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Pay Attention Mother Fuckers
The Lacanian Review "Urgent!" Issue 6 Winter 2018
Video Image for Pay Attention Mother Fuckers


I am writing while on American Airlines 10:30 am flight 2521 from New York City to Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, on the morning of 9/11, 2018, a Tuesday coincidentally. The outdoor temperature upon take off is 74˚. This is the only unbroken time I have to write, a condition not inappropriate to the Urgent! theme of this Lacanian Review. I am writing on my fidget spinner, otherwise known as an iPhone. In a surreal, contingent occurrence, before I boarded the plane, an interval unwound in which the mad world, or a recess of it, came to a sudden, breathtaking halt. While at New York’s LaGuardia airport, in line, one body away from stepping into the full-body scanner, at exactly 9:11 AM, a silent memorial was imposed by the airport. Instantaneously, the crowd cacophony ceased, and a mass of respiring, perspiring, singular bodies surfaced in a temporal ground zero. Conveyor belts stopped, TSA agents went stock-still, shuttle carts came to a standstill, and screening officers stood still at checkpoints along the line––the automaton of modern life was undone by a tuché of the real. Effectively, travel affectively unraveled. Minutes passed. Bodies began to twitch and shift, first with impatience then anxiety. How many minutes had transpired? One felt like five, five like ten… After eleven uneasy minutes had elapsed, the machinery of maintaining daily semblants whirred back to life. Framed by the airport’s aeronautical architecture, the breach was uncanny, for an effect of 9/11 was now a cause. Un-homelike: in a dialectical terrorizing twist, homeland security de-formed into homeland insecurity. As the time for comprehending went unending, it perforated personal comfort zones. What was meant to commemorate and placate instead unsettled and alarmed and the urgency to conclude was palpable. In that network of singularities, within that insufferable reverberating moment, it was as if we passed through a logical space-time hole, through which the real of 9/11 emerged from all efforts to evade it. “If you see something, say something.” We did, but it was unspeakable, not for reasons of ‘then’ but the irruption of the uncertain ‘now.’

I am traveling to Fort Worth to give a lecture on my artwork at a museum to an art world audience most likely steeped in the capitalist-university discourse. To cipher the madness of 21st life, and my own collateral subjectivity within it, I refer to what I do as an operation, my approach as mental or deranged; that I currently make formations, recuperations, or derangements, as I neither cast nor carve material but recover and repurpose found objects littered or locked away in the studio and assemble or arrange them. I circulate these terms to mark distinctions from moribund art historical ones, e.g., conceptual art, minimalism, post-minimalism, institutional critique, installation art, etc. With this glossary, however tentatively and incrementally, I bring them psychoanalysis, the only viable, or is it liable, discourse given civilization and its dissents. While flying, with my gadget in airplane mode, I am grounded, disconnected from the punishing demands of email and social media, temporarily liberated from the madding world. Here, I’m disabled, powerless to post to Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, to feed the ADHD of our era of solitary Ones affected by jouissance, presciently and appropriately ciphered by the American artist, Bruce Nauman, in a 1973 lithograph, “Pay Attention Mother Fuckers.” This hypermodern cri-de-coeur circulates around the holes that puncture contemporary life, event horizons along which each electronic post hungers for a second a third a fourth… spewing a perpetual stream of narcissistic images in a feeding frenzy that gives consistency to the sovereign imagine. The enjoying substance voraciously embodies this parlay, first the twitch of each consecutive addictive upload, then the likes, hearts and emojis that ineluctably brighten the screen in their wake––like so many shots of dopamine to the brain, as science now confirms. With this perpetual push, there is no daily trumpery too mundane or mind-numbing to share, making the minutia indistinguishable from the momentous. All relevance is flattened into a not-all cataract of irrelevance, alluring and infinite. My hunch, at least here high in the sky, is that the insistence of attending to our parasitic devices, amphibiously habituating within two ecosystems while outfitting our cellular bodies with images, for each One is a poetry, producing both holes and meaning effects at once. As John Cage wrote in his Lecture on Poetry in 1949, “I have nothing to say / and I am saying it / and that is poetry / as I need it.”

(Behind the adorning screens what cannot be said or shown insists––dire, real, urgent! To inject an overplus of oversharing, if only to pierce the organic light-emitting diode membrane-screen to the ulterior dimension beyond, or topologically before: days ahead of my leaving New York my father was hospitalized in Baltimore. In my absence, while I’m in The Lone Star State, he will be transported to a rehabilitation facility. He married late at thirty-nine and is living long, very long, nearly ninety-nine. After my mother’s death sixteen years ago, he bought a muscle car––Mustang, convertible, racing stripe, spoiler. “Keep the drive alive!” as my brother, sister and I perforce repeatedly intone. Timeworn, nearing death, all that remains is a symptom. The father-body-symptom. Beck. Debility. Demand. An image sent to me by my sister, after a peripheral intravenous line was hastily removed from his forearm by a nurse technician, of his torn tissue-thin skin, carmine- and crimson-colored, will stay buried on my phone, with the other 5,700-plus images amassed there, or in a cloud.)

The lull of the plane interior, housing more screens then bodies, including mine, sustaining a virus I contracted weeks ago but only accurately diagnosed this morning, my body having made a break for it. As the airborne vessel sunders the sky above the Eastern Seaboard, each One on board is pacified by their particular viewing pleasure, Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty being the most popular, and perhaps appropriately symptomatic choice, from what I can tell from where I sit. But as the real now never strikes the same place twice, this craft that carries me, encased, stuttering visually with a multiplicity of screens, is a metaphor for life on the ground, now up in the air, free of the gravitational force of the Name-of-the-Father. And there is no eluding these imaginary interfaces, which blink and move and vie for my distraction, sublunary screens having been temporarily surrendered for, or off-lined as, airborne ones. The more the real encroaches, the more urgently each solitary One addictively scrambles to avoid it, by adding paradoxically to the dialectic that ultimately and expeditiously pushes towards the next pulsating encounter. As Jacques-Alain Miller writes in “The Unconscious and the Speaking Body”: “The only path that opens up beyond is for the parlêtre to make himself the dupe of a real, that is, to assemble a discourse in which the semblants clasp a real, a real in which one can believe with adhering to it, a real that does not carry any meaning, that is indifferent to meaning, and which cannot be any different from how it is. […] To be the dupe of the real – which is what I’m extolling – is the sole lucidity that is open to the speaking being by which he may orient himself.” But how in the disorientation of the 21st Century can any isolated One be faulted, within the integument of their techno-science induced autistic enjoyments, for wanting to do otherwise? As another lithograph, a poem, by Bruce Nauman reads, “People Die of Exposure.”

1:30 pm. We just landed Dallas/Fort Worth, where the outdoor temperature is 80˚.

Sent from my iPhone

Robert Buck © 2018


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