On the Art of Living Absently
An examination of the disoriented subject of modernity: a dissolute figure who makes an makes an object of its absence; from Baudelaire to Broodthaers.
In Liquidation World, Alexi Kukuljevic examines a distinctive form of subjectivity animating the avant-garde: that of the darkly humorous and utterly disoriented subject of modernity, a dissolute figure that makes an art of its own vacancy, an object of its absence. Shorn of the truly rotten illusion that the world is a fulfilling and meaningful place, these subjects identify themselves by a paradoxical disidentification—through the objects that take their places. They have mastered the art of living absently, of making something with nothing. Traversing their own morbid obsessions, they substitute the nonsensical for sense, the ridiculous for the meaningful.
Kukuljevic analyzes a series of artistic practices that illuminate this subjectivity, ranging from Marcel Duchamp's Three Standard Stoppages to Charles Baudelaire's melancholia. He considers the paradox of Duchamp's apparatus in the Stoppages and the strange comedy of Marcel Broodthaers's relation to the readymade; the comic subject in Jacques Vaché and the ridiculous subject in Alfred Jarry; the nihilist in Paul Valéry's Monsieur Teste; Oswald Wiener's interpretation of the dandy; and Charles Baudelaire as a happy melancholic. Along the way, he also touches on the work of Thomas Bernhard, Andy Kaufman, Buster Keaton, and others. Finally, he offers an extended analysis of Danny's escape from his demented father in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.
Each of these subjects is, in Freud's terms, sick—sick in the specific sense that they assume the absence of meaning and the liquidation of value in the world. They concern themselves with art, without assuming its value or meaning. Utterly debased, fundamentally disoriented, they take the void as their medium.
With exuberantly mordant humor, Alexi Kukuljevic leads us to that place—Liquidation World—where we already are. This world turns out to be an atopia in which dissolute impersonators, caught between the first and third person, never find themselves a second, and where the epitome of happiness is to make oneself an object of absence from melancholic despair. It's not so much that everything must go—just that everything does go. And, when it does, so do we. But we don't go well. Thankfully, Kukuljevic is here to show us the pistols and the ropes.
Justin Clemens, Associate Professor, The University of Melbourne; author of Psychoanalysis is an Antiphilosophy
Liquidation World is a shockingly clever but very kind book, treating its readers as well as its clumsy, incomplete, damaged, but well-meaning subjects as partners in a series of arty, thoughtful adventures in humor and absence. Embracing innumerable paradoxes, Kukuljevic nevertheless steers a steely course through ridiculousnesses of all kinds. It is the rigor of the madhouse, and what absurd fun.
Nina Power, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Roehampton; author of One Dimensional Woman
Theory today frequently turns to art for surrogates of political subjectivity, hopeful figures of action in dispiriting times. Liquidation World short-circuits that reflex, tracing the aesthetic lineaments of nihilism and foregrounding the unsettling ways in which some of the most singular artists (or 'anartists') of the twentieth century gave form to the vacancy of the subject, dissolving the borders between personhood and impersonation. Kukuljevic demonstrates, with deadpan virtuosity, that the most consequential challenges to Western metaphysics may not be found in ponderous critiques, but in gestures and objects at once fragile and apparently frivolous, where both 'art' and 'artist' are stripped bare.
Alberto Toscano, Reader in Critical Theory, Goldsmiths, University of London; author of Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea
Liquidation World pushes the analysis of subjectivation as personal dissolution farther than anyone has done previously, charting its transformation from theoretical predicament to existential quandary to cultural pathology concentrated in the self-liquidating persona of the artist. Kukuljevic's extraordinary analysis of the subjective predicament in modern capitalist culture is a decisive contribution to contemporary debates about art, value, subjectivity, commodification, and capitalism
Ray Brassier, Professor of Philosophy, American University of Beirut