Tomáš Jirsa is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic. He received his PhD and MA from Charles University in Prague where he worked at the Institute of Czech and Comparative Literature between 2012 and 2017. He was awarded with various scholarships, comprising of a research stay at the University of California, Los Angeles (2008–2009), at Université Paris Sorbonne (Paris IV) (2010–2011), and at the IKKM in Weimar (2015). He has been also working at the Department of Theatre and Film Studies at Palacký University where he coorganized the International Festival of Science Documentary films (AFO). Along with translations from French in the fields of philosophy, aesthetics, psychiatry, and film history, he also translates French films.
Fields of research
Relationships between modern literature and visual arts, affectivity, literary theory, and intermedial aesthetics.
IKKM Research Project 2017
Waste-Site Figures: Mediality of Garbage in the Age of Dispersion
It is a well known fact that the advent of postmodernism is simultaneous with an increasing attention payed not only to what human society produces but also to what it rejects and disposes of. The interest in “refuse” is supported by the newborn discipline, combining archeology with anthropology, garbology, created around 1973, which understands rubbish as the most valuable source of information on the contemporary civilization. From its viewpoint, a garbage dump represents a fascinating place of accumulation of various events, objects and rituals that can be deciphered and classified. Only two years later, the scandalous novel Les Météores (1975) by Michel Tournier is published, wherein the garbage plays the central role as an archaeological site due to which the main hero undertakes hermeneutics of society. However, his obsession with garbage also reveals a principle G. Bataille called the “unproductive expenditure”, based on human inclination towards destruction, wasting, and enthropy. The highly condensed material traces of garbage thus seem to be permanently exposed to the risk of dispersion which, nonetheless, appears to be a fundamental condition of its mediality. Therefore, my project strives to answer the following questions: What happens when we cease to perceive garbage as a mere repository of refuse, a reservoir of memory of the past, and focus instead on its medial and performative force? Is there any other logic of the garbage besides its repetition, reproduction, and testifying to the consumer nature of humankind? How a temporality of garbage can be addressed? Which aesthetic and aisthetic elements, affects and atmospheres emerge out of the disposal site? Therefore, the focus will be put on aesthetic as well as aisthetic operations performed by works of art, especially literature, visual arts, and cinema, which substantially not only depict, represent or narrate the phenomenon of garbage but mainly conceptualize and theorize it. For the operative nature of garbage reveals to be exactly in between the condensation and dispersion; on the one hand, it accumulates, stores and conserves the material fragments of society, the objects and matters it used and into which it immersed its memory that might be recovered. On the other hand, these material traces, refering to the past events, spread out in the form of what has been rejected as a worn out trash, junk and filth. The dialectical motion of the condensing/dispersing within garbage is alternately centripetal – in terms of the piled up artifacts coming from all over the world, and centrifugal, since garbage is randomly transferred, carried away by pickers or scavengers, buried in the ground, burnt or recycled. Since the agency of the garbage dump, endowed with its own logic and organization, seems much less anthropocentric than “anthropodecentric”, one should also ask whether the position of human subject in relation to garbage is not rather, to put it with M. Serres, para-sitical.
IKKM Forschungsprojekt 2015
Mediality of the Broken Frame: Affective Patterns and Their Survival in Image and Text
At first glance, the act of framing – at least in the contemporary aesthetic discourse – might be seen as a strongly isolating, separative and totalizing operation. Besides the fact that it distinguishes an image from its surroundings and therefore affirms the identity of a viewer standing outside the allegedly autonomous depicted world, it also proves a necessity of a spatio- temporal fixation. To put it briefly, the deictic and representational motion of the image is – whether one deals with cinema, photography or painting – stopped. Nevertheless, all constructions are exposed to the external as well as the internal pressures and corrosions, so even in the most solid framework a fissure might occur and then the world enclosed by the frame starts to stream out. Therefore my project strives to answer the following questions: What happens when the frame breaks? Is the world inside the frame going to open itself towards the exterior or, on the contrary, it will absorb the beholder’s space and radically transform their role of a looking subject? And in fact, what kind of language should be used to accurately explain such an event along with its consequences?
In continuity with the scheduled programme Framing / Sewing I want to focus on the aesthetic relational operations performed by works of art, especially literature and visual arts, which substantially not only depict, represent or treat the act of framing but mainly conceptualize and theorize it it. On the one hand, the accent will be put on different ways of shifting, a breaking through the textual and visual frame along with their creative deformation one could call – inspired by George Didi-Huberman’s concept of “disfiguration” and the term “deframing” coined by Pascal Bonitzer – a disframing. On the other hand, my project will deal with the dialectically opposed process of reframing, i.e. the act during which a beholder is absorbed in image or text and becomes its integral part thanks to the affective operations and the aesthetic contamination. However, in contrast with the multiplied or simultaneous screens in the experimental cinema, a projection of digital images in galleries and Vjing, this dialectics of disframing – reframing does not need to be manifested explicitly. The broken frame along with the related operations will be rather traced as a peculiar latent effect of thinking of the work of art, the work of art which – as Gilles Deleuze puts it – thinks through the affects and percepts. Yet this non-obviousness by no means reduces the effect of the broken frame: its mediality will be perceived as a strongly reflectional and affective operation (Van Alphen) which not only affects the subject but it also transforms it in an operational element. A man as “an affecting and affected resonant centre” then retroactively transforms, modifies and shapes the world of image and text.
How can one analyze and think such aesthetic operations? Works of art often have a specific quality to offer via its language, images and gestures their own theoretical figures. These figures, endowed with cultural memory, knowledge and affects disclose their aesthetic space, but they also aim to other forms of art and different ways of reflection. Far from being purely subjective or intuitive, they fit suitably the main condition of sewing which is “joining together that which is different”. Theoretical figures blur the boundaries across the cultural contexts, poetics and historical frames and could be easily compared to Mieke Bal’s “travelling concepts” connecting disparate disciplines. Their uniqueness however does not consist in the fact that they are esentially interdisciplinary and intermedial but in the way they perform a dynamic figural process passing through particular works of art and they point out an affinity between language and senses, the discursive and aesthetic practices. As such, they enable an encounter of verbal with sensual, meaning with emotions, discursive with non-discursive.
More specifically, an example of such figures might be demonstrated on the Rococo ornament emerging in modern visual art and literature in a “surviving” form of a wallpaper pattern, not as a mere decoration but as a lively creature. This rococo ornament refuses to yield to its carrier – the frame, it leaves the borders of the picture and invades its core to become an autonomous aesthetic object. In these images something takes place that contests the conception of ornament till nowadays prevailing in the Western aesthetic discourse. Its definition has been brought about by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgment (1790) via the notion of parergon which signifies not only a non-functional embellishment but also a decorative supplement that does not participate on the whole structure of the work of art. But the ornaments in Rococo recall rather a conception of another radical philosopher, Jacques Derrida. In his view, parergon stands for something strongly „atopical“, an element which is not a work of art itself but does not exist beyond it; which is neither inside, nor outside. Thus, as the Derridean parergon, the Rococo ornament dissolves the alleged boundaries between the interior and exterior, disrupt the hierarchical opposition of the visual center and the decorative periphery, and last but not least, it calls into question that commonly received difference between the „main“ matter and the „added“ element.
So at this time, the relation between reality and ornament is turned over, the real world filled with nature and living beings is no more a source of mimesis, and, as Frank Ankersmit puts it, „Rococo ornament invades reality by ornament: the objects of representation adapt themselves to ornament.“ To explain this invasion, we must refer to another connoisseur of the Rococo art, Karsten Harries who shows this era as a period of transition between the ancient art, devoted to representation, and the modern art, which leaves all classic mimetic order behind and opens the way to abstraction instead. According to him, this fundamental event occured when the frame, which was keeping the distance between the fictional world and the actual world, had broken. As we can see on many engravings from this period, the original frame – whose function was to represent the carrier – is growing into an auto-referential frame that attracts the beholder’s attention and activates a playful deconstruction of the depicted world. Thus the broken frame – representing and self-commenting – might be considered as a metaphorical onset of the modern art.
One of the modern “incarnations” of this ornament might be demonstrated by peculiar wallpaper patterns, so often observed by fevering or hallucinating characters in novels (Andrei Bely, Bruno Schulz, Vladimir Nabokov) and movies (Ingmar Bergman). It needs to be stressed that it is by no means a depiction or representation of nature, but a pattern in terms of a nonmimetic abstraction, a design, a linear condensation that does not represent natural forms but evokes and suggests their motion and their vivacity. Moreover, the wallpaper ornament lacks a fixed frame. Therefore, the pattern can leave the wall surface and exceed to the surrounding space of the interior, only to blend with its universe. Besides that, by this very absence of frame, the wallpaper pattern may absorb the viewer into its realm, that is into a proliferated and confusing ornamental zone. The fissure of the Rococo frame, as well as the nonmimetic, self-referential and abstract nature of the wallpaper pattern lead us to an affective and aesthetic phenomenon that will be captured and developed by modern literature and contemporary visual arts. The outlined dialectics of disframing – reframing thus allows not only a quest for the surviving affective patterns across the centuries, but also to observe the peculiar thinking of art.
If the challenge of the media philosophy and of the negative media theory lies – as Dieter Mersch puts it – in “making the medial visible” and in searching for “showing itself”, it becomes obvious that what is at stake, rather than content and message of texts and images, is the way the beholder creates and performs them. Therefore, I suggest that the very tracing of the theoretical figures – produced by an interaction between the aesthetic and affective operations of the work of art and its viewer – might enrich the thinking of mediality. Another question I would like to deal with is how to “reframe” a literary text in order to see it not only through its verbal message, composition and theme, but rather as an archi-textural and performative space blending different medias, languages and gestures.
Jirsa, T. (2016): Tváří v tvář beztvarosti: afektivní a vizuální figury moderní literatury [Facing the Formless: Affective and Visual Figures in Modern Literature]. Brno: Host, 364 p.
Jirsa, T. (2012): Fyziognomie psaní: v záhybech literárního ornamentu [Physiognomy of Writing: In the Folds of Literary Ornament]. Prague. Faculty of Arts Press. 216 pp.
Portrait of Absence: The Aisthetic Mediality of Empty Chairs. Zeitschrift für Medien- und Kulturforschung 7 (2), 2016, 13–28.
Reading Kafka Visually: Gothic Ornament and the Motion of Writing in Kafka’s Der Proceß. Central Europe, 13 (1-2), 2015, 36–50.
Lost in Pattern: Rococo Ornament and its Journey to Contemporary Art through Wallpaper. In: Where Is History Today? New Ways of Representing the Past. Eds. Marcel Arbeit and Ian Christie. Olomouc: Palacký University Press, 2015, 101–119.
Ascension of the Pop Icon. Creativity of Kitsch (not only) in a Music Video of Lana Del Rey. Moravian Journal of Literature and Film 6 (1), 2015, 5–27.
Facing the Faceless: Erased Face as a Figure of Aesthetic and Historical Experience. Czech and Slovak Journal of Humanities, 5 (1), 104–119.