lecture, given during the seminar Art and Desire
November 2010

My brief attempt to recapitulate the work I have been engaged with the Department of Reading during the last four years comes from a fatigue. Even though this fatigue is not unusual at all, I just didn't want to pass over it either. It appears to me that such a fatigue is due to an inevitable repetition. Something keeps on coming back, so to speak. Some experiences and questions repeat themselves over and over again. They are constantly at work within the Department of Reading, for instance, and have been addressed in its practice several times as well, but nevertheless they seem to remain undefined and apparitional.

From Haunting
Now, I won't be able to offer a consistent definition of these experiences and questions here, which, I assume, would ask for their proper translation into concepts. When ever I was invited to talk about the Department of Reading I had the serious difficulty to introduce a necessary distance of speech. I felt, I either get caught up in a situation, where I can not say much, or I simply would have to invite the audience into the practice of the Department of Reading itself, which again is not that particular – it's reading with others, in part online. But that, of course, changes the situation of speaking, of addressing, of taking responsibility.
So, I chose the form of a recapitulation in order to speak about the work of the Department of Reading. I won't be able to give definitions, but I would like to lay some of its reappearing experiences and questions out in the open once again, to summon them for them being present at the same time. Having been speaking of a fatigue, there is as well the desire to come to terms with a manner of being public or acting in public. It seems to be at play with the Department of Reading, which, I believe, bears some similarities with other contemporary practices that are situated somewhere between art and theory. That is, why I had to think of these expressions: politics of friendship, ethics of désœuvrement, strategy of concepts. I was hoping, they would mean something to you as well.
If the Department of Reading could be taken as an example for these kind of practices that rely on such political, ethical and strategical gestures, it might though differ from them in its allurement to an experience of language. I would think, its slight transitions are due to such experiences, whether they appear as moments of reading, writing or speaking, and whether they are aligned to fragments of performance, theatre or dance. Maybe in itself unpredictable someone responds to the intrusion of the situation in the comprehension of the text at issue. Somehow its elusive, but nevertheless recurrent acting is played out again. That, of course, concerns attention and receptivity. Being public appears within that intimacy, to which reading has access.
In my understanding the Department of Reading didn't simply unfold chronologically. The decisive questions and experiences have always already been at work within its different readings. Each single session contains them, so to speak, to a different intensity and in a different configuration. The readings don't have a strict programmatic order. Nevertheless they follow and effect each other, sometimes as well in reverse. One of the insisting experiences is that of an almost effortless, but therefore sudden transition from a modality of comprehension into one of action – from conversation into staging, for instance. Sometimes irritating, other times with a playful gesture the situation in its eventfulness becomes recognisable. The addressing breaks open, textual movements are being applied. 
Apparently reading offers an intimate place, just as it is public. The act of reading, and that counts for writing as well, is concerned with the matter of belonging, which in turn is concerned with presence and absence. Without doubt the experience of a temporal gap is at play here. Divided presence, absence of the addressee, belonging without belonging – I believe, such concepts are familiar to most of you. In the case of the Department of Reading this temporality of belonging faces a loss or an annulment of its audience. But this phenomenon of an absent audience is maybe just an example for the transition of registers that seems to take place in the realm of art since the early 90s. It's nothing but a few. It's usually a small and non-aligned amount that assembles within an undetermined situation, itself not bound to any production. I think it is necessary to be constantly aware of this politics of friendship, its concepts of addressing, assembly and commitment, as it forms and is operative in practices like that of the Department of Reading.

Suspended Collapse
Texts waiting for history
Performance FOR NO audience
Another reoccurring experience within the work of the Department of Reading during the last four years would be a motion of deprivation and anticipation. It does relate to the question of addressing. The absence of audience introduces as well an acting with text that is not addressed, that is deprived of its addressee, but therefore also charged with a demand of being addressed. In almost each session of the Department of Reading appears a collapse of meaning and a particular kind of waiting. I think, both moments do belong to this question of deprivation and anticipation. One encounters a motion of language that in a singular gesture demands the explication of the text at hand and refuses it. But this kind of motion cannot be reduced to a continuous shift in meaning, from one possible meaning to another. It rather could be thought of as a jump, caught in suspension. I believe, the Department of Reading was always trying to situate its practice in such a textual placelessness. It seems to correspond with the temporal gap mentioned before. Located in between activity and inactivity, this motion of language therefore exposes an ethics of désœuvrement, an activity, to put it very simple, that remains without an œuvre, without a work, nevertheless operative in its inactivity. What strikes me, is that the inactivity aligned to reading seems to encounter exactly at this point a practice of writing. Related then to a politics of friendship, one might have to ask, what kind of companionship is at stake with this ethics of désœuvrement.

Exemplary Readings
Speech Practice: Disassembling Voice
With sessions of the Department of Reading it often is, although each and everyone seems to be incessantly active, as if these readings are somehow incapable of completion and literally remain without a work. That might be the case with reading anyway. But I think, it relates to the work of the Department of Reading as such, even if somewhat different.
To some extend the Department of Reading has constantly been engaged in its own rewriting, again and again applying different concepts to its practice, for exposing its temporality and place. I guess, that is part of the difficulty for me to describe its work properly, even though this constant rewriting seems to circulate around similar questions and experiences. However, decisive is that the strategy of such conceptual reformulations had as well the purpose to release something, like reading for instance, that seemed to be certain, from its given use. Not to the aim for inventing a different, more accurate use, so to speak, but with the indefinite gesture of restoring a somehow common use.
One of the reasons to recapitulate the work of the Department of Reading here lies in the critique, if this manner of rewriting as well takes the shape of machine for governing those experiences that might have occurred during the different readings. I am not sure about this, but I am wondering, if and if in how far those politics and ethics, I have briefly mentioned, might take part in constituting machines like the Department of Reading might be one. Their repetitive structure, more or less constantly attempting to inscribe, what happens, on their own conditions of writing, naturally causes fatigue. In this regard, the conceptual strategy does have a compromising effect, and according to Giorgio Agamben it grounds first and foremost in a lack of definition.
His essay Movement departs exactly from such a lack of definition. Agamben writes: "A word kept coming up in this meeting: movement." What Agamben criticises, is the strategic, but uncritical use of this concept, first of all in the very political context, to which he counts himself. A word keeps coming up and its uncritical use "risks compromising our choices and strategies". It bears the potential of a political catastrophe, insofar as movement marks a "threshold of politicisation" and only its definition can assure to resist the production of "a caesura that cuts through and divides the people."
Consequently an act of writing, which of course could be one of speech alike, becomes necessary to offer the definition that seems to be required. I won't try to repeat the different aspects Agamben comes to mention now. But I was intrigued to refer to his essay here, since with movement, it appears, a threshold of politicisation is at stake that decides upon the very distribution of what counts as political and what does not. That as well has to do with the use of words and concepts. It is about a politics of words, of course. Following Agambens essay, the phenomenon of movement appears, when the prevailing conceptions of politics and its language are in decay. In the very moment the discourses in force suffer the loss to keep things going, so to speak, the movement comes to the fore.
This is, how Agamben closes his essay: "In this perspective the motto I cited as a rule for myself might be reformulated ontologically as this: the movement is that which if it is, is as if it wasn't, it lacks itself (…), and if it isn't, is as if it was, it exceeds itself. It is the threshold of indeterminacy between an excess and a deficiency which marks the limit of every politics in its constitutive imperfection."
From an undefined concept towards a threshold of indeterminacy – again, I am intrigued by this intense proximity between writing as a work of definition and the phenomenon of movement. The threshold of politicisation at stake with movement concerns as much a threshold of writing, of language itself. Writing, it seems, is tied to words that keep coming up, a word like "movement" that demands to be defined. Not an instrument for drawing policial cesuras, but a phenomenon that as a threshold of indeterminacy marks the limit of every politics, movement "is always constitutively the relation with its lack, its absence of end, or ergon, or telos and opera." What threshold in writing is at play? What possibility of writing without an ergon, without a telos? What to do with the threshold of indeterminacy between an excess and a deficiency in writing, in speaking? How to respond to those words that keep coming up?
I did mention that it appears to me as if the decisive questions and experiences of the Department of Reading have always been at work within each of its readings. They keep coming up. Again, I am thinking of the imprint of an activity that remains without an ergon, without a telos, nevertheless operative in its inactivity. Or the almost effortless, but therefore sudden transition from comprehension into action, from conversation into staging. Maybe estranging, but it seems to me, that there is a particular eventfulness of rehearsing at play – a rather elusive or weak rehearsal. What about its temporal gap then? Maybe that as well could be an attempt to think again of a practice that would allow for a threshold of indeterminacy. This weak rehearsal, I wonder, that dedicates itself completely to the situation, from which it still keeps a distance, never occupying the place, of that, what it already attempts to commence, while finding itself already in responds to the intrusion of the situation. It is as if something has happened and nothing has happened at all.

Masse, Bewegung, Bild