Beside the everything going wrong in order that it may go wrongly on again,
beside the dejected drooping limp dick snout,
beside the transvestite come-ons (see the recurrent moment when the coyote dresses up in a blonde wig to urge the Road Runner to slow down and get busy a minute, which, given the relatively incoherent gendering of the Road Runner, makes it not only queer but, more relevantly, interspecies fucking, and one that crosses all the instinct wires of eat or run),
beside the question of expanding credit that lingers behind it (as prediction of times to come, how else does he afford all these things which he uses to ensure the reproduction of his labor, and the consequence that the Roadrunner has nothing to do with sustenance),
beside the Roadrunner being our last century's finest figure of pure Drive, always seething forward, even as the space cannot be mapped, progress cannot be figured, there is no forward, and the urge to catch it is a latching onto its inconstant appearance in the realm of supposed coherence,
beside the question that it therefore isn't about hunger but about a project of recovering species being via technological apparatuses (the freezing and extension of the body into a set of dispensable products, somewhere there is an Acme graveyard with Acme tombstones for all the combusted, shattered ex-Acme products),
beside the fact that it is the cultural consideration of hostile objects par excellence, in which every commodity works wrongly but you never stop to consider stepping outside of the commodity, of making your own quick-drying cement or knives or bombs rather than relying on the technical ineptitude of the budget-rate Acme,
beside the fact that his failure is just that of being a non-virtuosic consumer,
besides all that,
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[start this at 3:00]
recall that moment, in all its permutations, when Coyote paints a canvas of a road continuing straight ahead and puts it, tipped vertically, to match a real road that is but which ends in a sheer cliff, and the Roadrunner speeds blithely into the illusion, and then a truck comes from it and flattens Coyote, and he suddenly suspends belief in materiality or a clear division between representation and what's the case, and he runs full speed into the canvas, tearing through, a tattered sabotage of the work and its purpose, now failed twice (to prevent a viewer from engaging with it fully, first, and then from allowing a viewer to do so), and Coyote hangs in the air, somewhere behind the torn curtain and the busted picture plane, and there is no ground beneath his feet?
Not some cool overcoming of the rules of the game, not a theoretical enterprise, not a rigorous examination of the conditions of visibility, but a last-ditch effort to have it be the case that those rules ever were and ever stayed the same. That would prove that you could control it all along, and that the taking apart of the rules would inaugurate a new set, stronger all the more for having been negated, like the burning of a king to bring back his sovereignty without the constraints of a figured body. That there could be Modernism, not a sloppy tangle of incoherent differing operations whose rules do not cohere.
If anything, the selection of the term "situation" by the SI gets something of this right, even if not for this reason: closer to Debord's love of strategic thinking, particularly of the military variety, the point is not that one constructs situations but that "situations" are all that there ever are, a variegated set of inconstant responses to a universal law of value but one which never makes itself manifest twice the same way and which registers the previous engagement with it: the capacity of one to have engaged, when such engagement is witnessed and marked by another, thereby means that such engagement cannot be repeated. And with each instance, the canvas or film or piece of rock is torn and stretched, shattered through or thicker for all its absorption and perforation, til it swells and and rips and droops and gapes, til all that can be seen are the holes, a ragged lace to be stood in front of for 17.0 to 2 to 29.2 to 32.5 seconds.
His paintings are those of versimillitude and trompe l'oeil, but they are so only in order to produce an encounter that will irreparably violate both the principle and the feathered body that enacts it.
And they are so only in terms of a failure, not an Adornian one, but one as follows, via a set of assumptions:
a) that there could be something coherent enough as a general Modernism (which would assure the constancy of the art in question, i.e. how it should work, such that two bodies engaging with it will have roughly the same experience, and the general disenchanting of its role, such that one who has "seen behind the curtain"/puts the paint on the wall can now see its potentially instrumental, and not aesthetic, role)
b) that not everyone has got the word about this new game in town, and, as such, still engages with it according to the old rules of the game
c) that there has not be a total clearing away of previous modes of art practice (there is still plenty of non-modernist stuff out there, and it's therefore reasonable for even the canny to expect that
d) that the tricking of the intellect leads to a necessary tricking of the body, such that the body will run up against harmful material conditions which the head did not adequately grasp, not being adequately up with the times
e) that you can disbelieve in the integrity of viewing and yet still use it to other ends, that you can correctly determine when and where one remains at the level of the painting as trompe l'oeil: that you can know better than yet still figure out how those who don't know will interact with the painting
On each ground, though, this comes entirely undone:
a) one engages deeply with the work while another is stopped up short, and the fact that one knows that it is, in fact, a trick to bring about a desired end does not guarantee that the work can and will function in this manner, for anyone other than the trickster, and only then in a negative dysfunctionality
[in addition, the very promise of a "general modernism" is a tricky one, given that part of its self-definition is the general coming undone, via particular interrogations of the limits of particular media, of a supposedly general set of conditions by which people engaged with aesthetic experiences. But, of course, it helps to decide that there were a coherent set of rules to start, and it's pretty clear that regimes of vision and aggregate modes of engagement aside, it takes something like a rhetoric of modernism to declare that there was a stable, however messy, pile of Art Before The Fall]
[the Roadrunner speeds through an idyllic setting]
b) Sure, there are those Roadrunners who don't get it, who seem to plow blindly ahead through the pain, but this one "gets it" in a very convenient, perverse, and cunning way, gets that modernism has nothing to do with a monolithic new rule of perception (if it's a painting, it is a material incident, it is not a space of vision to be entered), that it's an uneven set of borrowing, deploying, dcclaring, and revising, all those things that you supposedly had to wait for a post prefix to give you
c) Such a version of the continued persistence of "pre-modernist" modes assumes that on each occasion, the ones who don't know any better will interact with it in the manner correct to its object, that they will treat modernist things like modernists (perhaps scratch their heads and refer to the capacity of their children to paint that) and unmodernist things as un-modernists (they will run straight at an illusion as if it's real). This has never been the case. As if there's something incommensurable between recognizing the materiality of a painting and engaging with it as a field of vision, as if you couldn't realize that the widening of the terrain of potential operations didn't just mean that you can rip the canvas when you need to, just as much as you can get lost in it when that's the better option. As if vision was ever an unthinking
d) Yes, you cannot stop, but there are calibrations, subtle, quick, a tensing up, a knowledge wired into the wheeling tendons that knows nothing other than a deftness of how to slip through holes and make them when need be. Moreover, consider the four permutations, and the missing last one:
the head knows and the body knows (the Roadrunner "gets" that it's a painting and stops dead in front of it, to be potentially eaten, or, more likely, it gets nowhere near it, it forecloses the potential of such an experience)
the head knows and the body does not know (the Roadrunner recognizes, as it surges forward, that what it faces is not a real road but a painting of one, that's to say, a modernist painting that cannot be engaged, and it crashes through the canvas, falls to the canyon, to be potentially eaten)
the head does not know and the body knows (the Roadrunner wants to treat the painting like it is not a painting, that's to say, a pre-modernist painting that can be engaged as not art but experience, but there is an instinctual holding back, a skittering, perhaps to be potentially eaten or maybe the body finds something fiercer and finally puts those powerful legs to use disemboweling that saddest of predators)
the head does not know and the body does not know (the Roadrunner penetrates fully into the space of the painting and is not potentially eaten, although
If the scheme of Coyote is predicated, endlessly, upon the imagined ignorance of the Roadrunner, it turns out, in fact, that it is just this ignorance which is the saving grace. Or rather, not from a master's perspective, the simulation of ignorance, of the possession of unknown capacities not beholden to the normal ordering of the world.
e) That misrecognition of Coyote - yes, this will work because, not in spite of, the mental and corporal non-knowledge of the Roadrunner - is an extension of a deep fantasy of thought's capacity of approximate stupidity, that you can rationally determine a response that is not based on reason. Against this, we know that: thought needs to get dumb (that is, think itself to the point of its dissolution, but not remotely in order to give primacy to some "knowledge of the body," which is an idiocy of a different, and more dangerous, order) and that this dumbness must impel a recognition that a correlation between what ought to be the case and what tends to be the case has never, ever existed.
In each case, in these five modernist fuck-ups, a similar doubt, staved off for, lies at root: namely, that the canvas might not be constant. (It is in this precise way, more than others, that art mirrors the commodity form: it cries out for the originary stasis, and non-decay, that the principle and moment of exchange demands, a freezing of a thing into an object that will be used, handled, torn, ruined, but that at the moment of the contractual, expected interface, it will be as it should be, and the only thing that might change is your perception of it, if it will be a wise investment, if it is or is not a clever neo-expressionist reworking of Rococo elements.)
For, in this episode, as in the episode we might call modernist painting, which is nothing but a series of potential and disjointed encounters, yet which do share a common abstraction beneath them (or rather, a common drive toward abstraction, conveniently - though perhaps not casually - in the period in which the global spread real subsumption of labor put abstraction of a more dominant order on the map everywhere), in this episode, there are two subterranean, unwanted possibilites: the canvas is marked by each encounter (not because the material magically absorbs its interlocutors, but because your awareness of others having passed this way before, who've had a certain kind of experience to it, conditions your own), or, opposed yet simultaneous, the canvas is not constant and never had any rules to ensure a common experience. At most, it is a fixed, albeit scarred, center of stable focus around which a seething storm of different factors turn, and there was nothing specific about it, in terms of intention or of form, other than the historical specificity of its instance.
In other words, what the Coyote's fall spells out, beyond a nicely crystallized and over-literal "rupturing of the picture plane", is the way in which such an instance - a painting, a political moment - may be structurally determined, and as such, deserves to be constant across time, yet which nevertheless is informed by the actions of those who watch those who have gone before, and in trying to repeat, to do the same thing, to assume that the breaking of the rules that have just occurred have therefore reset the rules, such that if one body passes into the painting, so too all others which follow.
That just because you broke with perspective, one can have perspective no longer. That the exceptional and inconstant happen only once per ruling order, and only in order to solidify the next order according to which things add up and paintings are either looked at or run into.
What, though, of this practice, of Coyote doing what does look a hell of a lot like a trajectory of modernism writ in minor:
figurative painting intended as an extension of the space and ordered in which it exists (Coyote paints a road, producing an imaginary wholeness over a rupture in that space, the road looks like it belongs, it is verisimilitude)
a questioning of the relation between a perspectival field and the material surface on which it exists (the Roadrunner breaks the rules by pointing out a fundamental contradiction between the flat, impermeability of the canvas, and the three-dimensional space that it both portrays and in which it really exists: by penetrating into the imagined space, the Roadrunner also penetrates past the two-dimensionality of the painting)
a material rupture that takes to its full limit the logic of that question, physically enacting that critique, and extension of the space of viewership to the entire space in which the work is situated (Coyote runs at the canvas and tears a whole in it)
a revision of what constitutes the work of art, such that the entire process of questioning, investigation, revision, and failure to reinscribe a non-critical surety becomes the work itself, recorded across time
(the Coyote, having torn through the picture plane, hangs over the abyss, next to a ruined canvas)
I leave for an entire other time the instance of the text behind the torn painting, such that all which remains after the "failed encounter" is a new tradition, one that documents process, a conceptual work in which the viewer stands to the side of the work, and sees only the vanished artist, the ruined work, blasted through with a body as if with a wound, the words emerging in the ephemeral detritus picked up on the approach toward the canvas:
Were he an artist, he's got loads of possibilities: a lumpen Futurist of the Southwest with equal parts technological excitement and dejection, a Land Artist who specializes in procedural work involving dynamite and the unintended consequences of the drive toward accumulate on the landscape (an Eco Crusader producing and documenting the scarred and charred rocks, marked with one too many blasts of misfiring Acme TNT). At his best, the one who doesn't enter the illusionistic space but busts through the material frame, who finds perspective to be a tearable barrier, just a flimsy stop before the canyon, he'd be a cut-rate mash-up of Luciano Fontana
with Pino Pascali,
and an emphasis on the Povera of the later, not in starting from the humble materials of rope and straw, but from the real material of the poor, the bargain technologies doomed to poison, jam, sticking, and take your hand off.
But because he's supposedly not an artist, and not interested in selling his busted canvases, or seeing them as producing significant advances away from figuration or anything, but only in sinking teeth into that dry, lean, meatless little hunk of the Real, he can sees his paintings as means to an other end, just one more failed technology to join the junkyard.
Of course, the concern is not the consumption of the bird but the circulation of capital engendered by its pursuit (it's an excuse for the technology, for the purchasing of Acme, the motivation in the name of primary consumption - caloric energy - that allows for the total froth and frenzy of mail-order shopping, to order up death on an installment plan). And as such, if he got smarter, he would just let the Roadrunner enter the painting and burn it like the Dadaist he never let himself be, trapping the Road Runner in some other episode, walled inside a pile of ash and a perspective going nowhere.
Two final instances.
[start this at 3:10]
The condition of entrance - that is, of engagement - is not belief. It is the framing of an other watcher, of us, of those for whom the painting is just an encounter inside a wider one, a frame one step beyond the Coyote.
Roadrunner (painting as aesthetic experience to be engaged or as trap to be avoided)
Coyote (painting as aesthetic experience for Roadrunner, as trap to be set, and as thing which has now been engaged and violated by Roadrunner)
us as viewers (painting as aesthetic experience for Roadrunner, as trap to be set, and as thing which has now been engaged and violated by Roadrunner, and failure of Coyote to have a successful aesthetic encounter: all of which constitutes for us the cultural experience of the cartoon as a whole)
Watching closely, the sequence - and the "camera," if one can speak of the position of the camera in animation - is organized in accordance with and entirely these levels.
When the Roadrunner sprints through, we are facing the painted tunnel straight on, such that it recedes into the painting. The Roadrunner enters it as our sight does.
Then Coyote decides to make a charge at it. As he does, the camera is framed to the side:
With this the accidental anamorphosis, as we see it skewed from the side, the rendering impossible of the illusion from our perspective brings about the same condition for him. The complicity of the third party, a triangulation, breaks down the prospect of engaging "naively," for Coyote has been performing for us, setting up the gag, demanding the moves of the camera. But...
After his smashing into the rock, the camera/drawing reframes, again facing the rock straight on, the only condition by which the roadrunner can exit once more, its day absorbed into the museum finished.
That's to say: the experience of the Roadrunner isn't just impossible for Coyote because he's witnessed both it and his own experience of producing the illusion. It's because both experiences, all experiences, fall beneath the shadow of another set of eyes, that sees our seeing, that we cower beneath, nervous about the right and cool way to do things, about what's naive and what's knowing, about being a sucker or not. And as we stand there waiting, debating, something roars out from within and blindsides us. That something is history, which comes when our back is turned, which kicks us when we're down, which gives us a reason to storm the walls, that comes out only and ever from what we thought was closed to us.
Second. A final instance such that seems to countervene all that has gone before, of the basic problem of Coyote is that he's a disciple of some bad Enlightenment, who can't shake off his realism enough to dare to win, who isn't a fanatic, such that when he charges point blank at the painted stone wall, he knows how stupid this is and that this won't work, that the rules do not persist, that the truck or train blasting out of it into him is no confirmation that the perspectival space will remain porous.
For there is this:
[start this at 4:00]
There is this, this jaw-drop, when Coyote finds a stretch of "normal" road and erects a canvas on which he paints a scene of a broken bridge over a chasm that isn't there. His previous paintings have depicted - and given the Roadrunner's use of them, actually brought about - a new functionality to an exhausted, abandoned landscape. Roads where old ones crumble away! Railway lines cutting through the mountains to get you to the families and jobs that do not exist! Coyote paints this break-down and waits for the Roadrunner, who sprints straight through it and the illusion. Frustrated, Coyote chases after him, expecting the painting to treat him as he's treated them all along, as flat surfaces set up on walls and in front of voids, something to be passed through with little resistance. And indeed, he encounters none, but wrongly. He runs into the painting and off the rails.
A few things of this.
If anything, this is first a recognition, a witnessing, of the previous encounters. He knows that the way the Roadrunner engages with art is to participate with it so fully as to pass into it, or at least to treat it not as representation but as a continuous portion of the visual field. He'll halt before it, becoming potentially edible once more. Or, better, he'll hurl himself into and off, lost where he can be neither buried nor eaten, where all this can end once and for all.
Insofar as belief relates at all, it is here the disbelief - that cherished disbelief of the knowing painter - that makes this bursting through possible. More than that, more at dusk, remains the possibility that it is a mortal leap of not caring, a suicidal indifference. Like the Wendigo who cannot stop even as his feet burn, the Roadrunner is driven ahead. The double-bind of the painting could just be the emergency exit, the tricking of drive into plummeting. But this cunning - I will use the fact that I know it is just a painting to allow me to not stop and therefore enter the painting - makes the belief impossible. He passes through, his death taken from him. And Coyote, as before, forgetting that an exception does not an order establish, believes in reverse, believes that it's just painting. For the first time, this belief confirmed: every time before, his knowledge of "just a painting" was countervened by the Roadrunner. This time that belief is confirmed, and it is at that moment, a moment of belief without object, that vulnerable moment of assuming the world to accord with judgment, that he strays into the danger of that aesthetic experience he's held off for so long.
Coyote has become a real modernist painter, once and for all, by becoming a realist painter. He's now painting ruin, he's filling the landscape with a representation both of what it looks like (busted, dangerous, worthless) and of the value and social relations on which it runs and which it enable (busted, dangerous, worthless).
He recognizes the breakdown of coherency, of what should be the case (there should be roads, birds should not fly into painted spaces), and presents that, finding in that stupid impossibility a subject worth painting and an experience that will be shared at its harshest: you, you who believe, you may not get caught and eaten, but you will participate in the wreckage of art. I may have been the one to paint this break, chasm, but you, you bring about the real wreckage: a hole in a painting of a hole.
That will not be filled, which reveals the world on the other side, on this side, the limitless map of all that is without value, that has no edges, that is a dessicated ocean, to be part and parcel of this hole. A volume in which this feeble trompe l'oeil was alone an anchor.