Theatricality and The Now

One of the ideas proposed by Scott Lyall, one which I’m sure will attract many, was that the “contemporary” should be distinguished from the “present.” In his reading, the contemporary is an ungrounded condition, always moving over an emptiness, a condition in which we can’t help but recognize that we are continually being taken apart and put together again by our fellows. I hope I’m not adding too much of my own here. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes, one that I’ve used in both my work and my writing, from Musil’s Man Without Qualities:

“The train of events is a train unrolling its rails ahead of itself. The river of time is a river sweeping its banks along with it. The traveller moves about on a solid floor between solid walls, but the floor and the walls are being moved along too, imperceptibly and yet in a very lively fashion, by the movements that his fellow travellers make.”

Shocking to me that Scott’s formulation seems to go further than Musil’s, that Musil posits a more stable and continuous “traveller,” at least in this quote, if not in the book as a whole. Presumably the “present” is also to be seen as a more stable space, one in which the subject can collect itself for a moment in the act of perception. David Court, in his latest comment, builds on this, suggesting that the discourse of theatricality, canonical in art theory since the late sixties, is irrelevant to this new, more radical sense of historical time. I propose that it’s a corrective rather than anything new, and that the “present” is inadequately treated in art criticism in any case.

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