Adrian Martin on Meaghan Morris

Here via Matthew, Adrian Martin speaks on the early publications that were produced by collectives in Sydney in the late-1970s and early-1980s:

Here, I must explain something to you. I have never considered Deleuze an esoteric, cold, abstract or ultra-academic writer. When I was 17, one of the first ‘intellectual’ books I bought was a collection of essays (many translated from French and Italian) edited by several renegade Australians, called Language, Sexuality and Subversion. Could any 17 year old, precocious intellectual resist a book with a title like that? One of the editors, Meaghan Morris, went on to become one of the best and most inspiring film critics in my country, and she was literally ‘schooled in France’, in the textual techniques of Barthes and Genette, the ‘urbanism’ of De Certeau, the feminism of Le Doeuff, and the political analyses of Foucault. She brought all of this, and more – Deleuze included – into her work as a columnist for a newspaper that was mainly devoted to financial speculation! She was (and remains) an absolute model for me (you can read some of her great texts in Rouge). So Deleuze was never, for me, inaccessible: he was the great ‘tool box’ as he called himself, he encouraged his readers to take his ideas in any direction they wished. He proposed abstract ideas – all ideas are abstractions, after all! – which were designed to inspire concrete applications, experiments in every kind of domain (including film criticism). So, as a young guy, I connected immediately to his powerful ideas about desire, assemblages, the rhizome, multiplicity, etc, well before the project of his cinema books began in the ‘80s. I would have to say that, even at his most dense, Deleuze is always clear, in fact he’s the standard for limpid, logical, step-by-step reasoning that takes you from the everyday to the stars – read the transcripts of his class lectures on the Internet, what a great teacher he was! I have always thought: if you are a young person and you read Deleuze mocking and expanding the writings of classic psychoanalysts, as he does in the great text “Interpretation of Children’s Utterances”, or you read Guattari describing what it is to face the line of police with shields and batons charging you to bash your skull in (see Garrel’s magnificent Les Amants réguliers) – then you can never be the same again! (There are certain artists and thinkers that are especially important and fateful for the young to encounter: Deleuze, Godard, Hawks, Cioran, De Palma.) Reading Deleuze truly changed my life – so I will not stand to hear him denigrated as cryptic or academic or cut off from the real world!

To make a general point of this: what did I really find in Deleuze, beyond the substance of certain ideas, certain models? This goes to the very heart of the investigation into criticism that you are making at Miradas. There is something in criticism I value perhaps above everything else: it is what I can call the ‘personal voice’. I do not mean the autobiographical or confessional content of writing, which often bores and irritates me – and, in fact, most writers ‘in person’ are absolutely nothing like what you imagine them to be from their writing! No, I mean the way in which an individual writer can communicate and draw you into his or her own ‘system’, their way of seeing, feeling and processing films, as well as the world. In this sense, no critic is either right or wrong in their judgements; they can only succeed (or fail) to be convincing or persuasive, to let you experience a new or specific way of looking and thinking. Writing is rhetorical, in this sense, but it is also creative, imaginative, poetic: this is the point where criticism approaches art (although it never supplants art!), and all the best critics (like Jonathan Rosenbaum, Nicole Brenez, Judith Williamson or Roger Tailleur) reach it. The Surrealists (who have been a big influence on me) always upheld this principle of the ‘personal voice’ above all else, and I find a more recent statement of this principle from Jean Baudrillard in The Perfect Crime (1995): “As for ideas, everyone has them. What counts is the poetic singularity of the analysis. That alone can justify writing, not the wretched critical objectivity of ideas. There will never be any resolving the contradictoriness of ideas, except in the energy and felicity of language.”

This reminds me that I found another one of these publications that Martin refers to in a second hand bookshop on Friday. The first one I found was on Post-Marxism and this new one is on Foucault. I like the covers. (Excuse me while I apply some nerd.) The aethsetic is very Transformers.

(click for flickr page)

The “Beyond Marxism?: Interventions After Marx” was edited by Judith Allen and Paul Patton published in 1983 by Intervention Publications. The “Michel Foucault: POwer, Truth, Strategy” was edited by Meaghan Morris and Paul Patton published 1979 by Feral Publications. The Post-Marxism one is interesting because it introduces the problematic of difference for Marxism throiugh esays written by familiar names (Gross, Gatens, Allen, Patton). I haven’t finished the Foucault volume yet. So far the exposition of the post-war ‘French scene’ by Francois Chatelet and translated by Morris in fantastic. Also I have read some of Patton’s comments on the (non)transition of Foucault’s work from archaeology to genealogy. Also Patton and Morris provide several pages of corrections to translations of Foucault’s work.

Some sort of history of these texts may be worth compiling. Perhaps post-PhD…

Oh this other comment by Martin is interesting, that is, if you were trying to conceive of a biopolitics of the image, for example…:

AM: To use a sports metaphor, you’ve got to keep your eye not only on the ball, but on the crowd, too! I think it is a mistake to think you are ever, as a film critic, only looking ‘at the object’ in pristine isolation, like some experiment in chemical separation. Remember, the critic, no matter what he or she might think, is always already some reflection, some symptom, of a larger audience. As I mentioned before, writing about film is always about capturing fugitive sensibilities as they form and die, at a very rapid rate, within the cultural sphere. A sensibility is a ‘mood’ or obsession that suddenly coalesces before your eyes, bringing together and charging up very banal, everyday things with very lofty, mythic ones. And all these things, banal or lofty, are naturally funneled through the structures and media of our daily lives, everything from the shape of architecture around us to the technological tools we learn to use and then eventually discard.

14 replies on “Adrian Martin on Meaghan Morris”

  1. Colin Gordon has all but given open permission to any interested party to compile and edit all the issues of I&C/Ideology and Consciousness, which was a vehicle used to publish and translate Foucault’s lectures and the work of his students. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a single copy – not even in the largest research library in the country!

  2. You guys will have to beat me in these nerdy collector games. I have been building a little library of Feral Publications for a few years now – and also have some Ideology and Consciousness issues alongside my early edition New Left Reviews! Goulds is a good place to start huntin’…

  3. IC, hey? I\’ll have to keep an eye open for those, too.

    well, mel! is that the weapony glove type thing I see being thrown down? (there, somewhere in the coded inertia of trans-server blogosphere space.) i think it best you do a blog post on your nerdastic finds so then, as they say, the game can be on!

    my other nerdiliciousness is in the form of early cultural studies journals 🙂


    (Also I intend to scan some of this stuff and just post it to the blog, esp. the corrections to translations.)

  4. Glen, thanks for giving space to that interview which has come to the Net via cinephiles first in Spain and then Italy! In reference to the early ’80s material, all that ‘archaeology of cultural studies’ (when very few people locally were even using that term/label!), I have an enormous (but still incomplete) collection of all those ephemeral/short-lived journals of the period: FROGGER, THIRD DEGREE, VIRGIN PRESS, INTERVENTION, WORKING PAPERS, etc etc. Some great and forgotten stuff in there (among other things, people translated lots of strange foreign stuff then! – unlike today) – these days I think about whether I should donate it all to some library, for posterity – hardly any of it seems to be trackable via standard research paths. Any ideas from anyone?

  5. hi Adrian, thanks for visiting this speck of the blogosphere 😉

    Regarding your collection of texts this may be an excellent opportunity to actually produce an archive for Cultural Studies. Quite often I have noticed questions on various email lists regarding the transmission and circulation of particular texts and bodies of work across international lines. This may be more pressing for those, like me, who have come at this stuff from the late-1990s compared to others who actually lived the dissemination of ideas.

    To produce an archive of these texts may be a good first step towards bringing the Kittler-esque question of circulation back to the materiality of ideas and how they were distributed in concrete ways, which is compared to talking about historico-intellectual blocks of abstract ideas (modernism, postmodernism, structuralism, poststructuralism, etc) as if such ideas didn’t have to be written, published, circulated and read in some way. (The second step would be a PhD level research project interviewing various people involved and writing a history, or something like that.)

    If I had any pull at a university (and not an about-to-finish phd) I’d requisition some funds to help transport your texts somewhere, probably here (being UWS CCR), and then organise the complete scanning of the texts to produce an electronic copy (which would need hiring someone to do the scanning, and the computer equipment to do it). Store the actual texts in a proper archive (a bookshelf in the research centre) with the understanding that their use and access is available to scholars, but have the electronic versions made available to free scholars from the burden of such transport. Perhaps you would need to make it subscription content to cover the costs of storage and scanning, which would need to be provided by universities I guess. Money would also be needed for the site design, too, if it was to be subscription based. Call it the Early Cultural Studies Archive. I am sure once word got around people would be willing to donate texts, or at least lend them on permanent loan, or at the very minimum lend them so they can be scanned. Acknowledgement of such contributions would be made through the online portal to the archive.

    Well that is how I’d do an archive, if that is what you meant. (I have been thinking about the thousands of car magazines I have collected for my PhD! lol)

  6. Here is a prototype for what could happen if there was time / inclination. It would be great to get an ARC grant application together between institutions for something like this. It would be a big effort tho! Maybe post-PhD project Glen? Let\’s keep talking about it…

  7. hmmm tried fixing that link. didn’t work.

    i am the suck at coding.

    big effort!

    a “cultural studies history” node of a certain research network…?

    I am totally interested in thinking about the interface between events and structures (or events of different durations that extend beyond ‘ephemeral’ events and operate as structure) of various types. Like actual events of a particular intellectual scene or whatever and tracing this through the archive of wonderful little publications.

    but I am not thinking about anything else except for my immediate bodily needs and finishing this monstrosity of a PhD.

    Its heart shall soon be pierced buffy-styling in a fit of intellecturoticism. w00t!

    And I shall be as triumphant as a two year old!

  8. Hello. I was looking for “Adrian Martin” and found this! If anyone from this exchange is still out there and looking for 70s/80s small journals, you may like to know that I donated my own big collection to the National Library in Canberra a few years ago to save them from probable bushfire. Mine is more Sydney-oriented than Adrian’s would be, the cultural difference were wide back then. I hope Adrian has saved his!

  9. Hi Meaghan, thanks for the info! Very interesting.

    I think tracing the movement of ideas through the materiality of discourse in early cultural studies in Australia (as a sort of FOucaultian project looking at the archive and the intersection of discourse with particular situations and institutions at the time) is a very worthy project. It is the sort of thing I would like to do for fun after I finish my diss. Now I know that you have donated your texts to the national library I could take weekend jaunts down there. It would be very relaxing and a bit fun compared to the diss!

    (Also, you may not know this but I am currently a phd student at the CCR. We have met at a book launch at gleebooks where I now work post-scholarship.)

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