The Flesh in the Pear and the Meat in the Pie By Johnny Rodger For the Greek Enlightenment the Pythagorean discovery of ‘limit’ (peras) was a vital step in the working out of the relationship between unit, the particular or discrete individual on one hand, and the undifferentiated mass, the collective or the general on the other. What, we might say, makes one pear in all its distinctive particularity, still a pear as pears are generally? And once the last pear in our fruit bowl has been scoffed, how can we be sure that ‘pear’ as general pearness still exists? Aristotle, who might himself be considered by some as il maestro di color che sanno, the summit, highpoint, last in line, limit or edge in the tradition of the aforesaid Enlightenment, considered that it is only by virtue of its form that any matter can be considered as one separate, individual thing. The mass of unformed QEXXIVMRXLIYRMZIVWIXLI¾IWL within the pear if you like, is, he held, unknowable ‘potential’ which only becomes ‘actual’ when it is realised, separated and bounded by form. If however, surface is the most immediately apprehensible and knowable aspect of any one thing, then we might wonder if Aristotle’s God (who was logically, the only fully ‘actualised’ Being, with no imperfections, ie. no material and no merely ‘potential’ aspects) is not all surface and no hidden depths? A God who is nothing but skinny, skin, skin? It is odd that in some deal less phallocentric way, for Elke Weissmann too, form exists independently of matter. But her, dare we say it, perfect pear-shape belongs to a realm quite other from the full heavenly presencing of Aristotle’s God. In ‘My skin is inside of me’ Weissmann makes a claim that politically speaking skin is not always located at the limit of matter. 6I¾IGXMRKSRLIVIZIV]HE]I\TIVMIRGIWWLI½RHW her true skin is not constituted from a sensible or perceptible intuition of the physical end or boundary of matter but as a gendered logical limit premised on social and psychological demarcations. Needless to say these limits are as elastic as a bra-strap.
But is it just in reaction that women are in general WSWIRWMXMZIXSPSGEXMSRHI½RMXMSRQEREKIQIRX ERHVI½RMRKSJWYVJEGIW#(SIWER]SRIXLIWIHE]W seriously believe that women paint their faces just for men or even for other women’s ideas of what men might want? Agnes Owens certainly doesn’t clarify that issue in her story with the cute title of ‘Roses’. In her typically calm and measured prose, Owens brings us a vision of how one woman could, in a careful preparation of nothing stronger than words EVVERKIJSVETIVJYQIHERHTVIXXM½IHWOMRRSPEVKIV than a kitchen garden to conceal a depth of anguish and resentment the size of the largest sea-going tub in the world. Those blooms feed on a compost of 46,000 tons of steel wrapped in a tangle of seaweed, and hundreds of rotten corpses stuck in a muddy limbo. But who’s to say that the relatively diminutive domestic surface wrapping it all up is any less actual than any other skin? On the other hand it would be naïve to pretend not to notice a sinister underplay of violence, and of defensive strategies to cope with perceived attacks that are at work in Owens’s ostensibly blasé narration. So is skin as a defensive mechanism simply a female VI¾I\#3VEQ-NYWXPMOIE blind dog here chasing my own tautologous tail? In an unusually unsexed and ungendered telling of one of his own fairy tales in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, the witch doctor of Vienna imagined at the SVMKMRWSJPMJIER³SVKERMWQMRMXWQSWXWMQTPM½IHJSVQ as an undifferentiated vesicle of a substance that is susceptible to stimulation.’ – Ooer, we might say, but no buns are yet being put in an ungendered oven. The sensible stimuli are unwelcome and overwhelming for the simple organism, and Freud describes its existential torture in terms which, arguably, could be applied to the protagonist of Owens’s story – ‘This little fragment of living substance is suspended in the middle of an external world charged with the most powerful energies.’ How can it guard itself from the threat of the external world other than evolving a protective shield or growing a skin over its hithertofore ‘undifferentiated’ mass? Or, as the Baker of Beyond puts it, by forming a ‘crust’ which is ‘baked
through by stimulation’. Thus, as he has it, are formed the layers and depths of consciousness, with the conscious mind and the perceptive system essentially acting as a de-sensitised shield to protect the rest of the organism. And where others may say that the proof of defence is in the pudenda, for once, it seems, we have a proverbial Baker’s doesn’t. &IWMHIWMJ%KRIW3[IRW´W½RIFYXXSYKLWOMRMW[SZIR from words, then is it not just as likely that men are able and eager to weave such skins? What is rhetoric EJXIVEPPMJRSXEZIVFEP½VQMRKYTSJXLIGEWI#%RH is the difference between a rhetorical and a poetic ‘defence’ not that while both seek to exploit the ambiguities and uncertainties in language, the former always has a more material or mundane and more politically opaque agenda in view. Take Tommy Sheridan for example, and his oneman stand to save his skin against a range of alleged aggressors who include Rupert Murdoch, MI5, the police and his erstwhile parliamentary colleagues: all of whom and with others, according to Sheridan, would collectively constitute an Establishment. The actual Establishment institutions in Scotland; the Legal profession, the Education system, the Church, the Universities and so on, are well known to be modelled on, or at least to pay respect to, Ancient Roman forms. But Sheridan goes one better than most involved with these institutions. For he is probably the only living non-legal professional in Scotland to have employed his own brand of rhetoric in the modern equivalents for all three of the locations considered important in Ancient Roman society for the practice of civilian oratory. Namely the contio (public meetings or hustings for Sheridan), the Senate (the Holyrood Parliament for Sheridan), and the law-courts (no explanation needed). In Rome the fact that there was no public prosecution service, and individuals could accuse and take other individuals to GSYVXQIERXXLEXTYFMG½KYVIWPMOI'MGIVSERH4PMR] were able to exploit the public space of the tribune or court house as a vehicle and a focus for vigorous scrutiny and sustained critiques of the political behaviour and values in public life. Tommy Sheridan’s political career may seem now, in
the light of his failure to be re-elected to Holyrood in May 2007, as much ancient history as Cicero’s. But the fact is that he was able to bring the same vital and critical attention on the mores and values of modern day political society to the normally humdrum business of the Edinburgh Court of Session as were to be found in the political trials of the Roman fora. It may at times have seemed to be a frivolous sort of attention to spurious detail in Sheridan’s case against News International, and indeed he had been advised not to pursue it. For who, after all, was interested in Tommy’s desperate sex life, until he forced us to take it seriously and legally, and had us all baked through with a long hot summer of stimulation in the courtroom? But nonetheless his most clever VLIXSVMGEP¾SYVMWL[EWXSQEOIMXETTIEVnot that he was pursuing a £200,000 damages claim against News International, but that he was merely defending against their prosecution of allegations. Indeed he could almost have been taking instructions from Cicero himself here, who knew it was damaging to one’s political reputation to be seen prosecuting people in court, and in On Duties advises: It is defending above all, which creates glory and gratitude, and all the more so when the person defended seems harassed and threatened by the resources of a powerful man. Thus for the public at large then, here was Tommy Sheridan being dragged to court and harassed and forced to answer for alleged personal and sexual misdemeanours, and all this harassment was paid for by the resources of the evil and powerful Mr Rupert Murdoch. It’s a wonderful script to read from, if only it were true, but at any rate its classical aspects don’t end there. For when Tommy Sheridan sacked his Counsel and took to his own defence in court, in a sense his approach moved back again in time from a Roman model to the more pure and upright morals of Ancient Greek society. For here was the citizen-politician standing speaking for himself, without an advocate, before the full assembly (via TV and newspaper reporting of course) of his fellow citizens. They would judge him, and him alone. Unlike those decadent Romans, unlike Cicero, Sheridan was not defending someone else, he was not in someone else’s pay, and nor had he an advocate’s shield in front of him. He had only one skin to save, his own, and he bared it – most hirsutely – before us all in our virtual citizens’ assembly.
The thing is however, that his own skin, which Sheridan had taken great care to testify had never touched that of several other ladies (and gents) present in court, was nonetheless all this time being stretched and joined seamlessly with that of his wife, and his infant daughter. We were made to realise through the testimony of Sheridan and his wife, that the attack by the wicked Rupert would not only bring Sheridan down, but it was an attack on the decency, happiness and integrity of one small bourgeois family unit. Anyone who would doubt that a ‘socialist’ would stoop to this type of bourgeois rhetoric need only glance at the front page of the Sunday Mail on XLI½VWX[IIOIRHEJXIVLMWGSYVXGEWI was successful. The Sunday Mail and its sister paper the Daily Record are locked MRE½IVGIGMVGYPEXMSR[EVMR7GSXPERH with the News International equivalents, The Sun and the News of the World. As such the Record and the Mail supported Sheridan all the way through his court case. On the Sunday Mail front page at the end of that glorious week Sheridan, his wife and daughter were shown lying on a bed together smiling, and kitted out in matching dressing gowns (hairy chest just showing). The temptation, was of course, to exclaim ‘three in a bed!’. But that’s not to make an allegation of prostitution there, because we know that the Record itself had paid for the luxury hotel room where the photograph was taken and where the Sheridans stayed immediately after the court case. At any rate the stretching of his own skin to meet and join seamlessly with that of his wife and child as the inseparable family continued unabated. 8LI7SPMHEVMX]PIE¾IXJSVXLI1E] election, a glossy folded A4 sheet contained no fewer than three colour photographs of Sheridan in embrace with his infant daughter, wife by his side. Even the local free paper The Glaswegian recently put on their front page a picture of the happy family marching together in support of the Simclar workers. In the accompanying article, titled ‘Daddy’s Girl’ the paper asks ‘isn’t taking Gabrielle (the daughter) to political rallies just a political stunt by the Sheridans?’ But Tommy himself
disabuses us of any such idea: ‘Anyone who thinks I would traipse around with our lovely daughter as a publicity gimmick is totally wrong.’ he says. That’s that settled then. Totally wrong. No point delving further. But if, as for Freud and Sheridan, the creation of such surfaces, covers, skins, façades, and indeed, piecrusts is accomplished as a matter of course, then that matter of course is precisely why, for some others, removing the layers of outer appearance is a vital and critical concern. The artist Gordon Matta-Clark for example, spent a short active artistic life (he lived 1943-78) bent on what he termed ‘completion by removal’: cutting regular and planned LSPIWXLVSYKLXLI[EPPWJEpEHIW¾SSVW and roofs of buildings to expose them to the open. While Tommy Sheridan, that is to say, chooses for himself the Sisyphean task of stretching a thin skin of bourgeois decorum endlessly across the mouth of the bottomless abyss of his natural desire, Matta-Clark spent LMWEVXMWXMGPMJI¾MVXMRK[MXLXLISTIRMRK up of such abysses. On a literally more concrete level than Freud, he sought in LMWEYXLIRXMGSTIVEXMSRWMRLMW½IPHXS explore questions quite analogous to those aimed at in psychoanalysis – and described those aims as removing the ‘false wrappings of the persona’. Matta-Clark studied architecture at Cornell University. But on graduating in 1968 he found that his fascination with the ambiguities of structure and place made it impossible for him to add to what he felt was the oppressively overdeveloped built environment of North America by operating in the conventional architectural profession. Through various formal and artistic developments (including opening a restaurant called ‘Food’ in NYC, where no doubt pies and pears were on the menu), he arrived at a process, whereby using heavy construction power tools he would carve shapes and open up spaces through existing buildings which were due for demolition. Amongst the better known of his projects are: his W-hole House in Genoa (1973) where he cut the crowning pyramid away from the pavilion roof of a studio and also
sliced regular shapes through the walls of the interior: his Bingo.ne by Ninths and Days (1974) where he sectioned the faĂ§ade of a two-storey family house due for demolition in NY State into nine equal rectangles, then removed all except the middle one, thus revealing the interior of the dwelling: his Dayâ€™s End (1975) where he cut several geometrically calculated forms through the faĂ§ade of a giant riverside wharf building in NYC to let in light: and also in 1975 his Conical Intersect where he cut a cone-shaped void through the faĂ§ade ERHYTXLVSYKLXLIÂžSSVWSJEth century Parisian building next door to the Pompidou Centre. Perhaps the easiest word to pick off the shelf to describe Matta-Clarkâ€™s operation would be â€˜deconstructionâ€™. But the irony is that in its literalness and also in its anachronicity (it is unlikely that in the early to mid-1970s, Gordon Matta-Clark had heard of Jacques Derrida) that word would be likely to conceal more than it revealed about his work. There is in fact, not room here to make a comprehensive attempt at covering the main aims and achievements recognisable in these projects. Nonetheless amongst the most distinct and striking aspects are that the STIRMRKYTSJXLIWIIHMÂ˝GIWXLVSYKLTPERRIHVIKYPEV removals of surfaces and planes gives us not only a public recognition of private spaces, but through the exposure of hidden and compartmentalised surfaces, ÂžSSVW[EPPWERHXLIMVGSRXSVXIHLMHHIRVIPEXMSRWLMTW [IEVIEJJSVHIHEVIHIÂ˝RMXMSRSJWTEXMEPWMXYEXMSRW and structural components and their implications for human occupancy. The opening up of these buildings to light, and the ordered puncturing of these surfaces also reminds us that these enclosed spaces are part of ERMRÂ˝RMXIGSRXMRYYQSJWTEGIXLEXI\MWXWFI]SRHERH thus we see the individual building, as Matta-Clark said, as â€˜a middle zone suspended between ground and skyâ€™. Just so, Matta-Clark grapples with some of the major and recurrent themes in Western thought; concerning relationships between the MRÂ˝RMXIERHXLIÂ˝RMXIFIX[IIR matter and form, between surface and depth, between interior and exterior: those questions that have been with us since Aristotle, through Descartes and on to our time. But what answers does MattaClark give us to them? The point is that he is an artist, not a philosopher: he does not answer, he exposes. In an early exhibition (1971) called simply Pipes Matta-Clark extended gas pipes which lay behind the gallery wall out into the gallery itself and then back again, and he accompanied that with a photographic documentation of the pipeâ€™s journey from the street and through the building. The interesting thing is that not only is the building represented here as
a mechanical processing system rather than as a series of discrete spaces, but the question whether the exhibition is itself an investigation (via the documentary photographs) or a presentation (with the actual pipe in the room) is raised. We have both plastic and pictorial elements presented here together, thus a relationship between surface and depth, and presence and absence is set up. So that what we have are two languages speaking about the same thing; much like Spinoza speaks of the relationship of mind and body in his divine universe: The mind and the body are one and the same thing, which is conceived now under the attribute of thought, now under the attribute of extension. But if anything, it was sustaining such valid exposures of mind and body, of public and private, of surface and depth, as aspects of the one thing that drove MattaClark, and that fatigued him, and that may ultimately have brought him to an early death. As he became more and more famous for his building cuts and as more commissions were offered to him to perform them he came to resent and fear the idea that what had been a fascinating, novel and liberating operation could be turned by repetition into a mere technique SVEXVMGO%JXIVLILEHÂžIHXS)YVSTIJVSQXLI NYC police following his illegal work on the wharf building he spoke to a friend of a dilemma over his future operations and the modalities of self that were entailed. Should he allow himself to live for outward appearances, take fame as the â€˜building cutterâ€™ and get on with it, or should he stay as anonymous, on the VYRERHÂ˝RHWSQISXLIVÂ˝IPHSVQSHIMR[LMGLXS advance his work and live a life engaged on an inward path of self-transformation barred from external vision? Itâ€™s not a type of dilemma which is likely to have ever seriously bothered Tommy Sheridan. But perhaps the next time he holds his child aloft on his shoulders throughout a political demonstration he ought to give thought to such possibilities and choices in that childâ€™s authentic future as well as to his own political skin. For by way of contrast, one of the most well-known photographs of Matta-Clark as a baby shows him being held up alongside a sculpture by Giacometti, titled Hands Holding The Void. Matta-Clarkâ€™s father Robert Matta was a relatively well-known surrealist painter and it was he who held the baby up alongside the strange and spooky forms of his friendâ€™s statuette. The effect of the babyâ€™s solitary proximity to the alien is paradoxically humane: it sets us asking not just about surfaces â€“ for they appear as relatively similar on the photographed pair â€“ and the immediate questions that come to mind are such as: what is that child, what is its life, what touches it, how shall it feel, how is it to be a human being?
Published on May 1, 2014