Jon K. Shaw editorial ii

Editorial – issue two – part one

The Self-internment of the Living

First we had a couple of feelers down at Tom’s place,
There was old Tom, boiled to the eyes, blind,
(Don’t you remember that time after a dance…)[1]

From its inception, rattle has been highly invested in the issue of two. Our editorial board is a two-headed beast, and conversations between Tom and myself often return to questions of how we might remain two, that is, how we might keep our different predilections and the dialogic processes of editorial on the surface and never contritely subordinate to a singular outcome. Similarly, we ask the same of what our subtitle calls ‘Art and Writing’. Possible convergences are vertiginally innumerable when neither is asked to dominate the other. But paramount is the content of the journal itself being always multiple. Practically, we must encourage ourselves to be surprised by the work submitted to us, to strive for insight and acuity whilst dampening any urge to recognise only that which we already believe to be ‘good’ qualities – that path would lead only to kindly shepherding or bogus coronation. What I believe we strive for, against the dissipation of multiplication of tolerance, is a certain disappearance.

Thinking through this problem of a set which is not pre- or over-determined (neither monocratically nor neoliberally) has caused me to reflect that the history of collaboration has frequently been a history of poor arithmetic: William Burroughs and Brion Gysin wrote of a ‘third mind’ emerging from their joint efforts (1+1=3); Gilbert and George as a single entity seems to precede and preclude any ancestral individuation, such that I cannot imagine a time when there was a Gilbert yet to meet a George (1=1+1); Bob and Roberta Smith (nominally and arithmetically) conflates these two equations; Nicolas Bourriaud writes of an imminent utopia of convivality; Chantal Mouffe refuses it. Whether sustained by a messianic coming together or groundless originary dissensus, whether producing excess or contraction, being together does strange things.

Perhaps concomitantly, being alone can require equally strange machineries. To determine what it takes for an artwork to stand alone, we need only arrive at an exhibition an hour before opening: While curators coiffe and file themselves ready for smooth networking, witness scribbles of technicians and handlers smoothing filler onto curved projection walls and raising canvases by imperceptible measures. And it is these that are our best models as editors – those who labour themselves out of the way, out of the work, not as an act of camouflage, nor yet as a retreat, but as a self-burial, a disappearance that remains as the very condition of the art work appearing. A strange, transparent residue-support.

On rare, privileged occasions we may dig up these processes, as Mary Conroy, niece of the great John Quinn did among her late uncle’s effects. From a three decade abyss came the typed pages on which Ezra Pound had made the brilliant, brutal marks which made Eliot’s The Waste Land the work we now know. Glib marginalia and the famous recurving strike through the poem’s first fiftyfour lines, cleaving the opening back from ‘First we had a couple of feelers…’ to line fiftyfive, ‘April is the cruelest month…’.[2]

Certainly, at least since Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning, there has been little trouble in thinking of removal as an authorial act. But this is by no means what is at stake in editing, nor indeed any other real (non-authoritarian) engagement with a work. These latter require a kind of removal which allows what was already there to become what is there, a species of indiscernibility, a becoming-imperceptible, to borrow a phrase. Pound does not usurp Eliot’s position as author of The Waste Land any more than the gallery technician usurps the artist whose work they are installing. To return to the mathematics analogy, this is not the equilibrium of one replacing another one, but a formula: x+y=1, where as y tends toward 0, x tends towards 1. A working out of the equation.

It is the technicians and handlers to whom we must aspire when working on our own capacity to engage with work as viewers, readers or editors. Surely, we are none so brilliant and relentless as Pound, but those technicians are equally seminal and as beautifully buried in their unmarked graves.

~ Jon K. Shaw
London, June 2011
[1] p5 Eliot, T.S. The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound Faber and Faber, London 2011
[2] p7 ibid.

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