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On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Negativity for Life

poet and critic Barrett Watten will deliver a creative talk about the idea of "negativity" in the historic avant-garde


Fields of Knowledge
  • Philosophy / Theory
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Temple Creative Writing Program


This program was made possible in part through the generous sponsorship of the University of Pennsylvania Department of English and the Temple Creative Writing Program

Organized by Aaron Levy

Opens to public







4017 Walnut St Philadelphia, PA 19148


50% Formal - 50% Informal

Slought Foundation is pleased to announce "On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Negativity for Life." This event will take place on Friday, November 10, 2006 from 6:30-8:00pm at Slought Foundation. Poet and critic Barrett Watten will deliver a creative talk about the idea of "negativity" in the historic avant-garde, accompanied by examples of contemporary acoustic, visual and literary practices. Barrett Watten will be introduced by Rachel Blau-DuPlessis, professor of English at Temple University.

This event, sponsored by the Temple Creative Writing Program, is part of an ongoing series of programs at Slought Foundation exploring the historic and contemporary avant-gardes, with an emphasis on extreme performances and practices. Barrett Watten's focus on experiences of rupture and refusal in radical art and literature takes place in the charged setting of related exhibitions and events at Slought Foundation this fall: "Primal Sections: A Günter Brus Retrospective," in which artist Günter Brus pushes himself to physical and mental extremes to analyze his own body and its functions, and "On Bareback Subcultures and the Pornography of Risk," a public conversation and series of film screenings with theorist Tim Dean addressing the principled abandonment of condoms amongst gay men and scenarios of purposeful HIV-transmission.

"What is negativity, as an element of literary and culture production? If there is one criterion of the avant-garde with which its critics all agree, it is one of the avant-garde's historical origins in a negative moment of refusal of the culture from which it emerges. This refusal may take the form of an explicitly oppositional politics; or it may be self-negating even to the point of withdrawal from society or suicide; or it may involve a radical reconfiguration of the formal possibilities of a genre or medium and their cultural significance. Arguably, all three are related - countercultural politics, self-negation, and new formal possibilities - and will be present to some degree in any instance of the avant-garde. We need to find ways of positioning negativity that do not end in a predictable result: sterility or recuperation, a decline of force or a reintegration into the whole. Rather than reifying a single, strained negative dialectics in which avant-garde agency performs a permanent refusal of integration, we need to hold open the spontaneity, instability, and evanescence of the avant-garde as a limit situation..." - Barrett Watten, The Constructivist Moment

This presentation featured multimedia including:

Poetry: Andrews/O'Reilly debate on The O'Reilly Factor Poetry: Bruce Andrews, Shut Up, Section 100
Poetry: Tracie Morris, Chain Gang Music: Wolf Eyes, Driller
Music: John Cage, Etudes 18
Art: Bernd & Hilda Becher / Neo-Rauch