Thursday, 12 June 2014

REVIEW: AFTAP Live Readings at The Tarot Nook


Verum esse ipsum factum [truth is made/created] - Giovan Battista Vico (De Antiquissima, 1710).

I don't want your love unless you know I am repulsive, and love me even as you know it - Georges Bataille (My Mother, Madame Edwarda and The Dead Man)
A fascinating experimental tarot Project has been taking place. This Project inverts the cultural (con)text which would have us all flee from life, negating vicissitude and chance, a lie that in order to be liveable must efface its own effacement. The mechanisms whirr almost soundlessly behind the scenes, clicking our absurd theatre into place for that unwary gaze positioned as the self-aggrandising eye of the ubiquitous consumer. Play by the rules, dear: you're nobody if you're not Master Bun the Baker's son or Mrs Pain the Doctor's Wife.  This Project sticks a spanner in the works, plucking the "I" out of the manufactured "i"deal and bestowing it with a voice. A viva voce

Here, in the sacred space of this unique project, are revealed the incomplete subjects who struggle with the specular reflections of who they are supposed to be and wrestle with the functions and predicates of an impossible integrity; a kind of spammed world where verisimilitude to artifice is validation. In an inversion of the Platonic ideal of art as mimesis or imitation of "reality" - substitute here our lived lives imitating cultural (re)presentations of "ideal" or "true" lives, a proliferation of simulacra - our lives imitate art. That's something of a cliché now. Here the volunteers in the project reclaim art as indemnified self-creation. They speak out from a place where received identity ideologues are (to change metaphors to something more Bataille, more appropriately schizophrenic, a contradiction in consciousness, a double awareness of self) consumed, chewed round, defaced, refaced and violently spat out.

That place is the inspiration of Kelsey Lynore of The Tarot Nook and it's called the Anti-Film Tarot Art Project. Anti film, because was it really that snug in the halcyon idyll  of Happy Days or the desperately awful Brady Bunch? (a childhood trauma from which I will never recover). And do ya wannabe a pop-up pop star or a  Celebrity? Known for being known? As long as you look right. A perfect business mogul? Perfect Mother? Perfect Lover? Famous, rich, the best at something, status? And loadsa money. Or even just a humble worker bee, for you must play a role in the hive. You get the idea. AFTAP comprises a series of tarot readings wherein volunteers are recorded and broadcast live via Google Hangouts and YouTube. The instrumentalizing nature of technology is used against itself. In her blog, the Tarot Nook, by way of introduction, Kelsey sees this project as 'an exercise in joint story-telling and confession made public, as it should be'. As it should be? We will come back to expand upon this remark later.

Kelsey situates the Project as a kind of Courbet inspired realism for the Digital Age. It's a story of the real, the messy, the near and the proximal; the everyday and "unprettified" lives of ordinary people. Pieces of lives, lives in pieces, sub specie temporis et loci. Kelsey invites us to care enough about ourselves to listen. It's a much needed reorientation towards the senescence, infirmity and fragility of lives lived in the face of  overwhelming and insidious pressure to venerate the twin constructs nobly named "truth" and "authenticity", both indentured to an Archi-Narrative. Here, instead, we celebrate our inauthenticity.

Refreshing, overdue, important and absolutely right.

Accordingly, at the very beginning of each reading, Kelsey puts any truth discourse out of play. It's important not to misunderstand this opening gesture. She is not naively denying the specificity of necessary truths or "truths" internal to a particular discipline. 2 + 2 is still 4. The logic pertaining to certain forms of reasoning and argumentation is not invalidated. And, of course, such normative conceptual moments might indirectly inscribe the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. That much is irreducible. Rather, this distancing move is designed to preserve respect for the radical contingency and particularity of each life story without the distraction of re-referencing it within an appeal to an Ur-Narrative: a Grand Logos, an ex hypothesi Authority, a Transcendental Signified or a Derridean Metaphysics of Presence acting as guarantor of all meaning. In popular parlance, the equivalent of some version of God or Ultimate Truth which would then function to arbitrate the story. That is, to put it crudely, the Project does not wish to turn itself into a farcical debate about how many flying pigs can dance on the head of a pin.

The question of truth is also exiled as a criterion for evaluating or judging the stories at another level. When Rousseau wrote The Confessions, a kind of diary, one can ask whether it was honest. The answer is that it doesn't matter. Sincerity counts for nothing, one could be deceiving oneself. Yet a delusion is nonetheless constitutive of the self. In a story of self-identity, then, questions of truth or falsity have no place.

By way of the tarot cards, Kelsey opens the opportunity for the volunteers to share their worlds. There's no pedagoguery here. She doesn't tell anyone what they should think although she does ask intelligent and revealing questions which guide the volunteers to their own self-discoveries. It's a playful, engaging, spontaneous, and compulsively involving exchange. A tarot reading is usually an intensely private affair but here the (always shaky) distinction between public and private is doubly subverted: first, because we watch and observe as "outsiders"; second because we relate ourselves to the story, we recognize ourselves through the Other. Each individual who speaks in the readings discloses our commonality. In that sense we are also participants rather than simply external observers. Here the larger ethic of the project opens out for a story is, above all, a way of being together. These are unprettified polyphonic stories of what it means to be a human being.

The methodological presupposition of this live reading Project, as a technique, is to performatively operate as a condition for the possibility of the creation and discovery of meaning. Call it artful art. There's no preformulated telos, no predefined route, no prefabricated trajectory or plot. Recalling Diderot's literary experiment, Jacques the Fatalist, one cannot any longer grasp at a presumptive but specious unity. Nothing in the stories is officiously put offside or excluded as peripheral, irrelevant or trivial. It's a simultaneous unravelling and ravelling up of stories in the manner of Vico's concept of "ingenuity" where the disparate, the separate, and the unconnected are articulated together as a narrative exploring what Kelsey calls 'the formations and reformations of self-identity'.

To return to Kelsey's remark cited above: that a confession ought to be made public. Back now to Courbet, to Balzac, to Zola, to Flaubert, even to Baudelaire. These confessional stories exhibit the impossible narratives imposed on our conceptions of ourselves as the volunteers answer back with what has been deformed, occluded, covered over and repressed. It's the restitution of the subject not as masterful but as inachievement (inachèvement). We witness the joys and the sufferings, the triumphs and the toils, the insights and the phantasms; in short the story of ourselves in our vulnerability. Here is the cry of the person in the street. That's you. This Project is a philosophically important exposure of our exposure. Don't miss it. Find yourself. Own your self.

 Find out more and volunteer

©Donna Hazel at Tarotdon Tarot

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