Although I had seen documentation photos of Schneeman's Interior Scroll performance before, I hadn't seen the text of the scroll. I read it as an indictment of myself — I saw in the portrait of the unnamed structuralist, a mirror of my own practice and preoccupation. And I saw how clearly gendered that and the paired messiness of performance seemed.
Carolee Schneemann, ‘From Tape no. 2
for “Kitch’s Last Meal”' (1973)
The text used in ‘Kitch’s Last Meal' (1973–5) and ‘Interior Scroll’
(1975, 1977), reproduced in More than Meat Joy: Performance Works and
Selected Writings (2nd edn, New Paltz, NY: Documentext, 1997).
I met a happy man
a structuralist filmmaker
– but don't call me that it's something else I do –
he said we are fond of you
you are charming
but don't ask us to look at your films
there are certain films we cannot look at:
the personal clutter
the persistence of feelings
the hand-touch sensibility
the diaristic indulgence
the painterly mess
the dense gestalt
the primitive techniques
(I don't take the advice of men
they only talk to themselves)
PAY ATTENTION TO CRITICAL AND PRACTICAL FILM LANGUAGE
IT EXISTS FOR AND IN ONLY ONE GENDER
even if you are older than me you are a monster
I spawned you have slithered out of the excesses and
vitality of the ‘60s
he said you can do as I do
take one clear process
follow its strictest implications
intellectually establish a system of permutations
establish their visual set
I said my film is concerned with
DIET AND DIGESTION
very well he said then why the train?
the train is DEATH as there is die in diet
and di in digestion
then you are back to metaphors and meanings
my work has no meaning beyond the logic of its systems
I have done away with emotion intuition inspiration –
those aggrandized habits which set artists apart from
ordinary people – those unclear tendencies which are
inflicted upon viewers . . .
it’s true I said when I watch your films
my mind wanders freely during the half hour
of pulseing dots I compose letters
dream of my lover
write a grocery list
rummage in the trunk for a missing sweater
plan the drainage pipes for the root cellar
– it is pleasant not to be manipulated
you are unable to understand and appreciate
the system the grid the numerical and rational procedures
the Pythagorean cues –
I saw my failings were worthy of dismissal
I'd be buried alive
my works lost . . .
he said we can be friends equally
tho' we are not artists equally
I said we cannot be friends equally
and we cannot be artists equally
he told me he had lived with a ‘sculptress’
I asked does that make me a ‘film-makeress’?
Oh no he said we think of you as a dancer
But in the next moment–a moment of defensiveness as much as reflection–I wondered how, with my commitment to feminism, with my rejection of masculinity and a confirmed intention to identify, critique, and resist masculinist modes and moods and metaphorics … I am still abashed.
The defenses are these: that the gendered distinction between rational and irrational practice itself depends on an essentialized stereotype of gender; that my deployment of structuralist techniques is very consciously alloyed with allegory, and contextualized by a deconstruction of gender; that this moment in history presents a radically different alignment of methodological entailments in the aftermath of developments in queer theory, and in the new relevance of systematicity in world characterized by the ubiquity of computing. Is my capacity for doubt, anxiety, misgivings, etc. at all useful as a defense?
What I can do is try and mark out the distances between this practice and those depicted–gridless, such comparisons are dark, qualitative, inconclusive.
I am not convinced or reassured or consoled.