Manifesto from the sub-
V 2.0 - 2005
by Dr. Malcolm K. & Dr. N. O. Pibbles esq
“I make demands- around me extends the void, the darkness of the real world- I exist, I remain blind, in anguish: other individuals are completely different from me, I feel nothing of what they feel. If I envisage my coming into the world- linked to the birth then to the union of a man and a woman, and even, at the moment of their union…a single chance decided the possibility of this self which I am: in the end, the mad improbability of the sole being without whom, for me, nothing would be, becomes evident. Were there the smallest difference in the continuity of which I am the end point: instead of me eager to be me, there would be with respect to me only nothingness, as if I were dead.”
- Georges Bataille1
I. The tenets of the sub-real.
No more –isms. We will hesitate, hesitate to speak, hesitant even to speak of any more –isms. If any two tenets govern the realms of the sub-real (and this is not to say that there are tenets to the sub-real, or only two of them, or even a concept of the two that hasn’t always already been sub-divided into a being 2 + n, of infinite number and numberless, yet always already a double, a double bind embedded within the bonds of the sub-real), at least, at the very least, these two tenets share legislative duties.2
First tenet. Add an –ism to anything you enjoy, and see what happens. The trans- formative power of the –ism is to categorize, order, stabilize the abstract and materialized ideas that govern what passes for the real, the passing real. The –ism makes the monstrous domestic, makes the unknowable known, the ineffable real, and, as a result, less than real. The –ism should be distrusted, questioned, challenged, and trans-valued, its values put to the question of the sub-real, to the question of the question.3
To begin to map the sub-real, therefore, one has to understand the trans-formative affects
of the –ism and sub-mit them to the tran-sub- stantive effects of the sub-real.4
1 Georges Bataille is one of the many figures whose work informs the sub-real. Several other figures will
be mentioned in what follows. This is less an attempt to delimit the realm of the sub-real or the figures
who contribute to our understanding of the sub-real, the sub-realist. Indeed, in the proper names that we
mention, there are no sub-realists, merely the forebears who have tended to the traces of the sub-real within
their work. There will be more questions of the proper name in what follows.
2 The choice of ‘tenet’ is far from arbitrary. In discussing the sub-real, the allusions the word tenet has
historically within both philosophy and theology are pertinent, as is the Latin roots of ‘tenet,’ meaning to
hold, or, literally, ‘he or she holds.’ Of course, there is also an issue of tenets that legislate and tenets that
guide legislation. The sub-real is a space where legislation seems quite arduous, and, yet, it is precisely the
realm of legislation that becomes of such great interest to the sub-realist. The law as sub-real. Is it no
wonder that the work of Kafka, that seems to chart the sub-real in its legislative form. A more
contemporary exploration of the sub-real can be found in the literature of William T. Vollman, Vollman’s
work reflects research into the sub-real world of prostitution and the system constructed to keep it just
beneath reality, on the level of the mimesis.
3 Here we would quote at length the profoundly sub-real literature of Edmund Jabes. The Book of
Questions, in particular, is an extraordinary work of fiction, or, rather, what we would term, frictive
literature, a literature that embodies a relationship that brushes against an aspect of the real. This type of
literary practice can also be seen in the fiction of Maurice Blanchot in France. More on the literary fore-
bears of the sub-real in part VII.
4 This would, at once, both question the language we inherit, its inherent meanings and also question the
very terrain of the sub-real.
Second tenet. Add the word ‘industry’ to anything you enjoy and see what happens. Industry transforms the enjoyable into the joyless, the pleasurable into the unpleasant, what is free into a commodity, what transforms into what remains in stasis, what is a salve into an ill.5
The material conditions of industry have been largely displaced onto the third world, a practice that has been in place (and about place) since the Renaissance for the modern era, since the nineteenth-century for our era, and always co-existent with Western civilization, depending on the level of historical sub-division one wants to carry out.6
The remainder left over from such a calculated real, the sub-real, the repressed other of the real, the invisible real, challenges the tenets of Western civilization, understanding the intimacy of Western civilization with industry in both its luxuries and its ills, luxuries and ills that may be one and the same thing.7
These two ‘tenets’ help to form a third, informing a process of sub-division that lurks within the realms that bear relations with the sub-real. These two tenets are sub-ject to a third, to the general effects and affects of the –ism that governs the system set in motion by the values it ushers in, the big –ISM that orders all the real that money can ‘buy,’ or, at least, give the illusion of ownership to, the system that profits from ownership, capitalism, namely. In part, capitalism’s aim is to give a name, to capitalize, to capitalize the name and act in the name of capitalization, in the name of the Capitol, in the name of capital. Capitalism utilizes the law of the –ism, hooking up the –ism to the industrial, and it is of no small consequence that the –isms that plague history and its visual culture have their origin in that world of pestilence ordered into existence by industrial capitalism, the world of the
5 Just imagine the peace industry. Actually, we can. Given the rhetoric of the early 21 st century, rhetoric
inherited from the post-World War II ear, an era marked by America’s formation of a Delian League. We
are actually in the midst of the ‘peace industry.’ With terms such as ‘reconstruction’ and ‘peace-keeping
troops,’ one of the most oxymoronic phrases from an entity that should know them, Military Intelligence.
The peace industry feeds into the reconstruction industry to further the ends of, well, industry.
6 Industry is a para-sitic entity. It latches onto a location, but destroys the location it occupies. The process
can be slowed by great care to the land. With the rise of modern technology, however, industry became far
too powerful of a para-site for the earth to support long term (in Earth years).
7 In this way, one can think of the sub-real as a material place. Of course, the notion of place in the sub-
real is a critical issue, although one that has not a singular solution, but, rather, a range of possible changes
of location. In terms of the sub-real as a material place, the sub-real can be either a source for sub-realist
thought, or, as a location prone to the experience of the sub-real. While material, the sub-real cannot be
defined simply by material examples.
8 This industrial ‘revolution’ continues to manifest itself throughout the first, the disappearing second, and
The world of the twentieth-century has continued the progression of capitalism through its ‘mythic’ wars, wars that became ever more horrific as the genocidal nature of European culture fully manifested itself with the atrocity of the holocaust and, in Eastern Europe, the purges of Stalin, and all the other atrocities that don’t ‘measure up’ on the historical scale of these mass exterminations.9 This world gave way to the Cold War and the ‘conflicts’ that mark the past fifty years of history, leading to our own world of today, of conflict with the Middle East, a conflict that dates back to World War II for America, and World War I for Europe, or, more precisely, the beginning of digging for oil in the early twentieth century.10
European history is intimately associated with its repressed ‘tragic episodes,’ a repression of the effects and extent of colonialist imperialism.11
American capitalism exacerbates this situation, consuming the most in a world of scarcity, while enforcing its rule through the intertwined fronts of economics and militarism. In brief, all too brief, capitalism ushers in a world whose interest lays in categories, in order, in the power of the –ism to hold sway over all too narrow visions of the realities that haunt our techno-narcoticized world today, leading to a culture of distractions, a culture of -isms.12
“The world exhibitions glorify the exchange value of commodities. They create a framework in which commodities’
intrinsic value is eclipsed. They open up a phantasmagoria that people enter to be amused. The entertainment industry
facilitates this by elevating people to the level of commodities. They submit to being manipulated while enjoying their
alienation from themselves and others.”- Walter Benjamin
9 This is, of course, eliding the grand atrocities that pre-dated the twentieth century, a genocidal tendency
within European culture that extends to its treatment of cultures in the Americas, Africa, the Middle East
and Asia. This is not to say that these strains of abuse don’t continue in these areas. They do. It is the
effort of the sub-realist to bring these atrocities to light, when necessary, and to utilize art for this process.
Here, the work of Nancy Spero, Leon Golub, and Irving Petlin, in particular, come to mind, though they are
only the most celebrated artistic precursors to the sub-realist.
10 This ties into a history of material sources that often forms a sub-real aspect of critical history today.
11 It could easily be argued that European culture is rooted in colonialism as a result of land distribution.
The relative lack of land also accentuates the greater deal of violence, proportionate to the rest of the world.
That is to say, Europe experienced a disproportionate amount of violence, historically as measured in land
area. We could even, perhaps, say that Europe experienced more violence per capita than the rest of the
world. This, of course, brings up an issue that is beyond representation, violence, and statistics will only
remain representational. Their illusionism lies in numbers, but numbers have always had a greater
importance than reading them literally.
Regardless, European culture and the cultures it has spawned, most visibly America, offer a
culture of violence that is rooted in the need to expend resources, an attitude of scarcity in a world, today,
where technologically we could end world hunger and the indiscriminate distribution of wealth. The only
thing that stands in that way is human nature, a nature of dis-trust that lurks under the sub-human element
of humanism’s rhetoric of scientific rationality. Of course, this raises the issue of the sub-human in a world
where ‘humanism’ still apologizes for colonialism.
12 The culture of techno-narcosis is an important aspect to the sub-real. Techno-narcosis is the addiction to
technology that our present day culture experiences. The addictive nature of technology has been recorded
in countless studies. The element of narcosis, however, should not just suggest the addictive element of
technology, but the numbing effect. Or, to put it otherwise, if Marx were alive today, he would clearly
claim that television is the opiate of the people.
II. The terrain of the sub-real.
No, we’ll hesitate to speak of any more –isms, and try to understand the nature of the sub-real, if the sub-real is to have a nature, or, rather to understand that the nature of nature is always a humanized nature, always already something that tenuously orders all access to the real that humans have. Or, to put it otherwise, always already sub-real. What is the sub-real? The sub-real is before nature and beyond nature, just as it is beneath any reality that can claim to have a nature, or, for that matter, an artifice, a re-presentation. The sub-real is beneath the real, below the real, under the real. The sub-
real, while secondary to the real, is what makes the real primordially possible. The sub-real is less than completely real, but, in falling short, exposes the limits of any real, the less than complete nature of all realities. The sub-real is not a part of the real, but a part of the real that is exposed as being absent, less a subdivision than a subtraction from reality. The sub-real is the very part of the real that is always missing, always lost, and without which any real cannot be founded. The sub-real is apart from the real, a part of the real, and, at the same time, what threatens to make the real fall apart. The sub-real is what remains hidden by the real, the very foundations of the real. The sub-real is a realm
hidden from view by the ‘real’ constructed through the structures and screens that serve as our primary defensive intermediaries with the real. There are no happy mediums within the sub-real.13
The sub-real is the underside of the real, looming within the very mechanisms that screen our realities, the technologies that stricture and structure our mediated existence. These technologies must be pirated, taken as booty, to expose the general piracy that rues and rules the inherently amoral character of capitalism’s id, subjecting the ego to a world torn apart through the desires of the commodity, being submissive to the demands for more implored by capitalism’s super-ego.14
13 The sub-real has a contentious relation to Marshall McLuhan, made famous through his statement, “The
medium is the message.” McLuhan is certainly a forebear of sub-realist thought, and, yet, as with other
visionary figures of the mid-twentieth century, such as Buckminster Fuller, there are particular tensions to
our ears with some of the utopic proclamations of technology, losing sight of the need to gain access to the
means of technology, to wrest technology away from the wealthiest nations, or, rather, away from the
corporations that have ushered in technology.
Buckminster Fuller presents a similar case, where many great ideas are occluded by some
embarrassing episodes. Perhaps, none is greater than the use of the geodesic dome in military exhibitions
and world’s fairs, the geodesic dome given over to the spectacle, precisely because it is practical. This is
not to say that there isn’t a lot still to be mined from the work of Fuller and McLuhan. Just that there is
often an issue of distance that effects the way we read, a distance that also embodies one of the guises of
One other important element that McLuhan raises is the role of Canadian thought in the late
twentieth century. Indeed, many of the key figures that inform the tradition of the sub-real being mapped
out here hail from Canada, including David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, and Guy Maddin, as well as
Godspeed You Black Emperor! and its many other incarnations. This is only to comment that the Canadian
experience informs the sub-real, and that Canada, along with Japan, Iceland, Australia, Sweden, Hungary,
and countless other regions, offer facets of the sub-real that help challenge our homogeneous vision of the
Where is the sub-real? The place of the sub-real is incalculable, always already present and absent, an absent presence that is sometimes explored by the sub-realist. Yet, the sub-real questions the very notion of place, opening up a nomadic vision of the world, of moving through the transitory experience of temporality, uninhibited by a fixed concept of place. Placeless, the realms of the sub-real are often spaces that help to define place as a transitory and transient experience. These places include tunnels, subways, bridges, the sub-terranean, the sub-marine, the cavernous, the underground, the buried, the remote, ports, labyrinths, crypts, and other spaces of transitional experience.15 The sub-real is the place of the sub-cultural, the sub-versive, and the sub-stantive. The sub-real is concerned with the role of technology in limiting our sense of the real. The illusions of technology combine with the forces of science to, at once, limit our view of the world, offering the world’s explanation.16
These two forces combine with innumerable others to support a system that rules by 1) controlling both distribution and production through the advent of industrialization, 2) investing in the presentation of commodities beginning with the Crystal Palace, 3) creating the ‘new’ as a fetishization of the past, and 4) constructing a rational model of repeatedly imitated behavior to limit our notion of history, of literature, of art, and creativity. Just the facts, nothing but the facts. There are no problems with facts, per se. Problems lay in the re-presentation of the facts, a gap represented by the ‘-,’ embodying one of the gaps that house the sub-real. The sub-real, however, problematizes the domestic, turning the familiar into the unfamiliar, the heimlich into the unheimlich. This housing problem relates to the inability of domesticating the sub-real, of making it terra firma. The sub-real does not lead to a more authentic sense of the real, a greater totality, but, rather, a more authentic sense of the lack of any reality, the lack that constitutes any reality, the lack that our reality breeds through clinging, through desire, through fostering our ego, making us isolated in our sub-mission to the illusory sense of the real. The sub-real embodies the gap in reality opened up through time, rendering every ‘real’ always already sub-real. Nevertheless, the sub-real does not govern over the governing ‘real’ of any particular reality. Rather, the sub-real is the very ground upon which a ‘real’
attempts to govern reality. Within these grinding and groundless haunts reside the tenants of the sub-real, the beings both sub-ject to and sub-ject of the sub-real, the sub-realist.
14 One of the great forebears of the sub-real is Negativeland, whose tireless work has gone largely
unnoticed, save amongst the sub-terranean legions of the margins between art, action, sound, and
appropriation, and the lawyers of the letter U and the numeral 2.
15 These transitional experiences can also include the spiritual, the mystical, and the alchemical.
16 Or, at least, forming the wealthiest corporations receiving the greatest government support this side of
the military industrial complex. Eisenhower should have warned about the medical-military industry
complex, or Uncle Mickey. Uncle Mickey has his tentacles in everything, usually.
“At the heart of this absence, works of art are in perpetual dissolution and in perpetual motion, each one being but a
marker of time, a moment of the whole, a moment that would like desperately to be this whole, in which absence
alone rests without rest. And because this wish is impossible, the work itself, as it becomes more and more conscious
of this impossibility, always reaches further to assert itself as a pathetic sign, a fascinating arrow, pointed in the
direction of the impossible.”- Maurice Blanchot
III. The tenants of the sub-real.
The sub-realist maps the subterranean, wrests from the sub-structures of our mediated realities the sub-lime moments of sub-limation enmeshed in the sub-liminal effects of the techno-narcoticized and eroticized ‘reel,’ peeling away the appeal of ‘reality’ and exposing the adhesive that holds the scrim of reality in place for the enthralled masses, dividing the world through the ruse of celebrity, the corporate shill for whatever –ism or industry that sees fortuna as a rational divinity.17
The sub-realist mines the foundations of what supports the real, of what determines the real in corporate capitalism. Chiefly, consumerism. This analysis of consumption embodies a range of perspectives, from the statistical to the conceptual, paying particular attention to the ways in which consumption is fueled by the mis-guided desire for identity, a desire for identity that leads to a conflict with our own nullity.18
That is to say, we fill our empty lives with too many useless objects, taking these useless objects as
what determines ‘reality,’ blind to the factors that remain hidden beneath these useless objects, the sub-structures that determine the infra-structures that profit from the useless objects filling the internal void we avoid through consumption, consuming our lives waking moments with irrelevant acts of consumption structuring an inherently absurd world.
The sub-realist awakes us from this ‘reality’.19
The sub-realist traces the sub-real, rendering the veil of the real. Zeuxis was the first sub-realist. “Show me what’s beneath the veil of representation, not this representation of a veil.” Parrhasios was seen as its champion by a tradition enthralled by illusionism, but Zeuxis is the champion of the sub-real, submitting the demands of realism to the logic of the sub-. The Greeks were, however, not the first sub-realists. They are anteceded by the Egyptians, the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians, and countless others who bear no name, who exist before history, and, therefore had an intimate relation with the sub-real.20
17 The reel of film marks a rupture with the real. While the similarity between ‘real’ and ‘reel’ may be
ascribed as being arbitrary, it does by chance point to one of the ways that the ‘real’ is a reel of film.
While, today, digitized, digitization merely presents the element of speed leaving us in its wake. The speed
revolution of the twentieth century, as discussed in the work of Paul Virilio, marks a turning point in the
conversion of the ‘reel’ into ‘real-time’ technologies. In this way, we can suggest that the sub-real can be
that which remains beneath representation, the very last vestige of the real, vestiges, themselves, that are
necessarily sub-real, beyond representation.
18 In particular, the speculative economics of Georges Bataille are of great import, especially as manifested
in the three volume The Accursed Share.
19 Around this issue of consumption, the work of Joseph Beuys is important as a sub-realist pre-cursor,
although this poses the question of excavating sub-realists from the past, the operations of the sub- always
already at work, but working underground. On artistic harbingers of the sub-real, see Section VIII.
20 Indeed, we think of the other through a language of conquest, most frequently. That is to say, the proper
names we use to call the other are often in our own language. Of course, the great irony of this for
Americans is that we already speak the tongue of the colonizer, even if we don’t speak it or spell it with the
colonial tongue. This doesn’t make communicating with the other any less authentic, just problematic. Of
course, communication should not be something easy. In an age of cell phones, this is something we lose
sight of, because of our tele-presence. Our presence, has, from the start, in our culture, been sub-real.
The sub-realist is one who inhabits the sub-real and in-hibits the ‘real.’ We are trained from early on to inhabit the real and inhibit the sub-real, leading to prohibitions against the realms of the sub-real. This prohibition against the sub-real leads to a hindering of our mining skills, our willingness to explore beneath the surface replaced by our acceptance of a screened reality. The sub-real becomes marginalized as the realm of the childish, the frivolous, the irrelevant, the unimportant, anonymous, and forgotten. With internment, humanity creates a further negative association related to the subterranean, one that extends from the criminal underworld of today to the visions of the underworld
in antiquity, from Hades to Hell and all the other nether regions. This leads to fears concerning caves, fissures, canyons, and other physical cracks in the earth, as well as fear concerning any spiritual notion concerning altered notions of existence. The sub-realist explores these subterranean realms in both their material and mythological guises, unearthing the repressed phenomena of human existence.21
The sub-realist exhumes the ‘dead’ bodies of Marx, Lenin, and Bakunin, the American paranoia of communism, socialism, anarchy, and makes love to the putrefying remains, giving birth to capitalism’s bastard children, the dispossessed and the possessed, those whose identity is determined by capitalism as being extraneous, insignificant, unworthy of consumption, the vomited waste of capitalism’s excess. Sub-realists are the children of the dispossessed, the children of the children of the still dispossessed, the despised, distracted, and disorderly. The sub-realist is a nomad, escaping the allure, the lure all of technology’s virtual oasis, recognizing in its pleasing image of ease, a moment of dis-ease.22 The sub-realist’s disease with the world leads to her nomadic existence, a nomadic existence that is at once a dialogue with the nomadology of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, an eclectic moving between found concepts, an existence as bricoleur, and an eco-philosophy that takes upenvironmental issues demanding an engagement with ideas of dis-urbanization.23
21 The sub-realist also explores elements of the mystical, the occult, numerology, astrology, alchemy, and
other modes of representing the real, for their very denigration by the techno-scientific suggests the danger
they pose to a safe, secure, stable sense of the real. In this way, the sub-real takes an interest in the ‘dark
sciences.’ They offer a critique of mainstream culture, even if they help to firm up this culture, ultimately
becoming commodified. This is the danger of any critique, this one included, within a capitalist system.
The sub-realist can also show an interest in conspiracy theory, although the sub-realist’s relation to
conspiracy theory is always already ambiguous. One of the great works to explore this issue of conspiracy
theory and secret societies is Charles Portis’ work of friction, Masters of Atlantis.
22 This also raises the question of the relation between the sub- and the dis-. This dis- is also a powerful
element of critique, to the point of becoming a part of popular language. The dis- can be a painful
experience, certainly one that relates the dis-possessed, dis-tracted, and dis-orderly. The experience of the
dis- is something that informs must that comes from the minds of sub-realists.
23 On dis-urbanizaiton see in particular the work of Mikhail Okhitovich. The bricoleur comes from the
work of Claude Lévi-Strauss. The work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari will be further discussed in
The nomadic existence of the sub-realist leads to a dis-tancing from the real, a dis-vestment of the real to reveal the sub-real, the foundations of this technological world, the infrastructures that make technology possible, that mark its raking progress. The sub-real foundations of the technological world include the sub-ways, waterworks, pipelines, electrical cables, sewage lines, and all the other artificial inseminations of technology into mater earth. The sub-realist focuses on the myriad effects of these technologies, divesting them of their functionality. The sub-realist is a dromologist, mining the ruins of space to unmask the illusory promise of speed.24
Within industrial wastelands, the sub-realist perceives the transitory nature of technology. This sensitization to the workings of the temporal lets us come into relation with the transitory nature of the now. It foregoes the placebo effects of technology’s sanitization of the real.25 In the industrial ruin, the now is rendered in its most potently tenuous form, the myth of progress. The sub-realist tends to the ruins of industry, while also tending to the earth that comes into conflict with industry’s wake.26
In our great age of techno-narcoticized passivity, we also fail to negotiate the spaces that are most immediate to us, those spaces that resist incorporation into our image of the real.27
The sub-realist is a cartographer of these spaces, undoing the screen of reality to expose the material forces that underpin reality, the technological fault lines of the real. Revealing the location of these technological fault lines, the sub-realist enacts seismic movements that unveil the rhizoid structure of the sub-real, shaking the very foundations of the real. Lastly, the sub-realist opposes all that limits imagination, even the sub-real itself, if necessary.
24 The concept of dromology is discussed in the work of Paul Virilio. Virilio’s work informs a great deal
relating to the intellectual inheritance of the sub-real. His analysis of technology, speed, and global politics
offers an important sub-realist predecessor whose work is indispensable to the sub-realist.
25 Sanitation actually provides an important realm for sub-realist histories. The history of sanitation is rife
On the other hand, technology, in its appearance today, takes on a more and more sanitary
appearance. This surface of cleanliness appears at a time when our culture is producing more waste than
ever, creating a crisis for sanitation and the exploitation of wealth to remove waste from the sight of the
wealthiest nation. This is just one of many environmental issues that concern the sub-realist, especially in
the world where the environment becomes sub-real.
26 Here, in particular, the work of land-based artists such as Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, David
Nash, and Hamish Fulton raise a set of questions that are addressed by the sub-realist, a question over
resources and sources for artistic practice and the implications of this practice, an ethical question that is
irresolvable, but therefore all the more demanding of resolve.
27 Sound is one of the great areas for exploring the sub-real. In our hyper-technological world, the
inundation of background noise slips underneath our perception, becoming part of the white noise making
up our daily existence. While figures such as John Cage have opened up these environmental sounds for
exploration, there is a need to understand the deeper significance of these sounds, moving beyond the
simple issue of the always permeable line between music and non-music. In other words, what does 0’ 0”
sound like today?
“Each epoch not only dreams the next, but also, in dreaming, strives toward the moment of waking. It bears its end in
itself and unfolds it- as Hegel already saw- with ruse. In the convulsions of the commodity economy we begin to
recognize the monuments of the bourgeoisie as ruins even before they have crumbled.”- Walter Benjamin
IV. The tenements of the sub-real
The tenements of the sub-real are the urban, sub-urban, and post-urban wastelands of the global megalopolis. In their physical presence, they often mark from the proper perspective, an extraordinary scarring of the earth. The sub-realist charts this ruined map, tracing the ruination of the ‘real,’ the abandoned buildings, economically depressed neighborhoods, and the face of poverty. The sub-realist follows the path of history in the physical spaces of urban centers, revealing a story of perpetual ‘urban renewal.’ Through homogeneity, the sub-urban offers community planning, all too often sacrificing environmental planning. The home within such a community becomes the display of
conformity and status, feeding into the illusion of safety provided in the form of poorly constructed mansions, big and small, that display themselves to the world of surveillance. Beneath these visions of urban and sub-urban existence, reside the tenements of the sub-real. These tenements exist in the gap between the real and re-presentation, both beyond representation and (re-)incorporation into the real. The sub-realist speaks from the margins, dis-owning the symbolic orders that fight over the spectral rags of fame, notoriety, success, those unchallenged and unchallenging values that imbibe a world of chance with the fruitless fetish of celebrity. The celebrity presents the commodity, enhancing its status as commodity, a situation that has been unimaginably advanced by the developments of technology and graphics in the world after Marx.28
The tenements of the sub-real are not just the physical remains that testify to the shortcomings of modernity’s promises. They are also the shortcomings of modernity’s premises. The tenements of sub-real bear witness to reality’s shortcomings, or, rather, for what passes for our ‘real.’ Upsetting this image, these spaces expose the tenuous groundof the real.
28 Of course, the world after Marx has lessened the number of insights he has to offer. Still, there are a
core of basic ideas concerning his analysis of capitalism that are essential, even if he fails to adequately
account for colonialism. Of course, these are the limits of any individual. Marx was a European, writing
from an experience informed by being in continental Europe and England. As fluid as our identities can
seem to be in a culture of techno-narcosis, there are some fixable markers, such as place and time. The
work of On Kawara has mined this region.
In relation to the development of advertising, capitalism shows its vast ability to adapt and adopt
elements of its own critique. The compositional techniques of Dada artists and Surrealism, in particular,
have been appropriated by mass advertising. If one wants to see the best examples of Surrealist art today,
one merely has to watch a commercial. The absurdist aesthetics of the early twentieth century have been
profitably assimilated by corporate capitalism. The challenge for the sub-realist is to find the remainders of
this aesthetic, to discover what can’t be assimilated by this system, the unwanted and undesirable waste of
The tenements of the sub-real, however, need not be physical. They can be the spaces of inner consciousness, the space of interiority, the gap between exteriority and interiority. We are all tenements of the sub-real who bear witness to the decay of the ‘real.’ The sub-realist takes residence within these tenements, bringing us into contact with the repressed portion of the real, the sub-real.
The sub-real is the pineal gland of the twenty-first century.29
In the hands of the sub-realist, the tenements of the sub-real become sites of transformation, sights transforming the discarded into the re-cycled and, at times, converting land-fills, strip-mines, abandoned sites into spaces of sub-realist inter-vention. The sub-realist is an inter-ventionist, digging into the ground of matter to invent, whether that creation is physical or meta-physical. The sub-realist inter-venes, taking up residence in the space between discourses, the gaps between re-presentation and presentation, the gap between the ‘real’ and the real, the real and the reel.
The real secretes from the sebaceous oozing of the epidermal lodgings of the sub-real.
“We have abolished the real world: what world is left? the apparent world perhaps?…But no! with the real world we
have also abolished the apparent world!”- Friedrich Nietzsche
V. The tendrils of the sub-real.
Given the sub-realist’s concern with space, the sub-realist is deeply engaged with issues concerning the environment. This concern with the environment is only one of the myriad tendrils encompassing the sub-real. The sub-realist, however, addresses an expanded notion of the environment, of not only traditional environmental issues, issues that are the most pressing for our world’s long-term survival, and, therefore, need to be addressed immediately, but also of our immediate environments, the health issues raised by contemporary technologies, as well as the psychological impact of this great shift in
the tectonic plates of human existence. In addition, the sub-realist draws upon the lived environment, the sounds of our ‘natural’ environments, the inorganic environment that impacts our sense of place, and senses our place within place. The sub-real demands a commitment to the world, an internationalism born not of national-isms, but of inter-twinement within the environments we occupy. The sub-real calls for a commitment to the world, a globalization that is not corporate, but nomadic, a wandering from place to place, from cultural oasis to cultural oasis, seeking respite from
the tele-visual mirage.
29 The pineal gland secretes melatonin into the blood stream, especially at night. It was also thought to be
the seat of consciousness in the middle ages. Bataille, a librarian specializing in medieval studies, wrote of
the pineal eye, drawing upon the role of the pineal gland within the fields of medieval mysticism and the
This nomadism, while critical of technology, questioning technology, challenging technology, would maintain a dialogue with technology where such conversations lead to a greater understanding of our need for dis-urbanization.30
This openness to understanding, of striving to find a space for understanding, a space of the sub-real, leads to a nomadism in ideas, as well, a willingness to work between ideas, to work out the spaces both between and beyond representation. This consideration of the spaces between, the spaces where the tendrils of the sub-real lurk, opens to a questioning of the tain of the mirror, the very materiality that underpins the narcissistic hinge of (self-) reflection that so pervades the emptying spectacles of contemporary culture. These mirroring effects lead to a cultural dyslexia that the sub-realist cares for, another of the tendrils of the sub-real. Of course, dyslexia is spelled in a way that only a dyslexic
can fully appreciate for its sub-real reverberations.31 In a dyslexic world, the sub- effects of the linguistic real make all verbal reality tentative, subject to interpretation, missed interpretation, the misinterpretation of language that exposes the basic misunderstandings language hinges upon, the hinge of language that defends the world’s truth. A culture enraptured by its own image leads to a dyslexic cultural consciousness that mis-reads the past, or reads the past illegibly, through the mirroring lens of history.32
thirty Dis-urbanization is an idea that has most richly be explored by the Russian constructivists. A great deal of these proposals derived their impetus from the theoretical considerations of the sociologist Mikhail Okhitovich. The access to these ideas in the West is still somewhat limited, a holdover of the Cold War, when the xenophobia produced through nuclear détente, created a situation very dire to the continued existence of ‘humanity, as we know it.’ This situation still exists and is another factor that limits, at times, the usefulness of some of the tradition our cultures have inherited. Nevertheless, it makes understanding these difference, communicating these differences, all the more important, all the more vital. One vision of dis-urbanization would be the use of technologies to provide an existence that better utilized land resources for living. This entails not only a decrease in population density within a region, but also the more efficient use of natural resources. This demands housing that is inexpensive, environmentally friendly, set into the environment, while drawing on the environment’s resources in a sensible fashion to maintain a balance between the built and natural environments. Some visions of dis-urbanization could also use building methods and materials developed since the early twentieth-century. The ‘Earthship,’ which can be found throughout the American Southwest and Pacific Northwest, offers an examples of a type of structure that meets these demands. The ‘Earthship’ exists off the grid, being self-reliant, and constructed out of recycled materials, situated on land hostile to contemporary architecture, finding and founding a harmony with the living environment. In addition, great deal of contemporary architects are developing innovative ways of constructing spaces of living that consider an eco-consciousness, including Elemer Zalotay, Jeffrey Miles, Francois Roche, and Michael Sorkin.
31 The sub- itself is quite prone to dyslexic ‘mis-reading,’ the letter ‘s’ and ‘b’ quite prone to reversals. Of
course, the ‘u’ remains impervious to such reversals, being its own mirror image.
32 If it reads at all. Literacy, once the battle cry of the Enlightenment has become the parody of a battle cry
for a post-Enlightenment world. One of the challenges of our culture is a growing rate of unreported
illiteracy. In the drive to create a ‘real’ image of literacy to promote the quality of American education, a
incredibly large portion of our society goes unreported as illiterate. There is, of course, also an
unwillingness of the illiterate to be identified, given the social stigmatism associated with illiteracy.
Again, a world of numbers can create any image of the ‘real’ in our age of simulation. Suffice it
to say, that there is no accurate study of illiteracy rates in America that can bring out a global comparison.
Conversely, there is a related issue concerning the lack of a culture of literacy in America. That is
to say, reading is becoming an endangered art, even form of entertainment in our culture. Indeed, the sub-
realist often resides in these dying mediums, taking up these spectral haunts for the purposes of artistic action. Of course, part of the challenge for the sub-realist is to create in a state of distraction. The
distractions of the ‘real’ can turn our attention away from the sub-real.
The sub-realist deciphers these illegible forms, finding in them the tendrils of the sub-real. The sub-realist takes care of these tendrils, a care-taking that at once echoes the discourse of care in Heidegger to Guy Maddin’s Careful, taking heed of the delicacy of any community’s sense of the ‘real.’ Through such attentiveness, the sub-realist cares for these rhizomic tendrils, leading to new growth out of the abandoned remains of old growth.
“Take me, I am the drug; take me, I am hallucinogenic.”- Salvador Dali
VI. The sub-real against the sur-real
Not above the real, but below the real. The surreal merely layers over the various symbolic codes that happen to determine a particular reality at any given time. The sub-real strips away the screened layers of symbolic reality that configure an always already multiple in our post-modular world. One layer at a time. Not the narcissistic oneirism of the sub-conscious, but a terrain below consciousness,
beneath the consideration of consciousness, a terrain that unsettles the very notions ordering the conscious in its forays between supra- and sub- realities. Dali produced imperialist pornography for the twenty-first century, embracing oneirism for a world in love with itself. The surreal always serves those who are in power, creating an aesthetic of impotent masturbatory masculine inaction. Indeed, for Duchamp, impotence is the very basis of aesthetic pleasure, yet the sins committed in his name are too many to enumerate in our withered age where sub-mission to power is our ‘given.’33 The sub-
real challenges the potency of the powerful through its exposure of the source of power, sub-mission to the ‘real.’34
In the sub-real, everything is temporary and transitory. One of the chief problems of surrealism was its unquestioned assumption of a language of meta-physics, moving towards timeless visions of the time-bound and becoming bound to those very institutions that preserve the timeless. Surrealism ignores the time-bound nature of every artistic action, an action that quickly becomes an act, contrived, and ultimately dependent upon the subsequent acts of interpretation that render ‘meaning’ back to the work of art, acts of interpretation that are bound to the limits of every linguistic act.
33 Duchamp’s work opens many veins to the sub-real. His dis-ease with Surrealism’s glorification of the
ego suggests his sub-realist leanings. Especially, Duchamp’s notion of the ready-made seems to lend itself
to effects of the sub-real.
34 This discussion of the issue of sub-mission in the relation between the real and the sub-real could be
sub-mitted to an analysis in terms of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, whereby the master recognizes his
reliance upon the recognition of the slave, a recognition that both invests the master with power, but a
power that is, in essence, dependent upon the slave’s recognition, shifting the balance of power in this
relationship to the slave.
To put it simply, sur-realism is not revolutionary in the twenty-first century, although it can still have revolutionary effects.35 Of course, this opens up a question concerning revolution and the sub-real, a question that opens up also to the issue of revolt, of the revolutionary and the revolting, of revulsion. The surrealists domesticated revulsion, making it simply revolting. While seemingly minor, there is an important space between revulsion and revolting, a space where the sub-real takes hold. This is a space embodied in part by the different roots for revulsion (from the Fench, revellere, literally, ‘to pull back’) and revolting (from the Vulgar Latin, revolvitare, literally to overturn). The sub-realist prefers revulsion to the revolting, revolting acts to revolting objects, wishing to pull back the screen of the ‘real’ that occludes the sub-real. The excommunication of Georges Bataille by the Surrealists is one of the signs that mark him as a sub-realist. The Surrealists treated his work as simply revolting, their revulsion exposing their bourgeois inheritance, the willingness of the Surrealist to only tread lightly upon the landscape of the domesticated self’s dream, embracing the repression that is the
dream, instead of contemplating the irrepressible sub-real. As nightmarish as the Surrealist’s attempts to represent the dream may be, they offer little that burrows into the caverns of the hollowed spaces of consciousness as does the work of Bataille. His work elicits a great opening to the rejected sub-strata of human existence, our physical and psychological waste and all that is banished from reality to the nether regions of divinepsyche.36
Bataille guides us through what remains beyond symbolic representation, breaking through the layers of symbolic reality that the surrealist playful profits from to bring us face to face with the waste that rational society and its irrational echo cannot profit from, prophetically presenting visions of excess that portend to the ruinous potential of anysystemic waste and the danger this waste poses to the system that can’t use it. This journey helps contour the nomad’s existence, leading to an entity without corporeal existence, resistant to incorporation, against corporation, and for a body without
organs.37 In other words, a sub-realist.
“Formless.- A dictionary would begin as of the moment when it no longer provided the meanings of the words but
their tasks. In this way formless is not only an adjective having such and such a meaning, but a term serving to
declassify, requiring in general that every thing should have a form. What it designates does not, in any sense
whatever, possess rights, and everywhere gets crushed like a spider or an earthworm. For academics to be satisfied, it
would be necessary, in effect, for the universe to take on a form. The whole of philosophy has no other aim; it is a
question of fitting what exists into a frock coat, a mathematical frock-coat. To affirm on the contrary that the universe
resembles nothing at all and is only formless, amounts to saying that the universe is something akin to a spider or a
gob of spittle.”- Georges Bataille
35 Again, the use of surrealist techniques in graphic design and advertising so the easy complicity of
surrealist aesthetics with corporate capitalism.
36 This is not to suggest that surrealism cannot produce sub-real effects. The sub-real can lurk within
surrealist art, certainly, just as the sub-real lurks within the very heart of the ‘real.’
37 The body without organs is a concept culled from the case studies of Sigmund Freud. This idea was
most notably appropriated by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their benchmark work The Anti-
Oedipus. The work of Deleuze and Guattari provide a great wealth of tactics and techniques for the sub-
VII. The sub-real and Logos
Given the questioning of identity that the sub-real entails, the sub-realist has a natural distrust of logos. Logos has to be read, however, on several levels. First, there is the Logos, the word of God, the word made flesh, and the sub-real gap that exists between the two. Second, there is logos, the Greek word for word. Logos is the grounding for a great deal of foundational concepts within Western thought, as most complexly discussed in the work of Jacques Derrida. The role of language, in constructing the real, makes the analysis of logos a potentially sub-realist act. Only potentially, however. Third, logos stands for, well, logos, those identifying markers of being. From corporate logos to graffiti tags, logos are markers of the logo-centric nature of our identity obsessed world, a
world taking in by abstraction and the distancing that is created through the abstract.38
The sub-realist takes residence in the space created through the abstract, seeing in the name merely another harbinger for the ‘real,’ a central facet to the maintenance of a culture of the spectacle.
This culture of the spectacle also engages an issue of the singular versus the universal. Logos provides an artificial bridge between the singular and the universal, presenting a universally singular surface that forms the basis of a mass-producing society. Logos copies. The sub-real effects of this mass production can be seen in the representation of violence, a violence that is always represented at a safe distance, even though it happens in the least safe distance, the distance of conflict. This is a distance not just between where representation happens and how violence happens, but also an issue of what violence is represented and how. This entails local violence, domestic violence, foreign
violence, as well as the statistics and language used to represent violence. Beyond the distinction between particular violence and universal violence, there is an issue of the singular act of violence and the act of violence en masse, and the decision that leads to the spectacle of violence, its representation through the mass media. Within all of these considerations, what remains un-represented is the sub-real aspect of violence, an aspect of violence that resists the violence of representation. The violence of representation leads to mis-representation, to cultural mis-recognition,
the acceptance of the easy to consume within domestic luxury. Nowhere is this comfortable consumption of representational violence at work more than within the average American home.
38 This also brings up the aspects of all three forms of logos identified here, such as ab-solutism and ab-
solution. That is to say, absolutes tend to dominate the discourse initiated by logos, just as absolution from
isolation is the promise and premise for logos in all three instances. These offer solutions to the human
condition, but they cannot escape the effects of the ab-, effects that suggest the potential error of any
solution, that all solutions are only ever tentative, relative, and far from the absolutes they posit through
logos. The insoluble aporia of the absolute is intimately related to the limit, to the always already tentative
nature of the limit.
There is also a question of the relation of logos to legos, and the use of legos creatively to critique
the nature of logos. This also can branch off into issues concerning the nature of the log in the work of
David Lynch, the log lady’s log fetishizing logos, as well as the burning of logs, the logging industry, and a
wealth of other arboreal references to the logos through log in Lynch’s work. Again, more analysis of the
sub-real effects of these examples could be explored given the space.
This representational violence goes beyond the literalrepresentation of violence on television, and even less the frictive violence of sub-realist inter-ventions, but, rather, enters into a world that needs to be attentive to the expanded violence of mediated representations of the ‘real.’ This expanded violence is the role of propaganda, a propaganda propagated by a media controlled by corporate interests interested in forging a sense of the supremacy of America, a sense of supremacy built
upon faulty grounds, on the grounds of ideals. The supremacy of America is merely a supremacy rooted in crass materialism, a supremacy that the sub-realist challenges, refusing the incorporated –ism, the corporate logo, the signature style, refusing logos.39
Again, this is also related to a problem of the spectacle, of the spectacular, of dominating the world through the visual. In Roman times, the statues of the emperors were sometimes the only way that people experienced their leader. In our world, the president is just an image and the world image America presents to the world is what truly controls our world, corporate logos. A questioning of logos and the logos, of the word made repeatable, mass producible, mad producible, such a questioning is one of the central tasks of the sub-realist. Despite this questioning of language, many of the works that heighten our awareness of the sub-real take the form of literature. Indeed, literature is another tenement of the sub-real, whose neglect reflects the repression of the sub-real in a world given over to the spectacle of the reel. This is not to suggest that literature can provide permanent housing. Rather, the provisional nature of literature, its investment in the tenuous structure of
language, the provisional nature of every act of communication, allows the sub-realist writer and reader to play out the inherent ambiguities involved in all communication, literary or otherwise.40
Linguistically, the sub-real can happen beyond the intentions of an authorial presence. The sub-real lies beneath the surface of the ego’s ‘real.’ Buried, the sub-real is unearthed from within language, as the presentation of language in a frictive way, a friction that burns down the distance between the ‘real’ and re-presentation, exposing the volcanic overflow of the sub-real.41 The sub-real happens in a great deal of literary moments, occupying some of the greatest gaps within literature, from the story of Byron the Bulb in thirty nine This is a question going back to the Kantian foundations of the Euro-centric world that pulses through the American consciousness unconsciously. Is America any more diverse than Konigsberg in the late eighteenth century? Or more appropriately, is America any more diverse than Holland, than Istanbul? The assumption of cultural richness that America presents to the status quo is one of the cultural riches. The sub-realist loots these cultural riches, showing the impoverished nature of these trinkets.
40 Or, to put it otherwise, the problem of language constantly surrounds us, even when that ‘us’ is the
individual dialogue, the individual always already divided through the very language that allows the
individual to define herself.
41 At one level, frictive literature embodies a form of fiction that rubs against reality. This form, however,
in touching upon the sub-real, fractures the foundations of literature, leaving the previous structure ruinous
fragments. From these fragments, the sub-realist writer presents fractals of the real.
Of course, this also raises the issue of how fractal geometry relates to the sub-real. Again, it is a
matter of recognizing that fractal geometry, in itself, already represents the world in the terms of fractal-
geometry. This process of self-definition through a representational language that one creates to explain
the world is one of the elements that points towards the sub-real dimension of reality.
Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow to the fatalistic fable of “Before the Law” in Franz Kafka’s The Trial. These works share a rhizomic relation to the real, one that branches off into a great many material and conceptual layers of sedimentation, fertilizing the consciousness of the sub-real. From Ryu Murakami’s description of an insect in AlmostTransparent Blue to all the forgeries in William Gaddis’ The Recognitions, the sub-real plays on the real, preys upon the real, para-sitically, creating a new perspective on the ‘real,’ opening up a gaze from the sub-real. The engagement between the sub-real and literature is less a matter of literally listing works that are sub-real and works that are not, for the sub-real is never a matter of exclusiveness, of excluding something from reality, but of precisely including the repressed other of ‘reality.’ That these visions of reality’s margins are best embodied, at
times, in literary works is hardly surprising. Literature often provides the very space where the margins of society speak, where the visionary stakes claim to a frictive existence, brushing against the borders of reality through fiction and setting in motion the frictive literature of the sub-real.42
The sub-real is less a literary genre, something generic, than something that happens. It happens in the discussion of the relation between truth and fiction in Kenzaburo Oe’s The Silent Cry. Through the cut up technique of William S. Burroughs, the sub-real finds one of its means of expressing itself through the role of chance, a play of chance that allows fertile terrain for the discovery of the sub-real, a sub-real that inhabits the ground between fiction and the real, contesting this terrain as the muddy grounds out of which emerges the sub-real.43
The sub-real poses the question of literature and the question of the book, from Maurice Blanchot’s questioning of the book to Le Livre des Questions by Edmund Jabes to El libro de las preguntas by Pablo Neruda. This culture of the question is one of the tendrils to the sub-real. This questioning challenges the permanence of the foundational ‘real,’ showing the permeable presence of the sub-real within these fractured and retro-fitted foundations.
42 As a fiction writer, one spends a great deal of time in a place that doesn’t exist, a place akin to the sub-
real. This space of literature has been discussed at great length and density by one of its foremost
practitioners, Maurice Blanchot.
This also raises the question of the writer and the writer’s relation to the fiction writer, the friction
between fiction and the writer. Again, Blanchot’s work seems to offer an excellent entry point into this
43 Among other writers whose work is pertinent to the sub-real are Antonin Artaud, Alfred Jarry, Alice
Munro, Anne Quinn, Maurice Blanchot, Georges Bataille, Harry Matthews, William Gass, Don DeLillo,
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Osamu Dazai, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, William Carver, Jorge Luis Borges,
J. G. Ballard, Edgar Allan Poe, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Saurraute, Jim Thompson, Hunter S.
Thompson, David Foster Wallace, William T. Vollmann, too few and too many to list, if a list of sub-real
writers were simple to delimit, domesticate. The sub-real happens beyond any entity that would seek to
make an –ism out of it. The resistance to identity allows the sub-real to remain below the real, below the
consideration of the real. Such resistance is the beginning of sub-real revolution, a revulsion to the ‘real,’
and all categorical thought.
These tendrils take temporary root in sub-real openings, the gaps the sub-realist dwells upon, dwelling within the linguistic ruins of the sub-real. These ruins encompass more than language, also taking on body through visual culture, taking up residence in the space between, the in between space that forms all our relations to the sub-real.
“Fragments of architecture (bits of walls, of rooms, of streets, of ideas) are all one actually sees. These fragments are
like beginnings without ends. There is always a split between fragments that are real and fragments that are virtual,
between memory and fantasy. These splits have no existence other than being the passage from one fragment to
another. They are relays rather than signs. They are traces. They are in-between.”- Bernard Tschumi
VIII. The sub-real and visual culture
The sub-real is, however, less about the literary, about high culture than it is about questioning the real, the visible, regardless of whether that visible is linguistic or imagistic. As a result, the sub-real may be found in graphic novels, in the works of Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Eddie Campbell, works that at once involve both word and image. 44
Moreover, sub-realist literature also embodies the detritus of society, the wasted and wasteful handouts and pamphlets proffered by passionate hands, ranging from the hands of activists to the hands that distribute The Watchtower, a sub-realist work of
literature if ever there was one. In other words, the sub-realist work of literature is always already a readymade. Made of words that are found or founded upon a pre-existent language, the sub-realist writer explores the traces of the sub-real, giving these traces verbal forms to chart the space of literature, one of the most fertile of sub-real grounds. Another fertile ground of the sub-real is visual culture, that meeting ground of word and image, high and low, the terrain of fluidic signifiers moving at speeds uncharitable by the visible real, requiring sub-real analysis. To begin discussing the sub-real and visual culture, however, it is first important to note the futility of art. Art says a lot, but does very little. Yet, that very little it does, when it does it, can be quite powerful. That this happening happens through the conduit of an individual makes this happening very tenuous, dependent on the character of the individual. Hence, the importance of both the political artist and the political prisoner, and especially the artist who is a political prisoner. These individuals, at times, can achieve great ends, by doing very little, by simply being, and rejecting the ‘real’ and creating art. Or, to state matters otherwise, individuals are necessary, but the messages are of greater importance. In addressing visual culture, instead of art, we think about art within an expanded visual field, one expanded less by art history, and more by the artistic acts that have come to focus attention on the expanded terrain of the visual. The sub-real exists in tension with art. The category of art is a weighty foundation for Western culture.
44 Similarly, the work of William Blake takes up a space between word and image, one that challenged the
prevailing assumptions of his society’s notion of ‘high culture.’ Blake’s work opens up to the sub-real,
providing frictive narratives imbued with the sub-real.
Kant helped to construct this foundation, utilizing both contemporary and classical ideas from philosophy and other disciplines overseen by philosophy. For Kant, art is the object that serves no purpose except to have no purpose, and this is art’s purpose. This purposelessness became the apology for art that counter-balanced the apology for all deus ex machina. This provided for the trivialization of art within the bourgeois aesthetic of art for art’s sake. Much of Nietzsche’s critique of Kantian thought has its roots in these shaky grounds for universal subjectivity, the grounds of bourgeois idealism. Regardless, the discussion cultivated by the tradition of nineteenth-century aesthetic philosophy focused great attention on ‘art,’ paying very little attention to all that falls beyond ‘art’ as a particular category of transcendental philosophy. This idealist definition of art also neglects a materialist consideration of the work of art as a commodity. At the same time, the materialist view of the world can assume the same self-aggrandizement that marks the idealist view of the world. The sub-realist takes temporary residence within the gap between these two perspecitives, offering less an ultimate perspective or perspecitvism, but, rather, a perspective from the gap between perspectives, a gaping perspecitivalism.45
Within a culture of the spectacle, the sub-realist pays particular attention to the overlooked, paying attention to what eludes the monocular gaze of a techno-cratic age in love with its own pseudo-scientific terminology, or, logos. The sub-realist is less concerned with inhabiting the domesticated ground of art, the museological, than with the uncharted ground, and, perhaps most importantly, the
inability to chart this ground, the groundlessness of ground for our age, heterogeneous though these perspectives may be.46
Realism, the visual aesthetic of the scientific world, is never as transparent as it seems, masking the real and making it always already subject to the interventions of the sub-realist. To this end, one could cite the imagery of Henry Fuseli, Honore Daumier, Edgar Degas, and countless others who paid attention to the space of the museum, to the very act of looking at art in the contemporary world. Either parodying this world or presenting an aspect of this world that had been un-represented,
un-sighted, or sub-real, these artists explored the sub-real aspects of the museological. Yet, the works of these nineteenth century artists merely provide precursors to the sub-realist explorations of today. They demonstrate the way in which sub-realist concerns have lurked beneath the traditions of realism that have been inherited by artists born into the world of today. Indeed, as with literature, there are many moments, many spaces of the sub-real that happen through and within works of visual culture.
45 This perspectivism of the gap would in this way build upon the perspectivism of Nietzsche, while
necessarily re-considering Nietzsche, challenging Nietzshce, given the gap between Nietzshce’s age and
our own. This gap will also make it an even greater difficulty to understand Nietzsche, given how visible
Nietzsche is culturally, so visible as to be invisible.
46 The museum can be a rich space for the sub-real. In the museum, the access to the other is presented
through the language of homogeneity, of colonization. The other, in essence, is presented as an already
known other, a knowable other, one who has been incorporated into the discourse, a discourse that centers
in the end, on our sense of place, our place within place. This place is always prone to the slippage induced
by the sub-real gaps within these institutional groundworks.
Within ‘art,’ the sub-real happens beneath the work-less work of Hamish Fulton, as well as the spiraling environmental wasteland structured by Robert Smithson’s engagement with the Great Salt Lake. The sub-real happens within the self-less portraits of On Kawara and the sole-full techno-
spirituality of Mariko Mori.47 Again, however, the sub-real is less about attaching its creation to individual artists. Rather, it is a matter of considering the spatial and temporal relations that permit the sub-real to erupt. As a result, place is more important to sub-real visual culture than heroic individuals. Often, places of extreme difference to American hegemony offer terrain for cultural
critique, especially in those cases where there has been great cultural exchange and inheritances. Canada and Australia often provide sub-real visual culture, something that may be attributable to the dearth of the metropolis and the large, isolated spaces that enhance the distance between people, leading to rich explorations surrounding technology, communication, and identity.48
The sub-real is also susceptible to take lodge within cultures that have experienced rapid modernization, especially modernization developed within the context of the West. This can be seen in both Japan and Iceland, two island locations of extreme seismic activity. These are also two islands that underwent rapid modernization, experiencing modernization in a post-industrial world, a process that in essence builds a post-modern society above a pre-modern society. Given this experience of discontinuity, both areas have produced an extraordinary quality and quantity of visual culture that embraces the sub-real experience. Most notably, the filmic output of Takashi Miike revels and reveals
the sub-real, tapping into the ground water that feeds the primordial visions his work beckons at its most sub-real moments.49
The sub-realist, however, does not create a hierarchy of sub-realist art or a chartable map of the sub-real. There is no image of the sub-real, only sub-real images. The sub-realist does not hold onto the image, let the image take hold. Instead, the sub-realist pulls back the image, pulls the image apart, pulling the sub-real fragments over the real, a tattered image of the sub-real and not the sub-real itself. Every image of the sub-real is temporary and transitory, an acknowledgement of the temporary and transitory nature of all realities. Underneath this acknowledgement of the temporary and the transitory is a relation to death, to internment and cremation, from decay to ashes.50 This relation to
death interred into the real by the sub-real exposes the presence of death in our society, beyond the screened representation of death that we see on a regular basis.51 The sub- real pushes beyond the mediated image of death to the nature of the individual’s death as an individual.
“Knowledge in the form of an informational commodity indispensable to productive power is already, and will
continue to be, a major— perhaps the major— stake in the worldwide competition for power. It is conceivable that the
nation-states will one day fight for control of information, just as they battled in the past for control over territory, and
afterwards for control over access to and exploitation of raw materials and cheap labor.”- Jean François Lyotard
47 There are, of course, countless artists whose works could be cited, appropriated, works that can provide
a site for the sub-real. To name just a few, all too few, Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, Anselm Kiefer,
Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt, Rachael Whiteread, Anne Hamilton, Marina Abramovic, Theodore Gericault,
Francisco Goya, Edouard Manet, Robert Williams, Leon Golub, Nancy Spero, Irving Petlin, Balthus,
Joseph Beuys, Marcel Broodthaers, Gordon Matta Clark, Hans Haacke, Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse,
Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Jorg Immendorf, Ed Keinholz, Arman, Jean Tinguely, and Daniel Spoerri.
Again, however, the sub-real is not a style of art, even less an –ism. The sub-real embodies an
attitude towards the ‘real,’ one of undermining the familiar, the security of a permanent reality, a reality as
an object of contemplation. The sub-real in art is less about the representation of reality and more about
representing what lurks beneath reality.
48 For example, in Canadian film, work of Guy Maddin, David Cronenberg, and Atom Egoyan reflect
intimate knowledge of the sub-real.
49 The sub-real, of course, can erupt in countless filmic examples. The sub-real happens notably in the
filmic work of Orson Welles, David Lynch, Jean Luc Godard, Guy Maddin, David Cronenberg, Atom
Egoyan, Todd Solondz, and countless others. Again, it is less a list of identifying sub-realist artists or the
sub-real and more a matter of understanding the presence of the sub-real. Suffice it to say, however, that
the sub-real cannot be limited by a list of director’s names, nor is such a list necessary. The sub-real
50 One could cite here James Ensor’s My Portrait in 1960, an image of skeleton, playing on the mortality
of the artist. Indeed, Ensor’s work offers another late nineteenth and early twentieth century exemplar of
charting the sub-real. In The Entry of Christ into Brussels in 1889, Ensor offers the sub-real image of
Christ appearing in the soon to be now, opening up a space to question what passes beneath our reality,
looking at the overlooked.
51 One way to think of this is through the way the ground pulls itself to the mortal self constantly.
Mortality surrounds us.
“…it’s later than you think…”- Charles Baudelaire
IX. The roots of the sub-real
Again, it is not a matter of listing a fixable set of attributes that define the sub-real film. Rather, it is, in part, film that allows an exploration of the sub-real. Film activates the sub-real, setting up a situation where an experience of the sub-real may happen. This happening may happen in a cinematic work of by a filmic auteur or in an industrial infomercial. The sub-real is more about the space through which the sub-real establishes hold than it is about the work of the sub-realist. It is in these spaces that we can trace the roots of the sub-real, roots that we’ve been tracing in literature and visual culture. In this section, we’ll briefly consider some of the intellectual roots to the sub-real. Post-structuralism provides significant moments of engagement with the sub-real. Indeed, the sub-real takes up a rhizomic relation to the post-, tracing the concerns of the post- from post-structuralism through the discussion of the postal system by Derrida in The Post Card to the performance of the post- within Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. This question of the post- also branches into the material postal system that serves as the basis for these theoretical and frictive analyses, leading to the intersection between surveillance and the postal system in a world of paranoiac posts-, in a world gone postal. Within such a conflicted postal state, the question of the sub-real is less one of identifying the addressees, of returning the message to its sender, echoing the addressees address,
and more a situation of recognizing the address, the call of the address.52
52 A brief look at the genealogical chart of the sub-real would note the inter-marriage between a great deal
of thinkers of French descent, from Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome to Foucault’s analysis of power
systems, from Blanchot’s notion of the space of literature to Virilio’s analysis of speed, war, and politics.
These French ancestors would reveal a mixing of heritage, of roots in the excretory literature of Geroges
Bataille to several Germanic forebears, including the burdensome traditions of Nietzsche and Heidegger
that marks so much of late twentieth-century French thought. This genealogical chart would have to look
at the effects of American colonization of French thought through the industrialization and downsizing of
American academia and the development of an intellectual star system. Such an analysis, eventually,
would have to engage with the peculiar case of Slavoj Žižek, another critical component to the sub-realist
In other words, if one can attempt to speak in the words of the other, the other of the ‘real,’ the sub-real is not concerned with tracing Derridean, Lacanian, Foucaultian, or Deleuzian strains of post-structuralism in the hopes of finding an identifiable intellectual soil that informs the sub-real. Rather, it is a matter of locating the spaces between the discourse of these thinkers, both the gaps and the overlaps, and, perhaps, most importantly, the passages between their texts and the sub-real, the space of the in- between, the space of aporia. The sub-real is rhizomic, a horizontal boring that impales the retro-garde tunneling technology of Kant’s transcendental boar, a boring action that counters the vertically structured stasis of Hegel’s upward spiraling dialectic. In mining, miming, and maiming
this tradition, the rhizomic sub-real taps a more primordially organic process of replication. The sub-real, like a rhizome, is nodal in nature, providing the means for new growth, for taking action from seeming passivity. In this way, too, the thought of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari inform the sub-real and inspire the sub-realist. Their own work involved a material engagement with the foundations of psychology, and, like their countryman Michel Foucault in Madness and Civilization, challenged one of the fundamental boundaries that exert a limiting force on human consciousness. The returns on these intellectual traditions is also an analysis of the material returns of these traditions, a questioning of all the victories of the intellectual left, a movement on the left that has accomplished little more than providing an apologia for the lesser of corporate demons, the media-conglomerates whose ownership of the means of distributing information greatly limits any organization that is financially tied to these chimerical entities. The intellectual left, all too often in complicit allegiance with the
corporate structuring of academia, provide the ineffectual proclamations of the new bourgeoisie, claiming empathy and sympathy with the intellectual and artistic proletariat. The sub-realist’s distrust of tradition is held in balance by the sub-realist’s understanding of the fissures within tradition, of tradition’s ruins, of the ruins of the present tradition, the ruins of presence.53 Sifting and shifting through these ruins of presence propped up by tele-presence, the sub-realist assumes a schizoid perspective, challenging the illusion of ‘real-time’ that supports entertainment’s industrious tele-presence. Un-swayed by these distractions, the sub-realist takes up a temporary and transitory perspective within the un-admitted spaces of the sub-real, hoping, barely, to sabotage the progression of the mediated real, the real that attempts to bury the sub-real.
53 Here one can think of images of ruins by Piranesi and Friedrich, monuments to the deterioration of the
past in the present. This element of the physical ruin from the past also relates the space of the crypt, of
burial, of everything interred in history’s grounding of the past.
These labyrinthine attempts at burial fail, due to the mass of roots comprising the rhizomic structure of the sub-real, a structure that takes hold between the dueling representations of order and chaos, in the space between order and chaos, the space of the rhizome.54
“If the possibility of acting instantaneously without having to move about physically to open the blinds, switch on the
light or adjust the heating has partly removed the practical value of space and time intervals to the sole benefit of the
speed interval of remote control (thanks to the feats of the live transmission revolution), what will happen when this
capacity for action or, rather, for instantaneous interaction, with the biotechnological transplant revolution, migrates
from the thickness of the walls or floors of the wired apartment and settles not on, but inside, the body of the
inhabitants, introducing itself, lodging itself inside their bodies, in the closed circuits of their vital systems?”
X. The rhizomic futures of the sub-real
The sub-real manifests itself ten-fold, exponentially, multiplying its effects to the nth degree. The sub-real shows an interest in all numbering systems, the basis of the basis of numerical systems, and the vested interests in such systems, the basis for the base ten unit within the West. Ten, like most numbers, has a rich and diverse cultural history. Within the West, ten has an all too readily re-citable history. Even the most cursory of considerations cannot fail to notice the Ten Commandments or the Ten Amendments comprising the Bill of Rights. We could then consider ten’s appearance in popular culture, the ten-gallon hat, the notion of ten as a perfect score, as perfection, or Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue. While this history makes up part of the significance of the number ten, it only begins to tap into the rhizomic structure of the sub-real. Beyond the historical significance of the number ten, there remain the continued sub-real effects of the number ten. To the age of digitization, the sub-real is embodied symbolically and literally by the visual representation of ’10,’ a consideration beyond the concerns of the everyday real. In an age of digitization, ‘10’ presents the opposition, the division of the world between the numbers ‘1’ and ‘0,’ the binary encryption of reality into polar opposites, into 1s and 0s. This digitization through binary encryption helps promote an illusion of the real, replacing the hand with the technical inter-face, the technical inter-face taking the place of the face to face. In the process, we move further from a consideration of the environment, escaping into artificial paradises. The world becomes a world of resources, as our resourcefulness withers. We lose our sense of place, our place within place.
54 The rhizomic structure is not merely arbitrary. It is an open-ended system of connections and inter-
connections, of spaces between. Rhizome itself opens up to a rhizomic structure. Rhizome derives from
the Greek word, rhiza, meaning root, and forming a rhizomic anchor that connects antiquity to
contemporary culture through the RZA, whose actions, at times, occupy the space of the sub-real.
On another level, this raises the issue of the sub-real to chaos theory and complexity theory.
While the housing of chance seems a potentially useful thing to help rationalize science, it is also at the
same time, an abdication of reason, a slippage of the sub-real in the rational real. Chance events happen.
We can gesture towards their frequency, but cannot predict their happening. The event can be predicted,
but it doesn’t happen if predicted. The event is something that exceeds all scientific explanation, resisting
all representation, especially the desire to bring an order to representation. In other words, the vent is sub-
For the sub-realist, ten also bears a relation to the Roman numeral X. This may branch into a consideration of Roman numbering systems, the development of the Roman bureaucratic-militaristic- corporate imperial structure and the role of statistics in representing the world today. The ‘X’ may also take on part of the proper name, of “Malcolm X,” and all the sub-real effects of his life and legacy. The ‘X’ is, of course, also a mark of erasure, a mark of aporia, the mark of not being able to pass, of being suspended. An “X’ always marks the sub-real spot, marking it as beyond re-presentation, as not being re-presented, as not being. This crossing out re-presented by the ‘X,’ an ‘X’
that is also ten, comes to signify another dimension to the sub-real. This, of course, is not to suggest that there are only ten dimensions to the sub-real. Rather, the sub-real makes us attentive to all the dimensions of a place, of our place within place. Lacking hierarchy, the sub-real is always a provisional place, always already provisionary, always subject to erasure, always below the real, waiting to happen. Moreover, the sub-real is not something created by a sub-realist. If anything, the sub-real creates the sub-realist, the experience of the sub-real forming the foundation for the
existence of the sub-realist. The sub-realist, instead of creating, activates the sub-real through creative actions, leading not to something permanent in a traditional sense, an art object, but, rather, something that happens, an event that is permeated by the sub-real, exposing the permeable state of the real.
“Man wished to dream and now the dream will govern man.”- Charles Baudelaire