PMC Logo

    Alter Egos

  1. Ventriloquism--the act of speaking through a surrogate body--is a frequent device in the work of American performance artist Laurie Anderson. In many of her installations and performances, Anderson herself does not speak as such--rather, she speaks through alter egos, usually technologically generated, who ventriloquize her stories and anecdotes. She frequently interposes a substitute persona between herself and her audience, and it is this which does the talking. Such surrogate personae are often vocally manipulated: in her performances, she frequently modulates her voice to play different characters (the masculine "voice of authority," the squeaky voice of a child, the plaintive tones of "Mom" in her well-known 1981 hit song "O Superman," and so on). Or they are musical instruments. Anderson, a classically trained violinist, has said that, in her performances, "the violin is the perfect alter ego. It's the instrument closest to the human voice . . . I've spent a lot of time trying to teach the violin to talk" (Stories 33). But there are also more complete physical surrogates to whom Anderson transfers her voice. A list of Anderson's physical alter egos might include the "digital clones" of the 1986 video series What You Mean We?, a literal ventriloquist's dummy that played a scaled-down violin in Stories from the Nerve Bible (1992), and the animatronic parrot of the installation Your Fortune One $ (1996) that squawked non-sequiturs in a computer-generated voice at passing gallery-goers.[1] In a commentary on this last work, Anderson says:

    As a talking artist, I'm always on the lookout for alter egos--surrogate speakers. And I've always been completely fascinated by parrots. . . . I spent a lot of time with my brother's gray African parrot Uncle Bob. Uncle Bob has a vocabulary of about five hundred words. You're never sure with Bob where the line is between repetitive babble and conscious communication. The more I listened to Bob the more it seemed like he could communicate emotion--cries and phrases that expressed loneliness, fear, sheer happiness--all with his extremely limited vocabulary. It made me realize how much human language is a combination of rote phrases and fortuitous invention, a complex mix of the things that can be said and the unsayable. ("Control Rooms" 128)

    Or to take the title of another one of Anderson's famous songs, "language is a virus from outer space." Which should also remind us that the list of Anderson's alter egos could be expanded to include her policy of performing shows in the local native language when touring non-English-speaking countries--even when completely ignorant of the meaning of the words that issue from her mouth, thus effectively ventriloquizing herself through the mediation of a translator. On one notable occasion, Anderson stuttered through a show in Japanese, carefully pronouncing each sound phonetically, unaware that she had been tutored by a translator with a speech impediment.[2] "My mouth is moving," she said of the experience of performing concerts in French, "but I don't really understand what I'm saying" (Goldberg, Laurie Anderson 60).
  2. The circuitous route from written words, to translation, to enunciation by a speaker not fluent in the language of the resulting translation, seems to emphasize the constitutive self-estrangement of the speaking subject. Here language speaks the subject rather than the other way around. Anderson's alter egos speak through her uncannily: "She is the medium which so many incorporeal voices require in order to communicate with us, the body they temporarily assume" (Owens 123).
  3. At The Shrink's

  4. One of Anderson's earliest physical alter egos was a 1975 installation called At the Shrink's. In a corner of the Holly Solomon Gallery in New York sat an eight-inch high figurine, a wee homunculus carved out of light. It was, as Anderson called it, "a fake hologram" (Goldberg, Laurie Anderson 54), a tiny Super-8 film projection of Anderson's image cast on a clay "sculpture" that had been carefully molded to conform to the proportions of her filmed body. Leaning in close, you could hear the figure tell a story about trips to the analyst. The effect of this makeshift trompe-l'oeil would have been astonishing in its three-dimensionality, and indeed its strangeness was undiminished in a reworked, though largely unchanged version that I viewed at the Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand, in 2004 (see Figure 1 for the original 1975 version). Part of the point of this installation, said Anderson, was "to make someone else talk for me . . . it was a way of doing a performance without being there" (Goldberg, Laurie Anderson 54). It was a surrogate for the performance artist's own body, parroting back words pre-recorded by the "real" Anderson.
  5. Figure 1
    Figure 1: At the Shrink's
    Sculpture, Video Projector, DVD w/Audio
    Used with permission of Laurie Anderson.

  6. At this very early stage in her career, Anderson had already become well-known for performing quirky one-woman spoken-word and musical recitals, delivered to audiences in galleries and alternative venues in New York and around the United States. But the conceit of At the Shrink's--"doing a performance without being there"--meant that a key element of "performance art" as such was attenuated. After all, one of the most important notional definitions of performance is that it is predicated on the presence of both performer and audience in a particular time and particular space, on the embodied immediacy of the performance event, on "live gestures" (Goldberg, Performance Art 7). Peggy Phelan's is perhaps the most sustained and unequivocal articulation of this definition of performance: "Performance's only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance" (146). According to such a definition, At the Shrink's can hardly be said to have been a performance. It was simply a played-back recording of a prior event, absorbed already into a system of reproduction, with the would-be singularity and immediacy of the original event mitigated. The difference between At the Shrink's and a film recording of a performance screened in the "regular" way is the device of the "fake hologram." By projecting the recording onto a three-dimensional form as opposed to a flat screen, it is understood that an effort is made to amplify the ostensibly attenuated "reality" of the film image. Better than a film projection, Anderson's storyteller squarely took up space. The projected figure bulged into three-dimensions--less a projection than a manifestation, more present than a two-dimensional image yet less so than a solid live body.
  7. If the "three-dimensionalizing" device of At the Shrink's can be read as an attempt to amplify the performance artist's body to compensate for its loss in the filmic image, then one would expect Anderson's live performances themselves to be in no need of this amplification. After all, the performer is right there on stage, temporally and spatially co-extensive with the audience. Yet, as we have already seen, the use of technologically or performatively generated alter egos in Anderson's performances undoes any sense that the mode of address in these events is direct, singular and immediate. Anderson's performative surrogates--her synthesized voices, her ventriloquist's dummy, her video clones--insert a gap between the audience and the would-be authenticity and immediacy of the performer's persona. Moreover, many of her songs and anecdotes take this very gap as their subject matter. Thus in the apostrophic device of the song "O Superman," a mother speaks to her absent daughter through an answering machine. In "Language is a Virus from Outer Space," language itself is the technological or ventriloquial apparatus that inserts itself into the would-be direct connection between speaker and audience. Both the form and content of Anderson's performances have to do precisely with the rupturing of a desired repleteness and presence by the exteriority of a system or apparatus--whether this external apparatus is that of language or of technology. Describing the increasingly large-scale stage performances of the late 1970s and early 80s that would eventually become United States (1983), Craig Owens noted that although Anderson is physically present on stage in these shows, "she interrupts the fantasy of copresence that links performer and spectator by interposing electronic media between them" (123).

    She no longer performs directly for her audience, but only through an electronic medium. While the media literally magnify her presence, they also strip it from her. Her work thus extends and amplifies the feeling of estrangement that overcomes the performer who submits to a mechanical or electronic device: the film actor or recording artist. (123)

    In such a reading, technological aids--the film camera, sound recording--augment but also attenuate the body's presence and immediacy. Anderson's performances--with their technologically imparted tales of problems that arise in a world in which meaning in all its forms is technologically imparted--fragment and disperse any notion of an unmediated performative presence. This is a body of performance work which, because already internally riven by what Philip Auslander calls "mediatization," seems to refute Phelan's definition of performance as uncirculatable and present-to-itself.[3] Yet these performances enter into the condition of mediation precisely to interrogate and underscore the oppressiveness of such an estranged (and inescapable) condition, thus also bearing out Phelan's compelling claim that any performance captured by mediation is one that is inevitably subject to the law and the Symbolic.
  8. We could say that the cause and the effect of such a fragmentation of presence, of such a rift in the fantasy of immediacy and origin, is precisely the production of doubles, alter egos, or doppelgangers. Anderson's alter egos generate the feeling of estrangement that Owens describes, but they could also be understood as an effect of the constitutive estrangement that arises out of the subject's dependence on the mechanical, the technological, or (in a word) the symbolic. After all, when the fantasy of singular self-presence is ruptured, what we get is degrees of otherness--doubles and doppelgangers.
  9. Escape By Hologram

  10. It is not this body, as produced in At the Shrink's, of an "estranged" performer "submitting" to a technological apparatus, that I want to discuss in this article, however, but another one that crystallizes in a more remarkable way the relation of technological and symbolic otherness into subjectivity. In 1998, twenty-three years after At the Shrink's, Anderson repeated the device of the "fake hologram" in a new installation--but with differences (see Figure 2).

    Figure 2
    Figure 2: Image from Dal Vivo
    Multimedia installation
    Fondazione Prada, Milan (1998)
    Used with permission of Laurie Anderson.

    For one thing, the projected figure was now life-size. For another, the projection in this case was not that of a film, but of a live cable telecast. Thus, where At the Shrink's was temporally distanced in the sense that it was a film recording--an event mechanically reproduced and thus "delayed," playing itself out after the fact--this later work, Dal Vivo, closed up that gap in time. The title, Dal Vivo, Italian for "live" (as in "live telecast"), played on the multiple meanings of the word--life-like, life-size, live. Also "life sentence." For the subject of this "fake hologram" was not Anderson this time but--significantly and extraordinarily--an inmate at a high security prison, convicted of "aggravated homicide," among other crimes, and sentenced to remain there for much of the rest of his life.[4] A camera picked up the image of the man sitting in his cell in the San Vittore prison several miles away and transmitted it into the darkened exhibition space of the Prada Foundation in Milan where the work was installed. The prisoner, one Santino Stefanini, understood his participation in the installation as a "virtual escape" (and indeed he was selected, out of all other candidates for the job, at least partly owing to the fact that this conception of the installation as "virtual escape" was important to Anderson's own conception of her project) (Anderson, "Some Backgrounds" 31). The spectacle in the gallery must have been strange and uncanny indeed, an immobile human figure decorporealized into shimmering scanlines, yet incorporating all the real time twitches and involuntary movements that must have resulted from the necessary hours of seated immobility. A court of law deemed the presence of this man unsuitable for society, but there he was, apparently having re-entered it--if only by sending out a harmless electronic substitute, a doppelganger, incapable of further transgression. Germano Celant, in the monograph published to accompany the exhibition, describes this spectacle as an apparition both "marvelous and terrifying" ("Miracle in Milan" 18).[5]

  11. Why is this electronic figure uncanny? Why so marvelous and terrifying? This may seem like a rather unnecessary question given the immediately apparent force of the installation, but it is one that bears asking in order to unpack its effect. For after all, the technological logic of Dal Vivo is simply the more or less ordinary one of live television. At the Shrink's too, now that we mention it, depends on nothing more than cinematic projection. In the latter work, as we have already seen, part of the strangeness of the projected figurine derives from its "fleshing out" in three-dimensions by means of the fake hologram device. So too with Dal Vivo--the image is projected onto a clay "statue," thus also amplifying the sense of bodily presence. But with the addition of greater size and "liveness," we understand this sense of presence and immediacy to be doubly magnified. The technological basis of Dal Vivo may be simply that of television, but, in the combination of liveness with material heft, it is an exaggeration of television. It exaggerates the capacity of the televisual image to produce bodies that are, as it were, in two places at the same time.[6] As opposed to the flatness of regular living room cathode-ray images, this one appears hefty, material, life-size. The corporeality of the real body is emphasized by simulating elsewhere its capacity to take up space. Thus, more successfully than At the Shrink's, this later work produces the impression of a double presence. It is quite literally a "projection," in the sense of something thrown out--in the manner of a ventriloquist "throwing" his or her voice into a puppet so that something is not where it should be but is in both places at once. The transgressing of the rule that circumscribes all bodies--the rule that says that it is physically impossible to be in two places at the same time--would seem to account for much of the uncanniness of the installation.
  12. But if Dal Vivo thus magnifies the materiality of a televisual body and doubles it in space, then the installation is also all too easily read as the opposite--a multiplication of absences. For one thing, photographs (in the exhibition monograph) show the clay "statue" prior to its animation by live video projection--it looks lumpy and heavy, a dead weight (see Figure 3).

    Figure 3
    Figure 3: Image from Dal Vivo
    Multimedia installation
    Fondazione Prada, Milan (1998)
    Used with permission of Laurie Anderson.

    This "dead weightness" is not just a figure of speech, for if we are to take seriously these photographs as integral to a reading of the installation, then we are also to understand that Dal Vivo is not simply installation art but also a new sort of statuary. Kenneth Gross, in a phenomenological study of representational sculpture, reads statuary as, quite literally, dead weights--that is, they inevitably call up anxieties of mortality in the viewer:

    What I see in the statue is really a once-living thing whose life has been interrupted; it is a creature stilled, emptied of life, turned to stone or bronze or plaster; captured, thus possibly needing to escape; dead, thus needing resurrection or galvanization . . . This sense of something "ended" is what can give to the statue its melancholy and spectral character, lend it the curious deathliness of a tableau vivant. Not unlike Roland Barthes's description of the photograph, the statue presents a body or a pose arrested in time, arresting time itself. (15)

    Arrested time, death, capture (and the corresponding "need to escape") are all apropos of Anderson's installation, and not only because of the language of incarceration that Gross employs here. In at least two layouts in the monograph published to accompany the exhibition of Dal Vivo, pictures of ancient Egyptian statuary are placed next to images of Anderson's installation, in an evident attempt to provide a "sculptural" genealogy to the electronically petrified body of the prisoner (Celant, "Miracle in Milan" 19, 22). The point of Dal Vivo, then, is to give "a living body to a statue," as Celant claims ("Miracle in Milan" 20), to animate and quicken to life, in the manner of the rabbi and his Golem or Pygmalion and his Galatea, a thing characterized by the opacity and stasis of death. But just as spectrality and deathliness are part of the representational burden of the mimetic statue, so are they also part of the representational burden of the filmic and the electronic image. As Gross's allusion to Barthes suggests, the conventional logic holds that the photographically generated image gives us a marvelous "capture" of reality, yet falls short of the fulsomeness of the real body. The mechanically reproduced image, Barthes's photograph, represents a presence constitutive of absence, life and animation constitutive of death (Barthes, 79, 96, and passim). Thus, in Dal Vivo, when such a paradoxically deathly electronic image is projected on a moribund lump of clay that is an ultimately futile simulacrum of life, what we have is absences piled up on absences. There is both a multiplication as well as a mitigation of the loss and lack of the inanimate reproduction--a kind of "walking corpse" condition that we find confirmed in Celant's description of Dal Vivo as a tableau of a "bloodless metaphysical figure, a televised specter that nevertheless continues to possess the breath of life" ("Miracle in Milan" 17). The attempt to amplify the immediacy and presence of the electronic image inevitably calls attention to the lack and absence inherent in such an image.
  13. The idea that the prisoner's body is transgressive on the one hand, and enervated on the other would seem to be contradictory. To construe the device of the installation as a means for a "virtual escape"--a jailbreak, a violation of the law--is not compatible with the impression we get of the prisoner's transmitted body as passive, vulnerable, sensorily deprived. This is a body blind, dumb, and mute, for no provision is given for sound transmission into the gallery, and none for the prisoner to see the space into which he is projected. At one level, the installation is understood as being a temporary liberation of a body that is heavily proscribed and delimited. Augmented by the technological apparatus of camera, cable hookup, clay statue, and projector, the prisoner regains his freedom for the duration of the exhibition. Far from being a passive act, a jailbreak is an assertion of the prisoner's refusal to accept the restrictions institutionally imposed upon his body. At another level however, the reality is that the prisoner doesn't lift a finger to accomplish this jailbreak--it is a completely passive transgression, and its result is simply the lodging of a reproduction of the prisoner's body in yet another claustrophobic and restrictive space, that of the gallery. The statue becomes a live body, but conversely, the live body is petrified into the condition of a statue. The experience for the prisoner of participating in the installation brings out this contradiction--to virtually escape, he has to sit more still than ever. To transgress the confines of his cell, he has to remain even more securely restricted within the field of the camera. The installation, in short, stages the paradox of a body both passive and ineffectual, and newly vigorous and forceful.
  14. Telenoia

  15. If we were to ignore our reading of Anderson's prisoner as passive and lacking, and instead emphasize his vigour and potential--his technologically-aided liberation from the forces that imprison him--what we might get is a kind of techno-utopianism. Tele-technologies, so used, have the potential to liberate bodies from their messy and undesirable corporeal limitations so that they can accomplish the heretofore physically impossible (so the logic might go).
  16. The strongest strain of such an uncritical techno-utopianism in connection with tele-technological art comes from a body of writing, from the 1980s, by Roy Ascott--the artist, writer, and father figure of so-called "telematic art" (telematics being the alliance between telecommunications technologies and computers--the term is one coined by Simon Nora and Alain Minc in the late 1970s[7]). But Ascott's conception of tele-technologies is not simply as a kind of convicted murderer's will-to-power and liberation; rather, his fantasy is the far more sweeping, technologically deterministic one in which these technologies have the potential to be the panacea for all social ills. They are an egalitarian force with the capacity to flatten social and cultural difference. Summing up his ideas in a 1990 article--prior to the widespread emergence of email, the World Wide Web, internet relay chat, and digitally-networked what-have-you--Ascott writes:

    telematic culture means . . . that we do not think, see, or feel in isolation. Creativity is shared, authorship is distributed, but not in a way that denies the individual her authenticity or power of self creation. . . . [T]elematic culture amplifies the individual capacity for creative thought and action, for more vivid and intense experience, for more informed perception, by enabling her to participate in the production of global vision through networked interaction with other minds, other sensibilities, other sensing and thinking systems across the planet--thought circulating in the medium of data through a multiplicity of different cultural, geographical, social, and personal layers. (238)

    In even more sweeping prose, Ascott goes on to claim that computer-aided tele-technologies are an opportunity for

    our sensory experience [to become] extrasensory, as our vision is enhanced by the extrasensory devices of telematic perception. . . . With the computer, and brought together in the telematic embrace, we can hope to glimpse the unseeable, to grasp the ineffable chaos of becoming, the secret order of disorder. And as we come to see more, we shall see the computer less and less. It will become invisible in its immanence, but its presence will be palpable to the artist engaged telematically in the world process of autopoeisis, planetary self-creation. (244-45)

    This account of tele-technologies encapsulates, among other fantasies, the overcoming of the sensory and perceptual limitations of the human body ("our vision is enhanced by the extrasensory devices of telematic perception"); the magnification of authorial agency, autonomy, and creativity (telematics "amplifies the individual capacity for creative thought and action," for "autopoeisis, planetary self-creation"); the intensification of the immediacy of experience (telematics also amplifies the capacity for "more vivid and intense experience"); the enhancement of intimacy and understanding between individuals (the telematic subject participates in "networked interaction with other minds, other sensibilities, other sensing and thinking systems across the planet"); and, most exemplary of all, the elision of the mediating apparatus ("as we come to see more, we shall see the computer less and less") through which all the other goals are achieved.
  17. For Ascott, telecommunications technologies fulfill a fantasy of an ideal and transparent post-symbolic condition. Here the fantasy takes the form of a state of perfect, absolute communication and understanding--a kind of technologically enabled intersubjective "love." Ascott's article is titled "Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?"--and by "love" he means the possibility of communion between two individuals outside of symbolic mediation. To put it another way, the fantasy here is of tele-technologies as being halfway along the road to the unmediated intimacy of telepathy--that most perfect and replete of all communications at a distance. The ideal telematic condition is a "meeting and conjoining of minds and machines," "a condition of expanded global consciousness and harmony (Shanken, "Art and Telematics" 68).
  18. Fantasies such as those of Ascott can be easily deconstructed. The other side of the fantasy of transparent immediacy becomes briefly visible when the question of narcissism or solipsism is broached in Edward Shanken's otherwise sympathetic commentary on Ascott's writings:

    The eroticism of the telematic embrace is seductive and appealing, perhaps more so for its elusiveness . . . . While enabling new conditions for, and qualities of mutual exchange, such hyaline interfaces [of the telecommunications apparatus] may equally transform communication into monologue, unification into narcissism, passionate attraction into solitary confinement. Might not the persistent self-reflection one experiences on a computer screen interrupt the mantric union of technological apparatus and human consciousness, network and node? Do not many delays, bugs, viruses, and crashes . . . remind the telematic participant that s/he is inevitably a perpetual observer, a voyeur whose electronic relationships are subject to autoerotic soliloquy? ("Art and Telematics," n. pag.)

    Imagined intersubjective intimacy might be precisely that--imagined, imaginary. But if narcissistic solipsism is one way to read the fantasy of perfect, undifferentiated communication (the conflation and identification of self with an other that can only be imaginary), then the obverse of this comforting solipsistic embrace, telematic or otherwise, is the paranoid fear of engulfment and incorporation. As it turns out, Ascott is perfectly aware of this, for his name for the condition of perfect telepathic union is "telenoia"--a coinage which deliberately contrasts the "unification of minds collaborating remotely (combining the Greek roots "noia" meaning mind and "tele" meaning "at a distance") with the paranoia that results from the opposition of minds trying to control one another surreptitiously" (Shanken, "Tele-Agency" 67). The state of telenoia is "not at all . . . imprisoning," Ascott insists (qtd. in Shanken, "Art and Telematics" n. pag.), presumably as opposed to the effect of paranoia which is.
  19. A Dislocation of Intimacy

  20. Anderson's installation, we might say, is a return of Ascott's repressed, precisely the obverse of Ascott's fantasy of perfect communion at a distance by tele-technological means. Whereas in the latter's utopian scenario all the obstacles of external mediating systems are made transparent by the sublimating capacities of tele-technologies, in Dal Vivo such systems become even more congealed, more opaque. In Anderson's unnerving scenario, tele-technology produces not pure unmediated intimacy, but rather a profound blockage. While Ascott's "telenoic" subject is transcendently disembodied, Anderson's prisoner's body is disabled rather than sublimated (his mobility is severely delimited for the duration of his spectral appearance in the gallery). While Ascott's subject is sensorily and perceptually enhanced, Anderson's prisoner is deprived of sensory power (he can't see or hear the place into which he is projected). While Ascott's subject is supposedly energized by the potential for perfect intersubjective communication, Anderson's prisoner lacks all capacity for speech and communication; in the gallery he is effectively deaf and dumb, a subject turned into a spectacular and impenetrable object, isolated and fetishized as such. While Ascott's subject enjoys unimpeded movement ("thought circulating in the medium of data"), Anderson's prisoner is defined by stasis; it is a tableau. In the live communion between gallery-goers and the prisoner, we find paralysis instead of repleteness, mediation instead of unimpeded access.
  21. A similar blockage of "intimacy" is to be found in another comparable artwork, exactly contemporaneous with Dal Vivo, by Ken Goldberg and Bob Farzin. Dislocation of Intimacy adds to our analysis the point that such a blockage, or dislocation, of intimacy is also a blockage in knowledge.[9] Ken Goldberg, a prominent practitioner of what has come to be known as tele-robotic art, is also a theorist known for coining the term "telepistemology," referring to the epistemological problems inherent in experiencing things at a distance (a paradigmatic telepistemological problem is the question of how to interpret the veracity of knowledge gathered at a highly mediated remove, for instance, by telescope, or by tele-robot--as in space expeditions to distant planets, say) (Goldberg, Robot). Goldberg's work, in a way perhaps similar to Anderson's, focuses primarily on issues as fundamental as the nature of truth or knowledge in a heavily technologically mediated world, and Dislocation of Intimacy continues this theme. The work is a large black steel box exhibited in a gallery, unembellished and impenetrable except for a wire snaking out of it and air vents let into its side. The wire links the box to the internet, and there, at a website, accessed on one's home computer, views of the inside of the box can be requested. There is apparently a webcam set up inside the box, with various lighting configurations adjustable by clicking on buttons at the website. The views, however, are murky, monochromatic, tenebrous. They appear to show lacy foliage silhouetted against backlights, and it is impossible to make out whether these images are of real foliage, or perhaps of plastic substitutes, or cardboard cutouts--or whether the entire set-up is a hoax in which photographs are made available for download on to a gullible viewer's computer. Thus the effect is a Plato's cave scenario in which knowledge of an object--and by extension, intimacy with it (as the title suggests)--is only possible at a highly mediated remove. Contrary to all we understand about the concept of intimacy, intimacy with this mechanical object is only possible at a point spatially distant from the object itself--literally a dis-location of intimacy. But even when the viewer has "entered" the box by means of the webcam views, the visual intimacy thus apparently accomplished is further obstructed, not consummated, by the images--which are evocative yet all but unreadable in terms of both content and provenance.
  22. The point of course is that in this project, as in Anderson's installation, we find a condition in which intimacy with an object is as much impeded as enabled by the tele-technological apparatus, thus belying Roy Ascott's fantasy of perfect telematic communion. In Dislocation of Intimacy, however, the act of petitioning views from the black box suggests a sexual encounter, and perhaps even more disconcertingly, a medical dissection. For, at the gallery, the box lets out gasps of air from the vents in its side whenever it is quickened by a remote viewer's solicitation for visual "intimacy" (it also lets out gasps independently at periodic intervals). The box appears to respond to the telematic caresses administered by remote probers. The metaphor here is thus of the box as a biological and organic entity (likewise its vegetative interior belies its industrial façade). But if the remote viewer's act of solicitation is understood as the opening up of an organic object to receive knowledge of its interior, then there are also intimations of the metaphor of anatomical dissection. The problem here, Goldberg would no doubt stress, is an epistemological one, and to establish this medical metaphor in relation to an instance of epistemological desire is not historically unprecedented. Thus when Barbara Maria Stafford writes of eighteenth-century medical images, her remarks on anatomical diagrams seems uncannily applicable to the scenario that we find in Goldberg's and Farzin's project:

    The Galenic conception of anatomy as an "opening up in order to see deeper or hidden parts" drives to the heart of a master problem for the Enlightenment. How does one attain the interior of things? Anatomy and its inseparable practice of dissection were the eighteenth century paradigms for any forceful, artful, contrived and violent study of depths. (47)

    We might say that in the case of Goldberg's and Farzin's artwork, the telematic apparatus figures as the scalpel that bloodlessly peels open the black box in order to expose its secret.
  23. If we compare Anderson's installation with that of Goldberg and Farzin, we find notable congruencies. Though I have been implying that the prisoner is the primary "telematic subject" in this tele-technological connection, the gallery-goers or viewers of the artwork are equally subjects augmented or enhanced by a telecommunications apparatus. The apparatus allows the "virtual escape" of the prisoner, but, conversely, it allows the gallery-goers access to an otherwise impossible or prohibited visual intimacy--that with the body of a convicted murderer shut away behind the walls of a penal institution. Thus, both Dislocation of Intimacy and Dal Vivo are tele-technologically aided fulfillments of a desire to see something sealed away--in the former case, to see the inside of a sealed box; in the latter, to see the spectacle of a convicted murderer inside his prison.
  24. But if the metaphorical scenario of Dislocation of Intimacy can be read as an anatomization--that of a physician probing a lifeless or unconscious mass of flesh submitting to the scrutiny of the medical eye--then the equation with Dal Vivo suggests that the prisoner exhibited in such a way is also a hapless subject caught in the gaze of scientific--or in this case, penal--power. The situation to which Anderson submits the prisoner reiterates the disciplinary power to which he is already subjected every day through incarceration, surveillance, and regimentation--with the inflection that the institution that now holds him in thrall is not only the penal, but also the aesthetic. Thus, in the companion monograph to Anderson's installation, we find constant references to Foucault's concept of disciplinary power. A quote from Discipline and Punish is spread across two pages in large boldface (Celant, Laurie Anderson 44-5). As Anderson and her curators rightly understand, the telematic apparatus in this case reproduces the panoptic and disciplinary gaze that everywhere already surrounds the prisoner (even as it appears to "let him off the hook" by "virtually" releasing him). Thus it gives the lie to Ascott's assertion that the telematic communion is "not at all . . . imprisoning," for in this case, it is quite literally so.
  25. The Opacity of the Father

  26. Yet the prisoner's posture is also that of an authority enthroned, upright, hands on knees, presiding over his viewers in the manner of a sovereign receiving an audience. He "convey[s] an ambiguous, regal appearance," Anderson notes. "He's not offering himself; rather he looks more like a judge" ("530 Canal Street" 255). Celant compares him to "the statue of the potentate--the king or the pharaoh, the hero or field general--that is spread about, in its many reproductions, as a surrogate of power" ("Miracle in Milan" 19). The transformation of the prisoner's body into a reproducible electronic one is here read less as a dispersal of presence, a fragmentation into the absence and death of the mechanically reproduced image, than as a transformation into the omnipresence of paternal authority. Anderson reads the sensory and discursive deprivations undergone by the prisoner not as lack, not as an electronic debilitation, but rather as the production of a powerful paternal opacity: "He's seen, but does not turn his gaze outward. He's isolated from the sounds of the world, but he reappears in space as 'deaf'; he doesn't speak or listen. There's something in his immobile position and appearance that takes us back to childhood. He's like a deaf parent, who is asked by his child: 'Mommy, daddy . . . look at me.' But the parent doesn't see him, he's not present" ("530 Canal Street" 255). The father is of course not "really" blind or deaf in the situation Anderson describes. What is being referred to here is not the actual, "real" body of the father, but rather the fantasmatic, "transubstantiated" body of the father, or of the monarch (Kantorowicz).[10] This second, sublime body of the Father affects the world of its subjects beyond the sum of its physical parts, and its silence and blindness constitute the sort of power it represents and the effects it elicits. This would seem to correspond, quite literally, with the body of the prisoner--there is the actual, real body sitting in the cell, but also the second, transubstantiated body that is blind and dumb and produces visual effects quite beyond itself. Hence Celant's comparison of the prisoner's electronic double with the statue of the pharaoh or potentate. The statue is a kind of literalization of the doubling of the classical monarch's body and its petrifaction--or transubstantiation, which is paradoxically the same in this case--into phallic and universal law.

  27. Jacques Derrida's claim that the tele-technological apparatus itself always already produces an irreducible historicity or heritage or burden of the law is useful to this line of reading:

    The specter [of the deathly, mechanically reproduced image] is not simply someone we see coming back, it is someone by whom we feel ourselves watched, observed, surveyed, as if by the law: we are "before the law," without any possible symmetry, without reciprocity, insofar as the other is watching only us, concerns only us, we who are observing it (in the same way that one observes and respects the law) without being able to meet its gaze. Hence the dissymmetry and, consequently, the heteronomic figure of the law. . . . This flow of light which captures or possesses me, invests me, invades me, or envelops me is not a ray of light, but the source of a possible view: from the point of view of the other. (Echographies 120, 123)

    For Derrida, the recorded image everywhere generates a spectrality, a sense of death and "pastness," that is tantamount to the weight of history and inheritance bearing down on the viewer-subject. This weight of "inheritance" makes clear that subjectivity, for all subjects, is fundamentally constituted out of systems--names, traditions, laws--which precede it, which it can only inherit (and not own). Moreover, in Derrida's account, nothing changes when one switches one's deconstructive focus to the temporality of the live tele-technological apparatus; the very fact of mechanical recording itself, whether it is presented live or not, throws the pall of death and history over the image: "As soon as there is a technology of the image, visibility brings night. . . . [B]ecause we know that, once it has been taken, captured, this image will be reproducible in our absence, because we know this already, we are already haunted by this future, which brings our death" (Echographies 117).
  28. It seems then that Anderson's prisoner is rendered a figure of symbolic authority in both content (posture, presentation) and form (tele-technological transmission always already, in Derrida's logic, subjects the viewer to the law of heteronomy). But what are we to make of the paradox that the prisoner is represented both as symbolically powerful (the specter of the potentate) as well as the opposite--that is, subjugated by disciplinary power? What are we to make of the fact that the prisoner is both judge and criminal, both spectral law and spectral subject, both phallic and castrated? The answer, I think, is that the registers of power operating here are different. That is, in the scenario that Anderson offers us, we can make a distinction between the sort of power that the prisoner ostensibly "wields" over his spectators, and the sort of power that the spectators or gallery-goers "wield" over him. For whereas the former is that of the classical, irreducibly opaque patriarch, the latter is on the contrary a power that is not blind or deaf or mute but rather all eyes, all ears, and all chattering discourse. In other words, the prisoner is subjected to disciplinary power, whereas the spectators are offered the spectacle of juridical power. The distinction is made by Foucault in Discipline and Punish:

    Historically, the process by which the bourgeoisie became in the course of the eighteenth century the politically dominant class was masked by the establishment of an explicit, coded and formally egalitarian juridical framework, made possible by the organization of a parliamentary, representative regime. But the development and generalization of disciplinary mechanisms constituted the other, dark side of these processes. The general juridical form that guaranteed a system of rights that were egalitarian, in principle was supported by these tiny, everyday, physical mechanisms, by all those systems of micro-power that are essentially non-egalitarian and asymmetrical that we call the disciplines. And although, in a formal way, the representative regime makes it possible . . . for the will of all to form the fundamental authority of sovereignty, the disciplines provide, at the base, a guarantee of the submission of forces and bodies . . . . The contract may have been regarded as the ideal foundation of law and political power; panopticism constituted the technique, universally widespread, of coercion . . . . The "Enlightenment," which discovered the liberties, also invented the disciplines. (222)

    The spectator in the gallery is presided over by a distant sovereign, an unambiguous egalitarian patriarchal authority of the New Testament variety who surveys without seeing, impels without enunciating (as the comparisons with statues of pharaohs and potentates would suggest). But the prisoner, on the other hand, is in the grip of Foucault's more disturbing, more ambiguous post-Enlightenment "disciplinary power," that enacts an unseemly intimacy and proximity with the body of the subject, and that "guarantees the submission of forces and bodies." (And to describe this latter power as all eyes and all chattering discourse as I have done above is also to conjure an image of the throngs of gallery-goers assembled before the spectacle of the prisoner, watching and analyzing, in the manner of a theatre full of medical students inspecting the day's specimen of pathological interest.)
  29. This also means that an imbalance remains owing to the very different nature of disciplinary power from its juridical variety. Gallery-goers may be disconcerted by their encounter with the opacity of the "king's" second sublime body, but this, I believe, is trumped by the more profound predicament of the prisoner caught in the headlights of a far more disturbing disciplinary interrogation. In fact, the tableau here might be quite literally read as that of an interrogation rather than that of an audience before a judge or a king, for Anderson's original plan was to transmit the telepresent images of two other figures: those of guards flanking the prisoner (this would have shifted further the balance of "exploitation" to the disadvantage of the prisoner; see Figure 4)[11]

    Figure 4
    Figure 4: Image from Dal Vivo exhibition monograph
    Multimedia installation
    Fondazione Prada, Milan (1998)
    Used with permission of Laurie Anderson.

    In addition, owing to the permutation of the tele-technological mechanism, the gallery-goers are always aware of the prisoner's presence (after all, he is right there on display), whereas the prisoner, blind and deaf, cannot know whether he is being observed at any one time--which is of course the very definition of panopticism. Being solicited by a blind patriarch, Eric Santner argues, can be less disturbing than not knowing at all whether one is being watched or solicited:

    uncertainty as to what, to use Lacan's term, the "big Other" of the symbolic order really wants from us can be far more disturbing than subordination to an agency or structure whose demands--even for self-sacrifice--are experienced as stable and consistent. The failure to live up to such demands still guarantees a sense of place, meaning, and recognition; but the subject who is uncertain as to the very existence of an Other whose demands might or might not be placated loses the ground from under his feet. (133)

  30. Telematic Paranoia

  31. What would it mean to read the tele-technological basis of Anderson's installation as the deployment of a mechanism of disciplinary power? For one thing, I would suggest that the condition generated is that of paranoia--as indeed Ascott indirectly points out, by way of disavowal, through his use of the phrase "telenoia." The prisoner is held in a disciplinary matrix generated by tele-technologies, the power of which is registered as a kind of paranoia.
  32. To test this relationship between paranoia and the tele-technological apparatus, I want to make a somewhat lateral move into psychoanalytic history. For the case of history's most famous paranoiac, the German judge Daniel Paul Schreber, presents us with a kind of proto-tele-technological problem that works to overturn the ostensible repleteness of Ascott's "telenoia"--revealing it, once and for all, to be anchored in the paranoid. Schreber, in other words, is an interesting figure through which to think the paranoia of Anderson's prisoner. The tele-technological problem Schreber poses is this: what happens when a tele-connection becomes too close, when one is in a too intimate "embrace" with the person at the other end of the line? For Schreber, that person was God. In Schreber's extraordinary and elaborate delusional cosmology (outlined in his Memoirs, the famous 1903 text detailing his collapse into psychosis in mid-life), the system of nerves and wires through which God could normally communicate with human mortals had gone awry. An unprecedented crisis had caused God to become entangled, in an agglutination of nerves, with Schreber's own body and mind. The switchboard system connecting the calls between God and His subjects had gone catastrophically haywire, so to speak, and hanging up was impossible. The effect for Schreber is that it became a struggle for him to distinguish his own thoughts, dreams, and bodily functions from those that were the result of God attempting to coerce a "disconnection." Suicidal impulses, for instance, or insomnia, even bowel movements, and most famously, a feeling of emasculation (Schreber 64-65, 95, 127, 204-06, 123-24, passim), he thought to be the result of God's attempt to extract Himself from Schreber's mind. Thus, contrary to Roy Ascott's utopian fantasy, Schreber's predicament tells us that such an intense communion--the telematic or telepathic embrace--might induce not a state of "telenoic" plenitude and transcendence, but rather that of paranoia. After all, how does one know when a telepathic connection is severed, if a telepathic link has been "hung up"?[12] How does the telepath know if God is not still in his head?
  33. The triangulation between tele-technology, paranoia, and disciplinary power becomes more complete in Santner's revisionist reading of the Schreber case. For Santner proposes that Schreber's symptoms indicate an attunement to the emergence of the disciplinary. His psychosis, according to Santner, is congruent to that historical shift in which the primacy of the juridical was supplanted by its disciplinary counterpart. Santner seizes on the fact that, in Schreber's delusional theology, all is well and good when God is distant and removed. Conversely, the sign that things have gone awry is that God becomes excessively intimate. In the normal "Order of Things" (Schreber's phrase for the world in a state of equilibrium and propriety), God keeps a respectful distance from the mortals of His creation. But crisis is precipitated when "God, who used to be an immense distance away, had been forced to draw nearer to the earth, which thus became a direct and continual scene of divine miracles in a manner hitherto unknown" (Schreber 90). According to Santner, this aspect of Schreber's delusional schema seems to reproduce precisely a distinction between a juridical authority acting at a proper distance from its subjects, and a disciplinary power soliciting its subjects with the inappropriate intimacy of an overfriendly acquaintance. Santner's argument is that, at some level, Schreber had become attuned to the normally invisible workings of power around him, and had formulated a cosmology that represents in delusional form the mechanisms of excessive disciplinary power. "It is clear," he argues, "that Schreber's purpose . . . throughout his Memoirs is to tell the story of the catastrophic effects that ensue when a trusted figure of authority exercises a surplus of power exceeding the symbolic pact on which that authority is based" (37). Expanding on this point, Santner writes:

    If Lacan is right about Schreber--that his psychosis is the result of a "foreclosure" of the paternal metaphor, the Name-of-the-Father . . . --then [Schreber's blockage of subjective legitimation by a symbolic other] would seem to be a function not of a "too little" but rather of a "too much," not of an excessive distance from the attentions of a solicitous authority but rather of an excessive proximity. Nowhere is Schreber clearer about this than in his repeated references to the fact that God normally remains distant from and ignorant of living human beings. (61)

  34. Such an excessive proximity to disciplinary power, according to Santner, is a recipe for the malfunctioning of the process by which subjects maintain their place in the Symbolic. For subjective legitimation is said to proceed normally when the Symbolic Other invests the subject with meaning and identity. But when the Symbolic Other possesses the insistence of the disciplinary (rather than the opacity of the juridical), then the constitutive flaws of symbolic investiture are themselves laid bare. If the agency that gives you agency keeps performing such overfriendly violence upon your psyche, then you begin to realize that subjective agency may itself be something untenable. Such a realization leads down the path to paranoia, and Schreber came unconsciously to this realization one too many times through his personal and professional experiences -- experiences which arose out of a particular historical juncture, that of modernity.[13] In Santner's analysis, Schreber is a defining figure of modernity precisely because his psychosis is a deeply tragic negotiation of the question that ultimately plagues all subjects: how to remain whole in the face of a violent and solicitous Symbolic order.
  35. The Artist's Predicament

  36. I'd like to suggest that in Dal Vivo, we find a Schreberian figure struggling to maintain spatial and temporal integrity under the strictures of the symbolic, and who, as it were, is similarly bedeviled by malfunctioning wires (or by wires that malfunction by functioning too smoothly). Anderson's Schreberian figure serves to illuminate the relationship between tele-technologies and disciplinary power, and constitutes a fascinating instance of the way in which the tele-technological can become imbricated in the question of symbolic authority and modern subjecthood. But, as with Schreber, so with Stefanini--symbolic malfunction is the price to pay.
  37. In Anderson's installation, the question of authority is expressed in the form of a concern about "exploitation"--a concern that sees the installation as caught in a remarkable ethical bind:

    One of the reservations I've had from the beginning is the potential [the project] has for exploitation of the prisoner. I ask this person to sit silently in a chair for weeks and then I sign my name to it as my art work. Trying to understand that has been one of the biggest parts of the project for me. What is the line between exploitation and collaboration? (Anderson, "Some Backgrounds" 31)

    At what point does collaboration become exploitation? At what point does the ventriloquist do violence to her puppet? At what point is violence inflicted upon the homunculus that performs for the performance artist without her being there? At what point does the artist become too solicitous? Anderson tries to avoid reaching this point, and indeed the sense that her work is exploitative is mitigated through at least two strategies in the published exhibition monograph (if not in the installation itself). Firstly, the monograph provides room for the prisoner to "speak." There is a fascinating and poignant thirty-one page illustrated essay written by Stefanini himself which details his prison experiences, the events leading up to his thirty-year sentence (a series of petty robberies in his youth, escalating to organized crime), and his remorse ("Here [in prison] I've reflected upon a past season. A mistaken journey that has produced a lot of grief for a lot of people, and that has ruined more than thirty years of my life" [Stefanini, "A Life" 176]). There are also two transcriptions of interviews with Stefanini (conducted mainly by Celant and Anderson), one of which contains a striking articulation by Stefanini of his point of view: "[This] project of Laurie Anderson seems very positive for the prison environment. It's like a trickle into the outside world. Also, I hope that it helps to obliterate my past, to paint a different portrait of me" (Stefanini, "San Vittore" 199). From this vantage point, it is hard to fault Anderson for exploiting the prisoner--the installation comes to be seen more as a process of give-and-take, a mutual exploitation, as it were. A virtual jailbreak is allowed, as long as it is only a "trickle" of an escape. An even more claustrophobic circumscription is exchanged for the possibility of absolution. Anderson further reduces the prisoner's bodily freedom, but, in return, bestows on him some measure of aesthetic visibility, paints him a better portrait.
  38. Despite these attempts to emphasize the mutual nature of the exploitation, the imbalance of the registers of power remains. This imbalance is made even clearer by the near futility of the second means by which Anderson attempts to diminish the overall impression of exploitation. This is by identifying with the prisoner. A third of the way through the monograph, Anderson's vita is placed in conjunction with Stefanini's vita: a timeline of Anderson's career accomplishments is laid out in alternating pages along with Stefanini's catalogue of multiple felonies and multiple arrests. This well-intentioned juxtaposition unfortunately has the air of trying to express middle-class or survivor's guilt ("there but for the grace of personal history and social circumstance, go I"), and is ultimately inadequate. At another point in the monograph, Anderson tries to empathize with the prisoner, to imagine herself in his position by recalling her experience of being incarcerated in a body cast when she was twelve:

    They brought me to the hospital, where I was put in traction . . . [and was told that] I'd never walk again . . . . I spent the days with the other children in the ward who, for the most part, had suffered severe burns and screamed all night. I'll never forget those screams, which symbolized immobility and suffering to me, and the impossibility of getting out of the plaster cast, and ever escaping from the hospital. Your entire body becomes hypersensitive, your hearing sharpens, everything becomes a torture connected to the fact of being isolated and trapped in a closed, limited space that imposes certain visual and auditory rules of life on you. ("530 Canal Street" 247)

    Again this attempt at empathy, at reverse ventriloquism, falls somewhat short. Though the threat of permanent bodily paralysis certainly justifies Anderson's empathy, her ultimately short-term immobility is not quite equivalent to a thirty-year jail sentence.
  39. Despite the artist's attempt to lessen the sense of "exploitation" through empathy, through the gift of speech and visibility, and through simple self-awareness (which admittedly does count for something), the insufficiency of these attempts hints that something violent is taking place in the exchange between prisoner and artist. The convict's agency is usurped without sufficient compensation. He "parrots back" or enacts Anderson's artistic ideas on her behalf ("I ask this person to sit in a chair for weeks and then I sign my name to it as my artwork") (Anderson, Some Backgrounds 31). His is a body that does a performance for her without being there. It is the dummy to her ventriloquist, a self-alienated automaton that fulfils or realizes or enunciates her art ambitions. It is a figure caught in a situation of "dislocated intimacy" so profound (with Anderson, with the spectators) that he finds himself in the predicament of one who is utterly heteronomous.
  40. Dal Vivo represents the mediatized heteronomy of the modern subject (perhaps the primary theme of Anderson's entire oeuvre) by including in its performance event not just technology or self-reflexive language, but a living being (moreover, a living being who is already in a state of proscription). In such a representation, Anderson creates for herself an insidious ethical problem that ultimately, I think, cannot be resolved--but that also makes visible the relationship between disciplinary power, the tele-technological, and the paranoid predicament of modern subjecthood. In the act of opening up for critique a relationship of power and subjecthood, Anderson becomes complicit in that which she would critique.
  41. Performer, Prisoner, Parrot, Puppet, Paranoiac

  42. Ultimately, Anderson's ventriloquizing of Santino Stefanini's body is a problem of symbolic investiture and naming. In the act of turning Stefanini's body into an electronic specter, Anderson gives him legitimacy, lifts him from a place (the prison) in which his symbolic position is that of an invisible wretchedness, and deposits him in a new place where he is now defined by an aesthetically sanctioned legitimacy, named as art object. The installation takes the form of a coronation or enthroning, as it were: it says to Stefanini, "here, for the duration of this exhibition, you are the king."
  43. However in so doing, it travesties the act of symbolic investiture in two ways. One way is a sort of temporary carnivalesque overturning of the law; it is a state of topsy-turvy that for a while indicates that up is down, left is right, a convict can be king. But the other way is more insidious, for it subjects the prisoner to yet another disciplinary gaze. In so anatomizing the prisoner under the harsh lights of a coercing Big Other, the ultimate foundationlessness of the process of symbolic naming--the process that calls the subject to itself, that anchors the subject in its position in the "world"--is exposed. The paradox of disciplinary power, as Santner notes, is that it calls for autonomy in its subjects, but does this by pillorying them with the heteronomy of inflexible laws (which should ideally be converted into self-policing--that is, autonomy). Its intimacy is of the order of a virus whose purpose is to infect its victim with its intractable regulations, one of which is that the victim should remain uninfected, autonomous. It attempts to seize subjective individuality by insisting that subjects "parrot back thoughts, words, and phrases"--a contradiction in terms (Santner 21). It sends us the paradoxical message that we should relinquish our freedom in order to be free subjects. As Santner notes, this sort of solicitation is impossible and damaging:

    The conversion of heteronomy into autonomy so crucial to [the Enlightenment project] leaves a residue of heteronomy . . . that not only resists metabolization . . . but returns to haunt and derange the subject whose physical, moral, and aesthetic cultivation that system was designed to achieve. . . . What Foucault calls disciplinary power is potentially so damaging not because it opposes the principles of Enlightenment or . . . liberal values . . . from some exterior cultural domain, but rather because it in effect literalizes the "performative magic" sustaining the authority of those values and the institutions built upon them. The disciplines transform the performative dimension of symbolic authority into regulations for the material control and administration of bodies and populations. Such a literalization has the effect of reversing the most fundamental processes whereby humans are initiated into a world of symbolic form and function. (91)

    Disciplinary power, so defined, crystallizes the foundationlessness of the performative magic of symbolic naming; it contradicts and undermines it from within. It is an Other that acts on subjects in a way so literal that it makes the untenability of subjecthood clear, and can, as in the case of Schreber, precipitate psychosis. The subject becomes one caught in the "drive dimension of signification" (Santner 35) where subjective meaning can only be produced by an arbitrary "performative magic," an automaton-like reiteration, a ventriloquized effect. The paradox of post-Enlightenment modernity is that it insists on the autonomy of the subject, and yet disciplinary power, the "dark side" of this juridical insistence, coerces and anatomizes all subjects to such a degree that it generates a profound sense of heteronomy that can only undermine the initial imperative of the symbolic. As Santner puts it, "the subject is solicited by a will to autonomy in the name of the very community that is thereby undermined, whose very substance thereby passes over into the subject" (145).
  44. If the installation is an act of symbolic investiture, as I claim, then Anderson here takes the position of the agent who names: she is the social agent already herself invested with authority who has the capacity to invest other subjects with their names (and it is the art system that is the larger authority that has invested Anderson with the legitimate power to herself name another person--the prisoner--as an aesthetic object). But Anderson's artistic authorship becomes conflated with or collapsed into that of authority. Since she is the figure orchestrating the installation or "pulling the strings," disciplinary power becomes hers to wield, throwing into disarray the functioning of the ventriloquist's puppet by coercing it too much to speak. The puppet is enjoined to speak by remaining dumb, to escape by sitting still. Somewhere between collusion and cautionary tale, Anderson's installation suggests a Schreberian scenario in which the use of tele-technology turns dysfunctional. In the extraordinary conflation of artistic investiture and disciplinary authority that characterizes Dal Vivo, Anderson doesn't quite succeed in warding off the specter of exploitation. This failure, though a noble one, forms, I think, a radical endpoint in Anderson's ongoing project of artistic commentary on the estrangement produced by modern technological mediation and the modern workings of symbolic power.
  45. The London Consortium

    Talk Back




    An early and much abbreviated version of this essay was published in Polish translation in the journal Kultura Popularna 4.10 (2004). Thank you to Misha Kavka and Eluned Summers-Bremner for their helpful comments and for shepherding the earliest version of this article to completion.

    1. The best surveys of Anderson's oeuvre are Roselee Goldberg's Laurie Anderson and Anderson's own Stories from the Nerve Bible. What You Mean We? is illustrated in Goldberg 30-31. Several of Anderson's ventriloquist dummies are described and illustrated in Goldberg, Laurie Anderson 37, 78, 88, 247. Your Fortune One $ is described in Goldberg, Laurie Anderson 178-79 (where its title is given as Your Fortune for a $). Also see Laurie Anderson's own commentary on this latter project in Anderson, "Control Rooms" 128-31.

    2. This is a popular Anderson anecdote frequently rehashed in numerous reviews and monographs, for instance, Burckhardt 155. It is used by Anderson herself as material for one of her songs, "Speaking Japanese."

    3. While Auslander argues that a definition of "performance" cannot be fixed with recourse to any ostensible ontology, only to historical circumstance, Auslander's claims can be extrapolated (as he is no doubt aware) to make the more theoretical (rather than historicist) point that any attempt to affix the "life" of performance in the absolute present is to look for a vanishing origin.

    4. The prisoner, Santino Stefanini, has been serving out a thirty-year prison sentence since 1987. His prison dossier, reprinted in the exhibition monograph, contains a full list of his crimes: "complicity in attempted homicide, numerous aggravated kidnappings, violations of weapons law, violation of narcotics law, receipts of stolen property, aggravated theft, aggravated homicide" (Celant, Laurie Anderson 322). There is some ambiguity about the exact nature of the "aggravated homicide," a crime listed only once, and quite late, in his lengthy prison dossier. No clarifying details of this crime are provided anywhere in the monograph, as far as I am able to ascertain. I have chosen not to pursue these details since, for the purposes of this essay, it suffices to point out that Stefanini's crimes were serious and that (as we shall later see) he has apparently grown remorseful during his years in prison.

    5. Most of my information on Dal Vivo derives from the monograph published on the occasion of the exhibition (Celant, Laurie Anderson). Dal Vivo was exhibited together with a companion work, Dal Vivo Stories, installed in an adjacent room. This companion piece was comprised of several "fake holograms" generated in much the same way as that of At the Shrink's, and of similar size. The films projected on the clay statues here were of Laurie Anderson telling stories, and these "fake holograms" were scattered around the room to suggest a kind of chattering "Greek chorus" (Anderson, qtd in Goldberg, Laurie Anderson 180) made of a host of Anderson's miniature doppelgangers. The stories told by these doppelgangers seem to have been reworked from some of her earlier pieces. For an illustrated description of Dal Vivo Stories, see Celant, ed., Laurie Anderson 274-307; and Goldberg, Laurie Anderson 180, 182.

    6. On this capacity of the televisual image, see the chapter "Television: Set and Screen" in Weber.

    7. For an account of the genesis of the term "telematics," see Shanken, "Tele-Agency" 65-66.

    9. The art work can be viewed at <>.

    10. The classic account of the splitting of the pre-modern monarch's body into "real" and sublime bodies (the natural body and the body politic) is Kantorowicz's The King's Two Bodies.

    11. Sketched images of this original plan are to be found in Celant, Laurie Anderson 270-73.

    12. Marc Redfield delineates this in more deconstructive terms: "telepathy communicates a fantasy of unmediated communication, and at the same time records in its very name, an irreducible distance within self-presence. It promises an escape from the technology of the signifier, but in doing so imports techne into the heart of pathos. For whose pathos is it, once tele-pathy has begun?" (qtd in Thurschwell, 130). Also see Derrida, Telepathy.

    13. Santner here refers to Schreber's experiences as victim to the hyper-rationalistic and abusive pedagogical practices of the time, as sickly patient to physicians trained in scientific Kantianism, and finally as an appointed judge presiding over the judicial apparatus of the Saxon Supreme Court. See Dinnage and Niederland, as well as Santner, for accounts of Schreber's biography.

    Works Cited

    Anderson, Laurie. "Control Rooms and Other Stories: Confessions of a Content Provider." Parkett 49 (1997): 127-35.

    ---. "Some Backgrounds on Dal Vivo." Celant 25-32.

    ---. Stories from the Nerve Bible: A Retrospective 1972-1992. New York: Harper, 1994.

    Ascott, Roy. "Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?" 1990. Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology, and Consciousness. Ed. Edward A. Shanken. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003. 232-46.

    Auslander, Philip. Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture. London: Routledge, 1999.

    Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill, 1981.

    Burckhardt, Jacqueline. "In the Nerve Stream." Parkett 49 (1997): 152-57.

    Celant, Germano. "Laurie Anderson: Miracle in Milan." Celant 15-23.

    Celant, Germano, ed. Laurie Anderson: Dal Vivo. Milan: Fondazione Prada, 1998.

    Celant, Germano, and Laurie Anderson. "530 Canal Street, New York, May 13, 1998." Laurie Anderson: Dal Vivo. Ed. Germano Celant. Milan: Fondazione Prada, 1998. 233-60.

    Derrida, Jacques. "Telepathy." Trans. Nicholas Royle. Oxford Literary Review 10 (1988): 3-41.

    Derrida, Jacques, and Bernard Stiegler. Echographies of Television. 1996. Trans. Jennifer Bajorek. Cambridge: Polity, 2002.

    Dinnage, Rosemary. Introduction. Memoirs of my Nervous Illness. Daniel Paul Schreber. New York: New York Review of Books, 2000. xi-xxiv.

    Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977.

    ---. The History of Sexuality: Volume I: An Introduction. 1978. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage, 1990.

    Goldberg, Ken, ed. The Robot in the Garden: Telerobotics and Telepistemology in the Age of the Internet. Cambridge: MIT P, 2000.

    Goldberg, Roselee. Laurie Anderson. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2000.

    ---. Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. London: Thames and Hudson, 1988.

    Gross, Kenneth. The Dream of the Moving Statue. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992.

    Kantorowicz, Ernst H. The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957.

    Niederland, William. The Schreber Case: Psychoanalytic Profile of a Paranoid Personality. Hillsdale: Analytic, 1984.

    Owens, Craig. "Amplifications: Laurie Anderson." Art in America 69.3 (1981): 120-23.

    Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London: Routledge, 1993.

    Santner, Eric. My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Schreber's Secret History of Modernity. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1996.

    Schreber, Daniel Paul. Memoirs of my Nervous Illness. 1903/1955. New York: New York Review of Books, 2000.

    Shanken, Edward A. "Introduction. Art and Telematics: A Match Made in Heaven?" Telematic Connections: The Virtual Embrace. Exhibition website. 31 March 2002. <>.

    ---. "Tele-Agency: Telematics, Telerobotics, and the Art of Meaning." Art Journal 59.2 (2000): 64-77.

    Stafford, Barbara Maria. Body Criticism: Imaging the Unseen in Enlightenment Art and Medicine. Cambridge: MIT P, 1991.

    Stefanini, Santino. "A Life Behind Bars. From Cesare Beccaria to San Vittore." Celant 146-176.

    Stefanini, Santino. "San Vittore Prison, Milan, April 8, 1998." An interview with Santino Stefanini conducted by Laurie Anderson and Germano Celant. Celant 190-99.

    Thurschwell, Pamela. Literature, Technology and Magical Thinking, 1880-1920. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001.

    Weber, Samuel. Mass Mediauras: Form Technics Media. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996.

LINKS: Non-Graphical Users See Top of Page