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Title: Jack Goldstein
Author: Jean Fisher, 1985
Published in the Catalog Jack Goldstein 'Feuer / Körper / Licht,(1985) Städtische Galerie Erlangen
Within the art that has emerged from America during the past decade, Jack
Goldstein's work has occupied an enigmatic position that perhaps can only
now begin to be understood or recognised as central to the shaping of those
concepts that constitute present art practice. Each time the work has traversed
a different medium - performance, film, phonographic record, written aphorism,
the photographic or painted image - it has radically disturbed our experience
and understanding of the language of representation, of language as representation,
and of the means by which the subject finds identity within it.
It is work, moreover, that is cognisant of the essence of American cultural
history itself as the search for identity; Goldstein's visual speculations
on the metaphysics of the sublime, of Hollywood cinema, of space technology,
are wholly consistent with the image of a culture from whose landscape of
infinite horizon emerged an aesthetic of the horizon of the infinite: an exploration
of both the vastness of possibility and the limitations of man's existence.
Despite the range of concepts it encompasses, the work has been enveloped
by a curious critical silence. In its reflection upon a relation to the world
that no longer depends on direct experience but on a concatenation of image-fragments
mediated by technology, it has indeed challenged the efficacy of Modernism's
model of the truth of the phenomenological subject. It exceeds the frame of
orthodoxy, transgressing the limits of what is 'proper' to the work of art
and the place of the artist as defined by a Modernist aesthetics. Thus, there
is not yet a critical language that can effectively articulate the work because
it is language itself that the work holds in abeyance. And it is the 'truth'
of language that is posed as elusive, always elsewhere than where we seek
it, always at the periphery of vision. We must, therefore, approach Goldstein's
work obliquely; seek the boundaries it forms with another writing that, like
itself, addresses itself to the truth of truth, to the disclosure of the concealment
inherent in all representation - written or imaged -, to the paradox of language
through which is played out the conflict between the self and its image of
The story actually begins in the middle somewhere.
A hill overlooking a freeway, Los Angeles,
1971: A small beacon at
the top of a hill breaks into the night darkness. Pulsating to the rhythm
of a heartbeat, it is the sole marker of the man buried in a box beneath the
Untitled (acrylic on canvas),
1983: The Image of the painting depicts
a hill overlooking a city shrouded in darkness. A barely visible red light
on the hilltop traps the trajectory of a fork of lightning on its passage
to the earth. The plot begins, somewhat arbitrarily, 'in the middle somewhere':
an extraction of these two punctuation marks from the text of Goldstein's
work in which, by an uncanny return, a strange echo resounding across two
widely different points in time and space, a recent painting reduplicates
the configuration of an earlier performance. We might, perhaps, describe this
configuration as the passage between earth and sky mediated by a nocturnal
light. It is an elemental scene by which, if we follow the ellipsis of its
associations in poetic language, we are lead into the labyrinth of dualities
that inscribe Western metaphysical thought: light/darkness; day/night; here/there;
life/death; mind/body; masculine/feminine... At the center of this skein of
redoubled differences is presence/absence - the problem of the location of
the identity of Being, the essence of selfhood. What emerges at the centre
of the Goldstein image is equally enigmatic - white light; which is to say
that, at the centre, there is both presence and absence, everything and nothing:
an emission without visible source or known destination; a point in space
that marks an empty place. We shall return later to a consideration of the
possible implications of Goldstein's image of light, but what concerns us
for the moment is the configuration itself and what, across the play of similarities
and differences in the two works, we might discover of the meaning and effect
of Goldstein's use of visual language.
Who is there?
When is your birthday?
The 'burial' performance is one of a score of performances executed by the
artist during the early 70s in which there was no formal audience. Like most
of the artist's work, the early performance occupies an ambivalent status
in relation to the conventions of the medium: a space and time-dependent event
constructed, however, against the expectation of subjective or phenomenological
presence: an unseen/unscene, a transforming, perhaps of act into translucent
The pulsating beacon indicates a presence but, as with all forms of representations,
it is displaced from its putative point of origin. On the face of it, this
would seem to confirm a fundamental assumption that representation follows
after the thing it represents: it is a re-presentation of an entity that preceded
it and that remains as a virtual presence within it. In the tradition of Modernist
aesthetics this presence is the creative self. But already we detect a tear
in the fabric binding represented to representation, author to work. Neither
symbol nor metaphor, the solitary beacon is a sign that re-marks only upon
its own condition as language. As such, it is 'indifferent' to the artist
who, rendered symbolically dead and buried, is an origin without existence.
The beacon becomes, therefore, the spectre of a non-existent origin. In relation
to his own spectacle, the artist is a distance and blind witness: a self aliented
from its image of itself, and caught in the polarities of mind and body.
The configuration of the painted image assumes a similar discursive field,
but indicates that there has been a more complete severance of the umbilical
cord literally uniting author to image in the performance. In their isolation
in a fathomless space, the photographically produced images of sky-divers
and parachutists of the late 70s - the only images apart from the performances
where the artist uses the human figure - may, perhaps, represent transitional
moments of this imagined freedom.
Within the painted image, the lightning bolt takes up the place occupied by
both beacon and artist in the performance: it is the trace of a trace of a
trace that, as light, presents an immateriality, re-echoed in the thrust of
its movement skyward rather than downward: a move toward liberation from the
earth/body attachment that becomes completed in the most recent images of
a solar eclipse. Immateriality and anonymity are restated in the work's mode
of formation and the cultural source of an image. There is no gesture or signature
- no authorial signifier - that would interfere with the autonomy of the painting
as object; no surface incident that would reflect what is not the expression
of pure light as it emanates from the image; no anecdotal content that would
specify a subject an origin, a place: nothing, in fact, that would deflect
from the viewer's experience of the image as pure spectacle.
To see is without a subject.
I lost the directions.
It never really happened.
Between the burial performance and the painting, the image is marked by a
movement of erasure and reinscription through which the subject is posed as
an effect of language rather than what is assumed to be the opposite. Language,
indeed, precedes our being in the world; emerging from a timeless 'before'
of the subject it can, however, say nothing of its origin; defining the condition
of man, it yet remains mute to the question of who he is. It is to this ambivalence
of language that the paradox of Goldstein's image addresses itself. In its
passage through a potentially infinite chain of reproductive processes to
the film, the phonographic record, or the painted image - a doubling that
is not one, a dissembling similitude - the image as sign is loosened from
its binding to any substantive or subjective referent. The image refers to
noexistent entity but the "shadow of events"(2); it begins at a
point beyond any beginning with a shadow on a magnetic or photographic screen.
The image is thus the shadow of a shadow, the after-image of what has never
been perceived, of what is always present as an absence, a desire. Of the
world not in the world, it is not a representation but a representative of
what is already a simulacrum.
As such, the rotoscopic animation of The Jump
(1978) is exemplary,
and surely one of the most poignant expressions of the diaphanous solitude
of the image. Like Jacques Derrida's description of the Mime, "...a double
that doubles no simple, that nothing anticipates, nothing at least that is
not already double"(3) it can be said to be a simulacrum without a model,
a mimesis that imitates nothing. The image of The Jump,
imitates only itself, rewriting and erasing itself in the continuous repetition
of the film loop. In this mnemonic scene, the apparition of the highboard
diver is trapped in a perpetual restaging of his own appearance and disappearance,
subordinated to the spectacle of the act.For Derrida, "Writing supplements
perception before perception ever appears to itself ( is conscious of itself).
'Memory' or writing is the opening of that process of appearance itself. The
'perceived' may be read only in the past, beneath perception and after it"(4).
In this absence of any perceptible origin, the presumed order of appearance
becomes inverted; Being/reality no longer has priority over its representation
but, as Goldstein has remarked, must henceforth be considered itself of the
order of language and the image: "...it seems absurd to try and understand
the world through our bodies because we take in the world, or we view the
world, or our conceptions of the world take place through the media, through
pictures...(in my work) I'm talking about technology as something that is
the landscape now. It's not about nature any more, it's about synthetic reality...
Because, at the same time, those things - the objects in the world around
me - really start off by being conceptions of those things."(5) Subjectivity
is formed through an objective world that is itself mediated by images: no
longer perceived as a unified whole but, like the figure in The Jump
as a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of myriad fragments.
Sound-effect records create picture of a fragmented part of nature.
This fragmented part of nature, as record, is a picture in place of its fragmentation.
Its pronounciation makes it difficult to understand.
Goldstein's reinscription of representation as the image of language finds
its complement in Derrida's interrogation of the privilege accorded to 'pure
speech' within the history of Western metaphysics, against which 'writing',
in its exteriority and distance from the speaking subject, becomes an inferior
substitute or 'supplement'.(6)The assumption has been that the seeming proximity
of voice and being (the intimacy of hearing one's self or one's interlocutor
at the moment of utterance) indicates the presence of consciousness to itself:
an indivisible truth or meaning, an essence or origin. Derrida argues that
the priority given to this signified nevertheless forgets, or makes transparent,
the signifier that enables sense to be articulated: the interiorized and the
spoken thought as well as writing are mediated by a form of inscription (an
'arche-writing') dependent on language. In psychoanalytic terms, language
is a screen that divides and alienates the self from itself. In an early performance
(1973) a hand repeatedly writes its name in black chalk over the same place
on the wall. The more this sign of identity attempts to establish itself,
the more it erases itself to the point of anonymity. As soon as it accedes
to language, the self loses itself to this symbolic other, thereafter to be
a subject bespoken by what is always anterior and exterior to it. It is this
condition that is invoked by the image of another performance (1971) in which
the only indication of the presence of a sensate body, bound and immobilized
by an electrical cord that terminates in a light bulb located over its heart,
is the flicker of light that 'writes' in the dark. 'Presence' can be perceived
only as an apparition, the consequence of a spatio-temporal slippage between
a past and a future, a here and a there, a self and its imaged other. As in
the burial performance, this self is blind, severed from consciousness of
itself. Presence - the present - can never coincide with itself as the instant
of revelation, but is always marked by the trace of the other, by the intangible
play of differences in language that Derrida calls differance, spacing.
" 'Memory' or writing is the opening of that process of appearance":
in Goldstein's "shadow of events", it may be expressed structurally
as an imperceptible shift in register (Shane,
1975); or as a fleeting
movement in the image (the change in direction of the captive animated bird
of Bone China,
1976);or more metaphorically in the paintings where lightning
is both an apparition of presence and the rent between the self and its other.
All are effects of a mnemonic trace which opens up a space in the image through
which what is glimpsed is the act of language itself in its passage to signification.
Language ordinarily effaces itself in the instant of its becoming; it must
be negated if the signified - self-presence/identity - is to take its place.
But here, the lack of fixed determinants, the intangible movement that displaces
and defers signification, preclude the signified from ever settling into place.
The song is caught between two radio stations.
It's up to the plastic surgeon to define what 'beautiful' is.
We may now begin to see now Goldstein's work profoundly disturbs the metaphysics
of presence underscoring the subjective idealism of the Romantic tradition
of art, whose current manifestation is Neo-Expressionism. In its investment
in the originality of the art object and the unique identity of the creative
self, Modernist aesthetic orthodoxy desires painting, like speech, to be the
revelation of presence, an unveiling of the truth beyond ordinary perception
and verbal language. "The transcedental principle that determines the
specificity of the work of art resides in the intent of the constitutive self
to reduce itself to its own immanence, to eliminate everything that is not
accessible to the immediate experience of the self as self...But the only
way in which this subject can succeed in remaining fully and exclusively consistent
in its subjective nature is by concentrating on the elaboration of a fictional
entity, by projecting itself into a form which although appearing to be autonomous
and complete is actually determined by the subject itself."(7) Thus what
is valorized in art as the immanence of the creative self is, on the contrary,
a projection of an inauthentic, false presence. Goldstein's unmasking off
the duplicity of this self cannot be tolerated by an aesthetic that depends
for its coherence on the dissimulation of a totalizing myth of the subject,
and must consequently place its speaker under constraint: "Once this
mask has been shown to be a mask, the authentic being underneath appears necessarily
as on the verge of madness."(8)
From the place of orthodoxy, Goldstein's recent painted images can only be
perceived as doubly transgressive since, unlike the conceptualizing practices
of the 70s which attempted to extend the boundaries of art by drawing upon
critical methodologies and media outside its traditions and hence was easy
to dismiss, Goldstein's approach is from an outside that is not spatially
separated from its inside: it touches the inner sanctum of art. Against painting
orthodoxy this work is rendered as the mirrored other of a mirror that cannot
perceive itself as such, and that can only protect its own self-image by an
inversion of the work's intent. Thus what is posed as a problem of signification,
is vulgarized by the institution as a violation of the 'purity' of art.
She dreams of her favorite movie star.
He speaks with a foreign language.
I Remember hiding it over there.
It looks a little like the other one.
But like the subject, painting remains circumscribed by the very codes of
visual and verbal language that constitute it as such. In the film, The
Portarait of Père Tanguy
(1974), we see a hand drawing with a pen
across the surface of a white sheet of paper from which emerges a tracing
of Van Gogh's familiar icon. It is familiar precisely because it is constituted
by signifiers already historically in place and identified through repetition.
Repetition is what confirms the truth of a thing; but in its dependence for
recognition on remembering
- already the movement of the trace - repetition
erases the possibility of revealing truth as essence, as singular identity.
Goldstein's play on the redoubled image appears, not as an unveiling of truth,
but as the comprehension of the non-truth of this truth of representation.
Its reproach to Modernism is echoed by Michel Foucault: "What matters
who's speaking?"(9) What matters is what is spoken in the phantasmic
space opened up between the spectral image and the viewer, and in the discursive
space generated by the work in culture.
Goldstein's authorial reticence and the non-originary originality of the image
confront representation as the image of language, as the image of the other,
in which the self can be none other than the representation of itself, and
hence never present in the fullness of Being. If the burial performance signaled
the death of the artist as author, it also inaugurated the appearance of the
reader who is always already written in the text. For every text there is
a pretext. Effect is the cause of an ever-receding mirror of further effects
that can never succeed to origin. The story actually begins in the middle
The murder was translated into five languages.
The magician plans to pull another rabbit from the hat again.
Take the real character and put him in a fictional situation.
Here, (16 mm b/w sound film, 10 min duration)
1973: The projected image
shows us nothing but an undifferentiated grey field. We hear footsteps in
a space, a voice calling 'here', and the sounds of rocks hitting the floor
as they are thrown toward the presumed location of the speaker. Toward the
end, a light suddenly illuminates the space and, in silence, the camera slowly
pans the room revealing only the rocks scattered on the floor.
Sound performance and 10" phonographic record,
1979: The performance
takes place in an empty white room dramatized by a blue-painted ceiling. Across
one diagonal axis of the space, concealed loudspeakers transmit the sound
of a continuously approaching train; while from the opposite direction, we
hear the sound of a plane passing overhead and receding into the distance.
If the work absents the artist/author and calls forth the viewer/reader, it
is not in order to exchange one apparent subject for another. Here,
like the early performances, presents a subject who exists only as the residues
of a 'might have been'. Paradoxically, the locative word 'here' - a synonym
for 'I' - denotes a subject that cannot be located in the seen/scene: the
speaker is 'nothing' without a witness to answer (for) it. Thus, the being
of the subject is not only masked by language but condemns it to be the object
of an other. In the sound performance, the witness (or viewer) is also a dislocated
subject: caught between two simultaneous contradictory mental images, 'he'
does not know whether he is 'coming or going'. Elsewhere, the work suggests
that it is the non-verbal utterance, demanding no witness, that comes closest
to revealing the abyss between the self and its subject. In the record The
(1977) we hear a man gasping in the water - an inspiration
at the moment of expiration; in one of the 10" records of 1979 we hear
the sound of a cowboy yodelling; whilst the performance, Fire/Body/light
(1984), is inaugurated by the cry of a fire-twirler: utterances that significantly
mark moments of death or of pleasure.
This vertiginous space where the subject 'loses' himself, the point at which,
as Maurice Blanchot describes, "here coincides with nowhere"(10),
is also where the work itself appears. For Goldstein, and Blanchot, the elliptical
and opaque moment of intersubjectivity, not the identity or location of a
subject, is the affective space of experience: "...the 'creator' - could
never derive the work from the essential lack of work. Never could he, by
himself, cause the pure opening words to spring forth from what is at the
origin. That is why the work is a work only when it becomes the intimacy shared
by someone who writes it and someone who reads it, a space violently opened
up by the contest between the power to speak and the power to read".(11)
It is this lightning rent between the seen and the unseen, between the unseen
and the scene, that Goldstein's work turns upon. And it is through its articulation
upon the body - from its apparent proximity to its disappearance and resurrection
at the distant site of the spectacle - that we may explore this intersubjective
space. There in our relation to a Goldstein spectacle, an appearance cought
at the moment of its imminent disappearance into the darkness of the indefinite,
is a truth of the fiction of our investment in appearance, the moment of inspiration
when time holds its breath, when an event becomes an image in which both the
fictional 'I' and 'you' are uncovered as an anonymous Someone or Other.
It could have been a lie.
Is that you?
In order to name it one has to see it first.
"What happens", asks Blanchot, "when one lives an event as
an image?"(12) - a question that uncannily echoes Goldstein's address
of our present mediated reality. "To live an event as an image",
Blanchot continues, "is not to see an image of this event, nor is it
to attribute to the event the gratuitous character of the imaginary...the
occurrence comands us, as we would command the image. It releases us from
it and from ourselves. It keeps us outside; it makes of this outside a presence
where 'I' does not recognize itself."(13)
We may now begin the story again from another perspective and re-mark the
traces in the work through which the physicality of our being in the world
recedes and reappears in the distant site of the image. We may begin, for
instance, in the late 60s with the work's sculptural roots in the High Modernism
of Minimalism. Residues of a minimalist and conceptual aesthetic remain -
the concern with an intersubjective space, the use of given technological
rather than hand-crafted elements, the effacement of the artist - but the
configuration of Goldstein's work develops into something radically other.
If Minimalism effaces the artist, it is to displace subjectivity onto the
viewer in a phenomenology confident of the immediacy of presence, in real
time and space, of the viewing subject and the object: a relationship in the
imaginary, pre-occupied with place (the place of the ego, the place of the
other), with identity and opposition - to take or be the place of the other.
It is, nonetheless, an imaginary framed by the symbolic, logical order of
the other: an idealized and symmetrical 'irreductible essence' of form, the
mirrored ego-ideal of a viewer implicated within the spatial coherence of
Renaissance perspective. In its emphatic materiality and horizontality, Minimalist
sculpture is a description of the body grounded, in place.
In Goldstein's sculpture, the language is similar but the syntax shifts the
rhetorical space from earth to sky. The modular units spiral upward in an
unstable symmetry, exceeding the grid to the point at which the structure
risks collapse - a critical moment in which the object no longer reflects
the idealized wholeness of the body but its uncertainty. It marks the potential
fragmentation of the subject at the limits of language where the signified
fails to function as a defining principle, where the authority of the other
is itself problematized. Goldstein's displacement signals an irruption of
the Real (14) - that which exists in and of itself without the subject; where
what is disclosed is the seeing of sight, not the site of seeing, or 'knowing'.
He cut the right side of his face shaving again.
Without distance one hears too many indiscernible things.
Already, therefore, the viewing subject's desire for a coherent image of itself
is placed under stress, a tension that is maintained in various ways throughout
the body of work. The early films mark the transition from the body to the
image - the substitution of sign for reality that enables the subject to place
himself at a distance from lived experience and objectify his relationship
to the world - but in the work this place is always unsettled. In both The
(1972) and A Glass of Milk
(1972) the thrust of the film,
and the viewer's anticipation, is already toward the final image. The anxiety
attendant upon the viewing experience articulates around the suggestion of
a barely suppressed pain and eroticism that are the essential condition of
the body. By 1975, both the film's narrativity and the overt references to
physicality have been eliminated so that an image appears as both anonymous
and autonomous. In Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
(1975), for instance, we see
the familiar logo - the roaring lion - that inaugurates the Hollywood movie,
isolated within a sumptuous red field and presented in constant repetition.
The film takes place 'placelessly' and 'timelessly'. Anticipation, that would
otherwise suture us into the film's narrative space, seizes us in an uncomfortable
hiatus of fascination outside the frame. Henceforth, it is by analogy to the
cinematic relation - the viewer entranced and immobilized in a darkened space
before a lighted screen; the spectacle in which the substitution of sign for
reality has become sign for sign - that Goldstein's work confronts the viewer
with the anxiety of his own spectatorship.
Using a combination of theatrical and cinematic effects, the performance spectacles
(1976-1984) reproduce that distance between viewer and image where the difference
between reality and phantasy is collapsed; but unlike the cinema, they untie
and slip the bindings that hold this illusion in place. There also the artist
is never in evidence; where professional performers take part, as in Body
(1977) and Two Boxers
the body is not the object of a sympathetic identification, but is perceived
as an anonymous shadow, unfamiliar and strange. In Two Boxers,
'event', like the projected film image, is contained and framed by light and
the rectangularity of the ring, and bracketed by the emotionally and visually
evocative sound of martial music. Through this manipulation of sound and vision,
the three parts of the work refer us to three possible distances to the spectacle
that are essentially mnemonic and voyeuristic: the imagined, the photographic,
and the cinematic.
And, yet, in this familiar relationship to an image, there arises a curious
doubling back of vision in which the voyeur becomes uncomfortably conscious
of the voyeuristic act. Fire/Body/Light
(1984) again presents a tripartite
'event': a male fire-twirler whose performance fades into a sequence of films,
beginning with The Jump and coming to rest with The Ballet Shoe
that, in turn, dissolves into the horizontal manoeuvres of a female body contortionist.
In the flickering light and shadow of the flames, the male body eludes the
search of the viewer's gaze; what surfaces instead is the eroticism of desire
that is always behind sight. The female performer appears differently. The
physical description of the body is shocking but in its revealing display
it too reveals nothing; however it turns, we may see only parts not a whole,
only an impenetrable exterior. Writhing in a 'supernatural' green glow, 'she'
is desire's apparition in a moment of yet another resurrection. The body,
although present, appears in the act of dissolution behind the surface play
of a uniform light, only to reappear as a cadaverous absence - the 'impression'
that Bazin(15) characterizes as the condition of the photographic image of
the body. There we catch sight of the self devoured and resurrected by language
- by a vampiric alter ego that remains, nonetheless, trapped in the duplicity
of desire: to return to a nostalgic undifferentiated time-before-language,
and to live in the eternity of the word. There too in the feverish glow of
Goldstein's redoubled image is the truth of the cinematic spectacle, desire's
masquerade of illusions, where the phantasized corpse of the past, death,
otherness, are constantly repossessed by the ahistorical space of a never-present
To be remembered by another time.
To reveal secrets to strangers.
Golstein's distance is not the 'indifference' of the cultural image described
by the discourse of appropriation - language steals the subject, not the reverse
- but the 'indifference' of an estrangement that is the remote proximity of
the subject's relation to its self and to an other. "But the immediacy
which common language communicates to us is only veiled distance, the absolutely
foreign passing for the habitual, the unfamiliar which we take for the customary,
thanks to the veil which is language and because we have grown accustomed
to words' illusion".(16) The unfamiliar familiarity, the unheimlich
nature of Goldstein's work, renders our act of seeing itself transgressive,
as if we were witnessing something that should remain concealed. May this
not be apparition of an estranged and fragmented self, haunted by repressed
fears and desires in which the distinction between reality and phantasy has
been effaced? In the silence of darkness and solitude, the absence of the
other that witnesses, and hence guarantees our presence plunges us into the
terror of a blindness where one's self no longer, by reflection, sees itself
in the seen/scene. The repeated haunting sound of the ship's horn in The
Lost Ocean Liner
(1976) is such an unanswered voice trapped, like the
animated bird in Bone China,
in a body from which it is also estranged
- a sound haunted by silence. Across the grey oceanic wastes of solitude,
between loss and desire, the hallucinatory double makes its appearance.
Goldstein's phonographic record is perhaps the perfect image of the catastrophic
doubled self: a tactile 'body' with a divided psychical identity. In the white
label/10" record (1979), the sound of bombs falling through the sky is
counterpoised on the reverse side by the screech of wheels as a airplane touches
down and taxies on the ground. As with the train/plane record, the listener
is caught up in a spatiotemporal disjunction that mirrors how the self must
piece together a coherent reality from the fragments of the world that are
presented to it. The theme recalls the early 'lighted candle' performance
(1971), where the flickering flame illuminates different fragments of a face
that is never perceived in its entirety but must be constructed through the
memory of its parts. Goldstein constructs the LP records by analogous means:
the orchestration of tiny fragments of sound-effects (The Quivering Earth,
1977) or music (The Murder, Two Fencers, The Unknown Dimension,
or both (Planets,
1984) into a unified image-effect. This synaesthetic
quality of the records stems in part from our recognition of the sounds as
a pre-existing language, and of the final image as the simulacrum of an already
mediated reality. Both The Murder
and Two Fencers
the soundtrack of typical Hollywood film genres, from whose memory we may
visualize a scenario. They are disturbing, however, for their disclosure that
music can manipulate and objectify feelings that we assume generate from being
Sound is the memory of image that dislocates the origin from its object.
To see is that sense of loss, of an appearing disappearance, that is always
If Goldstein's spectacle holds us in a thrall that seems both disturbing and
imperative, it is because the work's function is to lay bare the image of
the image with all the tyranny that it exerts upon us. Like the prisoners
in Plato's allegory of the cave, we are reluctant to tear our eyes away from
our illusions, to break the spell of desire that captures us in its play of
nocturnal shadows. Through all the manifestations of the spectacle - the masquerade,
the carnivalesque, the cinematic - the immobilized, fascinated subject becomes,
in the dark, other than himself. There our fear of the body's temporality
and physicality recedes into forgetfulness,and we can spin our dreams of immortality.
To go into the light is to risk the blindness of the absolute insight of the
Such is the paradox of the sublime sensibility alluded to in Goldstein's painted
spectacles: an ecstatic vision of a transcendental self, and an abject self
that contemplates the terror of its own effacement by powers beyond its comprehension.
In 19thC American art, the sublime was expressed through a landscape of light
and space, evoking immensity, silence, and the potentially catastrophic with
a tragic theatricality that we find recurring in post-Modernism. For the late
20thC this ambivalence is expressed through the mediated, cinematic spectacle
of technology, in the face of which the subject is both remote and anonymous,
denied 'spontaneity' (18). To image this Heideggerean dread, to use technology's
own devices is, for Goldstein, to exert a measure of 'control' over its effect.
We may now begin to see the Promethean rather than literal dimension of the
artist's images of impending disasters, warplanes and 'burning cities', and
their relationship to the cosmic energies described in the more recent paintings
of lightning, volcanoes and eclipses. The radiant artificiality of the artist's
spectacle denies the transcendental impulse of the sublime at the same time
as it illuminates the interior psychical event that constitutes our investment
in it. The image as cause and effect of a conceptualized rather than empirical
reality, the catastrophic, the doubling and distancing effects so succinctly
realized in the records, are among the characteristics of the art of the sublime
described by Paul de Man: "The threatening power is not something exterior
that one confronts directly in an unmediated encounter: it has instead been
transferred, by an act of the mind (sometimes called imagination) into the
constitution if an entity, a subject, capable of reflecting upon the threatening
power because it partakes of that power without having coincided with it...the
awsome element in the work of art is that something so familiar and intimate
could also be free to be so radically different".(19)
To be recognized as someone else.
To see is the forbidden desire of that which is beyond vision.
"For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror we can just barely
endure, and we are so awed by it because it calmly disdains to destroy us."(20)
What is held at a distance, what ties our fascination to the spectacle in
its arrested moment, is the desire to know, to experience prematurely - but
from a safe distance - death as the final boundary of human existence, a configuration
that is elegantly described in the performance, Burning Window
where flickering lights behind the red panes of a false window create the
illusion of a conflagration 'outside'.
In the most recent paintings, this configuration is experienced as the lure
of a depicted infinity to which we are likewise denied access: of a sidereal
darkness and distant horizon that mark the uncertainty and the limits of vision;
of an incandescent light upon which the eye cannot focus; of a blinding of
blind centre that reveals nothing. "But what happens when what you see
although at a distance, seems to touch you with a gripping contact, when the
manner of seeing is a kind of touch, when seeing is contact at a distance?"(21)
The viewer's experience of this image is not that of the exchange of one subject
for another characteristic of the imaginary where it is through the concealed
vanishing point that the viewer inserts himself in the picture. We cannot
specularize ourselves in this estranged place. Lightning, innervating the
blackness of sky, is also that which, invaginated, becomes an irradiation
from the blind spot in the retinal lining of yet another sphere: the infinite
exterior is the mirror of an invisible interior. Elsewhere, the eclipse causes
to appear what Jacques Lacan suggests replaces the absent centre of the picture,
"...the hole - a reflection of the pupil behind which is situated the
gaze.(22) The image is the double of the viewer's gaze caught in its desiring
fascination for what is behind sight as the empty space that is the site of
being. Thus, to turn and face the eclipse is to encounter the black hole of
an eye/I mesmerized by the fathomless depths of its own absence; or the veiled
solar eye whose blinding light must be screened before sight comes into being
- the sun, the abyss without language that makes language possible.(23) The
uncanny of Goldstein's work is this silent timeless space of the self lost
to its own reflection - the "gaze turned back upon itself and closed
in a circle."(24) Whoever is fascinated doesn't see, properly speaking,
what he sees. Rather, it touches him in an immediate proximity; it seizes
him and ceaselessly draws him close, even though it leaves him at an absolute
The centre is out of range to sight.
To 'hear' is of the day as to 'see' is to the night.
Like post-Modernist discourse, Goldstein's problematizing of Modernism's coherent
subject shifts the ground for evaluating experience to the rhetoric of desire
itself; but here too his work extends beyond the frame. The pleasure of the
beauty of the image is countered by the un- pleasure of its elusiveness. The
catastrophic instant in the work that signaled the fragmented subject becomes
transformed again into an attenuation of desire; the volcano reflects a refusal
to extinguish the flame, the eclipse is the silent echo of a pure resonating
note of desire perpetually deferred - death held in an indeterminate future.
In the disembodied incandescence of the image is a desire that desires no
object but itself. The orgasmic effusions of light, the hole inflamed by a
solar fire, are images of an eroticism without the body, whose dismissal of
the subject is both sacred and profane - sacred because it is uncontaminated
by the false icons of the other that lure us into the narcissistic dreams
of omnipotence; profane because it marks the place of a divine absence, revealing
the limits of what the self can know of itself - the impotence of desire that
knows its object only at the instant of the self's dissolution in death. If
the image is the corpse of desire that shimmers in the intensity of its own
impossibility, the record is the distant murmur of desire's forgetfulness
of an eternal past.
(Uranus, Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, Oberon): the other
night's dream, a double echo, calling across the unbreachable distance of
the self and its appearance. Appearance is not deceptive, only what desire
desires of it. Here in the evanescence of the image, desire is transformed
into a passion that Blanchot describes as "...the most glacial of all,
because it has triumphed over an intense defeat and is ever now triumphing
over it, and at each instant, and always, so that time no longer exists for
it."(26) It is the passion of the non-being of being that sees no contradiction
between life and death. There is not the eradication of difference, but the
bringing to light of the fiction that enables difference to come into play;
where presence is absence, the voice within is the voice without; where the
inside dissolves into the outside, and the masculine into the feminine; where
the end is a beginning. It is the rhetoric of an affirmation of life that
embraces death as its condition of being.
To be an individual without certainty.
1 Jack Goldstein. Each section of the text is
bracketed by the artist's aphorisms (1975-1984).
2 Maurice Blanchot. "The Essential Solitude",
in, The Space of Literature, translated by Ann Smock, Univ. of Nebraska
Press, Lincoln, London 1982, p.34.
3 Jacques Derrida. "The Double Session",
in Dissemination, translated by Barbara Johnson, The Univ. of Chicago
Press 1981, p. 206.
4 Jacques Derrida. "Freud and the Scene
of Writing", in, Writing and Difference, translated by Alan Bass,
Routledge and Kegan Paul, London and Henley 1978, p. 224.
5 Jack Goldstein. Transcription of a broadcast
interview, WBFO, Buffalo, New York, Oktober 21, 1978.
6 Jacques Derrida. Speech and Phenomena.
And Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs. See particularly, 'Differance'.
Translated by David B. Allison, Northwestern Univ. Press, Evanston 1973, pp.
7 Paul de Man. "The Sublimation of the
Self", in, Blindness and Insight. Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary
Criticism, 2nd edition, revised. Univ. of Minnesota Press 1983, p. 42.
8 Paul de Man. "The Rhetoric of Temporality",
in, Blindness and Insight, p. 216.
9 Michel Foucault. "What is an Author?"
in, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, translated by Donald F. Bouchard
and Sherry Simon, Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1977, p. 138.
10 Maurice Blanchot. "Approaching Literature's
Space", in The Space of Literature, p. 48.
11 Maurice Blanchot. ibid p. 37.
12 Maurice Blanchot. "The Two Versions
of the Imaginary", in, The Space of Literature, p. 261.
13 Maurice Blanchot. ibid p. 262.
14 Anthony Wilden. Speech and Language in
Psychoanalysis. Jacques Lacan, The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, Baltimore
and London 1981, p. 280.
15 André Bazin. "The Ontology of
the Photographic Image", in What is Cinema? Vol. 1, Univ. of California
16 Maurice Blanchot. Approaching Literature's
Space, p. 40.
17 Sigmund Freud. "The Uncanny", 1919,
in, The Standard Edition of the Complete Works, translated by Alix
Strachey, Vol. XVII, p. 224.
18 Jack Goldstein. op. cit.
19 Paul de Man. "Figural Language in Rousseau,
Nietzsche, Rilke and Proust", in, Allegories of Reading, Yale
Univ. Press, New Haven and London 1979, p.177.
20 Rainer Maria Rilke: "Denn das Schöne
ist nichts als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen, und
wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht, uns zu zerstören".
First Duino Elegy
21 Maurice Blanchot. The Essential Solitude,
22 Jacques Lacan. "What is a Picture?",
in, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, translated by
Alan Sheridan. W. W. Norton & Co., New York, London 1981, p. 108.
23 Jacques Derrida. Signéponge/Signsponge,
translated by Richard Rand, Columbia Univ. Press, New York 1984, p. 140 ff.
See also: 'Plato's Pharmacy', in, Dissemination, pp. 63-171.
24 Maurice Blanchot. The Essential Solitude,
25 ibid p. 33.
26 Maurice Blanchot. Death Sentence,
translated by Lydia Davis, Station Hill Press 1978, p. 72.