Seven discourses with Vanessa Place

Vanessa Place.

Discourse 1.

Divya Victor: Let’s start at the very beginning. As Fräulein Maria knows, it is a “very good place to start.” Ontology, ab ovo, is obviously obstinate in its negative tie to its Other, and so let us start at the beginning while also always considering the end. Since in the beginning, according to the KJV, was the Word, and since there are those who know that imago Die is merely imago and that the Word is merely Other to its fictions, let us begin with signification and begin too with its death.

Bataille claims that “the fundamental right of man […] is to signify nothing.” This fundamental right meets its socially constitutive Master in the constitutional right of free expression.

Vanessa Place: The big fuck you to the big O, aka “I love Daddy so.”

Victor: His wish for squander, that nonproductive expenditure that frees an expressive body from its expression, meets an interdiction implicit in the prohibition against “abridging the freedom of speech.”

Place: Query: What is the difference between freedom of speech and freedom of expression. We have the right to one, not the other. Stricto sensu.

Victor: That is: to enjoy the freedom to signify, one must signify compulsorily. 

Place: So capitalism sanctions the production of meaning. Or meaning meaning production.

Victor: The prime amendment of the United States allows for the curtailment and cordoning of Bataille’s fundamental right into verbal responses which are always productions of an interdiction to speak. This may be read as a violation of the Bataillian right “to signify nothing.”

Your Statement of Facts[1]  takes up this problem of signification in the multiply transcribed speech acts of witnesses, appellant, or arbiter providing testimony. It takes up, in its conceptual frame, the difference between signifying bodies and enunciating bodies, both through its strategies of transcription, appropriation, and re-transcription, as well as through the poet’s performance of Statement of Facts. From the illocutionary act of the appellant/witness testimony to the poet’s enunciative act in performance, how does the production of verbal signs from so many speaking throats change in significance and in its signification?

Place: Simply put, the change is from speech act to act-act. From an act of rhetoric — which is the fundamental act of law and of poetry — to a rhetorical act — which is the nullified verdict, the a-poetic. 

Victor: To please (or plead) the Fifth Amendment, here — what is the relation between the right to silence, the appellant’s speech, and the problem of the poet’s “ventriloquy” of another’s speech?

Place: Note that I assert all rights, particularly by proxy. I am a mouthpiece, if (and) nothing else. Thus “I” have no right to silence. I have noted in another context the infra-thin of violence is the random facticity of its victims. The infra-thin of speech is another context.

Victor: I’m wondering about appropriation and aesthetic pilfering in relation to the clause “nor shall private property be taken for public use” in the Fifth Amendment. What is the status of voice as property? 

Place: What is the status of violence as property?

Victor: Is speech as substance?

Place: “As” is very good here.

Victor: Is aesthetic arrangement “public use”?

Place: Let’s agree to avoid the vulgar Marxism of the violence of property. After all, Othello knew what was worth murdering.

Victor: Ay, ay, Captain.


Discourse 2.

Victor: In a recent interview with James Wagner[2] Vanessa Place said: “Therefore, my sense of choice is commensurate with my sense of duty: I am always writing something, though sometimes I am mostly typing.”

Along with the comment “‘I’ have no right to silence,” here, I note a divining (or dividing) line between the compulsory and mechanical: the Romantic notion of the imaginative agent …

Place: … and/or the Renaissance notion of the imaginative agent as a disseminating meld of the re-remade rather than a dividing one.

Victor: It is crucial that the “I” with the “I-Rights” is “in quotes,” no?

Place: We enter the realm of the sobject[3]  here, where divination is anybody’s game.

Victor: Certain conceptual projects have been charged with being embarrassed about the subject (“subjectivity”), the personal, of the function of imagination — whereas I think, of course, in some key recent projects, we see a vigorous recapitulation and redefinition, rather than excision, of these concerns. 

Place: Decapitation as well, and frequent lancing.

Victor: To be a little perverse towards Arendt, in “Truth and Politics,”[4] I’d say she argues that the imagination is the faculty that combines the “ability to lie” and the “capacity to act.” It produces the liar as the “man of action” who performs, in speech, a utopian wish for things “to be different from what they are.” Her analysis is that the performance of the lie “belongs among the few obvious, demonstrable data that confirm human freedom.”

Place: Kant would agree.

Victor: We might introduce her to Adorno: “By emphatically separating themselves from the empirical world, their other, they bear witness that that world itself should be other than it is; they are the unconscious schemata of the world’s transformation.”[5] Adorno’s claim is that art emerges in polemical relation to the world, as an index of things that are not as they should be.

Place: He also reveals himself as slightly sentimental, in the Objectivist sense.

Victor: We might bring Lacan to the dance floor to trip Adorno and say that art is an index of things that are as they are not.

Place: And which therefore most certainly are. Stephanie Taylor’s work, for example, is about creating artifacts of alternative narratives whose artifactual status confirms the existence of the alternative story (materializes) and whose material constraint (the object must rhyme with its material properties) belies its strictly artificial ontology (dematerializes). Thus, the schema shifts from are/are not to are ⇔ are not.

Victor: While Arendt’s argument belongs in the realm of mediatized political rhetoric, bringing it into the aesthetic realm helps me to read your Statements as a performance of the minimal difference between the “lie” and the fictive, the artificial, the aesthetic. It helps me situate your work in relation to other key projects that step on that minimal line between the appropriative and the imaginative within a minefield of the historically “accurate,” where the promise of enunciated truth is the specter haunting Nuremberg, so to speak, such as Reznikoff’s Testimony and Holocaust, and Backer’s transcripts.

Place: And Pound’s Cantos, of course, though the thumb is on the other side of the scale.

Victor: Could you say more about the why (if) the strategies of appropriation, collage, and proceduralism, and the effects of citation, documentation, and so on, were important to Statement of Facts and La Medusa, in particular, and arts practice in general? How might these strategies be related to the work of the imaginative agent as a liar? How does the aesthetic category of the “lie” offend, impinge upon, and mediate your occupation as arbiter?

Place: There is no other honest way to write. Though I reject “lie,” as it implies “truth.” As I have noted elsewhere, there is no possible truth, just things that could be true. That have an appearance of truth. This is not a rejection of empiricism as much as a concession of finitude. Thus, everything I say is true and not, false and not. There is no difference between stuff I make and stuff I take. 


Discourse 3.

Victor: The transcription and appropriation of speech and various textual materials in Statements brings the crisis of the response “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” into the aesthetic field and make it art’s wager; its Hippocratic/hypocritical/ hypothetical oath, its promise to act.

Place: And only act.

Victor: In the “act-act” of borrowing language from the scene of legal enunciation/testimony, the project nests the problem of enunciation within the greater problem of vocality and identity. We may learn from Benveniste (and his peculiar and singular position as a linguist who suffered from aphasia) that enunciation does not refer to an utterance or she who utters, but only to the fact of it having taken place.

Place: Idem.

Victor: Agamben infers from Benveniste: “enunciation makes it possible [for us to] distinguish in [a] statement between what is said and its taking place.” As such, the enunciation of the speaking body “represent[s] a non-semantic dimension precisely on account of this identification” and refers to the “absolutely singular and unrepeatable event of discourse.”[6] 

Place: Exactly this and exactly so.

Victor: So, might we (irresponsibly, hypocritically?) extrapolate that even as one enunciates, it is precisely the act by which the speaking subject structurally disavows and takes distance from the link that connects the semantic content of speech to her body?

Place: We must say this. Repeatedly.

Victor: Is it the enunciatory act which simultaneously names the agent of speech and makes her unaccountable for what has been said? The stakes of disavowal and ventriloquism in aesthetic practice, particularly in the strategies of transcription, appropriation, and the poet’s performance are very different, as you’ve already intimated in your comment “I am a mouthpiece, if (and) nothing else. Thus “I” have no right to silence.” This becomes particularly important in your work (esp. your Factory project and Statements), where authorship and speakership are multiply erased, disavowed, ventriloquized, and re-divined/re-defined. Could you say more your thinking regarding the role as “mouthpiece” and its implicit interdiction against “silence” and how you view the demand for “accountability”? What is the proper place for “disavowal” in art?

Place: I believe “I” am the proper place. Though there is also a place for silence. As act-act as well. Though “disavowal,” if we refer to your earlier note about agency, implies a claim, yes? We can then draw the link between disavowal and disclaim, which can be profitably confused with declaim, so that the act of declaiming is as well a disclaimer. Put another way, my only responsibility or duty is to act without speaking via speech. My accountability is that of a site or place-holder: whether that place is my own or that of another is immaterial to the materiality of the act itself. When I do not speak during a performance, that has as much ontology as when I do — sometimes more, depending on the expectation of the others. Too, there is necessarily a sobjectivizing in enunciation, all enunciation. We can be coy about it and halo ourselves with our others, whether they be a passel of imaginary friend-readers or that rough bitch Muse, or we can accept it as the bone of existence.


Discourse 4.

Victor: I too believe you are the “proper” Place of disavowal in art. I have, in believing, put myself in your place. Which tows me directly towards your Factory Project with Ood Press. In this project, you’ve worked with several authors, including Stephanie Taylor, Kenneth Goldsmith, Charles Reznikoff, me, and some unnamed masked typists. The works that appear in this growing series of chapbooks appear to be authored by you and also appear to be authored by not-you.

This raises some very interesting problems about authorship and what we’ve been saying about disavowal. I am reminded of that gorgeous moment of the repressive hypothesis which founds the sign for Freud — that negation of negation which comes about when, in speaking, the analysand does not feel inclined to let an association count, disavows her association or relation to a rupture or accidental emergence. The Factory project plays with a reluctance to let an association between an author and a text count, so to speak, and doubly negates that negation by negating Vanessa Place as “author” of the negated relation and thereby installing “Vanessa Place” as author. “Vanessa Place” is the new accidental emergence, or, that awkward dream about one’s Mother sitting on the toilet, or, the establishment of the sign. “She” is the new laminated alphabet, the dead author embalmed and killed again.

Place: Norman Bates’s murdering mother, if the review was a movie.

Victor: How did the desire for this project manifest?

Place: Chapbooks are sweet as kittens; there’s no point to them, but plenty of surplus affection. Whereas appropriation of the contents of a book or a blogslice or a journal submission or a Twitter feed has a purpose, there can be no purpose to authoring a chapbook — its very purposelessness thus became an irresistible field for failure. “Vanessa Place” is the author function that is functionless while a functionary. Which acts as a double negation in the case of a reanimated authorship that is patently false. Stillborn, yet born again, again to be stillborn.

Victor: How does this evolving set of texts provoke your assumptions and arguments about “authorship” more generally?

Place: These texts move things in one direction even as text itself is moved in another. Interventions, which are a vulgar way of denoting generativity, are overall more surgical, more overtly obscene. And as sometimes necessary and un- as obscenity and surgery. As noted, you have to approach something with an indifference, as if you had no aesthetic emotions. Gradually, this comes to be true. The price/reward of authentic authorship is this absolute indifference: isn’t it interesting.


Discourse 5.

Victor: The declaiming act requires a public ear. It is into this ear that both “Place,” Place, and Place as placeholder must take and lend place. There is a difference that cries out between your speech as Vanessa Place, representative of a defendant, in which you say, but do not speak — in which you are a mouthpiece, a place-holder, but not someone who may “hold their peace,” a voice “of” Vanessa Place in a Gallery/Reading space, and a masquerade as “Vanessa Place.” The auricular course from Court to Stage to Panel and back is a diacrisis in the labors, pleasures, and stakes of listening. That is, the to ’n’ fro course between heresy, hearsay, and hericide of the Poet’s Voice as a fetish for hermeneutics. Barthes reminds us that listening to human speech is transferential: “I am listening” also means “Listen to me.”[7] The ear is a myth, insofar as it is not what we listen with. What is the organ of your listening, and how do the occasions of transference change from Court to Stage to Panel? What is your earpiece as a representative of a defendant, of the Law? And how does this earpiece relate to the donning of a hairpiece, that is to say, a performance of wiglomeration in your choice to donate your own preference to the preferences of donning “A Lawyer’s Habit” when you perform?

Place: The second person plural, made most elegant in “você,” which, although being second person, should always take third person verbs. In other words, the promiscuously dilate ear is both theodic and thetic insofar as all enunciations and articulations are essentially trinary. At minimum, though, as you point out, there are almost always multiples of three. As a representative of the defendant/the Law/the author/The Authority, by which one might call The Art, with some embarrassment, I would say that my register lies in objection. Constant objection. I object. The force of my habit is just that: I look like what I am. Like the dream of one’s mother, what could be more confusing?


Discourse 6.

Victor: I am thinking about your Boycott project, and other texts like Yedda Morrison’s Darkness, Kenneth Goldsmith’s All the Numbers From Numbers, Rob Fitterman’s “Holocaust Museum” project, and Caroline Bergvall’s Dante translations. I am also thinking about Joseph Yearous-Algozin’s The Lazarus Project, in which he forces interceptive reversals of movie scripts and brings back to life both perpetrators and victims of traumatic deaths, like in Alien vs. Predator, and jams them with the legal hearings of “ALIEN REMOVALS UNDER OPERATION PREDATOR” before the Subcommittee of Immigration and Border Security, and Chris Sylvester’s GRID, in which he ekes and erases a systematic, chronic walkthrough of the worlds and maps of the Nintendo Entertainment system’s Legend of Zelda and gestures towards a failure in mastery-through-O-so-much-repetition that is considered and refuted by Papa Freud, Debord, Jameson, and H. James, and towards what Robbie Dewhurst calls a “kinda-sorta utter pointlessness.” These texts are works of poetry and works of criticism. And these works know something about ironization of form.

I’ve been thinking of these texts in a group because I’ve been thinking of Schlegel, which is bad thing to do, if anyone wants to get anywhere. For the German Romantics, the work of criticism consummates, completes, systematizes the work of art into its “resolution in the absolute,” its long-awaited dinner date with its “own absolute idea.”[8]

Place: Though so often this is the more the morning after, surreptitiously looking for anything with a return address. Or a name …

Victor: This has everything to do with ironization of form, the “freely willed destruction” of forms. These texts have been criticized and discussed so as to make them violently oscillate between objective forms and subjectivist irony, but I think Ender’s definition of irony and subjective position caters well to these textual feats and to what you’ve said in previous discourses: irony is the capacity “to move oneself immediately from what is represented in the invention to the representing centre, and to observe the former from this latter point.”

Place: The suggestion being that such an enactment dissolves even as it resolves. This is a bit like the mirror as both reflection and projection, and, as one might note, the what that happens when mirrors fully face.

Victor: The prick and privilege of observing and bearing testimony from without, like Saint Peter’s denial and forthwith canonization, and from within, like those the oblivious soldiers at Golgotha (“Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do”) who kill the Flesh to instate the Word and know something about irony and distance. I have a soft spot for betrayers and gamblers, for those who return to the scene of the crime to rend the Word’s garment and cast lots for it. I think they know something about irony and distance. And culpability and denial and the hiss that makes history. I have a soft spot for what you’re calling the Poetics of Radical Evil, via Bataille …

Place: … inter alia.

Victor: A relation between critique, ironization, and Evil seems very important in your Boycott Project, a part of which (of Simone de Beauvoir) is forthcoming in Andrew Rippeon’s P-Queue. Could you say more about it in its present stage and previous avatars?

Place: The Boycott project, as may or may not have been previously noted, conjoins Lacan’s maxim with Lozano’s living. The ironic part is that it works. Women are not much missed, or not much is missed with them save the Evil of representation. See below. I am working on a series of such pieces, meddling with everyone from Butler to Wollstonecraft.

Victor: How does this intervention into feminist discourses relate to the provocative queries and concerns of Feminaissance which was published by Les Figues Press? 

Place: Feminaissance was a Hydra: there was the easier conversation, involving the eine-zwei-drei of sheer representation, which became the surface story. The harder topics bubbled literally beneath, immune to such counting. What is most interesting to me about the Boycott series is how it instantiates gender as something much more difficult than either essence or construct, but precisely an oscillation that produces, oftentimes, nausea. This too is the happy rôle of destiny or the destined rôle of Evil.

Victor: Are there specific texts/projects that you see emerging and which are important to you in pronouncing this relation between critique, ironization, and Evil? 

Place: I think your Hellocasts [Not Content and Ood Press] is brilliant; Kim Rosenfield’s forthcoming Lividity is brutal; Rob’s Holocaust Museum, as you note, collapses card and player; there’s Alex Forman’s Tall, Slim and Erect, appropriated portraits of thirty-seven presidents including rumor and psycho-medical histories. There’s Yedda Morrison’s Darkness, Mat Timmons’s Credit, Steve Zultanski’s Pad, and Kenny’s operatic Capital. There’s the violence being done by the critical work which moves via some of the same allegorical spasms. Less modestly, someday I hope to do my Etant donnés. Then less will be revealed.


Final Discourse 7.

Victor: “Vanessa Place,”

It has been a pleasure to discourse with you.

Place: I will miss you. Promise to write.

Victor: I promise to take what ever you ask me in this Final discourse and ask it directly to the next interviewee in this series, regardless of the consequences. The question will come from you in the form of the mouth of my horse. The next interviewee is Kim Rosenfield.

Place: Quel est le point de basculement?

Victor: Till again,

Charles Reznikoff

Place: yr servant,

“Vanessa Place”




1.  Statement of Facts is available for download from UBU Editions, or as a hardcover as Tradogia 1: Statement of Facts from Blanc Press.

2.  James Wagner, author of Geisttraum (Tales from the Germans), published by Esther Press.

3.  For more on “sobject” see Rob Fitterman and Vanessa Place, Notes on Conceptualisms, published by Ugly Duckling Presse.

4.  See Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics,” The New Yorker, February 25, 1967.

5.  See Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory.

6.  See Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz, and Benveniste, Problems in General Linguistics.

7.  See Roland Barthes, The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art, and Representation.

8.  See Walter Benjamin, “Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism,” Selected Writings, Vol. 1: 1913–1926.