks imprinting …

  3. I read your piece after I posted my bit on my morning walk, but it occurs to me that your discussion of “events” would have added something to my bit about cultural packet switching, which is another way of talking about consciously framing spatiotemporal intervals.

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