Fillip 9 — Winter 2009

Other Uses: Boolean Searches in the Martha Rosler Library
Shepherd Steiner

This essay was originally delivered as a lecture at Site, Liverpool, while the Martha Rosler Library was installed there. I was asked by John Byrne, curator of Site, and Paul Domela, Director of the Liverpool Biennial, to talk about close reading rather than simply interpret the Library. As someone who is committed to close reading, I found myself in an extremely delicate situation. Current fashion prescribes that such lectures focus on theory. But I could not. I had accepted an invitation that went against the founding precepts of the practice of close reading as I had come to know it explicitly through use.

Consisting of over 7,700 books drawn from the personal collection of the artist, the Library has been on an extended exhibition tour that began in New York in November 2005 and was variously installed and accessible for public use in Frankfurt, Antwerp, Berlin, Paris, and, most recently, Liverpool and Edinburgh. The problem for me was to talk about close reading and not _the Martha Rosler Library. The problem was that if one is committed to close reading, as I like to think I am, then one would have to speak about close reading _and the Martha Rosler Library_. That “and” is very important for close reading. Close reading is not a theoretical method of reading that one can extract from the practice of reading, abstract from the work at hand, or know in advance. It is a variable approach to reading dictated by the text, object, or image itself. The crucial distinction for me is using theory, rather than applying theory.1 To use theory—and I think that every work of art has a theory of interpretation built into it—one must respond to the singularity of the work confronted and let that determine what is to follow. In so doing, one can potentially perform a reading, something that exists inside interpretation—reading or theory being an event that happens within and beyond interpretation, what we can call interpretation’s constitutive act. The point here is that if we want to talk about acts of reading in all their fullness, we must talk about the Martha Rosler Library, since a general theory of textuality (let alone a distilling out of an abstracted version of theory) cannot be separated from the specific textuality of the Library. Thus my title (which shouldn’t be taken too literally), “Boolean Searches in the Martha Rosler Library,” for with that all-important “and” as well as those “ors” and “nots,” we are in the vicinity of what library insiders call the Boolean search.

For those of you unfamiliar with a Boolean search, I should note that a Boolean search is (as the dictionary on my Mac tells me) a “search characterized by a system of symbolic logic that uses combinations of such logical operators as AND, OR, and NOT to determine relationships between entities”—for instance, Rosler and her collaborator on the project, Anton Vidokle. For a “not” we could include the artist’s signature, Martha Rosler. In place of this ortho_doxy, Rosler would have us emphasize heterodoxy. As a close reader, I like the sound of this, primarily because close reading presupposes that one is inextricably tangled in the work’s system of symbolic logic—we could say part of its system of metaphoric exchange, an economy in its own right. This insideness seriously complicates the position of interpretative mastery, outsideness, or critical exteriority assumed by a majority of theoretical methods, especially those hailing from New York and, ironically, from those critics we imagine to be closest to Rosler, such as Benjamin Buchloh and Rosalind Krauss. I think that acknowledging the importance of being _in the library is crucial to fleshing out the wider stakes of the project that implicate use, the political, and the recuperation of agency, questions that are all easily lost when we simply walk into the library, look around, and just see and experience nothing more than a library—a kind of shabby, regional library at best, at least in its manifestation in Liverpool, and, thus, very different from its other manifesta- tions, say, in Paris, at the Institut national d’histoire de l’art, or at the e-flux storefront reading room on Ludlow Street in New York City, where the Martha Rosler Library was first opened to the public in 2005. I remember spending some time in a shabby library not unlike Liverpool’s Martha Rosler Library in Horsham, Australia: a skylight made it too hot, the plants seemed to need watering, the space was originally intended for something else, the library monitor was occupied otherwise, a sense of boredom made reading anything more than a dust cover an impossibility. The critical work to be done here is contained within the coordinates of such an imaginative response—obviously one of many such responses given that we all use libraries in very different ways and use or inhabit different libraries differently. Drawing on one’s own experience of everyday type places like a library is at the crux of responding to work in the avant-garde tradition; it works upon and with one’s experience, grapples with it inasmuch as it is a question of form or aestheticization, something that older notions of the critical and specifically political interpretations of Rosler’s work have little if any purchase on.

These few moves—using, inhabiting, responding, pressuring—all involve theoretical questions with huge ramifications for the practice of criticism. Beyond this, speaking about Rosler’s or Vidokle’s practice alone is not easy: one needs the help of an especially strong search engine, such as the Boolean search, to get on the right track. As is widely known, both artists are extremely articulate; Rosler, especially, is one of those artists who is more articulate about her work than her interpreters. Mainly, I would say that this is because she thinks dialectically, according to a rigourous mode of logic that the relational terms of both a Boolean search and a close reading can help sort out. I would claim, in fact, that if we are to make any sense at all of a project like the Martha Rosler Library we need to be attentive to the structural inversions, substitutions, and displacements that these ANDS, ORS, or NOTS speak to, that happen between the library as object and the viewer as subject, that complicate many of our expectations of what a work should be (for instance, self-reflexive), and finally, that mark the subject (or viewer) as the crucial arena—a post-minimalist arena—for thought and, ultimately, action to take place.

There is a second entry under Boolean in my Mac dictionary that we should mention as well, Boolean algebra: “A form of algebra concerned with the logical functions of variables that are restricted to true and false.” I like the sound of this as well, for if we were to push these true and false notions into a theory of language, we would end up close to fleshing out and securing J. L. Austin’s original reason for investigating speech acts, which is where our contemporary notion of the performative comes from. One of the things Austin did in the 1950s was to make the important distinction between constative and performative notions of language. He did so in order to isolate performatives (which he thought were nonsense) from constatives, which he defined through their factual or referential function and which he thought the high road to the serious use of language. If constative language reports on true or false things, performative language does not; it only performs an act in saying something. For instance, I uttered a performative when I responded to my hosts in Liverpool, John and Paul, saying I accepted their invitation and promised to talk about close reading. Promising doesn’t report on a true or false situation, nor does it have any bearing on a cognitive or an epistemological question. It relates only to the act of uttering the promise, one that I may or may not keep in this essay. For if my argument fails to live up to my original promise of talking about close reading, the original speech act could misfire. This is what Austin describes as an infelicitous performative. And so far it’s not looking so good. I’ve been spending my time cataloguing interpretative difficulties and rehearsing a theory of language rather than speaking about the library or close reading!

Which gives me reason to pause and make some quick headway by browsing through a few titles. If there are a lot of “how-to” books in the library—_How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space?_ (A86-3, B2-12; I include the shelving number in case you want to follow up on any one of these), How to Be a Jewish Mother (A41-21),_ How Boys and Girls Can Earn Money_ (A100-16),_ How to Take Winning Pictures_ (E5-60),_ How to Make a Perfect Impression_ (A73-41)—all useful (some more than others)—Austin’s great “how-to,” How to Do Things with Words, is absent.2 However, I don’t think this means too much in terms of a hole or gap in Rosler’s or Vidokle’s knowledge. Indeed, the act occupies a prominent place in their project, but not in the way that Austin would have us understand it. There is, for instance, a very eloquent moment in a conversation Rosler had with Stephen Wright where the critic asks her about the relative lack of books in the tradition of American pragmatism and she responds by talking about the importance of continental theory—specifically, hermeneutic trends in criticism over that of poetics, or what she calls criticism in the tradition of the “the pragmatics of reading,”3 which was the dominant form of language philosophy in America.

In the library in Liverpool one finds a section marked “language philosophy.” It includes a beautiful collection of the University of Minnesota’s Theory and History of Literature series. Shelved at floor level one finds Paul de Man’s_ Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism and The Yale Critics: Deconstruction in America. Next to these I also found two books by Hans Robert Jauss, Toward an Aesthetics of Reception_ (A81-31) and Aesthetic Experience and Literary Hermeneutics (A81-30). One rightly kneels before these books and the wider series as a whole. They are foundational for the contemporary practice of criticism, but also a not unimportant indicator of an emphasis we find in Rosler’s practice as a whole. Reception aesthetics is a crux for her practice and her unique conceptualization of the political uses of art. All of which is to say that Rosler knows well enough that she has her own solid notion of the performative in hand, one that has repercussions for politics, is necessarily to be seen against the horizon of history, relates to the everyday, and hinges on the viewing subject. Rosler’s notion of the performative is not Austin’s, but it is a particular species of act nonetheless: an act specifically attached to hermeneutic rather than poetic presuppositions about language and a question inseparable from the problem of use, specifically use value, and addressed by the likes of Jauss’s Rezeptionästhetik. We might fill in a few of the gaps and ellipses that my rather telescopic attempts to speak to Rosler’s notion of use and the act have engineered by mentioning three other books in her library that she herself has flagged in various conversations. One finds Henri Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life _(C10-10), Hannah Arendt’s _Origins of Totalitarianism (A62-41), where Arendt talks about the “the right to have rights,” and finally Giorgio Agamben’s _Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life _(A81-28), a book that Rosler her- self discusses as “reopening (Arendt’s) question... that the concept of inherent human rights is an incoherent idea.”4

In terms of the current interest in and distinction between politics and the political we can say that for Rosler, and, by extension, Vidokle, the act of claiming rights (something that always happens after the fact) is where the political now lies. Like the performative that is inseparable from the syntactical context of the speech act, the realm of the political for Rosler is to be found or excavated within form as that which is performed—an act that exists within and beyond the hermeneutic horizon of the viewer’s response. To reiterate Arendt’s point, if we have to claim rights, it is because we have no rights, or at least none until they are claimed. This is what a number of political thinkers call one of the “structuring paradoxes in Democracy.”5 Claiming what is proper to (or the property of) each one of us is necessary because the realm of the act is precisely the lack or absence of representation in what we call politics in a representative or liberal democracy.

In this regard I think it important to note just how close though not identical Rosler’s and Vidokle’s notions of engagement, participation, heterodoxy, and collaboration actually are to the question of use value that close reading is uniquely able to put its finger on. For what the library begs of us is to use it in ways that are natural to each one of us. We are to respond on our own terms—terms that the situation of viewing calls upon us to place under pressure in turn. In a sense, I think we have to remember the work is a collaborative project and that we should understand the ramifications of its expanded notion of the possibilities of collaboration in far more open and complex ways than it simply being a project by Rosler and Vidokle. Thus the importance of the decoy in Rosler’s practice, which I understand as something that explicitly calls viewers to work—in habitual ways, everyday kind of ways, ways we are used to—and that by virtue of the art frame we inhabit, that provide us leverage or the opportunity to put into question. Thus the importance of the decoy in Rosler’s practice: in conjunction with the art frame inhabited, the decoy takes us by the hand toward a first step, explicitly calling us viewers to work. It also asks us to retrace our step, providing us leverage to think and pressure what Lefebvre designated as “everyday” use.

If one recalls Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen (1973), one sees that use had an early and important place in the artist’s practice; in this early video work, we see use reimagined as misuse, perhaps for an emancipatory project for the liberated woman. In effect, this early “how to” misuse kitchen implements by turning tools into weapons for the struggle implicates both a poetic and a hermeneutic horizon of language that will be refined and focussed in the power of the act. In the context of the Martha Rosler Library, our own presuppositions about “what good” or “what use” a library and the books in it are summarily brought to the foreground and put on stage as a variety of instrumental uses, misinterpretations, or misreadings—each potentially productive in its own right. Use in its abstract or general sense (use in the sense of reading for information, of researching a specific topic, or to better ourselves) is of far less interest here than use value, which is always relational and a question of technics. What we want to hold onto is Marx’s account of use value, where use is an occult term that is difficult to grasp—something used up in the process of making meaning or using in its literal sense of use as use value for the system of capital. Only in Engel’s translation of Marx’s Capital: A Critique of Political Economy is use value crystallized as an empirical entity.6 This is the same as saying we need to be wary of instrumentalizing or literalizing use value or simply equating it to an educative function like consciousness raising—an angle Stephen Wright vociferously defended in a lecture on the Martha Rosler Library and a point on which I strongly disagree. Ultimately we should resist literalizing use as such, and, if we do, we should note that the material kernel of the act remains out of reach, though something temptingly recoverable after the fact.

This excess seems to have been one point of interest for Rosler during her reading of Capital _in a seminar with David Harvey. On perusing one of a number of copies of _Capital in the library, specifically catalogue number A111-10, I found three of Rosler’s snapshots of the seminar table with Harvey at one end and her at the other, tucked between pages eight and nine. Jotted down in Rosler’s handwriting on the first page of the chapter titled “The Production of Absolute Surplus Value,” we read: “in the section/he will assume/ideal conditions/that workers receive a fair wage/[& ideally as well,/all commodities/made at their full/value then what?” There are probably many other moments of inscription like this one, but coming from a chapter titled “The Production of Absolute Surplus Value” I take the moment as exemplary. It suggests we might profitably think of our encounter with the library as a crystallization of a very subjective, humdrum, and everyday kind of institutional critique. The difference being that in this case the institution is recognized to be the self, something that assumes we are all locked up in our own libraries—a kind of learning cell in what Lefebvre calls the “prison of everyday life”—a site with epistemological chains attached that this project hands us the key to unlocking as use value and secondly gestures toward as the possibility of act or agency recuperated. In this sense, the Martha Rosler Library is just a library, a literal library that serves the function of fulfilling the role of prop—she calls it a proposition—in this case meaning a prop or skeleton key for a greatly whittled-down emancipatory project enabling each one of us to come to terms with the ideologically conflicted notions of use we harbour. Inasmuch, I would emphasize again that the Martha Rosler Library is very much a post-minimalist work premised on the centrality of the subject (or viewer), and by virtue of its metonymic proximity to the presence of the subject, a de-emphasized, “thin,” and un-self-reflexive object.

All of this on how pivotal the act is to our reception of the Martha Rosler Library and how this can be accessed only through close reading is a little teaser to keep you interested as I trot out some coordinates of close reading in order to propose an ethical extension to the politics that may or may not be suggested by Rosler’s and Vidokle’s project. Briefly, there are a number of loosely defined forms of close reading that I would say are significant to touch upon. Generally speaking, close reading finds its roots in Anglo-American literary criticism of the 1930s and 1940s, reaches an academic high point in the United States in the postwar period, and is finally reinvented in the 1970s and 1980s by some of the key figures of Deconstruction.

I. Roots first. Close reading in its strict historical sense is often associated with the American New Criticism. It is, however, an Anglo-American tradition within literary criticism that stretches back to William Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, Northrop Frye, I. A. Richards, T. S. Eliot, and also William Empson, who pushed the envelope in various ways. This is a fairly stale crew, most of whom turned to poetry as a substitute for the spiritual values that are in short supply in the world at large. Theirs was a vision of literature that is decidedly apolitical and ahistorical. Close reading in its less strict art-historical sense goes back to Roger Fry and Clive Bell’s notions of “significant form...amounting to an...attempt to isolate the essential factor in the aesthetic experience of painting.”7 At least, that is how it is seen by Clement Greenberg, who also represents one line of close reading by way of his dialogue with T. S. Eliot especially. Eliot’s key interest, Greenberg tells us, is in “the aesthetic fact, what works of art actually do, not so much what they mean,” which of course is a question of the act.8 And given Greenberg, Fry, and Bell, one way we can group together this fairly loose configuration of critical voices is by noting the fairly consistent emphasis on form. Formal criticism was a byword of close reading in the period 1930 to 1960. And it should be said that while formal criticism is the last place one would expect to find a notion of the political or of history, that is what I would argue close reading offers: a revitalized notion of the political and a deeper notion of history, because an interrogation of the philosophical aesthetics that the New Critics built their exegetic practice around—i.e., the shaky and suspicious foundations of the aesthetic in which the New Critics invested art’s autonomy and value.

On the point of the aesthetic, the New Critics were on the right track, though we need to push their notion of the aesthetic—typically bound up in value judgments, a false notion of art’s autonomy, and a reluctance to think the intentional object—toward an inherent contradiction, which most of them would not have been comfortable with but which is precisely what William Empson did in two places in his book Seven Types of Ambiguity: A Study of its Effects in English Verse (there are two copies shelved at A15-28, A91-36). Empson is well known as a key figure in the New Criticism, but his fascination with ambiguity makes him into what Alfred H. Drake calls “Caesar’s evil genius to Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren’s earnest Brutus.”9 The aesthetic conceived of as a suture of system or form, precisely the uncertainty and ambiguity of meaning Empson found rich, is what close reading in its more contemporary sense concentrates on. The key texts on this are by Paul de Man, whose book Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (A81-28) contains the important essays “The Dead End of Formalist Criticism” and “Form and Intent in the American New Critics.”10 There are two things to mark in de Man’s text: first, that though formalist criticism is a dead end, concentration and pressure on form provides the avenue to the performative, one of the many blindnesses or contradictions he teases out of contemporary criticism in his book; second, that de Man’s emphasis and insistent pressure on questions related to formalization and language ultimately provide the royal road to the political.

II. This serves as introduction to the question of close reading in its deconstructive sense. From my perspective the key figures in this pantheon are Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Andrzej Warminski, and Gayatri Spivak, all close readers of one or another variety. In de Man, for instance, close reading is the study of tropes and tropological systems, which ultimately leads him to the problem of aesthetic ideology. In Spivak, we might note an insistence on the problem of translation, the mother tongue, and most characteristically difficult interpretative leaps between vastly different linguistic formations such as contemporary politics, the Western canon, non-canonical literature, and the theory and practice of the classroom. In any case, looking back at the works of Derrida and de Man now, it is clear that close reading is the most important legacy of deconstruction. For example, if one looks at the orientation of de Man’s writings in Blindness and Insight, one notes that the critical work in each essay is keyed to rhetorical problems intrinsic to the encounter with singular texts. Why? Typically, because it is believed that if the critical encounter with singular texts is pushed beyond the limits of the New Criticism’s project, one enters into dialogue with a different dimension of politics and history, an ontological dimension that is political, that is inseparable from the category of the aesthetic—something that allows the system of the text to come into being in the first place. One of my favorite quotations from de Man is “Political theory is in the hands of the aesthetes.” This very short quotation from the series of lectures on aesthetic theory that would eventually become the book Aesthetic Ideology is both deeply worrying and insightful.11 It spells out the conflicted nature of political discourse as a problem associated with the realm of the image or spectacle and provides an avenue for thinking what now constitutes the political. Left and Right distinctions obscure matters here. What the quotation gestures toward is that language is enough to go on in order to articulate the new terrain of the political—a perspective that does not bode well for those still in favour of importing political theory and discourse into art. That set of procedures misses the point of de Man’s statement and, in fact, instances his principle worry: that politics even when driven by the best intentions is an aesthetic question.

III. If one departs from the essentially philological aspect of de Man’s notions of close reading and surveys the field of art history for candidates, one can single out the work of TJ Clark and Michael Fried. Clark and Fried are both close readers, one emphasizing a hermeneutic approach to language, the other emphasizing a grammatical approach to language.

IV. Close reading in its expanded sense, which has no significant body of criticism to draw upon, is something that arises in confrontation with contemporary art and is not confined to painting as it is for Clark and Fried, nor even to works of art as discrete objects. I think the Martha Rosler Library is an example of a work that demands an expanded notion of close reading. It certainly isn’t only the singular object that we know as a library. It is 7,600 books, many, like Donald Judd: The Complete Writings, 1959–1975, with discrete essays and reviews inside. The responsibility of close reading when confronted by this kind of extended work is to be attentive to a singular essay like Judd’s “Specific Objects,” to shift if necessary to the book itself as a singular entity, and, finally, to be flexible enough with one’s approach to consider different measures and scales of the singular text, which would include groups of books within the library and the library itself as a global entity.

The point I would emphasize in confronting the Martha Rosler Library is that while we have to hold onto a notion of the global, the example offered by any one book in the library is crucial. Given that all examples are singular and essentially anarchic ones, any one book radically disturbs the flow of power within the system, though not with the kind of positive results we are used to or once expected from critical methods that sought to identify the outsides or gaps in a system. Claiming that examples are constitutive of a system is very different than saying they are inside the system—that is why “within and beyond” is the crucial phrase. Without going into the specific dynamics of these exemplary states represented by each book, suffice it to say that a book in a library is a common enough occurrence. It is, in fact, a trope, and I think it is safe to say that each book in the Martha Rosler Library is a trope in a tropological system here framed by the figure of the library. This is crucial to recognize if one is to perform a close reading of a text like Judd’s “Specific Objects,” but it would be equally important to acknowledge that the tropes that make up the tropological system that is Judd’s essay are entirely unique and cannot be collapsed into the larger system. Even as a committed close reader, very often I approach a text with a range of presuppositions that I carry forward from my last encounter. Typically, I say “I can use my experience—I know something about texts and art writing.” Wrong! We can assume no a prioris any longer. One has to start from scratch each time. That is absolutely crucial. Ultimately, because the example is absolutely singular: its connections to other examples, whether within the same yellow binding, body of works, or library, are ultimately based in contingencies of the historical and spatial kind. (One of the upshots of the philological aspect of close reading in terms of a notion of globalism and understanding contemporary art’s place within it is that it encourages one to take the slow road to empire. I would submit we need to map the landscape from the ground up [stone by stone] and find the various ceilings or horizons of democracy or modernity implicit to specific examples. Why? Because the landscape of practice, and indeed the topography of modernity itself, is uneven, made up of singular examples, each with distinct ceilings and grounds of possibility—variously overlapping, refuting and unique—yet under the thumb of totality just the same. Among other things this suggests hegemony is always already inscribed in specific instances of language and that power counts on such instances of the local or particular or discrete as resources to enrich and strengthen itself.) For instance, Judd’s book is catalogued beside José Posada’s Posada’s Popular Mexican Prints and John Romer’s Valley of the Kings, and I’ve never heard of either one of these, nor do I plan to read them. (Well, maybe I will now, since I am feeling rather guilty about saying I won’t.) In any case, what one constantly loses in the easy substitution and equation of one text or work for another is the absolutely singular nature of each example, not to mention the multiplicity of crossings and sutures between the aesthetic and the political that constitute the broader landscape of examples. Thinking about the problem of the example from such a perspective involves staging the always-unique encounter with the language of the other in the context of a global field of languages. Inasmuch you will always see the close reader lean on linguistic questions and always press these toward the problem of the many languages folded into the one language of the library.

All of this raises an important way to remap the problem of globalism and the place of the particular or local within that hegemonic construct, but I also think it spotlights another question that close reading is particularly well suited to pose, a question already raised by both Derrida and Spivak that implicates rethinking democracy as the question of a linguistic multiplicity. From the perspective of close reading, this library is a microcosm of democracy if, that is, we think of democracy as Deconstruction urges us to, as a motley accumulation of very different languages. To put it simply, close reading has very large repercussions for sorting out some of the nagging problems that relate to speaking about art and democracy, which are questions that go to the heart of both Rosler’s and Vidokle’s project and their individual practices. Dialectical options are no longer an alternative here, as, for instance, Chantal Mouffe would argue: the political can only be situationally inscribed and recuperated after the fact. We should also mark this imperative as ultimately an ethical move over and above the politics of interpretation that govern the various discourses of art today. Further, it seems to me that on this point we can push the notion of the political that Rosler and Vidokle advocate into an ethical dimension animated with the books themselves. For the political work that is advocated by the artists seems to be a work on the subject as a locus of power and for the purposes of reclaiming agency. This is completely in step with the immanent method of close reading. What a close reading of the Martha Rosler Library adds to this work of suturing by the viewer is an extension of sorts: ultimately pushing us toward explicitly ethical encounters with texts in the library that are things that exist as the linguistic other to the non-dialectizable act that Rosler and Vidokle are interested in reclaiming. This notion of the political, one that walks hand-in-hand with the ethical, casts a shadow on the political uses of reading that are given a place to happen in the Martha Rosler Library. These other uses exist beyond the horizon of the subject and the ontological drive that the act founds.

  1. All too often the work we do as interpreters hinges on applying a theory of art we like, that we think is progressive, or that we believe provides the proper horizon for understanding art—some choose sociology, others a philosophical approach grounded in ontology, others still a psychoanalytic approach, etc. To my mind that kind of application of theory is misguided and misdirected. It presumes not only that we know what the object, problem, or practice we are looking at actually is but also that our own perspective on the problem is free of the many symptoms of power that are being analyzed. In fact, I would argue that all of our encounters with and interpretations of art that are mediated by theory or a specific methodological approach are inherently authoritarian (at times sadistic, at other moments simply mastering) in nature. I would say that the dangers of interpretative mastery are far too grave for us to allow for this, that an ethics of the object means recognizing the self’s conflicted nature as an instancing of power.
  2. J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962).
  3. Martha Rosler, Deinstrumentalizing Knowledge: Stephen Wright Interview with Martha Rosler, unpublished.
  4. Ibid.
  5. I like Thomas Keenan on this especially, but Marx also has some things that relate to the point in Capital. See Thomas Keenan, Fables of Responsibility: Aberrations and Predicaments in Ethics and Politics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), 37–42.
  6. This is what Gayatri Spivak tells us in one of her great readings of Marx. See Gayatri Spivak, “From Haverstock Hill to U.S. Classroom,” What is Left of Theory: New Work on the Politics of Literary Theory (London: Routledge, 2000), esp. 1–11.
  7. Clement Greenberg, “T. S. Eliot: The Criticism, The Poetry,” in John O’Brian, ed. Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism: Affirmations and Refusals, 1950–1956, vol. 3 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 66.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Alfred H. Drake, in conversation with the author, 9 September 2008.
  10. See especially Paul de Man, “Form and Intent in the American New Criticism,” Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 20–35.
  11. Paul de Man, Aesthetic Ideology, ed. A. Warminski, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).

Image: Martha Rosler Library, 2005. Installation view at e-flux, New York. Courtesy of Martha Rosler and e-flux.

About the Author

Shepherd Steiner teaches Modern and Contemporary Art History at the University of Florida. Recent publications include Snow Changes Everything: Unfinished Form in the Filmwork of Ibon Aranberri (Funadcio Tapies, 2009); “(Art and) Democracy | Hegemony (and Anarchy),” in Becoming Dutch (Eindhoven, 2009) and “Curatorial Formalism and Tinkering with the Political on the Far Side of the Subject at Documenta XII” (Journal of Visual Culture, 2008). His curatorial project focussing on American painting and video art, titled Acts of Non-Agression: 1960–76, opened at the Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, in September 2008. He is currently finishing a book on Modernism titled Mnemotechnical Bodies: Close Readings in Modernist Painting, Sculpture, and Criticism.

You Might Also Enjoy
Buy Issue$15.00