ABY WARBURG AS MAENAD, GUY DEBORD AS PRINCE OF DARKNESS, AND AS SIDE-ACT ALEXANDER KLUGE IN THE ROLE OF THE COMMENTATOR
By Werner Rappl
Summary notes with comments on several kinds of choreographies looking back on the laboratory “versehen” at the Tanzquartier Vienna from March 3 to March 8, 2008:
"L'art ne vient pas coucher dans les lits qu'on a faits pour lui; il se sauve aussitôt qu'on prononce son nom: ce qu'il aime c'est l'incognito. Ses meilleurs moments sont quand il oublie comment il s'appelle."
[Art does not come to sleep in the beds that were prepared for it; it escapes as soon as its name is expressed: what it likes, is the incognito. Its best moments come when it forgets what it is called.]
Jean Dubuffet, 1960
Neither Aby Warburg nor Guy Debord are known as dancers, although they left traces of enchanted moves through their territories grouping friends and colleagues in carefully preconceived manoeuvres. Their canvas is not covered with oil paint, but it is a scenario like the canvas used in the semi-improvised performances of the commedia dell'arte.
"Of all the affairs we participate in, with or without interest, the groping search for a new way of life is the only aspect still impassioning. Aesthetic and other disciplines have proved blatantly inadequate in this regard and merit the greatest detachment. We should therefore delineate some provisional terrains of observation, including the observation of certain processes of chance and predictability in the streets ...
Psychogeography could set for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals."
Guy-Ernest Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography
Terrain reconnaissance and mapping methods become increasingly important as space and time lose significance as differentiating criteria and tend to get lost in acceleration and worldwide telepresence.
Historical references of situationist approaches to appropriating terrain are the Surrealists' magnetic fields in the 20s, Thomas de Quincey drifting through London in early 19th century and the « Carte de tendre » of Mlle. de Scudérie, Clélie, Histoire Romaine, Paris : Courbé 1654–1660 ; or Tristan l'Hermite (Francois L'Hermite, sieur du Soliers) « Carte du Royaume de l'Amour » Recueil de Sercy : Prose (1658), Abbé d'Aubignac (François Hédelin), « Carte du Royaume de Coquetterie », Histoire du temps, ou Relation du Royaume de Coqueterie, extraite du dernier Voyage des Holandais aux Indes du Levant, Paris : Sercy 1654. – all attempts to mark or conquer a territory by redefining it according to a state of mind.
"The production of psychogeographic maps, or even the introduction of alterations such as more or less arbitrarily transposing maps of two different regions, can contribute to clarifying certain wanderings that express not subordination to randomness but complete insubordination to habitual influences (influences generally categorized as tourism that popular drug as repugnant as sports or buying on credit). A friend recently told me that he had just wandered through the Harz region of Germany while blindly following the directions of a map of London This sort of game is obviously only a mediocre beginning in comparison to the complete construction of architecture and urbanism that will someday be within the power of everyone."
Guy-Ernest Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography
Strategic considerations of warfare, exemplary moves as to be found in Debord's Game of War ("Kriegsspiel") are the guidelines for creating these new maps.
Some of Warburg's closest friends were books. The arrangement of his books in his library followed the same laws of friendship guiding the publication schedule of the networked scientific community around it. In the same way the books standing next to each allow to follow prepared tracks if one picks up the scent. The publication series of conferences and essays as well as the annual bibliographies assemble the corresponding thoughts in an intricate but carefully planned and arranged labyrinth with many exits to be found as soon as the basic pattern is understood.
The Atlas and the Warburg library can both be seen as encyclopedias offering comprehensive basic information which is arranged in such way as to enhance connections between the presented material. In the library the books are juxtaposed according to the principles of "good neighbourhood". Here as well as in the Atlas the spatial arrangement conveys meaning and yet leaves space (a zone for reasoning and rational detachment, "Denkraum").
The microcosmos of the Atlas contains the whole macrocosmos of the library.
The images of the Atlas condense the principle of the library and follow a dream logic creating a fluid language of imagination. The images on the plates are regularly rearranged and the plates are regrouped to reflect the discussions by the collaborators of the Warburg Library and to illustrate Warburg's conferences highlighting the migration of ideas and the vicissitudes of representations in images powered by emotions that are stronger than the contents. He shows how powerful and convincing compositions and gestures may be used to illustrate quite contrary situations and intentions: demonstration of subjugation by overriding of victims becomes the gesture of magnanimity and pity, the protecting arm of the guardian angel holds the decapitating sword.
12 Tobias and the angel, oil painting by Guercino, 1624–1626
21 Judith and Holofernes, bronze by Donatello, ca. 1460, Florence, Piazza della Signoria
Fanciful dances courting noblewomen turn into grotesque contortions and masquerades around old carnival ladies or women fighting with each other to get hold of a pair of trousers.
Contortions of ecstasy may also be revealing or treacherous and hypocrite.
Warburg as Maenad, oil and collage on canvas by R.B. Kitaj, 1962, Düsseldorf Kunstmuseum
Dancing Maenad by the Greek sculptor Scopas, Roman copy, Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen
Recently the new Italian president posed as maenad – enchanted by presumedly unpoisoned mozzarella cheese and red wine
"Les tromperies dominantes de l'époque sont en passe de faire oublier que la vérité peut se voir aussi dans les images."
[The dominating deceptions of this epoch make us forget that truth can be found also in images.]
Guy Debord, Panégyrique tome 2
Political iconography as it can be found in Warburg's Atlas is continued today in a research program by the Warburg Haus Hamburg located in the building of Warburg's library he had built in 1925 according to his plans.
"l'arrangement des mots qui aboutit au discours transforme quelque chose dans l'ordre du monde par une action sur les consciences: celle qui formule et celles qui l'entendent. Il est la brèche par où s'engouffre un moment d'éternité dans un monde qui roule obscurément vers sa perte."
[The arrangement of words leading to discourse changes something in the world order by acting on the people's minds: on the formulating mind and on the mind of those hearing the discourse. It is the breach through which a moment of eternity bursts into a world obscurely rolling towards vanishing.]
Guy Debord, Mémoires, 1958
Aby Warburg doesn't write much and his texts are condensed distillations often coining new words, new creations encircling and testing new connections, undiscovered genealogies of meaning. Like the books in his library and the images on the plates he rearranges the words frequently, corrects, makes new inserts, elaborates one idea, eliminates another until the whole manuscript or corrected typescript becomes a palimpsest. Similarly to Humpty Dumpty explaining to Alice the structure of portmanteau words ("there are two meanings packed up into one word") who mean just what he tells them to mean, because he pays them well, James Joyce included thousands of these words in Finnegans Wake.
One of the first publications of Debord are his "Mémoires" (in cooperation with Asger Jorn) recollecting the interruptions, warping, shifts and clashes of his life in the years preceding the publication and showing the mechanisms of memory, recollection and reassembly of fleeing time in a fluid medium like writing on water. The book only consists of quotations, connected by the splatters of paint, the so-called "supporting structures" by Asger Jorn. It is a composition of texts and images found in newspapers, books, pamphlets, etc.
Guy Debord, Mémoires. Structures Portantes d'Asger Jorn, 1958
Debord's films are collages of other films, newsreels, publicity films, political propaganda, cut up and interrupted and accompanied by his texts exemplifying the situationist method of détournement.
"Any elements, no matter where they are taken from, can be used to make new combinations. The discoveries of modern poetry regarding the analogical structure of images demonstrate that when two objects are brought together, no matter how far apart their original contexts may be, a relationship is always formed. Restricting oneself to a personal arrangement of words is mere convention. The mutual interference of two worlds of feeling, or the juxtaposition of two independent expressions, supersedes the original elements and produces a synthetic organization of greater efficacy. Anything can be used. [...]
Détournement not only leads to the discovery of new aspects of talent; in addition, clashing head-on with all social and legal conventions, it cannot fail to be a powerful cultural weapon in the service of a real class struggle. The cheapness of its products is the heavy artillery that breaks through all the Chinese walls of understanding."
Guy Debord, A User's Guide to Détournement
"Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author's phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea."
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 207
"What is at stake here, I believe, is the close tie between cinema and history. Where does the tie come from and what is the history involved?
What is at stake is the specific function of the image and its eminently historical character. There are a couple of important details here. First man is the only being who is interested in images as such. Animals are very interested in images, but only to the extent that they are fooled. You can show a male fish the image of a female and the male will eject his sperm; you can fool a bird with the image of another bird, in order to trap it. But when the animal realizes it's dealing with an image, it loses interest completely. Now, man is an animal who is interested in images when he has recognized them as such. [...]
The specific character of cinema stems from montage. [...] There are two transcendental conditions of montage, repetition and stoppage. [...] There is no need to shoot film anymore, but just to repeat and stop. [...] repetition is not the return of the identical; it is not the same as such that returns. The force and the grace of repetition, the novelty it brings us, is the return as the possibility of what was. Repetition restores the possibility of what was, renders it possible anew; it's almost a paradox. To repeat something is to make it possible anew. Here lies the proximity of repetition and memory. Memory cannot give us back what was, as such: that would be hell. Instead, memory restores possibility to the past. [...]
Thus cinema does the opposite of the media. What is always given in the media is the fact, what was, without its possibility, its power: we are give a fact before which we are powerless."
Giorgio Agamben, Repetition and Stoppage
(and at last!) Theatre choreography (of memory)
Theatre as the idea of the theatre – the idea of memory
Theatre as scene – as scene of violence / scene of crime
Memory creates distance. It needs space and creates the space required for theatre.
There are two kinds of remembrance: an artificial one (ars memoriae) and an involuntary one (Proust's mémoire involontaire).
According to a story reported by Cicero, Quintilian and others the art of memory was discovered by Simonides of Ceos when he recited a poem in honour of Castor and Pollux at a banquet and the host only paid him half of his remuneration and told him to get the rest from Castor and Pollux. Shortly after Simonides was called out because two young men wanted to talk to hem. He left the banquet, but could not find anybody outside. In his absence the hall of the banquet crashed and all guests were crushed beyond recognition. Only because Simonides remembered, who had been seated where the corpses could be identified. This is how he recognized the importance of regular constellations for remembrance.
The use of images for words enhances memory and the mechanical/digital storage of memory on disks and sticks potentially deletes it, i.e. reduces its accessibility.
This is where Camillo's theatre of memory comes into play – an early example of spatial arrangement of knowledge.
1532 Wigle of Aytta writes from Padia to Erasmus that a certain Giulio Camillo is the talk of the town: „ They say this man built a type of amphitheater, a construction miraculously lending everybody who is admitted as spectator the ability to dispute as elegantly as Cicero."
Wigle visits Camillo in Venice and reports in his letters that he actually found a theatre that was bigger than a model so that at least 2 person could enter at the same time. „The work is made of wood, with many pictures inside and full of small boxes. There are various orders and zones. To each figure and each ornament he assigns a special place." Erasmus, Epistolae
L'idea del teatro by Giulio Camillo
Alexander Kluge concentrated his production of films and books for the past 20 years almost exclusively on special emissions that are produced by his own company and by law have to be broadcast on private TV channels in Germany. In these short films he focuses on themes that are either ignored or not adequately presented in most of the other TV programs which are mainly busy administering boredom at breakneck speed. He generously attributes time to real and fake interviews with scientists, politicians, writers, philosophers, artists or reports on opera and theatre performances and by the way the programs are configured alone makes clear what lacks in most other TV programs.
Transgressing borders [at least]
To sum up or in guise of a conclusion:
"Brothers in arms! I need hardly say that this lecture has not been about solving a pictorial riddle for its own sake – especially since it cannot here be illuminated at leisure, but only caught in a cinematographic spotlight.
The isolated and highly provisional experiment that I have undertaken here is intended as a plea for an extension of the methodological borders of our study of art, in both material and spatial terms.
Until now, a lack of adequate general evolutionary categories has impeded art history in placing its materials at the disposal of the – still unwritten – ‘historical psychology of human expression'. By adopting either an unduly materialistic or an unduly mystical stance, our young discipline blocks its own panoramic view of history. It gropes toward an evolutionary theory of its own, somewhere between the schematisms of political history and the dogmatic faith in genius. In attempting to elucidate the frescoes in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara, I hope to have shown how an iconological analysis that lets itself not discourage by the inhibitions of a border guard and treats the ancient, medieval, and modern times as a connected epoch and analyses the works of the most free and applied arts as equivalent documents of expression – how such a method, by taking pains to illuminate one single obscurity, can cast light on great and universal evolutionary processes in all their interconnectedness."
Aby Warburg, Italian Art and International Astrology in the Palazzo Schifanoia (1912)
Aby Warburg is no painter, no poet and he does not want to confine his research to the traditional boundaries of art history – therefore interpreters often discuss his work in terms of the art production of his time.
Guy Debord postulated an escape from the sphere socially attributed to art. His first film only showed the white screen and complete darkness accompanied by spoken text and ended in 24 minutes of darkness and silence. One of his first books entitled "Memories" was bound in sand paper scratching anybody handling it and his later films and books violated traditional and expected forms to make clear that their goal was beyond the world of art.
Alexander Kluge's programs can be seen as a laboratory investigating human behaviour and mapping human experience in order to define elements of new forms of living together.
The laboratory "versehen" collected the experiences in various fields in an open forum generously giving time and space for discussions and presentation of documents of experiences and productions outside traditional theatre, film, music or dance: performances out of performances. The main focus was on gathering ideas on leaving the labyrinth of art by transcending its level, changing the dimension like the classic inventor of antiquity Daedalus who rose to the third dimension to escape from the two-dimensional labyrinth.
Most memorable among the inspiring discussions and presentations were the films presented by Georg Schöllhammer, for example focussing on yawning and gnawing, i.e. the standard bourgeois double-bind of boredom and anxiety; rituals as psychodrama of staged revolts in Jean Rouch's "Les maîtres fous" blurring the genres of ethnographic document, psychoanalytical analysis and political satire to achieve troubling intensity by mixing document and fiction in a valid depiction of colonialism; music performed by untrained musicians opening wide arrays of unheard new facets of classic interpretations; or Dziga Vertov's use of the sounds and movements of industrial production and everyday life to create a symphony interspersed with self-referential reflection on the new art of moving images and its possibilities of new perceptions.
Lots of new incentives for future work.
Aby Warburg, Gesammelte Schriften. Studienausgabe, ed. by Horst Bredekamp, Michael Diers, Kurt W. Forster, Nicolas Mann, Salvatore Settis und Martin Warnke. Die Erneuerung der heidnischen Antike. Kulturwissenschaftliche Beiträge zur Geschichte der europäischen Renaissance, hg. v. Horst Bredekamp und Michael Diers (Reprint of the edition by Gertrud Bing with cooperation of Fritz Rougemont from 1932), Berlin 1998 [GS I.1, I.2]; Der Bilderatlas Mnemosyne, ed. by Martin Warnke with cooperation of Claudia Brink, second enlarged edition: Berlin 2003 (first edition 2000) [GS II.1]; English translation: Aby Warburg, The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity, Los Angeles 1999, p. 1–75.
Aby M. Warburg, „Per Monstra ad Sphaeram". Sternglaube und Bilddeutung. Vortrag in Gedenken an Franz Boll und andere Schriften 1923 bis 1925, ed. by Davide Stimilli with cooperation of Claudia Wedepohl, München-Hamburg: Dölling und Galitz 2008.
Ernst H. Gombrich, Aby Warburg, An Intellectual Biography, London 1970, dt: Aby Warburg. Eine intellektuelle Biografie, Hamburg 1992,
Georges Didi-Huberman, L'Image Survivante. Histoire de l'Art et Temps des Fantômes selon Aby Warburg, Paris 2002.
Guy Debord, Œuvres cinématographiques complètes. 1952 – 1978, Paris: Editions Champ Libre 1978, p. 5–15, reedited: Gallimard 1994.
Guy Debord, Contre le cinéma, Aarhus 1964; German translation: Gegen den Film. Filmskripte, Hamburg: Edition Nautilus 1978.
Guy Debord, La société du spectacle, Paris: Buchet-Castel 1967, Champ Libre 1971; Gallimard 1992, English translation: The Society of the Spectacle, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, New York: Zone Books, 1994, alternative translations by Fredy Perlman, Detroit: Red & Black 1977 and Ken Knabb, London: Rebel Press 2001; German translation: Die Gesellschaft des Spektakels, translated by Jean-Jacques Raspaud, Berlin: Edition Tiamat 1996.
Andrew Hussey, The Game of War. The Life and Death of Guy Debord, London: Jonathan Cape 2001.
Vincent Kaufmann, Guy Debord. La révolution au service de la poésie, Paris : Fayard 2001 ; German translation: Guy Debord. Die Revolution im Dienste der Poesie, Berlin : Edition Tiamat 2004.
Internationale Situationniste. Édition augmentée, Paris : Fayard 1997 German translation: Situationistische Internationale. Gesammelte Ausgaben des Organs der Situationistischen Internationale, 2 volumes, Hamburg: Edition Nautilus 1977.
Debord's films are available in a DVD edition including 4 booklets with additional information: Guy Debord, Œuvres cinématographiques complètes, Gaumont Video 2005.
By the author
– „Sturmlauf an die Grenze" in: Aby Warburg, Bildersammlung zur Geschichte von Sternglaube und Sternkunde, Hamburg: Dölling und Galitz 1993, ISBN 3-926174-22-6.
– „Trafic" in: Eikon. Internationale Zeitschrift für Photographie & Medienkunst, Heft 7/8, Wien: Turia & Kant 1993.
– „Les sentiers perdus de la mémoire" in: Trafic no.9. Revue de Cinéma, Paris : P.O.L.1994, ISBN 2-86744-394-6
– Begleitmaterial zur Ausstellung »Aby Warburg, Mnemosyne«, Hamburg: Dölling und Galitz Verlag 1994, 2. um ein Vorwort und Aby Warburgs "Einleitung" enlarged reedition 2006.
– „Fritz Saxls Ausstellungen nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg in Wien", in: Politik der Präsentation. Museum und Ausstellung in Österreich 1918–1945. Hrsg. v. Herbert Posch u. Gottfried Fliedl, Wien: Turia + Kant 1996, ISBN 3-85132-132-4.
– „La Clef des Songes. Il materiale Mnemosyne di Aby Warburg e il linguaggio della memoria" in: Quaderni Warburg Italia 1, Siena: Cadmo 2003.
– „Metamorphosen des Flussgottes und der Nymphe: Aby Warburgs Denk-Haltungen und die Psychoanalyse" (gemeinsam mit Wolfram Pichler und Gudrun Swoboda) in: Die Couch. vom Denken im Liegen, München-Berlin-London-New York: Prestel 2006.
– „Schweigen Geheul Applaus. Zu den Filmen Guy Debords", in: Maske und Kothurn. Pitanga Lectures 2001–2006, hg. v. Klemens Gruber und Franz Grafl, Heft 3, Wien: Böhlau 2006.
– „Mapping statt zapping", in: Maske und Kothurn. Die Bauweise von Paradiesen, für Alexander Kluge, hg. v. Klemens Gruber und Christian Schulte, Heft 1, Wien: Böhlau 2007.
 The subject was chosen, the characters conceived and named, their relations to one another determined, and the situations clearly outlined, all beforehand. The material was divided into acts and scenes, with a prologue. The situations were made clear, together with the turn of action and the outcome of each scene. When this general outline (called also scenario or canvas) was satisfactorily filled out there was left an opportunity for actors to heighten, vary, and embellish their parts as their genius might suggest.
 "Humpty Dumpty is one of the book's basic symbols: the great cosmic egg whose fall, like the drunken fall of Finnegan, suggests the fall of Lucifer and the fall of man. Humpty Dumpty himself is packed up in the seventh hundred-letter thunderclap portmanteau: Bothallchoractorschumminaroundgansumuminarumdrumstrumtruminahumptadumpwaultopoofoolooderamaunsturnup!" Lewis Carroll, "Through the Looking-Glass", in: The Annotated Alice, Harmondsworth 1960