‘Étienne Decroux, father of corporeal mime, proposed a ban on speech in theatre for 30 years, or until actors are able to use their full range of expressive ability. At that point, noise and speech would be re-introduced gradually and as necessary, not out of laziness and lack of invention. It was the notion of artistic tradition and lack of originality in theatre which he detested, and against which he proposed these ascetic methods. When sound was introduced into the medium of film from the period 1928-1931, there was a “rigorous stuttering” and gestural gratuity which Jean-Jacques Schuhl, observes in his 1972 French novel Dusty Pink (Rose poussière), a text which explores the state of replication and its relationship to the changing world of communication and popular culture. “The only revolution that could have been interesting,” he writes, “would have been a revolution that negated Hollywood while preserving it, overtook.”
‘Dusty Pink is a cluttered, chaotic text which meets you only as far as you’re willing to meet it. It can be flipped through with as much attention as scrolling through an instagram feed, to which it will give confused and disjointed impressions which buzz above the cerebral cortex. Or it can be studied and meditated on, to which it will still give confused and disjointed impressions, but along with that, some contemporarily eternal thoughts on simulacra. Taking place in the underbellies of Paris and London from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, among the 1968 French student riots and the Brian Jones-era Rolling Stones, Dusty Pink does not so much live in its time as it fetishizes it and then relishes in its fetish. Cobbled together from magazine excerpts, quippy ads, photographic ekphrasis, dadaist fantasy, and anecdotal observation, it eludes classification (not a necessarily a sign of a great art piece, but a common side-effect of great work). It inhabits the category of fiction as uncomfortably as it inhabits the categories of prose poetry and creative journalism.
‘The references in Dusty Pink, which include Marlene Dietrich films and obscure Edgar Allen Poe stories, as well as vernacular images of time and place (France-Soir newspaper clippings, department stores, The Rolling Stones), have almost entirely lost their meaning. They are, at this point, relics through which we can attempt to infer what life was like and how people were. That is, perhaps, too naive–their remaining attributes are the relics which are worn as accessories. The original dies, and its caricature lives in as commodity and performance, through emulation and integration into movements and culture. Marlene Dietrich was alive only in the portions of her which have been referenced and emulated as symbols. That is to say, only in Camp (I, of course, am pulling from Susan Sontag here). She possesses drag queens like a demon. Even though The Rolling Stones are somehow still alive and touring, what makes them real is the cargo shorts worn by suburban dads at the college stadiums they sell out. Mick Jagger now performs drag of his younger self, and it’s deliciously atrocious. There is a point in time when originality is so far gone, it’s hard to fathom it ever existed. In a way, that’s a kind of transcendence.
‘The whole thing, in fact, is reduced (or uplifted!) to the status of Camp. The text itself, in addressing the world in Camp, has secured its place as a “cult novel”. It too, is Camp. Dusty Pink lets sentimentality run wild, all the while detachedly smoking a cigarette and raising an eyebrow at notions of sentimentality, and considering that the mechanization of the process by which notions achieve cult status is a rather elegant thing. What drew me to Dusty Pink, quite frankly, was a desire to emulate (or perhaps simply obtain) the aestheticism and cool grit of the time Schuhl pokes his scissors into. It’s the same motivation the resulted in the shaving of my eyebrows (to pencil in thin Marlene Dietrich brows for a stage persona), or to buy a basket from Goodwill and use it as handbag (to capture and hold some essence of Jane Birkin). My eyebrows remain shaven, although I have stopped putting forth the effort to pencil in Marlene, and my Jane basket has become something of a decorative piece. Their remaining reference to Marlene and Jane are like visual stutters.
‘Schuhl lets the electricity and mechanics of modes of communication litter these cities. He builds trash heaps of words so high that those speaking them forget what they’re saying. One can compare the rises of the telephone and television, accompanied by the concept of popular culture, to that of the internet–such shock and revelation Marshall McLuhan once experienced at the dawn of new media. The human attached to the machine becomes another human entirely, Schuhl and McLuhan declare. That’s certain, but a stuttering transitional stage to where we have arrived at now, surely its own transitional stage to a state at which we will shun our outmoded expressions, symbols, and habits. Schuhl’s approach is a kind of laissez-faire parenting, to let it happen, and consider the consequences from afar.
‘The pillars upon which popular culture rests (and then unraveled) include instantaneous gratification, commodity, and reproduction. Forgive me, the idea of pop culture being so ancient a structure to rely on pillars is likely a messy metaphorical device, as these foundational support members are so structurally intertwined. Additional structural members of the institute of popular culture include counterculture/subculture and authority, concepts which cannot exist outside of each other. Technologies which can generate rapid copies and messages move dialectically–as they contract into forming a cohesive popular image and narrative and give birth to fads, so to do they expand, allowing individuals to curate their exposure. Meaning is transmitted in communication until there is so much information communicated that it is indistinguishable from noise. Whatever narrative formed by conglomeration unravels shortly after the collective setting is established.
‘The tools of reproduction and imitation allow for the death of the individual ego (often, though not necessarily, under the illusion of asserting individualism). The ego is lost through assimilation into collective narratives and by adoption of reproduced symbols of the past. Mick Jagger is not the only one whose persona is a disguise (a disguise for what?). The collective and the symbolic totem are comforting, although they are easily stripped–and what remains after the ego, the collective, and historical identifiers have faded away? To Schuhl, little more than mechanical waste, spare parts for recycling. The very countercultural social movements which are birthed in mass communication, and sometimes out of a rejection of it, die as they are proliferated past the extent that they are able to be countercultural. Youth movements are always aging out into middle class, suburban norms. Many a contemporary suburban dad was once a skate punk. Mass communication constantly isolates the present from history, reproducing information always out of context, only holding onto the past subliminally or as an illusion. At this point, mass communication is a machine which neither requires nor services humans, only itself. Humans are left to acclimate to this new disenfranchised state.
‘Schuhl says it’s a kind of evolution, and in some respects, finds it elegant. That we are left with purposeless tics, vestigial organs, alien to our own bodies. In what way he finds this beautiful is hard for me to say–whether because it is glamorous or essential. That we make beauty products from war, make a cat eye from the ash of civilization. That Vogue may market our undoing as a chic must-have. It may even market its rejection of markets. Anything organic about us is boiled down to the synthetic, and then sold as organic. [An excerpt from yesterday’s online Vogue: On top of a 45-minute sleep session, they offered Sleepy Jones pj’s (not to keep), Sunday Riley beauty products (those you can take home), eye masks, earplugs, and a toothbrush and paste (you can have those, too)—and all for $25. In the current wellness world of $11 juices made of kale and chlorophyll and a price tag of $85 to freeze your entire body for three minutes, that’s a steal.]
‘Though it is, to me, such a clumsy, careless thing to be undone by the doing. If simplicity is elegance, I concede–how simple and inevitable for us to have ended up here!’ — Katherine Beaman, Commonplace Review
Jean-Jacques Schuhl Site (In French)
Dr Tony Shaw: Jean-Jacques Schuhl: Dusty Pink
Rachel Kushner on ‘Dusty Pink’
Excerpt: Ingrid Caven A Novel: The Sheet of Paper
Jean-Jacques Schuhl, mythe majestueux
Dire l’Histoire par les chansons : une question littéraire
Jean-Jacques Schuhl: un vampire s’en va au bal
Entretien avec Jean-Jacques Schuhl
Entretien avec Jean-Jacques Schuhl
Jean-Jacques Schuhl: Frankenstein le dandy
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL, LÉGENDES DU CINÉMA
Buy ‘Dusty Pink’
interview Jean Jacques Schuhl
au fond, jean-jacques schuhl, c’est moi
Jean-Jacques Schuhl : Écrire aux ciseaux
OLIVIER ZAHM – Do you still belong to the underground?
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – The underground, it does not exist any more since now everything is in the light. It’s horrible ! It’s no longer attractive … It’s like poetry. In France, a poet is someone who has not known how to make a novel … In Germany, it is different: poetry has another status. Kafka, for example, is considered a “dichter”, that is, a poet in a very strong and wider sense … In America, too, with the poets of the Beat Generation … Even Edgar Allan Poe is Curse, but with all that entails prestige. Here, it is still and always head in the moon! The underground, no longer exists because it was recovered by the mainstream. And it is no longer erotic to say underground in the current context of the unprecedented cult of money and power.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Is the term “novelist” better for you?
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – I received the Goncourt prize with Ingrid Caven … I have no problem with it. At the bottom I have almost written nothing … Three books in all and for all … That I am hardly classifiable, I want … Well!
OLIVIER ZAHM – You have written little, yet you play the figure of the novelist for a whole new generation.
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Maybe it’s because I’ve disappeared! After Dusty Pink came out in 1972, I did not write for very long. There was indeed Telex No. 1 . Then I left in the stratosphere: radio silence … But I returned with a literary brilliance and a price for Ingrid Caven.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Your trajectory is enigmatic, mysterious, very unusual today. It has an elliptical shape that enhances the “Schuhl myth”.
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – In silence and absence are made fantasies … What has he done all this time? Where was he ? If I had definitely disappeared, we would no longer ask the question, but I came out of the silent desert to make a surprise mediaatic-literary hold-up! A beautiful booty indeed! Surveillance cameras have not spotted me! Stories of ghosts, it works always…
OLIVIER ZAHM – But this mystery has been linked with your vision of writing and probably with the decline of literature which is now a machine to reveal everything from the author (memoirs, autobiography, autofiction …).
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – For there to be an echo or a resonance, there must also be a little emptiness around. The music resonates with silences that count as notes, as in printing, the white has value in the typography of signs in its own right. We must never lose sight of silence. One always thinks of the full, it is the fault of the West. Without silence, without emptiness, things do not resonate or very badly.
OLIVIER ZAHM – This silence for more than twenty years has not been deliberate?
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – There is undoubtedly a share of powerlessness in that or the requirement of something I could not develop after Dusty Pink. This narrative was intended as a manifesto for a sort of impersonal writing, made up of a mosaic of genres, quotations, observations, press articles, poems made of AFP dispatches, telexes with horse names Or hotel listings … It was something very personal. And impersonality leads quite normally to withdrawal and silence. I wanted to capture the air of the time without being too present. It was about being a simple sensor-transmitter … It was three times nothing, hardly a book, and that wrote itself, without me … I should not have signed it!
OLIVIER ZAHM: But why have not we pursued other texts?
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – As of 1975-76, for me things are a little extinct. I was no longer stimulated as I had been in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Perhaps I could no longer observe, seize, listen to or see all these frail indecisive indices, but it was That I had no more matter. It was perhaps an alibi to justify a personal state. Perhaps a laziness. Take fashion in 75-76 for example, it has already swung into what it has become now: a market, economic powers, a kind of globalization and standardization, the dictatorship of commercial demand. Already was foreshadowed the resumption in hand by new forces … All that there was of savage and which had interested me, a kind of spontaneous emergence, was diluted … Everything that had fascinated me also in the English musics , Or the stuff that came from the East – including the history of the Chinese Red Guards – all this happened without warning, strikingly and unpredictably … It was very clear in fashion. I remember one of the first parades of Claude Montana in 1976-77, room Wagram, an old boxing room. There was an effect of unpredictability, of sudden emergence. I do not want to be nostalgic, say it was better before! Not at all ! But today we see quickly where things happen: revival, cloning, return of the same, reinterpretation, mixing weakened … So in more and more stifling … We see where it comes from! Not that before, it did not come from somewhere, but there was a dazzling and subversive rise that blurred immediate comprehension. What inspired and fascinated me was the savagery of something remote or foreign. Maybe I can no longer see or hear him. I always ask myself the question. Is it me or the world?
OLIVIER ZAHM – This is the question that despairs everyone …
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Hence the persistent fascination for the 60s and 70s. It is this period of emergence that keeps coming back to the heads and phagocytating us. Retro fashion and disembodied technology. But I’m still alert. In Search of the Present Time!
OLIVIER ZAHM – During all these years of silence, I have the impression that you have never given up, nor stopped observing, refine your perceptions. One feels it in Ingrid Caven which finally covers the time of this prolonged silence. As well as in your next novel of which I have read a few pages.
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Dusty Pink was made in chance. It is an assemblage of things that were in the air: the newspaper, the English fashions, a few dialogues of films, short portraits, a personage that I had wanted a little futuristic, Frankenstein-le-Dandy. All that made scarcely a book, between the manifesto, the narrative, the newspaper. Dusty Pink was directly connected to what can be called “reality”. With Ingrid Caven , I told a biographical romanticized story. Now I write through the screen of artistic elements, with filters. I look at David Lynch. I dive into Edgar Poe. Whereas at the time I read very little, and almost not … except the press, France Soir and magazines … I went out at night in clubs, I watched the street, fashions, styles, clothes … The Red Guards wanted the books burnt … Today I keep looking around. I read fashion magazines, but I’m less interested. I return to literature and cinema … In the excerpts of my next novel you read, I placed a character of mannequin with a certain reluctance, because it interests me less than before. It’s just the idea of the mannequin, this automatic, inhuman or say non-human and manipulated thing, that always fascinates me.
OLIVIER ZAHM – How do you explain the confidential and persistent success of Dusty Pink through the years?
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – An extract from a newspaper can be as important as a book. I like what passes and leaves very little trace: an extract of article, fugitive tracks on newspapers or magazines, words on the sand … But precisely, Dusty Pink which was hardly a book, Crossed the time. Before it was published, I brought some fragments of texts to Gallimard, like that, without thinking of anything … It was made of bric-a-brac, a kind of ephemeral collage of telex, newspapers, film dialogues and a few Texts from me. I am glad that this thing has become a little cult book … A friable and light thing that first sold to a hundred copies and then a few thousand and more. You yourself asked me to use the title for an exhibition on French art at the Grand Palais, La Force de l’Art . One day I was at a parade of Christian Lacroix. I did not know him personally and he whispered in my ear: “Dusty Pink” … Like a password … I had wanted to put in featured accessories. Pink Dust was a shade of make-up I’d seen in London: Dusty Pink . My title is a makeup! Now, accessories have become the essential, 70% of the brands revenue. They clutter up everything, they see nothing but themselves. They too are in full light. I do not care. What I like, these are the stars in the shadows! Personally, I prefer Ingrid Caven , I think it is a novel more accomplished.
But what made it so that Ingrid Caven sell 350,000 copies and Dusty Pink became a cult book with so much resonance, the great echo of a little thing …
OLIVIER ZAHM – It’s the butterfly effect!
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Yes, it’s relatively hushed for years and it’s growing and spreading. In fact objects found came to fit in a book and I was medium of the times. The best of arts is a medium. People are barring this today with the cult of “Me I”. If one is a medium, as the fisherman tends the net, things come to it.
OLIVIER ZAHM – You still have to know how to throw the net, because you are a great stylist.
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Yes, of course, you have to open your ears and your eyes, be there without being there … Everyone can be a medium at times on his zone. Go for a walk in the night for example and let things pass through you … Intermittent medium, voila!
OLIVIER ZAHM – There are very few writers who, like you, go out at night, read fashion magazines, are interested in modern and contemporary art. In Paris, it is the self of the writer, self-fiction and psychology that predominate …
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – I really like journalism. Mallarmé directed and wrote his own newspaper, La Dernière Mode , all the sections, including under feminine pseudonyms … I put my rare articles on the same level as my books. I do not make any difference. A writer should be at least a little journalist in the twist: openness to the world, capture of what is happening, precision of copyist, scribe …
Jean-Jacques Schuhl Dusty Pink
‘Written with the hope of achieving a “dreary distant banality,” Jean-Jacques Schuhl’s first novel is a subjective stroll through an underground, glamorous Paris, a city that slips into the background but never disappears, hovering on the verge of its own suppression. An elegiac and luminous cut-up, Dusty Pink brings together race wire results, editions of France-Soir, the lyrics to well-known British songs, scripts from famous old films, pharmaceutical leaflets, fashion ads, and strips and scraps of culture in which the avant-garde and academicism blur in an overview of the cultural scene. This world of atmospheres, portraits, and dazzling associations of ideas creates a plane of shimmering surfaces.
‘Published in French in 1972, Jean-Jacques Schuhl’s Dusty Pink became a cult classic. This is its first translation.’ — Semiotext(e)
p.s. Hey. ** There are those like myself who’ve been waiting a long, long time for Schuhl’s legendary first novel to be translated into English. And now it’s finally Englishized thanks to translator Jeffrey Zuckerman and the great Semiotext(e), and it’s the amazing thing my French friends promised. I don’t know if the book is actually in stores as of today, but you can order it, and I’m recommending you do, obviously. ** David Ehrenstein, So ubiquitous to even say at this point, but, yes, RIP the great, great, great artist Aretha Franklin. ** Tosh Berman, Hi, Tosh. Indeed and agree on all counts. His book is sublime. Ha ha, I know, I keep saying ‘LA’ and then hallucinating that a mini-Tom Andersen is sitting on my shoulder and catching myself too late. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Ah, I just tried again and this time Medium let me in, so I’ll read it. Yesterday it said I had used up my three free opportunities for the month. Thom Andersen is such a wonderful speaker/talker, no? Zac was a student of TA’s during his student time at Cal Arts. Reviews! Everyone, Mr. Erickson’s reviews on display for you today include his take on these albums: Object As Subject’s PERMISSION and Blood Orange’s NEGRO SWAN. ** Jamie, Hi! I’m all right. Could have used another hour or so of sleep last night, but bfd. I don’t think you will be sorry once you’ve watched all of Thom Andersen’s films. So sorry to hear you were down in the dumps, man. Those dumps are hateful, and they’re unpleasantly persuasive bullshit artists too. Says me. Oh, thank you about ‘Ups and downs’. No, it was purely a simple exercise just to see if an idea I had that stacking gifs involving that motion would be fun and intriguing or not. It never had any narrative or subtextual intent or anything. So it’s like a different practice, maybe like writing a postcard as opposed to a novel or something, I guess? Busy-ish, me, yes. All of my friends have either been away on holidays or have a broken foot, so I’ve been working basically. Still polishing the film script, finished a draft of the treatment and working on the synopsis/logline now. On a short but blissful break from the TV script until next week. Figuring stuff out for the NYC and London PGL screenings. For the second night of the Lincoln Center thing I had to pick a bunch of film clips from films that either influenced me or that I had something to do with to intersperse through a conversation I’m supposed to have about my work and cinema’s influence, so I did that. Stuff like that. Ack, the kid play didn’t pan out, sorry. It did sound like a tough cookie. Live and learn, I guess? Yeah, my grandma did that ‘curly hair’ thing with me too, but about something other than bread crusts, I can’t remember what. What a bunch of liars. Bullshitting to kids about Santa Claus is a slippery slope. Friday: more work of the sort I laid out above, basically, I think, unless I decide to wander into a movie theater or something. You? I hope your Friday kills not only every mosquito for kilometres around you but in the entire world itself. Lollipop that is as delicious as it is pretty love, Dennis. ** Bill, Cool. Wow, that’s gorgeous set up James Fei has right there. Eek, yes, garlic and upside-down cross about that head cheese, my God, nightmares, but if they have a vegetarian friendly version, I’m there, thank you. ** Misanthrope, You’re doing all sorts of things with your life, man, I mean, obvs. You can’t do everything. I hope your laissez fair attitude about LPS’s hearing this morning was because you are psychic. No, I didn’t hear that Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart died. Oh, that’s sad. He was so sweet. RIP. ** Damien Ark, Hi, man. The submitting to publishers phase will drive you crazy if you’re not careful. It’s the roughest period, and you need to chill as much as possible until you find the home because, mostly, there’s inevitably a lot of rejection — especially with your first book –that doesn’t mean as much as you’re likely to think it does, and it’s important to hang tough and try to be as patient as you can be. ‘Closer’ was rejected so many times before Grove took the bait that it was seriously ultra-depressing, but then the novel finally found its fit, and none of the failures mattered anymore at all. Keep your eyes on the future. I don’t know ‘Stephen Florida’, no, but I’ll investigate it for sure, thank you. I like anime, of course, although I haven’t been focusing on it in recent years so much for no good reason. If you ever come across ‘Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space’, watch it. ** Okay, I intro’d the post above, so … see you tomorrow.