9/28/2005  (more recent minor corrections are not include)

William Kaizen

Vulgar Politics


"Aux yeux du people/In the eyes of the people," by Way of Introduction


<fig. Rainer Ganahl, Basic Canadian: Aux yeux du people/In the eyes of the people (TK)>

Two sentences caption a photograph by Rainer Ganahl. In the upper right corner: "Aux yeux du people." In the lower right corner: "In the eyes of the people." Given that Ganahl is Austrian and a native Germans speaker, it is not clear which text translates the other. The two texts reinforce this ambiguity, both speaking languages of colonization, speaking for two countries in which democracy, as a politics of the sovereign people, emerged almost simultaneously at the end of the 18th Century. The image to which they are attached is of a makeshift signboard like those used since antiquity to post messages in the commons. Here the common place of information exchange appears decrepit and forlorn. The foundation of democracy in the public square as a place for meeting and disagreement has been displaced. As the automobiles to the left of the image suggest, democracy has been driven elsewhere by new forms of mobility, connected to new types of public and private space. The image is of a place in Canada, a country whose very existence is based on the legacy of colonization and the logic of capitalist competition, expansion and mobility. With the return to democracy in Europe, "the people" were constituted as sovereign only by holding a fundamental contradiction in suspension: that these people were sanction by both universal human rights on the one hand and rivalrous national identities on the other. Contained with this image and the various notions of language, image, place and identity it puts on display, is a kind of vulgar politics as a politics of the people. It is this politics, that Ganahl explores throughout his work and that I will develop.

I take vulgar politics to mean politics based in the dispute over what is given in common, from language to the spaces in which selves and communities constitute themselves. The vulgar, as vulgate, is not just the common tongue shared by a people but the vernacular in the broadest possible sense: as the partitioning of sense in general (both sensation and meaning) that shapes the sensual, sayable and knowable for a given, local community. The vulgar is a politics of the people because it stages the possibility of having a vernacular community and the limits that community. To put pressure on politics-as-usual through the use of vulgar politics is to dispute what is given for consensus. It is to put another reality on display next to the one that has been given, in order to suggest a way to repartition the given. These are politics in the terms that Jacque Rancire establishes when he writes:

Politics, as we will see, is that activity which turns on equality as its principle. And the principle of equality is transformed by the distribution of community shares as defined by a quandary: when is there and when is there not equality in things between who and who else? What are these "things" and who are these whos? How does equality come to consist of equality and inequality?[1]

Vulgar politics is a politics that raises these questions of equality, not from the position of a pre-given assumption of universal human rights, but from a position that questions the meaning of a given discourse through the production of counter-discourse. It is to attempt to forge a new vernacular from the words given to the old vernacular, to shift the very foundations of what constitutes a people, and in whose eyes these people are constituted, by transforming the means of knowledge.

Ganahl's work undertakes this political doubling of reality. It stages both the given institutions that constitute possibilities for knowledge, especially those whose main concern is language and education, and produces new possibilities for knowledge by revealing how current mechanisms of domination exist and by suggesting means of transforming them. His work reflects what lies in the eyes of the people today and tries to stage ways to move beyond the current state of affairs where the people are now constituted through the pseudo-participation of opinion polls, Op-Ed columns and blogs, and where mass consumption, family values and pre-given identities seem to be the only ties that bind communities together. The question posed by his work is the status of the common: given the economic (capitalist) drive toward globalization, how is common sense framed and what possibilities exist for producing new forms of common sense? Today, neither Kantian transcendentals nor genetic science seem adequate as the standard-bearers of the limits of knowledge or that which arbitrates the human or a people, and yet there is still a persistent drive toward universal human rights today and the construction of a global people. In the face of the wave of nationalisms that flared in the many regional ("ethnic") conflicts of the 1990s, and in the current state of unilateral exceptionalism promoted by the United States, it seems that the only connection between people across regional borders is the universal advertising of international corporate goods. Ganahl's work operates on another level, on a more vulgar level, on the possibilities of vernacular being-in-common and of even having a self that can be in common with another. In "The eyes of the people," to write across the face of the decrepit commons with two languages of colonization is to monster the plight of the people and their communities today. It is to use vulgar politics against politics-as-usual by putting on display the need for new stagings of democracy where freedom means more than the right to go shopping. In what follows I will trace how Ganahl both reflects existing conditions that frame the vernacular, and suggests alternatives to them in his use of vulgar politics.


Learning Communities

On the Libraries and Readings and their connection to counter-discourse and the mechanisms of domination.


<fig. Rainer Ganahl, Reading Frantz Fanon, G8 Summit (2003)>

These vulgar politics were recently on display when Ganahl was invited to participate in the first "Summit of Interventionist Art," (SoIA) held in opposition to the G8 Summit at Lake Geneva, Evian, France, June 2-3, 2003. The SoIA was held on the other side of the lake, in Switzerland, at an art space called the Usine. As its name indicates, the Usine was a converted factory, in a relatively marginal area, just outside of downtown Geneva. Most protest activities were being held there because it was the closest city to the G8 Summit. The Usine was a hub for anti-G8 activism. As part of the SoIA the international, alternative-media group Indymedia was using it as a base of operations. The police conducted a raid one night, making arrests and causing general chaos in their attempt to disrupt the protestors. Nevertheless, the SoIA went on as planned, in a series of lectures, workshops and art events held as part of the general protest movement. Ganahl contributed a Reading of Frantz Fanon's "Concerning Violence," from The Wretched of the Earth, outside, on the street in front of the Usine.[2]

Ganahl had inadvertently held the first of his Readings series ten years before while attending his own exhibition at the Person's Weekend Museum in Tokyo. It was an impromptu event that would change the direction of his work. He had been in Japan for several months, studying Japanese as he prepared for the show. Travel was the norm for Ganahl, who had moved from Vorarlberg in the western-most, Austrian Alps where he was born and raised, to Paris and then to New York, with various stops along the way. The Tokyo exhibition consisted largely of the work he had been making for the past several years exploring the emergence of tele-technologies and the kinds of virtual spaces they create as they pass over national borders, turning the local into the global. He also produced his first "Library" for this exhibition and it was this that began to point him in new directions. Entitled, A Portable, not so ideal, imported library or how to reinvent the coffee table—25 books for instant use (Japanese version), it consisted of a selection of books on a shelf. Books such as Gates's Signifying Monkey, Dan Graham's Rock My Religion, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's Outside in the Teaching Machine, Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks and Edward Said's The World, The Text, and The Critic were sitting there, on a shelf, for the perusal of visitors to the gallery.


<fig. Rainer Ganahl, A Portable, not so ideal, imported library or how to reinvent the coffee table—25 books for instant use (Japanese version) (1993)>

With the production of both this Library and with his personal difficulties in learning the Japanese language, which he had been studying while working on the exhibition, he realized that his role as traveling artist had begun to "parody the cultural arrogance of the missionary."[3] The Library was meant to be a small offering as a possible point of cultural exchange. It was meant for the kind of "instant use" he had been undertaking in his own study of Japanese using various textbooks as he absorbed the local culture. He decided to go to the gallery on Saturdays and read some of his Library books, word by word, line by line, with whoever decided to join him. He and his readers would each bring to bear whatever knowledge they had in order to interpret and translate the text. With this gesture toward active exchange, Ganahl's work switched from presenting globalization as a finished event whose given consequences could be archeologically explored to a more subtle examination of what knowledge means in process, as it takes place in the midst of global travel and traveling cultures.[4] After this first Library, a major part of his artistic practice would focus on the politics of learning. He would move from his early concern with the spaces being opened up by tele-technologies and globalizing media to a more developed focus on how these spaces are constrained by local, regional limit conditions. His assumption became that, despite so-called "globalization," people still necessarily occupy particular places through culture, but especially through language and education. He turned toward an exploration of the ways in which specific communities take place at the intersection of the global and local, in what he decided to call, in a slightly redolent neologism, the "glocal."[5]

One of the texts that Ganahl and his visitors read together from the Library was the chapter from Said's book entitled "Traveling Theory" in which Said discusses two problems: 1) the reception and re-reception of ideas over time and place; and 2) the function of the particular ideas grouped under the rubric of "critique."[6] He brings these problems together by tracing the reception of critical theory as put forth by Georg Luk‡cs, as then taken up by Lucien Goldmann, and then Raymond Williams. Said suggests that in each instance, rather than misreadings and misrecognitions, social circumstance allowed Luk‡csian critical theory (based in the notion of reification) to be renewed by the necessities of each moment in which it was once again resumed. Said describes how Goldmann turned critical theory to scholarly use in the context of post-WII Paris, and how Williams radicalized it once again in the context of the U.K. in the 1970s. These vagaries of critical theory are, for Said, a realization of theory in general, which is inherently incomplete. For Said, in each instance, as it was resumed, the project of critical theory is not misprised or misunderstood but reborn. Said presents his own resumption of critical theory as yet the next turn of the reception screw. For Ganahl, this text was also an opportunity to take up critical theory in his own way, asking himself and his co-readers, how it might be possible to produce critical artwork against the reification of the global at a moment in the 1990s when the art world had begun to turn away from political issues and back towards an all-too-familiar dialectics of beauty versus the grotesque.[7] For Ganahl, the answer was in the various forms his work would go on to take as it presented studying, learning and teaching as art works.

Upon returning to the U.S. from Tokyo, Ganahl attended a seminar taught by Said at Columbia University on the "Representations of the Intellectual."

<fig. Rainer Ganahl, Edward Said, Last Works, Late Style (1995)>

Said was concerned with the fate of the public intellectual, and how, through the uptake of critical theory, it was possible to "speak truth to power" as a radical academic. For Said the intellectual could still work against prevailing norms despite the pressures to become an organ of majoritarian authority, corporate influence or academic trends. In the published series of lectures upon which the seminar was based, Said is vague both about how truth is constituted and how power functions.[8] To this end, he describes the intellectual as an "individual"[9] who examines "the known and available facts with a norm" in order to "project a better state of affairs, and one that corresponds more closely to a set of moral principles."[10] He never examines his claim that the self is an "individual," or what a "fact," "norm," "moral principle," or "better state of affairs" might be, and for whom. Also unexamined, and more to my point, is the value he assigns to the heroic, lone scholar, railing against injustice. In "Traveling Theory," he dismisses Michel Foucault, an author whose work and influence can help to flesh out these ideas. For Foucault the intellectual (and the self in general) is only becomes an individual after it is produced through power relationships. Both intellects and intellectuals are only made possible through particular institutional formations of knowledge and truth. While Said is far more sensitive to this when it comes to the representations of the East as Other in the West, he leaves his own position as intellectual and the assumptions that underwrite it relatively unexamined.[11] In "Traveling Theory" Said turns against Foucault's critique of power, reading it reductively, as if Foucault had suggested power is unidirectional, coming from on high to enslave the powerless. Foucault responded in an interview to this common criticism of his work, which was put forth by Said and many others:

When I study the mechanisms of power, I try to analyze their specificity: nothing is more foreign to me than the idea of a "master" who imposes his own law. Rather than indicating the presence of a "master," I worry about comprehending the effective mechanisms of domination; and I do it so that those who are inserted in certain relations of power, who are implicated in them, might escape through their actions of resistance and rebellion, might transform them in order not to be subjugated any longer. And if I don't ever say what must be done, it isn't because I believe that there's nothing to be done; on the contrary, it is because I think that there are a thousand things to do, to invent, to forge, on the part of those who, recognizing the relations of power in which they're implicated, have decided to resist or escape them. From this point of view all of my investigations rest on a postulate of absolute optimism. I do not conduct my analyses in order to say: this is how things are, look how trapped you are. I say certain things only to the extent which I see them as capable of permitting the transformation of reality.[12]

As this statement demonstrates, Foucault was clearly not reducing power to a unidirectional, univocal flow, but working to disclose the mechanisms by which it produces particular possibilities for knowledge and so for the self. In denies the master in favor of pointing out systems that allow for various types of mastery, and so produce mechanisms of domination that are not fixed but mobile. In doing so, he suggests, both implicitly and explicitly (as above, and as in his last work on sexuality and bio-power), that power moves horizontally, this way and that, and is codified in various forms that are not fixed but constantly traveling.

For Foucault, power is relational. Institutions fix relations of power, however contingently or long term. In Discipline and Punish he locates the institutionalization of knowledge in the formation of state-sponsored education that took place during the 18th and 19th Centuries as a form of disciplinary space that helped to produce the very individual that Said takes for granted.[13] Foucault, as the quote above indicates, did not simply foreclose this self (intellectual or otherwise) in unbreachable walls of power. He recognized that power was multiple and heterogeneous and that selves produce resistances, even within themselves, that are also a kind of power. He called these resistances "counter-discourse," and for Foucault, this counter-discourse, as with all power relations, is always immanent to the system it speaks against. He describes this as the difference between a theory about imprisonment made from the outside, by prison reformers, and the critique of prisons made by prisoners.[14] Notions like Said's "speaking truth to power" come from this reformist position on the outside. They are the work of intellectuals who uphold "universal principles."[15] Against these "universal intellectuals" Foucault proposes the "specific intellectual" who produces a local counter-discourse, always from the inside, always with others, and always working against the power relations in which they are directly implicated.[16]  To produce counter-discourse it is necessary (tacitly or not) to acknowledge that one's own specific, local, vernacular community is the basis of communication, that there is no outside to discourse, and that all things given to knowledge are the product of power flowing through a particular social body. It is this self that "compears" (to use a term that Jean-Luc Nancy has coined, meaning to "co-appear" or "appear together")[17] with local community and communication that makes existence possible. This self is filled with the clichŽs of common sense, but it can also—given an examination of its own implication in the mechanisms of domination—open onto counter-discourse and new forms of knowledge and so point the way toward new types of community. It is in this spirit, more in the spirit of Foucault than Said, that Ganahl takes up critical theory. He takes learning to be a process where selves (including himself) are always already implicated in various interplays of power that both limit the real and open onto new realities, wherever, whenever—but, more precisely, however—they take place. He turns to education from his own position inside particular vernaculars and institutions of learning in order to build new stages for temporary learning communities that both reproduce the existing mechanisms of domination and suggest new possibilities connecting selves to the world.

Ganahl discovered in his first "Readings" this circulation of power as it moved through a contingent, local, learning community. There were several problems involved with the Readings: the text as one prohibitive authority and Ganahl as another; the interpretation of the meaning of the text as well as the interpretation of the language of the text; that the text had perhaps already been interpreted from a mother tongue into English; that the readers moved between English and Japanese in their discussion. As Ganahl and his readers discovered (and I have been one of these readers on several occasions), discourse is constantly being rebuilt from the ground up, from every word chosen and each act of communication, and mastery is never finished but continuously produced against a background of pre-given expectations of how one reads, understands and interprets a text. Rather than act as an individual intellectual or reproduce the divide between schoolmaster and student, Ganahl does intellectual work together with his co-readers, the text acting a catalyst for group inquiry. It is an object to be worked on, for mutual reflection. It is a point of reference, exactly the kind of "fact" that Said appeals to, but taken as a discursive act and a point of further discussion, not stable but a kind of strange attractor. As the different vernaculars of the participants circle through and around the text a new common vernacular is built from this interaction, however temporary. The Readings are a way of learning outside the given system of education. They stage an alternative space for group knowledge production. For several years Ganahl recreated his A portable (not so ideal) imported libraryÉ and the Readings associated with it at various exhibitions, in various languages, changing the texts at each venue.[18]

<fig. Ganahl, Imported Reading, Florida (199TK)>

In his following Readings he focused on a few authors—Antonio Gramsci, Karl Marx and Franz Fanon—using their texts repeatedly. Rather than try to site-specifically match the readings to the place of reading, Ganahl traveled the same authors to see how it their work was produced differently in each place it was reread. In this circulation of reading Ganahl makes theory travel, each text finding new life in each rereading, each rereading producing a new stage for a new learning community.

The SoIA events at the Usine, held during the G8 summit, crystallized the potential of Ganahl's Readings to act as counter-discourse. Text and site were brought together so that traveling theory found a home in the midst of on-going political struggles. In taking Fanon's "Concerning Violence" to the streets he was able to turn the a Reading into a more active form of resistance and produce a learning community that not only revealed mechanisms of domination but, in the place of its staging, acted to undo them.

<fig. Rainer Ganahl, Reading Frantz Fanon, G8 Summit (2003)>

The Reading was held for two days on the street outside the Usine, with a core of several readers and various passers-by who joined and left as the reading progressed depending upon their interest. Anyone could choose to participate, to watch, or to walk past. Fanon's text describes the struggle for freedom undertaken by the Algerians as they fought against their French colonial oppression. He recounts the dehumanization of the colonized Algerians, and how the French saw them as animals and exploited them through a Manichean policy of radical otherness. He recounts the response whereby the Algerians internalized the violence of their oppression and could only return violence with violence in an unending "circle of hate."[19] The street where Ganahl held the Reading is known as a place to buy drugs from North African immigrants. While not far from downtown, the area around the Usine is industrial and relatively marginal. The dealers were all black by an unofficial police decree that does not tolerate whites in the (visible, public) drug trade. Both little and much had changed from the days in the 1960s that Fanon describes. The formerly colonized people are still marginalized and other, but they have moved to the post-colonial homeland, fully internalized the will to capital (rather than the will to violence), and are making more money than many of the ex-colonists who had oppressed them a generation earlier. One circle of hate has been broken, but otherness has continued in a marginal although lucrative corner of capitalist production. While the drug dealers did not participate directly in the Reading, their presence lent an extra dimension to the community of readers, as a reminder of how Fanon's text must be re-read and re-received in light of glocal politics.

The anti-G8 protest lent a further point of reflection in how the text could be read. All around during the reading, the protests and police response were taking place. Thousands of activists had descended upon Geneva and all sort of demonstrations were happening, some spilling over into riots. The Readings became another of these street demonstrations. To sit down in protest has a long and continued history, notably during the U.S. civil rights movement where it was used as a non-violent means of resisting arrest. To read Fanon during the G8 protests was to consider a previous moment of struggle and both the use of violence and the trap that it laid for those who turned to it as a solution to colonial and especially economic struggle. The continued appeal of violence was very much still alive in Geneva where a neo-anarchist "Black Bloc" gathered to smash storefronts and automobiles as a means of fighting against international capitalism.[20] To read Fanon's analyses of colonial and post-colonial violence, in a non-violent way, in the midst of an event where violence was all around (including the kind of violence involved in drug dealing and its marginalization), was to take a discourse originally produced as a counter-discourse and to receive it once again as a new form of counter-discourse. It was to produce Fanon anew, in the midst of current, glocal politics as they were erupting. It was to receive an old counter-discourse as a counter-discourse reborn. The G8 Reading enacted vulgar politics by constructing a people, no matter how small, who staged counter-discourse in action, and in this the G8 Reading was even more explicitly than before, the form of reflection and the reflection were one. It was a learning community produced in the midst of on-going politics and various mechanisms of domination that it both reflected and staged anew.


Rhetorical Photography

On S/L and radical metonymy.

Besides his Reading, Ganahl also spent considerable time wandering around Geneva during the G8 protests, taking photographs and videos of the events. He recounts:

I myself too was walking around taking pictures and filming like everybody else. The city had suddenly turned photogenic for everyone. The police were filming, tourists were filming, Geneva residents were filming, protesters were filming and the press was filming and photographing. Almost everybody was filming and photographing.[21]

The protests made the city even more "picturesque" than usual. The entire populace was armed with the tools needed to capture and reproduce history in the making. In 2003 Geneva the means of image production had become almost completely democratized. This was a process that had begun with the production of inexpensive cameras in the mid-20th century, and was more fully realized in the 1950s and 60s with the mass up take of the Kodak Instamatics and Super 8 film cameras. As the public got access to the means of mass image production, so did visual artists. During the 1960s a whole variety of avant-garde strategies emerged using these and similar technologies: expanded cinema, early video art, and the photographic documentation of performance and conceptual art. Particularly in the latter two, the artist became a journalistic documentarian, recording events in a pseudo-neutral way, as if the mechanical apparatus of the camera were enough to eliminate their point of view. The unskilled camera document in photography, film and video became the very aesthetic which would define art in the late 1960s through the 1970s. It would take the next generation of artists to recognize the ways in which the camera always aestheticizes, the gallery always beautifies and the lens always has a point of view. Whereas artists in the previous generation—e.g. Robert Smithson, Vito Acconci, Douglas Hubler—had turned to the snapshot as if it contained or captured the evidence of an event in a relatively neutral way, it would take the next generation of artists—e.g. Victor Burgin, Mary Kelley, Martha Rosler and Alan Sekula—to bring the cheap camera aesthetic to account.

For this next generation the "decisive moment doctrine" of the snapshot, as Rosler called it, was understood as having a longer history.[22] Rosler linked conceptual photographic practices to the use of documentary images in photojournalism. After ten-odd years of the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam and Watergate, it was no longer possible for these artists to think that through photography one could record an event (any event) in a neutral and unbiased way. The administrative aesthetic of the previous generation was no longer an option. Rosler also recognized that even the most liberal minded documentary photographers working as photo-journalists, reinforced their own position as intrepid "adventurer-artists" who captured scenes of dismay and decay for the edification of the elite.[23] Rather than align her practice with either the pseudo-neutral administrative aesthetics of performance documentation and conceptual art photography, or with the liberal rhetoric of social reformist documentary photography, she turned to what she calls photography as "radical metonymy."[24] In her project The Bowery in Two Inadequate Systems, the direct image of her subject matter—the "bowery bum"—is absent.

File written by Adobe Photoshop¨ 5.0

<fig. Martha Rosler, The Bowery in Two Inadequate Systems (1974-75)>

Her subject is presented through photographs of empty streets paired with the words unkindly used to describe those who sleep on these streets and their existence in general: "lush, wino, alcoholic," "muddled, fuddled," "knocked out, laid out, out of the picture." There are no images of people in any of the photographs and so emotive empathy with the face of the other is cancelled. By literally placing her "subject" (as both subject matter and other as subject) out of the picture, her use of metonymy is radicalized because these images do not seem to re-present directly that whose subject they circle around. The images and words stand in for the absent subject, which is shown to consist only of a material place and set of materialized signifiers linking that self to a place—in this instance: "bowery," plus, "lush, wino, alcoholic." She uses the deskilled strategies of conceptual art to produce a radical rather than a liberal form of photodocumentary. It is radical in as much as it is anti-humanist, taking the "subject" as a self produced at the intersection of various linguistic and social possibilities rather than as a universal given with universal human rights. Despite the title, it is not the Bowery that is inadequately presented here but the absent subject whose construction only takes place metonymically. What this suggests is that photography, like all means of reproduction (and all means of communication), is metonymic in that it produces meaning through substitution, endlessly deferring the "real" for the active production of reality: that a sense of self comes through language and place. It further suggests that this condition is hidden in the normal reception of photography where connotive meaning is taken at face value. What BoweryÉ puts on display is a splitting of the real, whereby the subject is seemingly absent and so neither the image nor its caption gives easy access to it. Instead the collision of image and caption troubles the means of photographic representation in general. She uses radical metonymy to split the real, and so to suggest that all communicative acts do the same, and that, by putting one real along side another, new possibilities for reality can emerge, or at least, the limits of the given systems can be made palpable.

Roland Barthes had previously invoked this relationship between photography and metonymy in his essay "The Rhetoric of the Image."[25] He adopts Roman Jakobson's use of the term, whereby the substitution of one symbol for another acts as the means for shaping connotive meaning.[26] As Barthes recounts, metonymy normally functions in photography to secure meaning by linking the image to rhetorical ideologies embedded in the community where it is received. In an analysis of a French advertisement for Italian tomato sauce, Barthes describes how the metonymic substitution of pasta, cans, onion, peppers, etc., emerging from a string bag, keyed to the colors red, yellow and green and tied to the name Panzini, all secure the connotive meaning of "Italianicity" for a French viewer. Rosler's radical metonymy is meant to undo these ties, to release the various components of photographic meaning from their given rhetorical message. She separates out image from caption, and evacuates the subject in order to undermine the ability of the various parts of her photographic message to reproduce the given ideology. Rather then give the viewer an image of the "bowery bum," to which they could securely affix their given cultural associations, she puts these associations on display as the subject of representation, disrupting the normal flow of photographic connotation.

Yet, while Rosler emphatically absents the subject of documentary photography, her own role, as adventurer-artist is still intact. Direct images of her subject may have been abandoned, but she still approaches them indirectly, from the outside. Her position in the discursive network that elicits these "laid out" people is still that of an exterior observer. Even while putting a kind of postmodern politics on view in her demythification of the metonymic system swirling around the Bowery, she occupies a position of mastery, of the one who reveals or knows through photographic capture and informational display. Her own place in the metonymic chain of communication is not reflected in the work. Ganahl's work inflects this position by acknowledging his own position in the mechanisms of domination that he represents. He recuperates a strategy from the early documentation of performance art where the artist is included in the event reproduced, but with the political engagement of second-generation conceptual art, making his own point of view integral to the work.

This is evident in Ganahl's "S/L" series where he takes photographs of seminars and lectures that document academia and the production of knowledge from the inside.[27] Ganahl had previously taken photographs during lectures he was attending as tokens for his own remembrance. The idea to turn them into artworks came to him during his attendance at Said's "Representing the Intellectual" seminar. He began to shoot photographs of both speakers and their audience in the places where critical theory was being endlessly re-received. He shot in university classrooms, museums, and public halls, but only at events that he was interested in attending for their own sake because they held some sort of personal interest. The photographs are shown in multiples of two or more, with at least one image of the speaker and one of the audience so that each side of the knowledge exchange is represented.


<fig. Rainer Ganahl, S/L: James Clifford (199TK)>

The slash in S/L is borrowed from Barthes' book S/Z.[28] As in S/Z, it indicates a gap in signification, but while S/Z symmetrically inverts the terms on either side of this divide, the balance of power in Ganahl's images is lopsided.[29] Rather than "seminar/lecture," S/L would perhaps be better put as "S/T" for student/teacher, or "S/A" for speaker/audience, or better still left as S/L but with the references changes to "speaker/listener." There is a benefit to leaving S/L as "seminar/lecture," in that this designation emphasizes the way in which these photographs bring together the event as a whole, including teacher-speaker, student-audience and their institutional relationship.

Altogether S/L shows frozen moments of people caught in the midst of thought, hundreds of Thinkers, not lost in their own Romantic worlds, but rather seen in the middle of temporary communities of those who listen and those who speak. Bodies are seen caught in mid-gesture, in the midst of this transmission process as they swing from attention to boredom, from focused listening and speaking to daydreaming and distraction. The precedent for this kind of documentary photography of people caught in everyday poses comes from street photography, especially in its "indoor" version in Walker Evan's subway images.

<fig. Evans, <TK—subway photo>>

Using a camera with a misdirected lens, Evans was able to capture people on the trains unaware, lost in worlds of private thought. These Thinkers are also purged of any Romanticism, sitting in the defensive postures people hold to maintaining acceptable distance from each other in public spaces; they seem atomized, individuated, full of urban anomie as they are routed from place to place; they constitute the paradoxical "mass of individuals" whose theorization occupied so much sociology from the 1920s through the 1950s. It is this type of street photography that Rosler was explicitly working again in The BoweryÉ. She recognized that, unlike more politically engaged photojournalism, street photography lacked an explicit responsibility towards its subject.[30] For Rosler, as for Ganahl, the street photographer acts a kind of flaneur, a photographic dandy who aestheticized eye frames scenes from which he or she is distanced. Despite her radical metonymy, this could still be said of Rosler's own project in The BoweryÉ, but this does not describe S/L, where Ganahl is directly implicated in his photographs. He is also a Thinker, he assumes the same posture as the people he depicts. Unlike Evans or Rosler, he is never the outside the image looking in; he is inside the event, documenting it while also a part of it. He is immanent to his use of radical metonymy, always one of the listeners, engaged in the same work and the same processes as those he portrays.

Whereas for Rosler, the "bowery bum" is the absent center around which her images circulate, Ganahl himself is the absent center here. His concern it to produce what he calls a "personal historiography."[31] Ganahl only documents events in which he is included directly, not as impartial observer, but as engaged participant. On this level they act as a personal record of his intellectual pursuits. This is not a return to biography per se, but rather the recognition that any politics of representation begins at home, with one's own vernacular and one's position in the various institutions in which one is implicated. For Ganahl, "the personal is political" means that to be a person, to have access to a sense of self, is inherently social and so inherently political, that the self is not individual but divided up by the institutions in which it participates. He recognizes that the self is not given but produced through various institutions that shape what can be said, where to look and what is knowable. In S/L, as in his other work, he stages this personal, vulgar politics of institutionalization by presenting the compearance of self and social structure, turning what would otherwise only be a series of portraits of his intellectual heroes into an examination of the intellectual habitus by capturing the support system that surrounds intellectual work. In S/L the students, the audience, the podium, the seminar table, the slideshow and the microphone all show knowledge as something that takes place in the midst of a given community and not as something that is simply transmitted in an instrumental way.

Alan Sekula's work is more sensitive to the problem of the immanence of the photographer to that which is photographed, especially in his project School is a Factory.[32] Like S/L, this work also engages with school and learning as an institution in the context of post-conceptual art. It consists of an essay with captioned photographs and graphics that Sekula uses to analyze the economics fueling the junior college where he taught in <the early 1980s>. No vulgar Marxist, Sekula locates the vulgar capital at work at the heart of his own institutionalization.

File written by Adobe Photoshop¨ 5.0

<Alan Sekula, School is a Factory:

Four Male Commercial Photography StudentsÉ(1982)>

Through text and image he describes the ways in which college departments in general, and his school in particular, are funded so as to filter students into careers based on the demands of employers even when there is little need for their labor.[33] He was teaching photography to students who, if they were lucky enough to get work, would likely find it as commercial photographers. Nevertheless it was his job to expose them to fine-art photography through examples of beautiful photographs. His students worked during the day at laborious jobs, and went to school at night, to further their education with the hope of finding more fulfilling employment.

Sekula developed this project as a way of presenting the limits he felt were imposed on both himself and his students in the setting where they came together several nights a week. It was first shown in a student-run gallery on campus next to the photo studios. In originally presenting this work in the middle of the institutional space it addressed, it functioned as an intervention in as much as it became a talking point for the further analysis of his role and that of the students in their own learning environment. It went on to be shown at other junior colleges, and to be reproduced in educational journals. As such it is a model for critically engaged photographic practice based in the acknowledgement of the author's position in relation to the production of the image, with one major caveat: in his use of the caption, Sekula resumes the kind of reductive metonymy that Rosler's radical metonymy pried open. The images and captions foreclose each other, as if they could arbitrate and so guarantee each other's meaning.[34] This meaning is underwritten by Sekula's position of mastery as artist. Even when deflating his position by recounting in the text how his students jokingly compared his lectures to whatever they were missing on television that night, he still speaks from the position of the one who knows, on behalf of his students and in their place. He represents them back to themselves.

Ganahl also works from the position of artist, but in S/L he photographs from a position in the audience, as a listener, imposing what mastery he can, but from the side rather than from above. While the viewer can see the communicants in S/L sitting, heads cocked, legs crossed, mouths open in speech or lips pursed in concentrated listening, what is missing is the speech, the sound of the information transmitted. What cannot be seen is the very reason why these people are gathered where they are, as they are, in the temporary communities that brings them together. In dividing his pictures between speaker and audience, Ganahl splits this community down the middle, making the gap between speaker and listener seem unbridgeable. The sound that connected speaker and listener in the actual event falls into the space between the frames. While the word "ideology" may float like a speech balloon over Frederic Jameson's head in one S/L set, viewers cannot hear what he had to say about it.


<fig. Ganahl, S/L Jameson (2001)>

They are presented with the silence of the photographic image, no matter that it captures pedagogy in process. These images present the silence at the heart of photography and its obsession with surfaces. It is this absent voice, the voice of the schoolmaster that is evoked so strongly here through this presentation of absence, through the slash between both speaker and audience but also through the slash between sight and sound. In silencing the schoolmaster's voice, Ganahl makes the viewer aware of the how one particular frame is placed around knowledge, around who speaks and knows and who listens and learns.

In S/L those subjected to the processes of learning are visible in as much as the viewer sees these selves embodied in way they do not in Rosler's BoweryÉ images. What is unrepresentable is that which is being transmitted as knowledge. These are photographs about hearing, images about the deafness of the image. Ganahl uses the ideology of photography against the formal institutions of knowledge. He has doubly split reality, both between student and lecturer and between sound and vision. In silencing the voice of the schoolmaster, Ganahl undermines the power of that voice, leaving only posture and habitus for the viewer to see. These photographs show how the content of learning takes place. In putting on display the separation between those who speak and those who listen they silence this speech, but in this silence they give voice to the voiceless. S/L uses photography as a format for the production of a counter-discourse that works against the way that these institutions normally produce meaning. The viewer sees the mass of individuals constituted by the mechanisms of educational domination but cannot take in whatever the original event may have connoted. Connotation has been shifted to the register of the photographic, and in slashing the gap between speaker and listener while sitting in the audience as listener, Ganahl has made these images both radically and immanently metonymic. These images enact vulgar politics by putting on display a partioning of people in a system of knowledge production through personal historiography, and so suggesting the need for the repartitioning of these institutions. They are radically metonymic in that they use the absence of their apparent, connotive subject (the content of education) to evoke another reality that further splits the real. In their silence, they reveal an existing mechanism of domination. In their form, which transposes sight onto sound, they produce a new means of learning about the institutionalization of knowledge. They are immanently metonymic in as much as Ganahl no longer works as the adventurer-artist but always takes into account his own point of view in the system he presents.

What Ganahl discovered in Geneva, 2003—that "everyone is filming and photographing"—was not symptomatic of tourism, but of a new photographic condition where personal historiography had become the order of the day. S/L are not images of flaneurie or tourism, nor do they constitute an archival inventory designed for purposes of administration or surveillance. They acknowledge that when photographers have become tourists in their own backyard, they now shoot from a position of immanence, as personal historiographers. Ganahl has been accused of "theory tourism" and "intellectual flaneurie," but this overlooks his own acknowledged immanence in these images.[35] He is in the places he depicts as a student, as a member of the anonymous audience, not as one who knows, but as one who listens. These images may seem superficially touristic in as much as they are mementoes in his personal historiography, but he does not attempt to speak on behalf of the other. Unlike the usual personal photographs that support the kind of pseudo-historiography evident in countless Internet blogs, S/L is not narcissistic. While these are personal images, he follows the most rigorous, formal framing conditions: to catalog an series of views of the educational divide between speakers and listeners, taken from the point of view of the listener in order to suggest the need for a repartitioning of this system. S/L does not deny that there is a pleasure to be found in listening to those who know, in hearing what the have to say, or even in their presentation via beautiful photographs, but these images do not approach their subject from the outside or from the point of view of the master.[36] Ganahl has spent his professional life working with and against the limits of various education institutions, as both the consumer and producer of knowledge and of possibilities for knowing. His work, overall, is a kind of self-portrait of the processes of education, both those that are given, as in S/L, and those he has built himself, as in the Readings and the rest of his work. S/L is the exception to the rule of his work, the standard of what is educationally "always-already," against which the rest of his practice is built. While these images may seem to reproduce the power relations predetermined in the distribution of those who know and those who are ignorant, when taken in the larger context of Ganahl's practice they must be seen as a means of destabilizing this relation.


Ignorant Mastery

On the Studies, Dialogs and the community of equals.

The question I have been chasing by the tail throughout this essay is, "Wither critical theory, in art as well as politics?"[37] Has it stopped traveling? One answer is given by Said's call for the necessity to re-receive critique in the midst of one's own personal time and place and in the means by which Ganahl does so. This is precisely in opposition to claims made today that we are living in an age of the obsolescence of theory. While models of negation may rightly be seen as impoverished (whether from Hegel, Marx or Adorno), Ganahl's work demonstrates a positive-constructive strategy whereby critique also suggests new modes of being together. What is vulgar, in his vulgar politics, is that it proposes new stagings of the social and so suggests new groups of people at the same that, as in S/L, it puts old ones on display. His work is inherently political, not because it takes a partisan position (although it often does), but because of the forms it takes. As it splits reality it performs a repartitioning of common sense, opening onto new possibilities of being a self and being-in-common by recognizing that power is dynamic and fluid rather than fixed.  Ganahl's work acknowledges the inevitability of power, that resistances are everywhere, all the time, moving in many directions both open and closed, and that there is always, as Foucault said, "a thousand things to do, to invent, to forge."

The vernacular is the basis of his notion of community and power: that we are born into a mother tongue, and that it speaks us as we speak through it.[38] For Ganahl, this sensitivity to language and how it acts to frame possibilities not only for the self but also for knowledge and power was born from his own experience as he emigrated from Vorarlberg. Since then his motto has been, "keep moving away from your mother tongue," but even this movement away from the homely was complicated by the exigencies of the glocal.[39] Ganahl tells an anecdote that summarizes his life's work as a process of finding new vernaculars both purposely but also inevitably. Upon returning to Vorarlberg after sometime away, Ganahl found that the dialect he had spoken growing up was disappearing among the ethnically German people in the area. Besides himself, only the second and third generation Gastarbeiter still spoke with the old, local accent. He had not, it seemed, moved as far away from his mother tongue as the citizens with whom he had been raised. Along with himself, the only other people speaking what had been his mother tongue were those who would have been radically other when he was raised. For Ganahl, as for myself, the moral of this story is that the very weave of the linguistic fabric is embedded in mobile power relations, that it contains both the homely and the uncanny. It demonstrates how that languages travel and evolve as much as the ideas they shape, and that possibilities of identification are bound up together with those of disidentification. In the age of the glocal, critical theory and the analysis of power return in the form of what Ganahl calls "traveling linguistics," which recognize how vernaculars are produced and move around inevitably.[40] The only counter-strategy is to recognize this movement while exploring its past and trying to influence its future.

Ganahl's Readings are one means of exploring the production of new vernaculars. They destabilize the existing systems of knowledge production by holding educational events outside traditional educational institutions, staging education in a dialogical way, rather than through the passage of information from one who knows to those who are the ignorant. He had found other ways of doing this as well in the various forms taken on in his "Studies" and "Dialogs" series. The Studies have various manifestations, all based on his personal language studies. They also began while he was in Japan for his exhibition at Person's Weekend Museum. After trying to learn Japanese, he decided to put his Kanji study grids on display as a more personal update of the minimalist grids made by Dan Graham and Carl Andre in their early poetry works. Following this he would go on to display the actual sheets he wrote on while learning Greek, Italian, Russian, Korean, Chinese and, most recently, Arabic.


<fig. Rainer Ganahl, Basic Japanese: Study Sheet (1993); Basic Chinese: Study Sheet (2002); Basic Arabic: Study Sheet (2004)>

His own personal attempt to acquire Japanese became the foundation for further Studies in various languages. As he saw it, this was a transformation of the paradigm of the ready-made into what he called the "trying-hard." In his Studies, the private practice of learning is made public. He displays the trying-hard of autodidacticism as a self-portrait of the artist as a learning machine, repeating catchphrases from language textbooks and writing them down on paper and so in his memory. Rather than put commodities on display in order to call attention to the institutionalization of the work of art, he puts the residue of his own attempt to reframe his personal vernacular. In the Studies, Ganahl displays the difficulty of the production of the self through language, demonstrating the process of decentering the self that takes place while trying to learn a foreign language. He displays his return to a state of linguistic inferiority where he no longer has mastery over his words and so his place in the world.[41] The Studies also demonstrate that, while languages may be ready-made (since we are all born into a mother tongue and we all must learn even this one language), mother tongues only continue to existence as they are used in living communities where selves compear. To paraphrase Jacques Lacan, language is that which, in being taken up, takes up the self as a subject. It is what allows the self to produce itself by giving it access to a reality ("the real") and so to others.[42]

In putting this process on display Ganahl forces the viewer to consider their own place in relation to their mother tongue. In some of the earlier texts on Ganahl's work, the specter of exoticism was raised especially in regards to his Studies, but since then he has taken on so many languages and dialects that this original orientalism has become problematized.[43] His Studies have become a kind of mania where he repeatedly stages the attempt to become the linguistic other. He embodies this linguistic excess in stacks of videotapes of himself studying various languages, hundreds of hours placed on top of, and next to each other.

<fig. Rainer Ganahl, Basic Chinese: My First 500 Hours (2001)>

If Warhol loved the Campbell's soup he represented, here the representation contains Ganahl's Studies as an act of love, no matter how trying-hard they may be. And Ganahl does not take the self shown on these tapes for granted. The self is like that of the early video work by Vito Acconci or Joan Jonas where they shape shift or produce alter egos which unfold the self into various temporary, new identities.[44] The camera becomes an external super-ego, or better, a mechanized schoolmaster. He uses it as a means of framing the decentering effects of his language studies as he produces permanent, mental changes on his self.

The Study videotapes seem to embody the interest Ganahl has throughout his work in "Bildung." Bildung is the German work for education with "a specific ideological touch," as an ideology of self-knowledge through a total education, he says.[45] Bildung was promoted in order to transcend the various trades and specialization in favor of a national system of education that was also presumed to be universal. As such, it is the educational origin of the glocal, where the paradox of having both national identity and universal ideals were forged in the emergence of German nationalism. It is encapsulated in the Bildungsroman, the novel of education that found form in English in works like Charles Dickens Great Expectations. The Bildungsroman transformed the picaresque into a morality play, whereby the young man (and occasionally the young woman) learned his or her place in world. In the sub-genre known as the Kunstlerroman, the young artist learned his or her place there as well. And yet another sub-genre—the Erziehungsroman—focused specifically on the educational processes whereby this self-knowledge took place. All of Ganahl's work can be taken a kind of combination of these sub-genres, as an artist's-education-novel, but without end. If the supposition of the Bildungsroman was that the young hero finally reaches maturity, Ganahl never matures. His work, as life project, acknowledges that learning is never finished, and that what is known, and even what is knowable, is always up for debate. In the Study tape stacks, in their quantity and implied endlessness, the viewer sees this process as ongoing and unfinished. And Ganahl does not always study alone. Photographs exist of more dialogical study sessions, where he works together with a native speaker in form that parallels his Readings.

<fig. Rainer Ganahl, Basic Japanese (1993)>

As in his documents of both the Readings and S/L, he captures himself in the midst of a system of learning. Here, as in the Readings, he presents a system that he has produced himself rather than the preexisting ones in S/L. He has taken the lessons of Bildung to heart, making the production of education his life's work, but against the national ideology from which Bildung was born. Throughout his work he receives Bildung as a means of glocal discourse, producing a kind of counter-Bildung.

In Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault addresses Bildung and the question of who speaks and who does not in the halls of learning. For Foucault, this is a matter of docility, of bodies trained to obey rules of behavior that allow them to be ranked and classed and so defined for a future role in both civil and industrial society. He describes a form of pedagogical training used in Christian schools in 18th century France whereby the schoolmaster became a kind of holy drill sergeant, using a wooden "signal" that would make a noise to attract the students attention. The signal would be struck in various, simple ways that were to be obeyed immediately by the pupils. The voice of the teacher was reduced to a kind of ringing of the church bells as if "the voice of God himself" was commanding the students to work.[46] This kind of training in the immediate internalization of the voice of the schoolmaster developed simultaneously in modernizing military forces and became the standard for early educational practice using repetition, drilling and recitation. When fully internalized, the schoolmaster, with no need for their own voice, had taken complete control over his or her pupil's right to speak. The teacher could quickly begin the process of instilling the given body of state-sanctioned knowledge deemed necessary for future citizenship and national obedience. From the beginning this allowed enormous control over who would have access to reading and writing and in what ways this access would be granted. It controlled both what counted as knowledge and who could produce new forms of knowledge.

It was this account of docility that lead critics such as Said to accuse Foucault of having a monolithic view of power, but thinkers more sympathetic to Foucault would demonstrate ways in which power was mobile and the terrain that it maps out constantly shifting with each act of obedience and disobedience. Written in dialog with Foucault, Jacques Rancire's book The Ignorant Schoolmaster recovered the story of the 19th Century French educational reformer Joseph Jacotot. Jacotot had developed a theory of "universal teaching" designed to operate against the established limits of intellectual inequality, inverting the drive toward "universal education" that was sweeping the post-revolutionary Western world.[47] Whereas universal education had proposed that every child should become a student and so learn the national rhetoric, universal teaching proposed that every parent, no matter how "ignorant," could become a teacher and that the student could learn whatever they wished. Jacotot developed a system whereby parents could teach children to read even when they themselves did not know how. His pedagogy was based on a principle of radical equality which assumed that if everyone can learn how to speak they could also learn how to read, and from this they could then go on to learn anything else. School was not necessary and neither was the schoolmaster. All that was needed was the innate ability that every person has to communicate with one another and the desire to learn. Jacotot's system was not opposed to the established methods of pedagogy per se—memorization and recitation played a fundamental component in universal teaching—rather, it was opposed to the control of what was learned and where it was learned.[48] The difference between Jacotot's method and older forms of signal-based pedagogy was not the use of repetition, but rather the lack of explication. What was being learned was of no importance, rather that learning was verifiably taking place was all that mattered. There was to be no sanctioned curriculum and no value or hierarchy assigned to the subjects learned. Each student could follow their own interests along whatever lines they saw fit, as long as learning was taking place. The teacher would act as a guide only in as much as they demanded and verified that something was being learned.

The key difference between Foucault's position on counter-discourse and how Rancire receives this hinges on the issue of mastery. Whereas Foucault says, "nothing is more foreign to me than the idea of a 'master' who imposes his own law," Rancire acknowledges that there are schoolmasters on one side of the Bildung slash (or in any institution) and those who are ignorant on the other. He doesn't deny that these roles are systematic and institutionally based, but he accepts that they exist and, in accepting that mechanisms of power depend on masters and non-masters, he is able to locate the role of the police in maintaining politics-as-usual.  He is able to make Jacotot's pedagogical theory travel in order to make it live again as a system for undoing the politics-as-usual of education whose mechanisms of domination label some people ignorant and other intellectuals. Rancire's recovery of Jacotot's educational system is political in as much as it makes a claim for radical equality based on the leveling of difference between teacher and student. The historical facts related to Jacotot's success and the integration of his method into current models of pedagogy (to the point where his legacy has been largely forgotten) is of little importance to Rancire. It is the re-reception of the radical origins of these thoughts as a means for repartitioning current social inequality that make The Ignorant Schoolmaster political.

For Rancire, there are always those with a part and those without, those who are intellectuals and those who are ignorant. He takes the claim of modern democracy for the inclusions of all as based largely in a "regime of opinion."[49] Consensus democracy, he says, purports to eliminate any remainder in a given community by impossibly reducing it to the sum of its parts with nothing left over. Against this, he suggests that politics is what wells up when the part that has not been given a part demands its share of the common, and so a place in the community. It is the production of counter-community, a demand for the recognition of the reality of a given group that is in contradistinction to the reality in the regime of opinion. Politics is what splits reality and demands that the master reality be reallocated to accommodate an other reality. Most importantly, this second reality is not political unless it is based on a call for radical equality. For Rancire an act is only political when it makes a demand for radical equality via the redistribution of the sensible against the existing system of masters and non-masters. He recognizes that this radical equality is utopian and unrealizable, but he says that politics is located in the endless striving for equality and that how and where this will take place can never be anticipated. As he says, "For a thing to be political, it must give rise to a meeting of police logic and egalitarian logic that is never setup in advance."[50] Of course, each redistribution will necessarily beget new inequalities, but the process of demand and repartitioning is the only grounds of the truly political as opposed to the Realpolitik of politics-as-usual. The difference between politics and politics-as-usual is that doxa has been upset and the terrain of the common has been shifted. Otherwise, discourse has simply been reproduced. Whether this has taken place is always open for debate, evaluation, and future re-valuation, but politics is never a finished process. It is an endless practice with no perfect.

Ganahl's work to date has remarkable resonance with Jacotot's method of counter-Bildung. Without knowing The Ignorant Schoolmaster, he had also proceeded from a similar position based on radical equality in education as a political production of the self. His project is the embodiment of learning as ignorant mastery. To "keep moving away from your mother tongue" is to put oneself in the position of having to constantly learn that which one is ignorant of, to challenge oneself to learn and to follow this learning wherever it might lead, no matter how decentering or self-destructive. It is to transform given institutions—whose slash between S and L reproduces a kind of intellectual stultification—into a lifelong attempt to learn as a political act. Ganahl's project is politics in Rancire's sense because it splits reality by demanding that education be remapped onto everyday life and by recognizing that selves must actively remake themselves in their production of personal vernaculars. Ganahl's vulgar politics take language and learning as communication, as the grounds of being-in-common and community. He recognizes the internalized mastery that takes place as one learns one's mother tongue, and that to move beyond one's mother tongue means to become the other, to think as they think, to speak as they speak and so to escape the confines of the vernacular into which the self was inexplicably and randomly born. It is to split reality by splitting the self, making the construction of the self and what the self can know into a political act. His work calls for a repartitioning of the self by direct injection of the reality of the other into the body and brain, as he makes visible in his Study tapes and Study sheets.

Ganahl's Dialogs series extends this logic from the self as dividual to direct social interactions with the other based on language exchange (as in his study sessions with native language speakers). In his most recent Dialog work Ganahl has begun to produce collaborative objects with people from Afghanistan and Iraq. For the Afghan Dialogs, Ganahl makes printouts of logos he has photographed from television news, which he sends to Afghanistan to be embroidered. He instructs the embroiders to add whatever commentary they wish to texts such as: "Latest Developments," "Most Wanted Terrorist," and "America Strikes Back." In response to "America Strikes Back," an anonymous embroiderer wrote <TK—check the translation>: "If America is hurting others, it should first find out how much of this pain it can take itself."


<Rainer Ganahl, Afghan Dialog: America Strike Back. If America is hurting others, it should first find out how much of this pain it can take itself. (2002); Afghan Dialog: Next Target? G8 members should make their decisions wisely. (2003)>

The response in another Afghan Dialog is more sanguine. Given the American text, "Next Target?," the embroiderer responded, "G8 members should make their decisions wisely." Here the G8 appears not in the context of a revivified Reading, but in the voice of the subaltern speaking anonymously but in a dialogical relationship to the West through a medium and language coded by the West as Eastern. Two vernaculars rub shoulders and the other returns in an act of counter-translation. A similar process has taken place in Ganahl's Iraqi Dialogs, made together with Iraqi exiles living in Europe and done with collaborative texts on tiles instead of cloth. In Iraq Dialog: Showdown Iraq, Live Coverage, Would U.S. Use Nukes? Ganahl worked with an Iraqi born physics professor named Hikmat, who lives and teaches in Holland, and whose brother had been killed by Sadam Hussein.[51]


<fig. Rainer Ganahl, Iraq Dialog: Showdown Iraq, Live Coverage, Would U.S. Use Nukes? (2003); translation drawing>

To go with the American news slogans, Hikmat drew a mountain-shaped chart. Its base is the fall of the Hussein regime, and rising up from this is a call for democracy and human rights, culminating in a pinnacle of freedom. Despite his personal tragedy, the way Hikmat would have like to have seen this take place was via increased international pressure enacted through a continuation of weapons inspection and increased isolation of the Hussein regime rather than through war. Counter-slogans hover above freedom, in an attempt to counter the "Countdown to Iraq" announced boldly in the American logos: "Irak [sic] Peaceful Liberation from Saddam's Dictatorial Regime," "No War on Iraq," and "No Invasion of Iraq."

In the Dialogs a stage is produced for the meeting of Western and Eastern vernaculars, from their form, at the level of material and image, to the messages conveyed. They are a place for both the continuation and contestation of Orientalism, in all of its political consequence. Whereas Ganahl's Studies attempt to internalize the other by incorporating it into the self, the Dialogs allow the other to speak across the slash of the kind of blind, corporate logic favored in American public life. The Dialogs split reality by allowing American vulgarity to rub up against the <Pashtun> and <Iraqi> vernacular. The Dialogs are not so much a form of ignorant mastery as a more direct call for the production of a community of equals based on vernacular exchange. To some extent the antagonism of the Dialogs perpetuate Fanon's "circle of hate," but in putting this enmity on display, Ganahl begins the process of public airing out using the gallery as a commons for the posting of grievance.


"Je me souviens/Yours to discover," by Way of Conclusion


<fig. Rainer Ganahl, Basic Canadian: Aux yeux du people/In the eyes of the people (TK); Basic Canadian: Je me souvien/Yours to discover (TK)>

The gallery and the spaces Ganahl frames for his educationally-based artistic production take the place of the abject commons he depicts in Basic Canadian: Aux yeux du people/In the eyes of the people. In his work, "the people" are self-constituting, working against politics-as-usual through the production of personal vernaculars and personal historiography. ÉIn the eyes of the people is part of a series of photographs that are included with the Studies. They feature snapshots taken by Ganahl of places where he has studied the local language, layered with texts taken from the phrase books he used to study them. I wonder what else the book that contained "in the eyes of the people" had to say about Canadian history, particularly on the relationship between English and French speakers, but another image from this series tells me more about this. Titled Basic Canadian: Je me souvien/Yours to discover, Ganahl deviates from his usual text sources in these works. Instead of language book catchphrases, he uses the different provincial mottos of Quebec and Toronto as his captions. These are official, state catchphrases, commonly seen on license plates and other national documents. They offer two seemingly opposite types of sloganeering which Ganahl brings together: on the one hand the appeal to memory and memorial, on the other empire and conquest, but in each case the province is fixed by a caption that ties it to tourism, whether looking back or looking ahead. Ganahl then attaches these slogans to an image that undermines both. What he has discovered in this image is a view from a park in Montreal, looking out across a street where a billboard, featuring the Apple <iMac> abuts a typically Quebecois storefront. Blocking access between park and street is an iron fence, where sleeping bags hang, which belong to Native Americans who spend their nights in the park. They are absent from the image, as in the subjects of Rosler's The BoweryÉ, but here the text that captions the image is not solely about them. It is partly about these people, who are mostly Cree, and how their colonial fate has been largely expunged from official memory and the life of passersby like those who make their way down the street in the left of the image. But it is also about rediscovering this memory in the face of both the global promise of virtual media and corporate branding and the construction of local, French Canadian identity. What he has really discovered, and what he is giving to memory, is an image of glocal culture clash. He presents no solution except in the image itself which suggests a repartitioning of the glocal if only by calling attention to this clash.

File written by Adobe Photoshop¨ 5.0 File written by Adobe Photoshop¨ 5.0

<Rainer Ganahl, Please teach me Cree (2003); detail>

In another, related work, working against both French and English languages, Ganahl asks from the back of a postcard: "Please teach me Cree." Whether or not this is the next language he takes up, it is the gesture toward becoming other that this request, "Please teach meÉ," represents. It recognizes the immanence of selves to both their own vernaculars and the need to work against them and so against the regimes of opinion founding glocal discourse today. Through vernacular, vulgar politics it holds out a promise of communities based on more radical notions of democracy. The request to "Please teach meÉ" offers a hope that we, the people, as any group of people, can keep moving away from our mother tongues and toward a community of equals.

Works Cited

Baker, George. "[untitled review of Rainer Ganahl exhibition, Max Protech Gallery, New York]." Artforum April 1999: 124-125.

Balibar, ƒtienne, and Immanuel Wallerstein. "From Class Struggle to Classless Struggle?" Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities. New York: Verso, 1991.

Barthes, Roland. Image/Music/Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.

---. S/Z: An Essay. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1974.

Educational Complex. Ed. Rainer Ganahl. Vienna: Generali Foundation, 1997.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove, 1963.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1977.

---. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977.

---. Power/Knowledge: Selected Writings and Interviews, 1972-1977. Ed. Colin Gordon. New York: Pantheon, 1980.

---. Remarks on Marx. New York: Semiotext(e), 1991.

Ganahl, Rainer. "Basic Linguistics Services, interview with Stephan Pascher". 1996.

---. Keep Moving away from Your Mother Tongue...Rainer Ganahl interviewed by Momoyo Torimitsu.

---. Nihongo ou Japanese for Everybody: A Functional Approach to Daily Communication, Gakken, Tokyo, 1992.

---. "Refined Information and Petrified Politics." <TK>. Bremen: GAK, 2003.

---. "Thing.net interview online--mostly between Wolfgang Staele and Rainer Ganahl". 1994.

---. Traveling Linguistics.

Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Alan Sheridan. Ed. Jacque-Alain Miller. New York: W W Norton and Co, 1981.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Inoperative Community. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.

Rancire, Jacques. Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. Trans. Julie Rose. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1999.

---. The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Trans. Kristin Ross. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991.

Rosler, Martha. Decoys and Disruptions. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004.

Said, Edward W. Humanism and Democracy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

---. Representations of the Intellectual. New York: Random House, 1994.

---. "Traveling Theory." The World, The Text and the Critic. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983.

---. "Traveling Theory." Imported: A Reading Seminar. Ed. Rainer Ganahl. New York: Semiotext(e), 1998.

Sekula, Alan. Fish Story. Duesseldorf: Richter Verlag, 1995.


[1] Jacques Rancire, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1999) ix.

[2] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove, 1963).

[3] Rainer Ganahl, Nihongo ou Japanese for Everybody: A Functional Approach to Daily Communication, Gakken, Tokyo, 1992.

[4] Ganahl's "citY lisTs" and "Windows" series were also on display at Person's. He had started on these circa 1990, at the first stirrings of the information revolution that would eventually wash over both east and west in the internet boom that followed. The citY listTs consist of lists of words keyed to the specific location of their exhibition, combined with computer language commands. In previous versions, Ganahl had applied his words directly to the interior walls of the exhibition space, turning Lawrence Weiner's deadpan, Letraset poetics toward a more concrete visualization of the overlap between virtual computer space and the actual architecture of exhibition display. At Person's he pushed his text even further into the realm of virtual architecture. His Tokyo List appeared on the outside of the museum, above the entrance, scrolling across a small LED "zipper" message board, the kind used to post ever-changing information for display in public spaces. "Tokyo, build, read, kill, erase, move up, help, esc," flashed by. The string of "universal" computer code grounded only by the name of the city where these codes are made visible, and always in English, the mother tongue of computer programming. Ganahl makes visible the universal by demonstrating its necessary materialization in the local. By using the zipper as his format, he folds the localization of the universal back onto universal advertising and news transmission. The zipper is the signboard from the <Greek> commons transformed into a tele-technology which, by layering communication media onto architecture, is both symptom and symptomatic of the rise of "global cities." These cities are places that are both local and regional and yet connected beyond national borders by computer-aided telematics that publicly display advertisement for transnational products and global news. They are places driven towards becoming virtual spaces, nodes in a worldwide commons linked through the universal Esperanto of computer code.

The Windows series also explored the overlap of information and architecture. These works look like frames stolen from bits and pieces of early Microsoft GUI (graphical use interface) architecture, turned into something like a painting, and hung on the wall. Bits and pieces of text are found inside these Windows frames, taken largely from the administrative parts of books and library-based computer systems such as search results, indexes, title pages and ISBNs. In the Windows, Ganahl turns systems designed to give access to the content of book toward a MallarmŽan model of the Book as hermetic and non-communicative: from the universal transparency of information to its symbolic (or semiotic) obfuscation. He also made Windows as slideshows and wall-works. At Person's, <TK—title> was presented as an over-sized close up of the copyright page of Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s book Signifying Monkey, stenciled sideways and across a corner, as if the wall had been transformed into a scrolling computer screen, and the text was zipping from it. Here Ganahl has turned non-communication back to meta-communication, revealing how Oxford University Press continues to locate itself as part of a global network of cities based on the legacy of British colonialism (New York, Dar es Salaam, Bombay, Hong Kong, Melbourne, et. al), and that Gates's post-colonialism is framed at every level, rhetorically and institutionally, by the continuation of this legacy. He turns the book on its head, reading the parts that are not meant to be read too closely, and putting them on display. He finds the connection between Gate's local history of African Americans and the materialization of this history in book form as this is also connected to the legacy of colonization, whose tentacles reached around the world.

[5] He coined the term in a wall painting he designed for the Austrian Pavilion in 1999 Venice Biennale titled Glocal Language - A Portable Library, 1999.

[6] Edward W. Said, "Traveling Theory," The World, The Text and the Critic (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983). Reprinted in: Edward W. Said, "Traveling Theory," Imported: A Reading Seminar, ed. Rainer Ganahl (New York: Semiotext(e), 1998).

[7] With the highly politicized 1993 Whitney Biennale marking this moment of transition, just before the return to beauty and its discourses widely took hold.

[8] Edward W. Said, Representations of the Intellectual (New York: Random House, 1994).

[9] Said, Representations of the Intellectual 68.

[10] Said, Representations of the Intellectual 99.

[11] He returns to the theme of the intellectual in his final book, Humanism and Democracy but with little further examination of what makes it possible for one to assume this role, turning instead to the political differences in the ten years since he had last written on the subject. Edward W. Said, Humanism and Democracy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

[12] Michel Foucault, Remarks on Marx (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991) 173-174.

[13] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1977).

[14] Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977) 209; Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. I would say that Foucault's entire project was a form of counter-discourse. Along side his writing and teaching, he was involved in the Groupe d'Information sur les Prisons, which allowed prisoner's to speak about their own incarceration.

[15] Said, Representations of the Intellectual 11.

[16] Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Writings and Interviews, 1972-1977, ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon, 1980) 126-128.

[17] Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991) 28-29.

[18] The Imported Readings were held in Hiroshima, Nice, Moscow, Stuttgart, Los Angeles, and Lakeland, Florida.

[19] Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth <TK>.

[20] Black Blocs are affinity groups of people from various left and ultra-left organizations, as well as independent people, who join together for violent protests usually directed at corporations with multinational reach.

[21] <TK—cite, & check re-writing w/ Rainer>

[22] Martha Rosler, Decoys and Disruptions (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004) 172.

[23] I have paraphrased the term "adventurer-artist" from Rosler. She more fully describes this condition in: Rosler, Decoys and Disruptions 180.

[24] Rosler, Decoys and Disruptions 195. This is equally true of Burgin, Kelly and Sekula's work, if in different ways.

[25] In: Roland Barthes, Image/Music/Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977).

[26] <TK—more on Barthes on metonymy from Elements of Semiology>

[27] And it is also evident throughout his work, in his use of photography and video as document.

[28] Roland Barthes, S/Z: An Essay, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974).

[29] I find it peculiar that the English pronunciation of S/Z is usually given with the British-English inflected "ess zed" when the Americanized "ess zee" would better capture the inversion between male and female that Barthes elicits in the Balzac's "Sarrasine"

[30] She calls this street photography's "non-responsibility." Rosler, Decoys and Disruptions 226.

[31] "Personal historiography" is my paraphrase of Ganahl's concern from the following quote: "My concern is to put my finger on specific moments and, to an extent, to take historiography into my own hands. The practice of juxtaposing official information designed to condition the global public with the individual opinions that are of no interest to any politician or historian seems to me to offer an alternative approach to traditional historiography. With a querulous sense of irony, the artworks thus produced can even be projected onto the art-historical genre of history painting. As opposed to the museum-filling history pictures, here it is the so-called voice of the people which uses the voice of power as a framework for its own historiography" This would be yet another way to describe how Ganahl's work enacts vulgar politics." Rainer Ganahl, "Refined Information and Petrified Politics," <TK> (Bremen: GAK, 2003).

[32] In more recent projects like Fish Story, he seems to move into the position of adventurer-artist. Alan Sekula, Fish Story (Duesseldorf: Richter Verlag, 1995).

[33] That: colleges are subsidized by taxes and tax abatements; the companies spend less money on training incoming employees; the companies can pick the best students in each graduating class; those students not chosen for work are left with useless skills and un-payable debts. Only the elite can attend schools were education is a means in-and-of itself, and even then, universities are also becoming more directed toward the acquisition of market-driven skills of often dubious use-value. I would say this happens more often than not, because educational institutions are much slower to change than businesses. By the time they develop programs to meet the needs of business, the economy has already moved on and these skill are less needed.

[34] Barthes describes this as the "anchorage" performed by the use of caption and photography in the usual function of connotive metonymy. Barthes, Image/Music/Text 39.

[35] George Baker, "[untitled review of Rainer Ganahl exhibition, Max Protech Gallery, New York]," Artforum April 1999.

[36] I should also mention that part of the pleasure of these works is their humor, especially for those who know, if only by reputation, the speakers shown. they are also, often the kind of "beautiful photographs" mentioned by Sekula comes from a recognition on Ganahl's part (and on the part of other members of his generation such as Gabriel Orozco) that the gallery and museum always beautify any object they frame, even photography, no matter how deskilled or abject.

[37] Here I echo Etienne Balibar's question "Whither Marxism," in: ƒtienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein, "From Class Struggle to Classless Struggle?," Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities (New York: Verso, 1991).

[38] I would add that the problem of language and the common is pre-linguistic as well, based on emotional connection and non-verbal communication as much as linguistic communication.

[39] Rainer Ganahl, Keep Moving away from Your Mother Tongue...Rainer Ganahl interviewed by Momoyo Torimitsu.

[40] As opposed to, or from out of, Said's "traveling theory." Rainer Ganahl, Traveling Linguistics.

[41] Ganahl, Traveling Linguistics.

[42] Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan, ed. Jacque-Alain Miller (New York: W W Norton and Co, 1981).

[43] Rainer Ganahl, Thing.net interview online--mostly between Wolfgang Staele and Rainer Ganahl, 1994; Rainer Ganahl, Basic Linguistic Services, interview with Stephan Pascher, 1996.

[44] In works like Acconci's Corrections or Conversions or Jonas's Organic Honey's Visual Telepathy, or Organic Honey's Vertical Roll.

[45] Educational Complex, ed. Rainer Ganahl (Vienna: Generali Foundation, 1997) 45.

[46] Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison 166-167.

[47] Jacques Rancire, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, trans. Kristin Ross (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991).

[48] Rancire recounts how Jacotot first developed his method while exiled in Belgium. An integral figure in the revolution, Jacotot had to flee France with the return to power of the Bourbons. He was invited to teach in Brussels and, while he spoke no Flemish, he chose not to let this prevent him from working. A copy of Franois FŽnelon's TŽlŽmaque had been recently translated into a bilingual edition of French and Flemish and he asked his students to read back and forth between the languages until they could understand the French. He had them repeat what they had learned and memorize it, until they could recite the French by heart. He then tested them by having the students write compositions in French on TŽlŽmaque, using only the world they had learned from the text. To Jacotot's own surprise, they performed remarkably well. They had taught themselves, using only the minimal structure he provided. From this test, he deduced his theory of universal education: no explication was necessary; all that was needed to learn was the desire to learn and a minimal framework to ensure diligence.

[49] Rancire, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy 102.

[50] Rancire, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy 32.

[51] He preferred to not use his last name for fear of reprisals.