Across the street two guys are standing around smoking cigarettes and doing what guys do. It’s rather unpleasant not least because they are doing what guys are doing, which already occupies space and in a somewhat aggressive way. One of them has had the brilliant idea of bringing his portable Bluetooth ready loudspeaker to which his smart phone is connected. It’s really great with Bluetooth and loudspeakers are one of the more extra cool innovations. Great, but it is pretty much irritating that loudspeakers lately have turned into something people, i.e. men carry with them to accompany cigarette smoking and doing what guys do. All of that is quite crappy but what makes this irritating is, however just a street corner or pavement, how these loudspeakers rearrange public space. Because also a street corner is public space and not to under estimate, but with the loudspeaker dudes those spaces are made private, perhaps just temporary but even so transformed from environment to territory. From smooth to striated, authorizing only certain kinds of behaviour and tagging the space with signs of ownership not just loudspeakers but also through other means of communication and code.
Perhaps one could say that my street corner has turned from being just a street corner to become a stage. In a way cute and something one should appreciate but really isn’t this a slight problem in our times that the world to a larger and larger extent has turned into a stage. Not in a Shakespearian way which rather proposes that we are all part of some grand narrative that can’t be escaped, it’s inevitable and not so far from faith. Today the stage is another one where each and all of us are responsible to perform ourselves successfully. Shakespeare’s stage one could say was public whereas today the stage has turned into private space, where destiny and faith has been swopped for affordance and investment. What happened on Shakespeare’s stage was happening but was not performative, today however even if something is not happening it is always performative. There is an important differentiation to be made: just because something is performed, in the sense of carried out, it doesn’t by necessity mean that it is performative. And the other way around, the moment something is in the world it cannot not be performative.
A human being performs being a human being, she carries out being a human being, but that doesn’t mean that being a human being is performative. On the other hand being a human being is always performing something into the world, in the sense of meaning or signification, and that is always performative.
Same thing with a painting. A painting carries out being a painting but isn’t not therefore performative, but as a painting always performs something into the world it is always performative, or is carried by some kind of performativity. A painting is not by itself private, as an object it rather withdraws from becoming private as that in ways render it subject, but the moment when viewed from the perspective of performing something into the world it cannot not be private.
As long as something is public it can become anything, the public is open and, although not unconditionally, allows what is public to be, become and not whatever. One could say that in public some thing doesn’t need to be something. The moment something becomes private, or leave the public sphere, it automatically and by necessity become this or that and not anything or whatever. In the private sphere something cannot not be something and is never just some thing. Consequently, as long as something is some thing it cannot be held responsible. Only something can be accountable as some thing is that that slips through naming or so to say being located. But to the same extent as some thing can not be accountable it can also not be owned and therefore not used strategically. On the other hand, as long as something is something, private and ownable, it can only and always be used strategically. Said differently what is public is amazing because it is not good or bad for something which is exactly what is the tragedy of the private; in the private something is always good or bad for something and as long as it is it’s not something else or ambiguous.
The public carries with it the promise of not being performative but just performed, carried out, whereas the private is always or whatever is there is always performative and as long as it is it is always less, less than itself as some thing, less than it self in any respect exactly because it is named.
Performative is nothing good. And it is not something that something can be more or less. For some thing to be something, or to be in the world or reality, it cannot be performative. Performative is not like a colour, more or less red or blue. It is a condition that a certain understanding of the world makes inevitable.
As long as we view the world through an urgency of giving things soft or hard, more or less tangible identity this world has no other spaces than private. Here, in the private, everything is owned and ownable and what carries the world is investment and affordance. That might be irritating like the loudspeaker men in the street corner, but really what is a tragedy is what this way of viewing the world – through the lense of performarivity – or if you like a world to which we have access only through language – is doing and has done to imagination. The moment when imagination turns private one can only imagine this or that – what already can be imagined and as long as it is something. Public space or the public, might not or is definitely not a safe space, but it is a space where imagination is prominently free, where some thing can still be and remain some thing. An art addicted to performativity is petty – good or bad for something, private and ownable – whereas an art that insist on being public is an art that carries with it the promise of contingency.