Everything that’s avant garde is new again! First the Nova Convention made a kind of comeback at the William S. Borroughs 100, and now yet more of NYC’s counterculture icons are recreating the 1975 Schizo-Culture conference, which aimed to introduce French forward-thinkers like Foucault to their kindred spirits in NYC.
Many of the Downtown counterculture icons who were involved in the original conference — Burroughs, Kathy Acker, Jack Smith, John Cage — are no longer with us, but others remain, and still more have been influenced by the scene that fostered it. To that end, Semiotext(e), the trailblazing publisher that put on the conference, will celebrate its 40th anniversary on Sunday by putting together an afternoon of performances, screenings, music, and readings by such luminaries as East Village punker-poet Richard Hell, fashionable feminist musician Kim Gordon, LES firebrand Penny Arcade, pioneering playwright Richard Foreman, poet Eileen Myles, noise artist Pharmakon, and poet and Beat scenester John Giorno, who happens to live in Burroughs’s old “bunker” on the Bowery.
Though the event is basically a who’s-who of downtown iconoclasts, it isn’t happening at St. Mark’s Church, as these brain-bending marathons usually do — rather it’ll be in effect at PS1 on Sunday from noon to 6pm, in conjunction with a revival of “Cine Virus,” a film program organized in 1978 by Kathryn Bigelow, who also helped organize the Schizo-Culture conference. Snag tickets here.
If this re-creation is anything like the 1975 affair — which drew Black Panthers, Marxists, experimental theater types like Foreman, and many other radicals to Columbia University — it should be a lively day. Here’s a description of some of Schizo-Culture’s highlights, from an MIT Press blog post about a two-volume record of the conference that was published earlier this year.
Some of the ancillary details about the event described in the introduction and afterword are worth the price of admission alone: the verbal (and sometimes physical) sniping between a range of people, for example: Foucault and Laing confronted and accused by Lyndon Larouchers of being CIA agents; Deleuze and Guattari withdrawing from the commotion to the Chelsea Hotel and their subsequent US road trip (on which they would meet up with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, and some Black Panthers); Guattari’s abrupt cancellation of a panel he was to chair (for reasons of “fascism”); etc. A particularly fascinating portion of the conference proves to be Lyotard’s presentation of his paper, “On the Strength of the Weak,” which was simultaneously translated into English as he went along, but in such a chaotic, disputed, and participatory manner that in reading it one has the sense of paying witness to the actual introduction of French theory into English, with all of its messy, mistranslated, confusing, emotional—yet ultimately fruitfully scintillating—paradoxes. These are the very minutes to the conference where America decided to embark upon its messy, glorious affair with French theory.