I read Frances Stark’s writing on Mark E. Smith last night in ‘Contra Mundum I-VII’ (2010), having found out about it just recently and having a freak-out because the idea of Frances Stark + The Fall was too odd and amazing not to order a copy immediately.
In her essay ‘The Sycophancy of the Contemporary Artist and the Impossibility of Reaching Out to Mark E. Smith’, Stark is milking her self-proclaimed lack of expertise in anything she is invited to write about, but soon gets down to business, meaning digression, hyperbole, and a stream-of-consciousness method of laying out a personal history of a topic.
Stark brings to the reader’s attention the following significant personal sightings of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith: Smith’s comments in a youtube-available documentary on The Fall (he states that he thinks his singing has really improved; Smith isn’t a singer, says Paul Morley), the crossover of the idea of The Fall performing for her opening at Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven in 2007 (“it underscored for me this incredible disconnect between the world that I function in and the world that I consume, and hence this sycophancy of the contemporary artist, where I just felt like to ask for some kind of seeming cohabitation was just too absurd”; at this point Stark gives the reader a studied intro to her work by re-quoting Witold Gombrowicz’s digression in ‘Ferdydurke’, the quoting which also makes up her piece ‘I must explain, specify, rationalize, classify, etc., ’), and Michael Bracewell’s failure to interview Mark E. Smith at length (read an interesting article on Smith by Bracewell here). Stark then shifts into the failures people like Bracewell have had when trying to “legitimize and contextualize” artists (she quotes from the famous Bob Dylan interview in 1965, which I will now forever link to Cate Blanchett), who refuse to take part. Stark then talks about a horrible experience she had in when she ended up in a TV documentary when a lecture she was giving coincided with the documentary, and she hilariously describes the humiliation of being told to stage her artist ‘persona’ for the camera for footage and editing purposes.
Stark then refuses to make a smooth transition to her next link, and simply says “I’m going to read something now”, and gives a long quote from Jacques Ranciere’s ‘The Ignorant Schoolmaster’ on relationships of inequality between teachers and their students. Stark inserts herself into the quote strategically to ask whether we’re getting it, then helpfully breaks it down for us; her uninvited helpful checking is both funny and welcome. This quote ends her essay on Mark E. Smith, as an open-ended point on the ridiculousness of trying to “legitimize and contextualize” the Mark E. Smiths of the world, and perhaps also that, and I’ll add my own quote here from Deleuze’s ‘A Conversation: What is it? What is it For?’, instead of an interview, the point is to co-author a digression:
“It is very hard to ‘explain oneself’ - an interview, a dialogue, a conversation…Questions are invented, like anything else. If you aren’t allowed to invent your questions, with elements from all over the place, from never mind where, if people ‘pose’ them to you, you haven’t much to say. The art of constructing a problem is very important: you invent a problem, a problem-position, before finding a solution. None of this happens in an interview, a conversation, a discussion. Even reflection, whether it’s alone, or between two or more, is not enough…Objections have never contributed anything. It’s the same when I am asked a general question. The aim is not to answer questions, it’s to get out, to get out of it….Movement always happens behind the thinker’s back, or in the moment when he blinks. Getting out is already achieved, or else it never will be…There are only inexact words to designate something exactly. Let us create extraordinary words, on condition that they be put to the most ordinary use and that the entity they designate be made to exist in the same way as the most common object.”
When Stark talks about the weirdness of actually meeting Smith or involving him directly in her work, she is implicitly talking about the distance she requires to exist between herself and the person/text/music/idea; the distance which allows for a collaboration (in this case between Stark and the text), and thus the creation of something which belongs to neither Stark nor to Smith, but is:
“instead collective assemblages of enunciation; there are no specificities but instead populations, music-writing-sciences-audio-visual, with their relays, their echoes, their working interactions.” (Deleuze)