Monthly Archives: January 2014


Open Letter, Marcel Broodthaers, 11 October 1968. (Detail of translation published in Marcel Broodthaers Collected Writings).

Researching the open letters of Marcel Broodthaers led me to the recently published trove of Marcel Broodthaers Collected Writings, and a re-reading of Benjamin Buchloh’s “Open Letters, Industrial Poems” (1987), from which the below:

“Broodthaers’s ‘ I, too, wondered if I couldn’t sell something’ seems to travesty a 1912 statement by Guillaume Apollinaire, who declared, on his invention of spatialized poetic language (the calligram): “And I, too, am a painter.” Yet one does not believe that, even in the case of Apollinaire, this proclamation reflects merely an ambition to rival his painter friends whose projects he would soon define in Les peintres cubists, nor that it was generated by what academic fantasies have again and again described as a new strategy to abolish genre boundaries and poetic categories. Rather, it seems that Apollinaire was already attempting to accommodate the fact that the very modes engendered by these conventions of meaning-production were threatened and destroyed by factors outside of poetry and painting, factors which Walter Benjamin described twenty years later: ‘Now the letter and the word which have rested for centuries in the flatbed of the book’s horizontal pages have been wrenched from their position and have been erected on vertical scaffolds in the streets as advertisement.’”

Moi aussi, je me suis demandé…, Marcel Broodthaers, 1964. Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Open Letter, Marcel Broodthaers, 11 October 1968. (Detail of translation published in Marcel Broodthaers Collected Writings).

“already attempting to accommodate” – this is interesting for many reasons. It identifies Apollinaire’s lack of mastery over his own work in relation to social shifts in the use of language, but marks his practice as a site that both passively registers those social shifts and responds to them, even if only through attempts. “accommodation” connotes giving space to, fitting something in,  giving way, but also giving consideration to something.

The Conquest of Space, Atlas for the Use of Artists and the Military, Marcel Broodthaers, 1975.

The open letters of Broodthaers give good consideration. They accommodate various existing modalities of language and convention and institutional paratexts. But their humor and historical discernment produce the distance of a consideration.

In regards to the recently-announced MoMA expansion, perhaps Broodthaers is still having one of the last words.

broodthaers play

Image… ‘seriature.’ The etymology leads back to cord, rope. ‘Seria’ is also the idea of a series, that is, the necessity of a proliferation of gestures, particular each time …. In a chain, thus, there is always the same metaphor of rope, chain, shuttle. The necessity of linking gestures or moments that do not let themselves be linked, which are absolutely singular every time. And one has to link singularities, that is, put in a series of things that do not let themselves be put into series. This can be a definition of negotiation. Why one must repeat and put into a series, in a kind of serial generality, things that do not let themselves be serialized, which are singular and nonnegotiable every time.”

Jacques Derrida, Negotiations

What I have in mind is not so much a different state concept as the necessity of changing this one. What we call the “state” is not much older than the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and the same thing is true of the concept of sovereignty. Sovereignty means, among other things, that conflicts of an international character can ultimately be settled only by war; there is no other last resort. Today, however, war – quite apart from all pacifist considerations – among the great powers has become impossible owing to the monstrous development of the means of violence. And so the question arises: What is to take the place of this last resort? …. we must have a new concept of the state.

Hannah Arendt, “Thoughts on Politics and Revolution: A Commentary”

Interview by Adelbert Reif, 1970