– Spring 2015

Our Broken Genres: Sharon Hayes’s Love Addresses

Kris Cohen

Sharon Hayes, Everything Else Has Failed! Don’t You Think It’s Time For Love?, 2007, performance at the United Bank of Switzerland (UBS), New York. Photograph: Andrea Geyer. All images courtesy the artist and Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin

Someone posts a question in an online forum and gets flamed. Someone checks her email and finds more spam than personal mail. Someone joins Ello.co, posts a picture of his pet, then waits.1 Someone votes knowing that her district, having just been gerrymandered, no longer counts the way it once did for people like herself. All of these scenes are enacted through media that carry a promise: that something will be returned; that someone will listen; that an action will have an effect and that that effect will have a direct enough relationship to the intention of the action for it to be recognisable as a response, or anyway, to count minimally as being heard. And yet what most indelibly marks each of these scenes is the break in the circuit. The promise floats, but at the same time so does the possibility, maybe even the certainty, that nothing will be returned — or that what is returned will be so unrecognisable as a return or form of exchange that it could be experienced as an act of violence.2 Because these scenes all concern

  1. As I wrote this essay, Ello went viral, spurring hopes and fears that it might one day replace Facebook as the reigning social networking site. Ello claims, as its distinguishing feature, to be against advertising.

  2. The internet has a terminology for this sort of violence: ‘trolling’ is the action; ‘trolls’ the actors. See E. Gabriella Coleman, ‘Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls and the Politics of Transgression and Spectacle’, in Michael Mandiberg (ed.), The Social Media Reader, New York: New York University Press, 2012; and G. Coleman, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, London and New York: Verso, 2014.

  3. This is Jonathan Crary’s suggestion. See J. Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, London and New York: Verso, 2013.

  4. For a history of the imbrication of twentieth-century life worlds with the commodity form, see Lauren Berlant, The Anatomy of National Fantasy: Hawthorne, Utopia, and Everyday Life, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991; L. Berlant, The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997; and L. Berlant, The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.

  5. ‘Genres are essentially contracts between a writer and his readers; or rather, to use the term which Claudio Guillén has so usefully revived, they are literary institutions, which like the other institutions of social life are based on tacit agreements or contracts.’ Fredric Jameson, ‘Magical Narratives: Romance as Genre', New Literary History, vol.7, no.1, October 1975, p.135. See also F. Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.

  6. L. Berlant, ‘Slow Death (Sovereignty, Obesity, Lateral Agency)', Critical Inquiry, no.33, Summer 2007, p.760.

  7. L. Berlant, ‘Intuitionists: History and the Affective Event’, American Literary History, vol.20, no.4, 2008, p.847.

  8. ‘For genre to exist as a norm it has first to circulate as a form, which has no ontology, but which is generated by repetitions that subjects learn to read as organised inevitability.’ L. Berlant, ‘Trauma and Ineloquence’, Cultural Values, vol.5, no.1, 2001, p.46.

  9. This disjuncture or break between fantasy and structure, between what we want networked media to be and how they are structured technically, is why there is so much talk on the Web about the broken promises of the Web. This is why trolls and other bad actors online are so confounding, so endemic and so iconic all at once: they inhabit various social formats that embody all the democratic promises of new networked socialities (bulletin boards, chat forums, comment fields, etc.), while seeming to poison those very forms.

  10. This, in miniature, is the argument of my book-in-progress Never Alone, Except for Now: An Art History of Networked Life. Alexander Galloway also deals with the jarring, even paradoxical relationship between people’s expectations for social and political encounter and the form of the networks through which so many of these encounters now take place. See A.R. Galloway, Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralisation, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004.

  11. I March in the Parade of Liberty, But as Long as I Love You I’m Not Free was performed eight times between 1 December 2007 and 12 January 2008. Each time, Hayes carried a microphone to record her own voice (lapel mic attached to her coat, battery pack tucked invisibly underneath). From these recordings, Hayes assembled an audio track of the address, which was played on a loop through a single speaker mounted high on a stand in a small gallery space (the show ran until 27 January 2008 at the New Museum). Near the speaker was a poster that gave the location and dates of the performances (but not the year). The room, really more of a landing along a stairwell, accommodated approximately ten people. Along with I March in the Parade of Liberty, But as Long as I Love You I’m Not Free, Hayes’s love addresses include Everything Else Has Failed! Don’t You Think It’s Time for Love (2007) and Revolutionary Love: I Am Your Worst Fear, I Am Your Best Fantasy (2008), a work that Hayes calls an extension of the love addresses. See Julia Bryan-Wilson, ‘We Have a Future: An Interview with Sharon Hayes', Grey Room, no.37, 2009, p.81.

  12. As Jennifer Moxley has suggested, the political love letter might well be its own genre. See J. Moxley, Often Capital, Chicago: Flood Editions, 2005.

  13. The Stonewall riots were a series of protests that occurred in the summer of 1969 in the wake of a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York. These protests were a signal event in the history of LGBTQI politics.

  14. I witnessed one woman ask Hayes for directions in the middle of a performance. Hayes stopped, calmly gave directions, then resumed the address as though she hadn’t been interrrupted at all. Given the atmosphere of indifference I have been describing, not only was she not interrupted, she could not be.

  15. On the noise of city streets, see Nigel J. Thrift, ‘But Malice Aforethought: Cities and the Natural History of Hatred’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, issue 30, no.2, 2005, pp.133—50.

  16. Conversation with the artist, summer 2007.

  17. ‘New York Artist Sharon Hayes Makes the Personal Political at the Republican National Convention’ (press release), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2008, available at http://www.walkerart.org/press/browse/press-releases/2008/new-york-artist-sharon-hayes-makes-the-person (last accessed on 13 November 2014). Revolutionary Love was staged in Denver, Colorado and Saint Paul, Minnesota.

  18. In the Near Future was staged in New York, London, Vienna, Warsaw, Brussels and Paris.

  19. See David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005; L. Berlant, ‘Slow Death (Sovereignty, Obesity, Lateral Agency)', op. cit.; and Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978—79 (ed. Michel Senellart, trans. Graham Burchell), New York: Picador, 2008. For more on the figure of the individual, see also: Thomas C. Heller, Morton Sosna and David E. Wellbery, Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1986; Lisa Duggan, The Twilight of Equality?: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy, Boston: Beacon Press, 2003; and David Theo Goldberg, The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism, Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

  20. See Steven Shaviro, Connected, Or, What It Means to Live in the Network Society, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. See also Jodi Dean, Publicity’s Secret: How Technoculture Capitalizes on Democracy, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002; and J. Dean, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.

  21. See Melissa Gregg, Work’s Intimacy, Cambridge and Malden, MA: Polity, 2011; and Andrew Ross, No-Collar: The Humane Workplace and Its Hidden Costs, New York: Basic Books, 2003.

  22. Some examples: trolls, the Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden revelations, the National Security Agency, spam, malware, viruses, flame wars, doxing, a server going down, algorithmic marketing, identity theft, hacked accounts, a picture getting zero likes, not knowing if anyone has read one’s most recent post… The list grows daily and ranges from the spectacular to the ordinary.

  23. This notion of parallelism is not explicitly related to Baruch Spinoza’s parallelism, which concerns the non-correlation between thought and extension, or ideas and bodies. See B. Spinoza, A Spinoza Reader: The Ethics and Other Works (ed. and trans. Edwin M. Curley), Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

  24. Hayes has called the installations documenting her performances ‘not-events’. See J. Bryan-Wilson, ‘We Have a Future: An Interview with Sharon Hayes', op. cit., p.81.