Interview With Danielle Adair

336In the latest of our interview series, Jacques Derrida interviews OON #0 contributor Danielle Adair:







Jacques Derrida: I’d like to set aside the usual biographical brushworks, and start instead with your 2006 text and audio piece Reflections By Danielle Adair on Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia. What is your relationship with the California-based conceptual artist Jack Goldstein? For myself, his life near-perfectly illustrated the old philosophical injunction since Plato: to be a philosopher is to learn how to die. Goldstein so sincerely believed in this truth that he gave himself over to it, more and more in fact, until he committed suicide in 2003 (19 months prior to my own death). But even as a ghost I remain impervious to learning knowing-how-to-die. Danielle, how does one learn how to die? And in turn, how to live?

Danielle Adair: How does one learn to die? Well, I don’t know if I agree that Goldstein necessarily did learn. We have art history that shapes a narrative to grant this, but suicide is a profound thing. It is baffling to me, and more so, because I am still in the performance. There are many stage metaphors one can use, and this is hardly an original thought, but for me, there is a challenge of being aware, ‘being in the moment’ as Stanislavski would say, and being totally lost within it, to life. This balance between self-awareness and lack of self-consciousness, play and intentioned work, openness and drive, is the ‘motivation’ in a performance. How does one learn to live, you ask? By keeping this perpetual contradiction at stake. Modernism tells us that. But perhaps it is only in Modernism that such a question, of life and death or agency therein, is relevant or palpable.

JD: You attended the California Institute of the Arts and Goldstein’s work provokes a certain melancholy nostalgia for a certain Black Mountain-inspired art school rebelliousness. Like Jack Goldstein, I find myself associated with death as the final representative of the Sixties/Seventies generation; I am the inheritor of so many institutional corpses: Kant, Marx, Freud, Heidegger, etc. Did you know that Goldstein himself was obsessed with Hegel? Given your aesthetic trajectory, your work seems to be situating itself between the post-studio efforts of Baldessari and 1990s relational aesthetic. How do you see your work to date? How did the institution change your art-making practice?

DA: I did not know Goldstein was obsessed with Hegel. Hegel was born in the city where I currently live. Perhaps that’s what you were getting at when you brought up the conversation of life and death. But as far as my relationship to Goldstein, I respect his work more and more. In reference to influences however, I feel you were influenced by Lacan, in as much to say, he gave you something to challenge or distort, and this existed through the meeting of literary criticism and psychoanalytic theory. For me, ‘the institution’ did very much the same. It gave me something to chew upon, and I chewed it. At CalArts I made work about being in that institution, as a post-studio and institutional critique perspective there would lead one. But I am no longer in school. How do I see my work to date? I just want to make sure to get the things I have been thinking about and working on out to a public. Because my mind has less room and too many ideas. I don’t identify with Relational Aesthetics, don’t think I even really ever grasped what it means. In the end I am more interested in a good performance, could say entertainment, than implicating people in an act to tell them what they already know, which is that they are living one.

JD: As I was reading your 2009 “field book” From JBAD (Les Figues Press) I was reminded of my own 2003 texts Chaque fois unique, la fin du monde & Beliers (Galilee). From my own, albeit tenuous and interminable, perspective, the pure textuality of contemporary military discourse (as outlined and noted by you) defines what we call survival, or existence, the Da-sein, if you will. If indeed we are, structurally speaking, survivors, marked by this libidinal violence of the war machine, of power, can one read From JBAD as an interminable ethos of survival? Can military discourse itself be on the side of the affirmative, the affirmation of life?

DA: Da-sein is a good expression here, or in journalistic language, which is the position I held in JBAD (Jalalabad, Afghanistan), “to bear witness.” From JBAD is not just a book though, it is a performance script. It is activated through the audible reading of it. So it trains as it delivers. I believe we are realists at heart, and such language is affirmative, of course, by giving ‘purpose’. The book ends with a barrage of “you” statements – “you gotta,” “you must,” “you have to be” – that point to the language, of counterinsurgency, of our current war, as a performance itself.

JD: I quite enjoyed your [out of nothing] submission, what was the motive behind your 2010 performative script The Way of Progress? Three minutes into the audio, you recall an anecdote about a psychoanalyst that must do “handy-work” to keep “on going.” What, precisely or ambiguously, is the Unconscious here? I recall Schelling’s answer, it is unequivocal: what is truly ‘unconscious’ is not the confused ‘irrational’ vortex of drives, but the very founding of consciousness, the physical act of decision by means of which I ‘choose myself’ – in this case, handy-work.

DA: Handy-work is ‘doing the thing’. The thing could be thinking, but handy-work is doing precisely that.

JD: Since the beginning of your work, you have remained very critical with regard to the United States, to its formulation in its neoconservative form, in the work of Oh-Say Can You See (2003) for instance. Notwithstanding everything about the American tradition that can be deconstructed, it nonetheless remains that today in the current geopolitical conditions we find ourselves, the United States, could – or so I would wish – unite against the rightist politics of European dominance and at the same time also against Arab-Muslim theocratism. With regard to the United States, are you not at war against yourself? Or in less hostile terms, isn’t it possible to “raise” (Aufheban) the “American” ideal, especially given Obama’s re-election?

DA: That is a good question Jacques. Thank you for it. To work with is an act of flattery though. And I am an American in a sure sense. I was born and raised in Michigan to parents who were born and raised in the same small town. My grandfather came from Detroit and on the other side, they were cherry farmers up north. I have small town sensibility and ethic of which I will not shake. But there is a thin line between idolatry and identity, especially when it comes to being abroad, where I am now. I am at war with myself, but not for the reasons you mention. I am at war with narrative and title, occupation and existence, public and personal. But one thing is sure to an “American ideal,” the belief that it takes all kinds. So my works, though not “very critical” from an activist sense (or I would have chosen a different platform) contribute a voice to which there are many.

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Jacques Derrida is a French philosopher commonly associated with post-structuralism and post-modernism. His early works On Grammatology and Writing and Difference, though which he developed the now-widespread critical framework of “deconstruction,” stand as the most noted of his 40+ published books.
Danielle Adair lives and works in Los Angeles, and she is currently a Fellow in Film/Video/New Media at the Akademie Schloss Solitude Stuttgart). Adair’s video-performance works have shown in exhibition and screening venues internationally – Manila, Cologne, London, Paris – and she has performed within Southern California at such venues as The Velaslavasay Panorama Theater, Human Resources, and Beyond Baroque. Adair is the author of From JBAD: Lessons Learned (Les Figues Press) based on her time as embedded media with US Forces in Afghanistan, and other writing has appeared in 30<30: Anthology of Innovative Fiction (Starcherone Press) and Imaginary Syllabi (Palm Press). More info at


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