A Conversation About Re-: An Errant Glossary with Cristina Baldacci and Francesco Giusti


All of a sudden, while our groups were discussing, we realised that the prefix ‘re’ could be a strong, yet at the same time open-ended, unconstraining way of binding together our interdisciplinary research.


After applying to CRASSH to set up the idea of a Re- Interdisciplinary Research Network, Clare Foster visited Berlin’s Institute for Cultural Inquiry, whose ERRANS, in Time project seemed to be thinking along similar lines. The CRASSH Research Network looks at cultural repetition more pragmatically, interested in the politics of culture; the ICI Berlin with a more theoretical, philosophical angle – a complementarity that was exciting to all. And both projects express an interdisciplinary ethos and mission that CRASSH, Cambridge and the ICI Berlin hold profoundly in common. ICI Fellow Cristina Baldacci became a Re- Interdisciplinary Network co-convenor, and she and co-Fellow Francesco Giusti visited CRASSH on February 6th, 2019 to respond to the annual ‘Re-‘ lecture given by Richard Coyne. The ICI’s Re-: An Errant Glossary (2019) was published just the week before, so the Re- Network was delighted to also celebrate its launch at CRASSH. Looking forward, Foster, Baldacci and Giusti are planning a series of Re- events for 2019-2020 under the heading Canons Vs Icons
 

Clare Foster (CF): How did the book come to be? 


Cristina Baldacci (CB): While we were Fellows at the ICI Berlin as part of the Core Project ERRANS, in Time (2016-18), we started to think what common topics and questions could correlate both our personal research interests and our collective work on different notions of time and temporality. In September 2017 Francesco was organizing a symposium on the idea and practice of return in medieval culture (with Daniel Reeve); while, at the same time, I was planning a symposium on reenactment in contemporary arts and theory (with Clio Nicastro and Arianna Sforzini). All of a sudden, while our groups were discussing, we realised that the prefix ‘re’ could be a strong, yet at the same time open-ended, unconstraining way of binding together our interdisciplinary research, and a great prompt around which to continue our pondering of non-linear and non-teleological time. It was one of those moments after which, as they say here, it was a tale already told.

Francesco Giusti (FG): So on 25th September 2017 we had a first workshop of all the ICI Fellows, and it was called just Re-. Something really happened that day; the workshop was an ‘event’ in the proper sense of the word. We discovered that this simple prefix made room for a truly interdisciplinary discussion: as a formal constraint, it worked to bring together papers from literary studies, art history and theory, psychoanalysis, philosophy, disability studies, gender studies, film studies, history, politics, and medieval studies. Each ICI Fellow was asked to give two 10-minute papers, both focused on a ‘re-’ word, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and these morning and afternoon multidisciplinary sessions each led to an animated discussion. We were all so enthusiastic about the results that the idea of a publication came up immediately.

CB: On that day we all discovered something we hadn’t noticed before. Unlike the ‘de-’ or ‘un-’, for example, the ‘re-’ prefix doesn’t establish a predetermined critical methodology but instead generates unpredictable resonances. It can actually help to unsettle particular ideas, and most importantly, rethink critical approaches and far too linear temporalities.

FG: The only question was how to translate such ‘event’ into a book without losing its quickness and all the internal resonances it had generated. That’s why we came up with the idea of a kind of brief dictionary, or glossary.

CF: Yes – what appealed to you about using that format? 

CB: As Francesco just said, we wanted to maintain the open structure of the ‘Re-’ workshop, which was a kind of experiment. The glossary format allowed us to maintain the vitality of the work, both as individual researchers and as a group. We discussed the format of the book a lot. On the one hand we were determined to keep it as lively and open as the initial event, on the other hand we wanted to bring out for readers all the unexpected connections among our papers/entries. We were attracted to the form of a glossary, but with a loosened strictness. For instance, there is more than one entry for the same word in our ‘errant’ glossary.

CF: So this was part of converting a live experimental event into a print publication.

FG: It was the policy of the workshop that one person could explore the same re- word twice, if they wanted, and the same terms could be explored by different people. What we found out during the process is that while talking or writing about any ‘re-’ word, many other ‘re-’ words came up in the text, as if a different critical vocabulary was suggesting itself. For this reason, and to generate further connections among the entries, we added an index of all the re-words that appear in the contributions at the end of the publication, so that the reader can navigate the glossary, beyond the individual entries. If the ‘re-’ prefix, with its double meaning of ‘back’ and ‘again,’ signals complex movements and multidirectional processes in time and space, we wanted to allow for those movements also within our glossary. This ‘randomness’ underlined for us that just by gathering together or collecting these different explorations we were also raising questions about deeper, translinguistic connections. For us it is this question-raising that is the value of such interdisciplinary, open-ended inquiry. 


CF: That is very much the ethos of the Re- Interdisciplinary Network too – and of CRASSH more widely. Raising new questions and issues that don’t necessarily fit in any one disciplinary vocabulary, or tradition. 

CB: For us this was one of the things the form of a glossary announced. Such a short glossary, which resembles more an ongoing list, is overtly an elementary form of knowledge, which signals potential, openness and inclusiveness. We liked the structure of incompleteness the book allowed. It seemed to suggest that new words could be progressively added to the index, a virtual space saying ‘Insert other re- words here’. At the beginning we were thinking of – if not an entire series – then certainly future related volumes. 

CF: That's great – you are taking the list form and using it to create openness, when it is often associated in other contexts with closure, definition, and authority.

CB: Yes, that was the idea of subverting the glossary form with a short, playful publication. And that was the idea that made Christoph Holzhey, the ICI director, and the academic staff think of the Institute itself starting a new publication series for its ‘Cultural Inquiry’ strand, both in print and online. We have another book about to come out, a selection of the papers that were given at the symposium I co-organised in November 2017: Over and Over and Over Again: Re-enactment Strategies in Contemporary Arts and Theory. These books are significant because they mark the ICI beginning its own publication series and (after publishing fourteen books with Turia + Kant) producing its own open access volumes – quickly, cheaply and immediately available. We want the books to circulate and the ideas to circulate with them – and to connect across each volume. The books that are part of the ICI’s longer project ERRANS, which was started in 2014 and is still ongoing, will all resonate with each other, as well as stand alone. 

CF: This is a very ‘Re-’ idea – that any individual item is always meaningful both on its own and in terms of various aggregates it is seen as part of... 

CB: Yes, this is one of the points made in my chapters on reenactment and on recirculation in the book – referring to Philippe Parreno’s and Hito Steyerl’s work – that an image is always more than just a ‘thing’, whether virtual or material. If one considers it – like Parreno does – as no longer a single entity but a kind of cluster or chain (of different images) it becomes part of a circulation process, a dynamic and operative structure (see Reenactment: Errant Images in Contemporary Art). Steyerl sees images as ‘nodes of energy and matter’ bound to a relentless peregrination, which shape and affect the world. That means they do not only present but also re-present reality; that is, fundamentally, they make it (see Recirculation: The Wandering of Digital Images in Post-Internet Art). 

CF: Francesco – is that ‘never standing alone’ idea part of your chapter too, about Recitation (and Re-citation) – the idea that a repeated poem is always simultaneously both itself, and an example of its category or ‘genre’, which, when recognised, gives it a special relationship to time?

FG: Yes, I am interested in asking how present poems relate to past and future poems and how two readings of the same poem can connect with each other across time and space without losing their respective historicity. This is obviously connected with the modalities in which a ‘genre’ establishes itself. The lyric poem presents an interesting case, because this is a genre that has been associated for a long time with the idea of ‘song,’ thus, the dimension of performance is particularly relevant to its understanding. Two and a half millennia of literary production have contributed to the shaping of the Romantic idea of the lyric poem, but that idea just as much has contributed to produce poems that intend to be ‘lyric.’ In my first contribution, I deploy the English word ‘recite’ (from the Latin recitare: ‘read aloud, repeat from memory, declaim’) activating two different meanings at different moments: ‘to repeat aloud’ and ‘to quote again’ (citare – as in the English word ‘cite’). There is a kind of double act going on: the recitation of the poem and the re-citation of prior lyric gestures (Recitation. Lyric Time(s) I). You can see an awareness of this double act in the earliest lyric poems – Sappho, for example. 

CF: It was interesting doing the Re-: An Errant Glossary book launch at CRASSH with Richard Coyne, because both your approaches see repetition in terms of patterns – whole worlds or environments, and how they work. Both of you look at how repetition works to create worlds (in his case, the everyday experience of urban space), offering propositional, rather definitive responses to thinking about the cultural affordances of repetition. And both your approaches tried to think about cultural repetition beyond language – in your case, by including re- words in multiple European languages (Proust’s ‘recherche’ for example).

CB: The key thing we both understood was that difference, or rather specificity, of time and place means a repeated thing can never be the same twice. Sameness is a paradox – it both is and is not. In Western culture, at least from ancient sculpture onwards (I am thinking for example of Salvatore Settis’ exhibition on Serial/Portable Classic, your Re- event) to contemporary art and its renewed obsession with copy, repetition, multiplication, and seriality, this paradox has always been both a challenge and a productive source of inspiration for artists.

FG: Lyric poetry provides an opportunity to reflect on the repetition of language and on language as repetition. Indeed, it seems to consist of words to be repeated in diverse contexts with different meanings. And I think that in the lyric this happens not only at the level of words (diction), but also at the deeper level of gestures (action). If we look at the European lyric tradition, it is evident how different poems re-enact a limited selection of gestures across the centuries, such as the praise of the beloved, on which I focus in my second contribution to the errant glossary (Reversion. Lyric Time(s) II). So I am interested in the lyric not only as a literary genre of short verse writing, but also as a specific set of gestures that can be found in other literary contexts, in non-verbal arts, and even in certain speech acts that we perform or receive in our daily life (Richard Coyne mentioned a few interesting cases in his talk). 

CF: You can never step in the same river twice... as the ancient Greeks put it (Heraclitus). This condition of ‘both/and’ is the essential condition of theatre and performance – which is partly where the thinking behind the Re- Network at CRASSH came from. In our Re- seminars we have already found the interesting question is often to ask: who wants to claim ‘sameness’, when, and why? What does it enable? 

CB: Can we really speak of sameness? Does it really exist, especially when we think in aesthetic terms, when we refer to visual and performing arts? Warhol once said that what was thrilling about the silkscreen process was that you could ‘get the same image, slightly different each time’. 

CF: That’s why I’ve coined the term ‘recognition capital’. Seeing sameness is part of seeing culture in terms of separately-existing things, rather than people – rather than the collective experiences that ‘things’ enable.

FG: Yes – ‘sameness’ can only be claimed retrospectively as part of a discourse. What should be investigated with a renewed effort, especially in our current socio-political situation, is not so much whether such a thing as ‘sameness’ may or may not exist but, given that it provides ground for identity discourses of any kind, who claims it and for what reasons and ends. That’s why the Re- Interdisciplinary Network at CRASSH is embarking in a critical endeavour that seems to us at the ICI extremely significant today.


 


The views, thoughts and opinions expressed on the CRASSH blog belong solely to the authors and do not represent the views of CRASSH or the University of Cambridge.

Posted: Tuesday 12 March 2019

Contributor: Clare Foster