“Reading Disruption: Jenny Holzer’s Emplaced Textualities.” European Association for American Studies and British Association for American Studies 2018, London. 4-7 April, 2018.

jenny holyzer.pngIn what ways is reading a way of thinking, and how does this way of thinking lend itself to protest, disruptions, resistance?

Jenny Holzer’s language and installation art respond to the challenge of exposing the doublebind of language – as key to claiming your voice, but also as complicit in structures of power and silencing – from when she entered the art scene with her truism series and inflammatory essays. She is, therefore, a language artist who challenges conceptions of reading as apolitical. Her work is metapoetic and embedded in material realities in one, and thus offers fascinating impulses for re-thinking reading as an act of collaborative disruption and resistance, of creating multiplicity and unsettling position, in opposition to dominant vocabularies.

This paper defines three dimensions of this disruption, that relate reading to hybrid textualities such as the aphorism, entwine words with embodiment, and make reading a political event in Rancière’s sense. I focus on the LUSTMORD series, a response to the systemic rape of women in Bosnia during the brekaup of former Yogoslavia, to explore how Holzer uses open positions to turn reading into a collaborative, yet unsettling act. Reading in this sense becomes charged with a politics of dissent and challenges us to reconsider the relation between critique and representation. It is a political act in particular because Holzer’s texts are projected onto public squares, buildings and mountains. Because these places saturate each line of text, unsettling the linearity of the lines and the clarity of each letter, they challenge each reader to reconsider their own position in relation to the networks of violence, power and censure which Holzer uncovers. Reading, in this sense, can be aligned with the Deleuzian process of composition and decomposition, propelled by a desire for a resistant form of knowledge.