Tag: Lyotard

The Great Ephemeral Skin: Kara Walker, Matthew Barney, Laura Mullen

by on Nov.08, 2010

I’ve been fascinated with Lyotard’s notion of the Great Ephemeral Skin, developed in his book Libidinal Economy, which imagines a libidinous body as a kind of Moebius skin, which has not got two side, but only one, and therefore neither exterior nor interior. Yet this Great Ephemeral Skin hosts a radical contiguity which not only lays interior and exterior out in a continuous surface but also mashes together all other categories—

“[…] the immense membrane of the libidinal ‘body’ […] is made from the most heterogeneous textures, bone, epithelium, sheets to write on, charged atmospheres, swords, glass cases, peoples, grasses, canvases to paint. All these zones are joined end to end in a band which has no back to it, a Moebius band which interests us not because it is closed, but because it is one-sided.”

I find this figure immensely interesting and Lyotard’s vertiginous way of writing about it, which contains many dizzy(-ing) lists, even more so. Amazingly, I find this figure popping back in to my head when I consider any number of artists and writers whose work configures a radical contiguity like this—Kara Walker, for one, whose lateral panoramics force the viewer to mime reading, black on white, to encounter body after body pressed into a syntax of violence, in which not only are hierarchies of master and slave continually broken down, flipped and recycled, but also hierarchies of person and object, weapon and body, before and after, cause and effect. All are flattened out and reworked by this reading, which, as one critic has observed, establishes no vanishing point, and therefore no prescribed point of view or critical distance.

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