Orlan rewrites herself by physically reconstructed her face multiple times in her 1990 series “Reincarnation of Saint Orlan.” She underwent nine plastic surgeries to transform her face using features of ideal forms of female beauty taken from the art historical canon. She engages in self-hybridization not only through incorporating features of other women into her own face, but by also incorporating their narratives and texts. Orlan’s “Reincarnation” is a process of continual becoming. Her body consumes these other bodies and texts just as they in turn consume her. This act of self-hybridization and becoming multiple also reveals the presence of a death drive directed both at the self and at the canon. The canon is collapsed into a single image, and that single image exposes the horror and absurdity of the canon itself.beautyorlan.JPGOrlan is performing and masquerading her own self-creation or re-creation. The surgeries were all filmed, making the camera a prosthetic and extension of the scene of creation. Orlan also becomes a prosthetic herself as the film is screened and projected in numerous art galleries turning the artist into the mechanized copy of the real original through the performance. Orlan performs her transformation and site of becoming as she reads Lacan’s “mirror stage” on the operating table. This self-referential act about the recognition of self as Other, or in Orlan’s case, Others, brings psychoanalysis onto the operating table as a patient. Orlan’s body is caught between machines, between the artificial model and blueprint on the computer screen, and the camera projecting the transformation of her face onto another screen. Screening is a theme in traumatic narrative, the revealing and concealing of certain images. The camera also acts as a mechanical double of the surgery and Orlan’s body as reproductive organ, the camera is a mechanical reproductive organ. Orlan’s body is being worked on by the surgeon, the camera and cameraman, the canon of beauty, and in her reading Lacan, she is being worked on by psychoanalysis.


In the Carnal Art Manifesto, Orlan writes “I can observe my own body cut open, without suffering! I see myself all the way down to my own entrails; a new mirror stage” (U, 192). This reveals the objectification of the self and the new mirror stage which originates out of destruction. Instead of encountering a whole image of the self in the mirror, one encounters a direct image of the self, which is mutilated and fractured. One witnesses the self becoming multiple. This identification with the unstable transitional body over the stable holistic body points to a modern rupture in the self. “The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan” is against finality. Although there was a finished body at the end of the series, it is a body that will always threaten another mutation. If the word “final” can even be used in the context of Orlan, the final result of the Reincarnation was a face and a body that appeared to be still in transition. The human signifier is destabilized and raises the question of whether it was the signifier on the operating table all along.                                                                                                                                     Continue reading



The Dada movement was founded on stuttering. It is even named in babble, an un-name that denies the authority of the name. It produced nonsensical works, illegible texts, unknown sounds, pioneering an aesthetic of interruption in response to the effects of World War I on the modern psyche. The stutter is always an internal response to an external encounter, or in this case, an external shock. The notion of the traumatic is certainly a part of the stutter’s narrative, it is especially so in the work of Dada. Dada was heavily invested in the arbitrariness of signifier and signified, privileging the slippage between the two. While Dada is seen as an art movement, it is also an aesthetic movement that has poetry at its center. One of Dada’s most iconic images is of Hugo Ball in a lobster suit reading his sound poem Karawane, written in his own invented language. It is composed entirely of nonsense words, an entire poem of pallaksh or the maw. Meaning here is happening at the level of sound rather than the lexical level. It is the unconscious of language at its beginning of formation.

The chaos and confusion of Dada’s poetry, as well as its collage and photomontage can be seen here as representing gridlock. Many of these works capture an overwhelming amalgamation of sectioned off words and images collected in a single image that challenges and disrupts the viewer. Early on, some of Dada’s photomontage were said to have caused traumatic side effects in some viewers not unlike PTSD. There is a circulation of violence within the Dada tradition, as it reverberates out of the war, the images perpetuate a certain battlefield aesthetic where one does not know what is going on and becomes subject to a perpetual shock of images. Dada is a battle cry, a rupture in the world of mimesis.

While Dada was seen as a major disruption in the art world, Dadaists were responding to what they already saw as a disruption. They felt that the art wasn’t accurately reflecting the time and that there was already a disjunction between the reality of the world and the work it was producing. Dada arrived when there was already nonsense, just as stuttering arrives when there has already been the unspeakable. The Dada manifesto calls for people to collect their scattered and blasted limbs from the street. The subject is in pieces and this reality should be echoed through their art and certainly through their language. Language should succumb to the same blasting into pieces, to the same loss of the self. They felt that for language and art to remain intact in the aftermath of the war was absurd. What was a violent intrusion into the body and psyche manifests into language, manifests at the level of representation, or rather as a crisis of representation or non-representation, non-mimetic accounts. The idea of a Dada manifesto is itself already a stutter, as the manifesto must necessarily manifest something, it must represent. Dada resists and refuses to manifest, it subverts the authority of its own manifesto. Dada is a continual shifting of tracks and a refusal to track that privileges the misfire. What does get manifested is this distant strangeness, the necessity and impossibility of relation when one is both trying to re-construct oneself and simultaneously comment on the external world. In other words, what we see is a manifestation of the maw.

The Stutter of the Time

Paul Celan’s poem “Tübingen, January,” a three-stanza poem, breaks down in the third stanza as it stutters into Friedrich Hölderlin’s nonsensical language, “Pallaksch.” Celan’s poem, which was written about Hölderlin, about the other, incorporates the voice of the other into the body of the text. This poem contains two voices, that of Celan and that of Hölderlin who is restricted to the parenthetical space concluding the poem. Here, the voice of the other is not only babble, it is also the voice that ends, that has the final word and the final wound. The stutter is operating here on multiple registers, as the language of the other and of the speaker, the language of memory, and the language of poetry. This poem stutters prior to its resurrection incorporating the voice of the dead other. The parentheses around Hölderlin’s voice, his babble, re-tombs the dead other marking an attempt at containment. This containment is both of the foreign body and of the babble or stutter injected by that body.

The title of the poem, “Tübingen, January,” is the location of Hölderlin’s last residence after his diagnosis of mental illness. The poem locates itself, and marks that it is speaking from and to the place of the other as well as the place of the mad, a place of slippage. This poem takes in the other as the speaker announces the other through the mouth and enters that other into the text. The mouth is the site from where the other is greeted and taken in, and it is also the site of destruction. Jacques Derrida distinguishes between what he identifies as the mouth and the maw in The Beast and the Sovereign.[1] The mouth is attributed to the human where the maw is attributed to the animal. The mouth is the space that disciplines, articulates and constitutes speech while the maw is what cries, devours and tears apart. Derrida writes,

And as for orality, between mouth and maw, we have already seen its                double carry [porteé], the double tongue, the carry of the tongue that speaks, carry as the carry of the voice that vociferates (to voci-ferates is to carry the voice) and the other carry, the other devouring one, the voracious carry of the maw and the teeth that lacerate and cut into pieces. Vociferation and devourment, we were saying, but let us not hasten to attribute speech to the mouth of man supposed to speak and voracity or even the vociferation of the cry to the animal’s maw (Derrida 65).

The mouth always threatens to expose its maw, the rumbling death drive lying in wait. Stuttering is this slippage between mouth and maw, the vociferation of speech that doesn’t fully articulate. This is a scene of struggle where the maw is pulling back on language as it escapes the mouth. The moment of “Pallaksh” in Celan’s poem is a moment of the maw, the disarticulated voice and lacerated speech that managed to escape the mouth without discipline, a foreign and fugitive voice. Derrida also notes that maw in its devouring or killing of the Other, is also internalizing and mourning that Other. Tübingen January is, in its fluctuating between mouth and maw, internalizing the voice of Hölderlin to mourn it, to mourn the poet and to mourn language as the graphe, the writing and archiving of the self, the becoming-sign of the writer.

Poetry is inscribed and ex-scribed, scribbled or stuttered out in this sovereign scene of mouth and maw, in the disruption of language, the tearing and re-constitution of voice. One can say that it is the site from where poetry is made possible, made imperative, the violent and traumatic birth of language from a mouth-at-war. The history of poetry is also the history of the writing of babble, nonsense, silence, stuttering, and glossolalia. Picking up on the noise of the body, a certain noise of the real, signifying a machinic breakdown of the body and the voice, this type of writing “knows that language, like the body, is a place of spacings and gaps. It nevertheless pursues, in its materiality, this divided and incomplete gestation that is the very work of being’ It is also the work of poetry” (Weiss 132).[2] Glossolalia reclaimed babble and nonsense as a language that is able to move meaning and constitute sense in a non-linear way. This poem is written and read on that dangerous edge between mouth and maw, the unstable ground from where Celan speaks, from where he must speak, the stutter of the time.

[1] the discussion of mouth and maw is similar to Agamben’s distinction of logos and phone, although Agamben’s reading of the human versus the animal-like doesn’t allow for the possibility that phone (or maw) can articulate.

[2] This short passage is found philosopher and sound theorist Allen S Weiss’s text Breathless where he examines Laurent Jenny‘s writing on Antonin Artaud and glossolalia

Tübingen, January – Paul Celan

Beneath a flow of eloquence

blinded, the eyes.

Their – “an

enigma is the

pure sprung forth” –, their

memory of

Holderlin towers swimming,

Wheeled with gulls

Joiners’ visits submerged beneath


Diving words:

If there came

if there came a man

if there came a man into the world today, with

the beard of light of the

Patriarchs; he would need only,

if he spoke of this

time, he would need only

to stutter, stutter

without, without

without cease.

(“Pallaksh. Pallaksh.”)[1]

[1] Lacoue-Labarthe’s translation of Celan’s poem printed in Poetry as Experience

The Scream in Antonin Artaud: Building a New Transmitter

The split within the modern subject is further complicated and explored in the case of Antonin Artaud who was in search of the primal scream of the theater. Artaud’s body was already divided as it existed in the space and temporal order of the second scream, yet desired to exist in the space of the first primal scream, before the encounter with the Other. Allen S. Weiss discusses Artaud’s use of “glossolalia” which he calls, “the manifestation of language at the level of its pure materiality, the realm of pure sound, where one obtains a total disjunction of signifier and signified. As such, the relation between sound and meaning breaks down through the glossolalic utterance; it is the image of language inscribed in its excess, at the threshold of nonsense” (Weiss19-20). Artaud incorporated glossolalia into his poetic play, To Have Done with the Judgment of God and combined it with screams in his performance. The use of glossolalia and a screaming lexicon of nonsense, creates a vocal alignment with the primal scream. Glossolalia evokes the state of pre-language, of the cri pur. It also isolates the body, refusing to engage in language and to engage with the Other. The space of language and the Other is also a space of judgment. Weiss claims that the glossolalia functioned as “catharsis, as a mode of exorcism: to rid himself of God’s influence and judgment” (Weiss 20-21). The primal scream is before judgment, and more importantly, before a conception or awareness of the possibility of judgment.

To Have Done with the Judgment of God was a radio play, to be transmitted through the radio as the new container of the voice, and therefore the new book. Weiss elaborates on this, “But is the radio any less a tomb? Is it not in a sense the tomb of the book, creating another sort of ‘dead letter’ that vibrates” (Weiss 31)? The radio, like the book, is a medium of address to the Other. It breaks the direct message of the scream. The book and the radio uproot the voice from the body and fix it in another body. Unlike the book, the radio can project that eerie phantasmic quality of the voice, which is smothered and flattened in the text and spread out amongst the pages. The uprooting of the voice, which Weiss refers to as the “theft of the voice” drives his search for the primal scream, the first scream before the theft by the Other. Weiss explains the theft of the voice further through Derrida who claimed that God always already spoke for us. If this is true, did he always already scream for us as well? The question is whether the first scream escaped the voice of God, as it existed pre-language and therefore, before the possibility of thinking about a God. The theft of the voice by the Other is doubled by the radio which takes hold of the voice and threatens to keep it. Weiss writes, “Recording the voice poses an ontological risk: the recorded voice is the stolen voice that returns to the self as the hallucinatory presence of the voice of another. This other’s voice may be the voice of God, as is often the case in paranoid experiences, and as was the case for Artaud during the period of his madness” (Weiss 32). Perhaps the voice of God is like an ur-radio, vibrating within the landscape and projecting as the first voice without a body to communicate with humanity. This returning of the voice through the phantasm of the radio is worse than the original theft, for it is the return of a part of the self that no longer resembles the self. The radio becomes the new transmitter for the body, transmitting the voice as the technologized message from beyond. It is the voice without a body and the speech without a father. The radio kills the body of the father just like the act of writing in Phaedrus. Weiss writes,

“…Artaud’s voice was severed from his body, made to be an autonomous object in the world, and cast off to pursue its own destiny” (Weiss33). The disembodied voice of the radio disembodied Artaud’s own voice and conception of self. His voice, through the radio, was taken from him and made to live on without him. His voice, no longer his own, has the potential to be manipulated, misheard, and associated with other bodies, or perhaps will be associated with no body at all.

Artaud seems to be uprooting more than just his voice, he also seems to be interested in uprooting his body as a signifier, and reconstituting himself as something like Barthe’s “floating chain of signification.” Emil Hrvatin writes of “…why the scream cannot actually be heard: the production and reception of the scream are corporeal. This is what Artaud had in mind when he spoke of the recomposing of the body, of the bringing together of bodily organs on a different basis. The scream sets up the body anew” (Gough and Allsopp, 88). Artaud sees the scream as a part of the reorganization and the creation of the new body. The primal scream is inextricably linked with birth, as Artaud’s search for the primal scream of the theater establishes his conception of a new body. One might see this in relation to Mikhail Bakhtin’s discussion of the grotesque body. For Bakhtin, the gaping mouth reveals the desire for the body to extend beyond itself, to fuse with and swallow its surroundings. The grotesque body is created as a second body, after the fusion of the first body. Bakhtin writes, “…if we consider the grotesque image in its extreme aspect, it never presents an individual body; the image consists of orifices and convexities that present another, newly conceived body. It is a point of transition in a life eternally renewed, the inexhaustible vessel of death and conception (Bakhtin 318).” Artaud’s new body is this second body, the body that reforms and reorganizes after the gaping mouth of the scream. It is the scream itself that gives birth to this body, a body screamed into existence and organized around this traumatic event as origin.

Thus there are butterflies in Kafka, too

Thus there are butterflies in Kafka, too                                                                                   with the name of the worshiper                                                                                                  their fullness is crammed into the fullness of the world                                                  like the totem poles of primitive peoples,                                                                               the world of the ancestors took him down to the animals                                                 he must really have known it all along                                                                                          just as K.                                                                                                                                          engraves curlicues on the backs of guilty men                                                                 forces Kafka to move cosmic ages in his writing                                                              convert poetry into doctrine                                                                                                            in the face of reason                                                                                                                        so faithfully

(Found poem taken from Walter Benjamin’s essay on Kafka in Illuminations)

Et in Arcadia Ego

Poussin painted two versions of the same scene and also with the same title Et in Arcadia Ego. The second version has more commonly been circulated as The Arcadian Shepherds. Two versions of the same scene, a scene of death and ambiguity evokes a kind of double. In the second version, we see one of the shepherds crouched, reading the inscription, tracing his finger along the words, and casting his own shadow onto the tomb, another double. The shepherd reading the inscription simultaneously reads himself and the trace of his shadow. He therefore inscribes himself into the nameless inscription, his shadow signing off as author. This reveals a scene of reading and reflection. The crouching shepherd literally reflects himself onto the tomb, physically reflecting or projecting on death and remembrance. The shepherd conforms his body to be eye level with the inscription, submitting to the Other. The tomb presents the unknowable and unmournable Other, no name to mourn or remember, and therefore becomes the tomb of the undead and unknown or forgotten.

The rectangle of the tomb is echoed by the rectangle of the frame. The shepherd looking out potentially realizes this mise en abyme as they are caught between two tombs, two archives, two frames. The frame that they are caught in is still a double of another original frame. They are always already second, the second set of shepherds, the second reading, the delay. There is also a delay in reading and understanding and a delay in answering the inscription or the call of the Other. There is a coming to the self through the Other, circuited through the tomb and the missing Other (or missing father as the Latin would evoke). The specter of the dead looms over the scene, but is this scene in fact haunted? The unincorporated and unmourned past is controlling the scene. The present moment is already past in the moment Poussin signs the painting and the painting itself becomes the past tomb that continues to figure in the present. Numerous critics and writers resurrect it, rename it, reanimate it with new ideas and insights, reincorporating it all in an effort to understand, to shed lumen and burst through the lux.

The resurrection and reanimation by Poussin of Latin and classical antiquity as a theme and a scene in the 17th century was a time out of joint. During Poussin’s time, the Baroque style was the dominant style of art, yet Poussin dwelled in the past, recreating scenes of the past and circuiting his own present moment through that past. Poussin carried with him and in his art the crypt of antiquity. Poussin’s own shadow casts its reflection on classical scenes, reading them and reading himself in them, and so we are peering into his his own antiquated specter implanted and buried in his work to be memorialized, to be remembered. He won’t hang up or disconnect the call from the past, he is always on the line, tangling up the line, unable to receive a call from the present.

There is a theme of repetition, of return, returning to the past, returning to the tomb and the gravesite. Poussin returns to the scene he has already painted, he returns to the tomb he himself erected. Erwin Panofsky also returned to this work several times in his writing, rewriting and revising his essays. Panofsky also chose to keep the tomb open. Why is Panofsky hesitant to sign off, to sign his name to it, to sign “E” (Erwin, Et, Ego). Poussin returns to this subject twice, one early version and one later, at a delay, the delayed call of the Other to return to the past, Poussin answered this call and was possibly always already on the line after the first version. This painting doesn’t only incite writing, but so too it incites rewriting and therefore returning. I too have returned to this work after my original research as an undergraduate in a Semiotics seminar. I have been reluctant to sign off, to sign my own “E” along that of Erwin. I have also answered the call and have chosen to rewrite and revise, to rethink, to replay and repeat but first, to rewind.