Posted by on Nov 3, 2014 in Action, Art, Death, Ego, Genocide, History, Human Rights, Ideas, Media, Middle-East, Now, Peace, Politics, Security, Shoah, Spectacle, Theater, Time, Wars, World |

For the month of November 2014, I have been invited to be one of a number of guests and will post a statement on this site & with -empyre-  by next week.
The moderators, Alan Sondheim and Johannes Birringer are organizing the discussion around the topic of “ISIS, Absolute Terror, Performance.”

———-empyre- soft-skinned space———-
Subscribed members may post a message by sending e-mail to

Subscribe/unsubscribe at any time
View the discussion on this message board interface.

empyreWhat is -empyre-?

A list-serve that consists of over 1900 members,  -empyre- facilitates online discussion encouraging critical perspectives on contemporary cross-disciplinary issues, practices and events in networked media. The list is currently co-managed by  Renate Ferro (USA) and Tim Murray (USA) with the moderating team of Simon Biggs (UK), Patrick Lichty (US and CA) and Selmin Kara (TR, CA)

About this month’s topic:

The world seems to be descending into chaos of a qualitatively different dis/order, one characterized by terror, massacre, absolutism. Things are increasingly out of control, and this chaos is a kind of ground-work itself – nothing beyond a scorched earth policy, but more of the same. What might be a cultural or artistic response to this? How does one deal with this psychologically, when every day brings new horrors? Even traditional analyses seem to dissolve in the absolute terror that seems to be daily increasing.

We are moderating a month-long investigation on Empyre into the dilemma this dis/order poses. We will ask a variety of people to be discussants in what, hopefully, will be a very open conversation. The debate will invite the empyre community to a deep and uncomfortable analysis of abject violence, pain, performance, and ideology [taking further the October 2012 debate on Pain, Suffering, and Death in the Virtual], looking at the ambivalences of terror, incomprehensible emotions, and our own complicity in the production of ‘common sense’ around terror.

The format this month will be slightly different; participants will be announced on an organic basis, and we hope that many of the subscribers will chime in. We are all facing the anguish of political situations that seem out of control. We are interested in topics such as, How does one deal with anguish personally?
How can anguish be expressed culturally? Can such expressions make a difference at all? We have all read political analyses of the causes of this descent; here, we’re interested in the cultural and personal responses to it.

ISIS, Absolute Terror, Performance

Lyric poetry begins, not end, with Auschwitz; the very violence and terror produced by slaughter places the statement under erasure. But lyric, poetics, poesis, are among other things subversions of language, the recognition of a linguistic weight that bypasses the syntactic, caresses the abject. So that one might drive poetics through the force of terrified flesh, one might find language springing there, just as unutterable pain may be surrounded by the cacophony of elegy and mourning.

Lyric poetry begins with nothing; poetics scrapes away at lateral fluency, undercuts the corporate, only to die in the advertising slogan. But Auschwitz is a borderland of time, where end and annihilation are imminent, imminant, and I keep think of this in relation to absolute terror, wailing postulations against the wall that also disappear. Absolute terror, the performative of beheadings, genocides, and crucifixions, signs the performative of the end-time itself. It is not a question of the inerrancy of the text leading the torturers on; it’s the errancy of any text in the face of decapitation; every world is ultimately unutterable.

It’s the unutterability of the world that founds anguish, that tears momentarily at the soul and body under erasure. It this which I’ve been wrestling with for years, only momentarily handed off to ISIS and this and other geopolitics. How does one live within the knowledge of annihilation? How does one produce within such, in response to such? What is the conceivable meaning of such production? Is meaning itself obliterated to such an extent that even suicide becomes a useless act?


We have guests for this round, several each week for four weeks. But we need your input, as many people as possible. I’m on a number of email lists concerned with cultural workers, cultural production, cultural politics, geo-politics; ISIS and terror rarely come up for discussion or as a subject for production, and when they do, things often tend towards the usual leftist analysis (for which there is also BBC and Al Jazeera, which I recommend). But here, we want less political analysis or politics for that matter, and more, a form of personal/cultural testimony that is rarely written. What of anguish? What of inconceivable torture? What of a planet tending wildly towards overpopulation, extinctions, local wars, starvations, all producing despair, breakdown, anomie? In other words – how does one sleep at night?

So in a sense, this is about the dark night of the soul without god, without recourse. And the very absence of discussion in general, about the interiority of absolute violence, opens the subject up here, on Empyre (given the subject, an ironic title!)
– please contribute!

Thanks to Renate and everyone –

– Alan Sondheim

The first guest is Erik Ehn, whose plays are often concerned with issues of genocide and torture (he travels regularly to Rwanda and other troubled locations), and is head of theater at Brown University…

The organizers this month:

ALAN SONDHEIM is a Providence-based new media artist, musician, writer, and performer. He’s concerned with issues of virtuality, and the stake that the real world has in the virtual. He has worked with his partner, Azure Carter, and the performer/choreographer Foofwa d’Immobilité. Sondheim is interested in examining the grounds of the virtual and how the body is inhabited. He performs in virtual, real, and cross-over worlds; his virtual work is known for its highly complex and mobile architectures. He has used altered motion-capture technology extensively for examining and creating new lexicons of behavior. He current work is centered around the phenomenology of the terrorized, sexualized, or dying body. He can be reached at sondheim >at< – useful URLs –  webpage (directory) email archive

JOHANNES BIRRINGER is a choreographer and artistic director of AlienNation Co (, and co-founder of a telematic performance collective (ADaPT).  He has directed numerous multimedia theatre, dance, and digital performances in Europe, the Americas, Japan and China; collaborated on site-specific installations, and exhibited work at film and video festivals. Author of Theatre, Theory, Postmodernism (1991), Media and Performance (1998), Performance on the Edge (2000), Performance, Technology and Science (2009). Founder of Interaktionslabor (, and co-director of DAP-Lab, Brunel University (London), where he is Professor of Performance