Situative and de-essentialized subject forms: Thinking the temporary politically


In this artistic research project in ONE MINUTE for SHE – SUPER HOST EDITION the political is conceived in the tradition of political philosophy as a consequence of an anthropological invariant of Humanitas. The pose, according to a hypothesis of this project, as a de-essentialized subject form represents a continuous provocation for the Humanitas, even more: its refusal. How this refusal of the political becomes and acts eminently political in itself is what this project wants to develop – methodically with the help of feminist political philosophy, art theory, philosophy of history, and critical anthropology, empirically by contextualizing significant poses in art history.

In the context of this contextualization, the question of the radical nature of the pose and the scopes of action acquired through it will constitute a focus. The role of the pose in pop culture as an intentional moment of non-intervention will also be problematized: In the context of empirical findings and with the help of examples, it will be explored whether the pose of pop is really anti-efficient and “reckons with nothing” (Diederichsen 2013: ), as claimed by pop theory-or whether it does not support a mimetic economy that-quite the contrary-is extremely effective in our performative time.

In a diametric contrast to the “figure of the pre-political”, by which Judith Butler refers to “the woman”, “the slave”, or “the barbarian” (Butler 2010:9), the aesthetic formation pose can be described as a figure(ation) of the fully political-as the trope of postmodernism-and can thus be used in the context of a philosophical approach to history.

For as a figuration of the fully political, the pose gains hermeneutic depth. Paradigm shifts are signified by poses before discourse does. Thus, the poses of the German artist Martin Kippenberger stand as a coherent symbolic form for the idea of the 1980s that an end of (Western) art is imminent, which can only be met by a “Verpoppung” of art.

The “concept of contemporary” (Osborne 2013: 26) plays a major role in the context of pose as a figuration of the fully political, as it involves the idea of a contemporaneity that is not tied to the present-the idea of an imaginary or even ideal present. The presence of pose is also ideal in a certain sense; it can always be evoked anew in the minds of interested parties through the question “What will have been political” that is to be asked in the future tense II. If one interprets Kippenberger’s poses not only indexically as a sign of his contemporaneity, but in terms of a supratemporal concept of contemporality, then they stand for a political imaginary, for they signify the condition that Peter Osborne regards as constituting his definition of “contemporary,” namely the “transcendental status of a condition of the historical intelligibility of social experience” (ibid.).

In a certain sense, then, the pose is “retro-transcendental” (Meillassoux 2008: 43) and can also be retrospectively epistemologically useful. An example of this has been the exhibition “The Whole Earth” at Berlin’s House of World Cultures in 2013, which was dedicated to precisely this concept and, by revisiting the political agenda of the Californian alternative movement of the 1960s, re-examined an already past pose of pop culture for its political relevance – a prerequisite for such an approach is the assumption that a certain time expresses itself through a unity of the symbolic.

While Walter Benjamin still simply asserted this, current philosophy of art is clear that this is a “hypothetical” unity (Osborne 2013: 26) deployed by art, science, and literature for the purpose of making a particular time comprehensible. In this context, the “denial of coevalness” (Fabian 1983: 31) noted by critical anthropology in the 1980s gains significance: if one recognizes in the (pop) pose in general an expression of the West, then it excludes “the Other,” since it belongs to what Fabian calls the “time-fortress of the West” (ibid. 121). For the temporality of seeing presupposes the contemporality of the producer and the product, of the representer [poser] and the looked-at, of the I and the Other. Viewing, the gaze, must thus be understood as a kind of praxis in which the gazer has no superiority over the cognized, the poser and the poser – but this only works if both are in the same spatio-temporal dimension, that is, if producer and recipient share space and time.

For although an idea, the pose is tied to the world of appearances in the sense of a time- bound political figuration. “Appearance,” writes Andrew Benjamin, following Walter Benjamin’s theory of Art Nouveau, “will always be regulated by the interplay of time and imitation” (Benjamin 2006: 63)-in this sense, pose in pop is also regulated by the two constants of time and repetition, although one should certainly add here the (performative) space that pose in postmodernism incorporates as a strategically very efficient self- dramatization.

Whereas modernism, if one believes Lawrence Grossberg, stood for the “privileging of time over space” and “seeing was always understood phenomenologically and thus relegated to the sphere of the temporal” (Grossberg 2010 [1992]: 36), in the pop of postmodernism space is included in identity formation. The view of the world becomes an attitude toward the world, which in turn expresses itself in a certain pose. Applied to Kippenberger, this means: with him, the “most sophisticated maneuvers in contemporary art discourse” (Heiser 2010) become pop art precisely in the pose.

Two Technics stand in the youth room, they form a pose. The enormous impression it made on music-loving young people all over the world when someone owned “decks”, i.e. record players, was rooted in the idea of emancipation. With the Technics SL 1200, it became possible to stop time in pieces live, turning reproduction into repetition. This created a new aesthetic moment in pop music – moment in a double sense: as temporality and as entity. In a certain sense, one could say that this changed the concept of time in pop – and the concept of history. Can we therefore consider the Technics SL 1200 in the context of a “politics of appearance” (Benjamin 2006)? What is certain is that the iconographic character of this apparatus involves the “imaginary” (Eco 1989: 83) that one can intervene in music history oneself and possess the material to create something new: The iconicity of the Technics lies in the pose of self-empowerment it stands for.

The aspect of self-empowerment also plays a role in the queer pose as an expression of a political figuration: For Craig Owens, the subject poses as an object in order to be a subject (Owens 2003:113). The pose, he argues, is to be located between action and passion. Owens, following (Greek) grammar, recognizes in the pose what is called “medium” or “diathesis”; posing is “neither something wholly active nor something wholly passive” (ibid: 112). Starting from the idea of the verb that has shed its passive meaning – deponens – Owens formulates a theory of pose that has shed its passive meaning in favor of a diathesis of active and passive. This in-between of pose can be extended: Not only can it be situated between active and passive, but also between expediency and ornament. Conceived for external effect, it is simultaneously directed toward a refinement of the self.
This refinement of the self has taken on bizarre features in the character of Felicia “Snoop” Pearson in the American television series “The Wire.” In her case, the “minorit[y] or even in a broader sense queer[y] position between self-empowerment and oppression” (Diederichsen 2005) has become a monstrous nonchalance in dealing with life and death. The mimetic character of the pose explained by Owens with Lacan (Owens 2003: 109) becomes a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” in Snoop. The near-perfect mimicry of a black male gangster through speech code, posture, and humor gives the character the aspect of “terrifying” that Stephan King has noticed (King 2006:).

This is a “mimetic constitution of the body” (Möhring 2001: ) that transcends Butler’s concept of “subversive resignification.” Monique’s Wittig’s “Every gesture is a revolt” comes to mind again: in a certain sense, “Snoop’s” mimetic pose rehearses the revolt – and in a radicality that can no longer be explained by Butler’s subversive resignification. Rather, one can associate Donna Harraway’s “world changing fiction” (Harraway 1991:149) with the portrayal of this character, since in a certain sense she actively shifts social reality into the monstrous.