Plastic Space and Political Space—
Jean-Francois Lyotard The interesting thing about political posters is that they expiicitiy establish a relationship between the organization of society and the plastic surface (6cran). Through these posters we should be able to establish a correlation between the effective treatment of the plastic surface and the desired treatment of social space. We propose the following hypothesis: beneath the articulated signification and iconic meaning, the poster's plastic form (plastique) has its own value as a symptom of a political unconscious. Given this hypothesis, the localization of this symptom can be sought through Freudian categories. Our aim, then, is to elaborate a critique of ideology. First of all we will distinguish textual and figural space. Graphic (or phonic) units have no value in and of themselves according to the plastic force of their form or rhythmic impact on the reader's eye or body, but only by being opposed within a system (e.g., the alphabet, if we accept the letter as a unit). This play on opposition is rule-bound, and breaking the rules leads to the effects of signification jamming. The system assumes a spatial cutting-up (d6coupage) (here visual; vocal in the case of speech) according to invariant intervals which allow for fast recognition. This cutting-up is textuality.
Space IS, on the contrary, treated figurally when the norm of the intervals defining the textuai units is transgressed, giving currency to another order of meaning. This definition is intentionally negative, it is particularly important to beware of identifying figural and perceptual space, since even the organization of the field and perceptual profiles can be transgressed, and this transgression make them appear a contrario as textual elements. There are thus "written" figures. Similarly, the graphic signifier and/or signified of a text, properiy speaking, can be deconstructed in such a way as to heavily invest it with figuraiity Freud's analysis in Chapter VI of the Interpretation of Dreams shows that this sort of transgression is the work of desire insofar as it is a repressed drive The transgression proceeds through work, not discourse. The poster combines images and letters and the work of desire can be followed on both. Reckless deconstructions, obeying the demands of ([the] death) instinct, recombine new recognizable aggregates (according to the principies of reality and Eros) The sociai space the apprehension of which by poiiticians we seek to diagnose, through an analysis of posters, is what Marx, in the introduction to the 1857 edition of the Critique of Political Economy, called the empirical space of intuitions and representations. This space IS not that of the system which supports it and hides in it, but that In which social relations are lived, in which ciass struggie unfoids. The poster belongs to this space insofar as it is an object of intuitions and representations But even in its most "naive" forms, the poster constitutes a specific object in the midst of other objects occupying that space: an "art'-object, if one wishes; an object which mirrors other objects; an empty space (non-piace, u-topia) where situations given elsewhere in iived social space become manifest. Now the way in which this recovery (reprise) takes piace plasticaiiy is crucial for diagnosing the politicai unconscious in play in the poster. It is a process of simple representation (corresponding to simple reversal, described in The German Ideology as an ideologicai relation) or, more precisely, doubie reversal or even overthrowing. The poster of the Russian Revolution (1920) (fig. 2) is divided into three-quarters figures and one-quarter text: "May 1st," "The Saturday Workers of All the Russias." The scene represents a man striking an iron bar held on an anvil by a woman with the aid of a pair of fongs. On the left, a man holds a pickaxe in his hand—at rest, it seems— staring toward the locomotive and flags in the background sky. The factories in the background resemble a stage set; nothing allows us to affirm that these people are at work. The scene itself takes place outdoors; the flags and banners give it a festive air and the sense of a joyous hubbub. The look of the central figure (red shirt, black pants) holding the sledgehammer is fixed on the center of the picture: the anvii. The railroad tracks converge toward the same point. This nexus of lines is the reason why the picture's plastic form knots and unknots, where our look is inevitably rooted, like at the center of a spider web, so as to
traverse all the lines which diverge from it. Let us follow line A vertically (fig 2). It contains "May '•st," the anvii, a hand and sledgehammer Line B, the raiiroad track, obliquely followed, establishes the picture's depth, allowing me to pene*rate it, or, inversely, expels me toward that other expanse of space—the text Line A shows planes of color white hand, red shirt, black pants and anvil, a fiery red object to be hammered, red "1st," black letters: "the Workers," etc. There is an image-text symmetry here, a passage from one to the other via the piastic eiement of coior, color which reinforces the general unity of the poster. Note the interesting placement of "1st." From the formal viewpoint, this eiement works as a "iyricai" verticai vector which organizes the entire poster and gives it all its meaning. The vertical creates the stage (nght-ieft, front-rear) on which actors are able to move about, play "In human representation, the horizontai corresponds to the iine or piane on which man stands" (Kandmsky). If we take the separation of image and text literally, it is clear that "1st" functions in another sense than a simpie aid to the scene's plastic compostion (fig. 3). " 1 " taken by itseif assumes a symbolic role. It no longer merely indicates a "directional" vector but the deep meaning of the poster. It supports and grounds the entire scene, symbolizing the opening of a new era—the sociaiist era Or, more fundamentally, what IS originary, matncai: history's source point; the founding act; what separates what was from what is yet to come. The anvil is in this case the initial fixed base where nascent socialism is forged, where it draws Its strength. Sociaiist ideology draws its force and sense from myths, here through Vulcan who transmits his suggestive power thorugh the overexposed eiements of iron and fire But, inverseiy, myth piunges ideoiogy into an abyss, if one is not careful, the connoted elements can crack to pieces, iet themseives be invaded by meanings issuing from eisewhere which destablize the unwieldy and "exact" presence of ideoiogy. The presence of "1st" on the anvii is ambivalent. It has a dreamlike quaiity insofar as it is a graphic and chromatic eiement But through its legibility and meaning, it fixes the image of the anvil which is excessively polysemic ("the image, place of resistance to meaning in the name of a certain mythics of life," says Barthes). The text in this case is our most solid point of contact, veneering its meaning on the figure, fixing it: it is a question of the Saturday Worker. The text informs our view. This poster is addressed to the Russian workers of 1920, not to us. It is not surprising that the text's "anchoring" (Barthes) function is less important for us and that we be more aware of the image's polysemy. Image and text lock me in a "reading" game from which all contemplation is absent. It is at the level of this game that we wouid be able to disclose the Utopia. The passage from image to text, nowhere indicated as referent in the poster, would be of an Utopian nature.
Reading becomes enriched in passing from text to image. New pulsations of meaning ftoresce; new circuits of singifiers are disclosed. The image which is presented to me is truly fantastic. The scene, like in the theater or a dream, shows me workers who are not workers The text is here comparable to a stage apron, "the invisible limit where the spectator's look strikes a barrier which halts and returns it (the first reversal) to the spectacle's recepient, that is, to himself insofar as he IS the source of the iook" (A. Green, Un oeil en trop). With that smali difference, the stage apron is constituted as text, a text which preciudes all narrative, ail diaiogue. The figures here are mute, have only a dream-like depth. Without this text, the figures, presented in their silence and immobility, would surely anguish the spectator. The text is the order, the written commentary of a henceforth reassuring image which one recites to oneself—an image into which I can resolutely project myself. The eye, then, can itself be captured by the invisibie, "written form" of the perspective, more fictive and illusory than ever, and which makes It penetrate the allurement-space (espace-leurre),\he depth of the scena The vertical, the "silent line" (Kandinsky), and the horizontal, the oblique, are not taken in their own right They are captured, reified in the gestures and attitudes of the players who evolve on the stage. The eye is caputred by that "written" "form" of the poster which presents itseif as figure-desire, as action to be realized. This organization of a fantasmatic scene, needed to induce the viewer's desire, to make him take his desire for reality (the other of piay), this "visible" of the poster does not refer to the visible of a real object but to an invisibie situated eisewhere. An invisibie which is neither of the order of the reality of the poster nor the reality of which it speaks. Like in More's Utopia, all contacts with reality are broken, and reality survives only in "overexposed" traces: sledgehammer, tongs, anvil, railroad tracks. These elements are divested of their proper functions, connoted on the one hand, but reinvested on the other with all their mythicai attraction. The viewer's desire enters into play and is constitutive of their force. I am the one who swings the sledgehammer and smashes the iron, who lifts it and effortlessly violates the sky's interdiction. At this primary level, there is harmony between the principles of reality and pleasure. The text, however, fixes the scene, drawing it into a more limited signifying network. It poses its spatial limit, halfway to our eye. it is this space between text and image which is Utopian—a space that is reduced to an impalpable trace in the poster. "1st" functions here like an index, an ethereal hinge, an untranslatable "relay" (Barthes) between image and text. It is the key through which the image posits its "reality," a "reality" which passes through "real" reality by mediation of the restricted signification of the text proper.
June 26, 1968 A poster put out by the metal industry on which the work rhythms are accentuated to make up time (fig. 4). (This allows a certain perception which brings out all latent and unexpressed ideology, rather than subjecting us to the turmoil of images. Assuming that this poster has some fundamental ground or is grounded, it is a matter of seeing it in extreme depth; of studying it from an attitude In which knowledge is put aside so as to free up the field to vision; of deconstructing it, and, then, perhaps, of destroying or unravelling it). We are immediately struck by three sorts of lines: the line "A BAS,"^ the line of the chained wrists, and the line of "CADENCES INFERNALES." They are all comparable in color (here black, m the original green) and not too different in thickness (mean width = 1 cm. with a variation from 0.5 to 2.0 cms). At the level of the dynamic of the iine, we find the binary continuous/discontinuous, which is fundamental (1) In "A BAS" the line is discontinuous. — In order to respect the interval between the letters (B-A-S) and between the words (A-BAS). The sole function of line breaks at this level is so that the letters can be recognized and the iinguistic segment read. — In the letter, itself, since the characters are stenciled, that is, form a surface where the space of the letter is hollowed out as opposed to printing where it is raised. These characters are thus used on surfaces other than paper, supports such as packing crates, barrels, sacks, etc. This aspect refers to a connotation more or less conscious to the viewer, which can be physical labor. For these characters are the kind outlined on crates and sacks at loading yards, ports, etc. This connotation of labor, provided by the internal rupture of the letter, is an irruption of the figural in the textural. Another irruption, at an entirely different level, of the figure into the text results from the rather speciai interjection "A BAS," which is defined as "a cry of hostility toward someone or something" The expressive overcomes the significative. The cry "A BAS" draws its strength from the repetition of the " a " (/a/) sound, which is the vowel located at the maximum degree of voiced opening In the case of "A BAS" a back laJ (1st /a/) and a front /a/ (2nd /a/) (See A. Martinet, Elements de linguistique g4n4rale, 2-18, p. 42). (2) The line in the image of the chained wrist. This line is continuous in thf it closes on itself. The entire outer contour and even the greater" A of the figure can be drawn without lifting the pen from the paper, ihe line of each of the elements delimits an encircied, implosive space, consisting of chain links, handcuffs and bound wrists Because of its enclosed constitution, its being imprisoned, the line transmits its inherent tension from a thin line to the interior of the encircled surface it delimits. This displacement of tension produces a change in the value of the white interior. Physically, the white background of the poster and the white interior of the design have the same value: the original color of the paper used But they differ percep-
tually The white interior has, by compression, a more intense energy than the exterior white space which seems to spread infinitely since the poster is unframed. On the original poster (where the drawing is green) the white interior appears pinker because the green encircles the white and the eye instinctively adds its complement (magenta), which happens to be the natural color of the hands We find this difference of value in all the compressed spaces of the figure (links, handcuffs, etc.) and to a lesser degree in the enclosed spaces of the letters a, d, e, of "cadence" as opposed to c where the letter opens onto a white exterior (3) The line of "CADENCES INFERNALES" is discontinuous in order to allow its reading, as in the case of "A BAS," but it respects th integrality of the letter, which rids it of the connotation "labor" At the level of the signifier, the usual interval between the words "LES" and "CADENCES" is not maintained, since the interval is the same as between two letters, e.g., between D and £ in recognizing these words, however, the eye instinctively reestablishes the intervai, and for the following reasons: (a) The syntagms "LESQ" "LESCAD," . "LESCADENCES" are not pertinent in French and thereby not confusing (b) The key on the handcuffs interpolates and separates the two words much in the same way as a caret ( v ) does when we mistakenly connect two words in a manuscript: "Lescadences." This is a rather original irruption of the figure in the text. Now that the poster is deconstructed, we will present a disposition of Its elements. (A) A play on the position of "A BAS," placed, paradoxically at the top of the poster. (B) The image of the wrists is styiized—the exterior contour of the fists which is in fact thin is as broad as that of the chain line which has a real thickness. —there is no indication of shading, but a slight realist perspective on the handcuffs and fingers. Although stylized, this image posseses a certain depth. The chain wrists have a hidden face, while the printed characters do not. (c) From the viewpoint of signification, "LES CADENCES INFERNALES" is an extremely constraining text, whereas "A BAS" is more expressive. "LES CADENCES INFERNALES" perfectly illustrates the functions of anchorage and relay that Barthes (Communications, No. 4, Rhetorique de I'image," p. 44) picks out among the functions of the linguistic message in its relation to the iconic message. Over against the polysemy of the figure and even of "A BAS," "CADENCES INFERNALES" determines "the floating chain of signifieds," and the viewer can no longer be unaware that he is confronted with a poster aimed at the conditions of industrial labor For example, the rearranged poster (fig 5a) might very well be viewed as having an anarchistic aim. The vice-iike positioning of the text in relation to the figure reinforces Its previously mentioned implosive quality by precluding any escape route This point becomes clearer in the posters rearranged by
eiimtnating one or two of their terms (figs. 5a-d). (it's best to iook at each poster while covering up the others.) We can see that in fig 5a the passage between the two eiements is much smoother than in fig 5c. The exteriority of the text m reiation to figure is quite obvious in the iatter The reiationship between "LES CADENCES iNFERNALES" and the wrists is that of caption to drawing, it IS somewhat different m Fig. 5a, where "A BAS" is better integrated with the figure. This piece of text, supported by the fists and owing to its iarge figurai component, enters into a continuous reiationship with the wrists to which it is materially connected at the base of the letter S. The cry "A BAS" seems to come from an imaginary mouth belonging to the same body as the wrists. "A BAS" is like a balloon in a comic strip. Caption and balloon seem to characterize the play of the two texts with the figure. Moreover, fig. 5b, composed soieiy of the texts, demonstrates the hiatus existing between the two kinds of characters and the need to separate them by a figure Fig 5d shows the extreme "written" quality of the handcuff symbol. Heavily coded, it intervenes, in certain respects, like a figurai element in a rebus. The poster, then, presents three elements. A textual element (A BAS), but one which leaves considerable room for the figure. An image of fists, which is by nature ftgural but very much written. These two ambiguous eiements ieave open the option of reading or seeing It is the third eiement ("LES CADENCES INFERNALES"), essentially textual and bereft of figurality, which tips the scaie and, simultaneously, recuperates the final space; for it transforms the image into an evasive iiiustration of a slogan. Because of this, the original desire which tended to invest itseif in the poster, that of trying to break the chains and free the hands, is sharply broken off. The second Russian poster (fig. 6) breaks definitively with the horizontal-verticai system. The poster's surface is no longer in-depth—a depth into which the eye can penetrate—nor, converseiy, a surface whicn meets the eye through the play of inversed perspective; instead, it is a surface baianced strictly by the lines defining it. It is no longer a question of a window but a rectangle. The interior line tracing this rectangle eventually becomes a black mass, and this occurs on the same plane. The presence of the text in the figurai space can appear surprising. How can a linguistic space whose property is to be oriented toward a left-to-right reading—a space with strict and apparently inviolable internal rules—"inhabit" the same space as the figure without bothering the eye and ear? The text here is taken in its figuraiity. The words become oriented iines to which reading lends force and movement. The words "wedge" (KANHOM) and "red" (KPACHbIM), preserved in their iegibiiity, are arranged according to two lines whose
source is m the upper-left-hand corner of the poster and which are invisibly prolonged in the lower right-hand region, transmitting their vectoral energy to the red triangle. The red trangle is reinforced in its movement, in its tension, by a "significative" relationship with the words- "wedge" refers (se rapporte) to the triangle, "red" to its color. The linguistic and figural space lose their intrinsic value at this levei. They are mutually deconstructed and their reference to both language and art displaced. This unfillable gap is the poster created by El Lissitzky. The word "wedge" materializes and "figures" the all too abstract form of the triangle, functioning like an indicative sign which laterally illuminates its meaning. The triangle guards its polysemic autonomy, resisting, as figure of negation, the solidification of the word The field of attraction between word and figure, far from proving detrimental to the latter, which was the case in the first Russian poster where the text functions to make us select the proper level of the reading of a "realist" image, confirms it, restores it in all its depth of meaning. The lines circumscribing the space of the word "red" render it more dense and nearer to our eye. Both the letter and the entire word "red" are related to the color-substance of the triangle, but also to the color inscribing the word, informing it. Both the color red and the word "red" are the same thing, though it was necessary to designate the color so that from being seen it could be understood. The red of the triangle and the word "red" are displaced into another area of the poster and invested in the verb "beat" (BEN), constructed in such a way as to appear as though it plunges into the poster in the shape of an invisibie point which recalls the other point of the triangle. The text "whites" (EEAblX) has been expelled, tangentially set off from the white circle, and thrown back towards the black area where It IS positioned in a white rectangle. (The letters written in gray indicate the passage from white to black; on the opposite side, downstream in the movement, is the word "red" with white letters outlined in black and the color trapped in the word, in its letter. This also recalls the gray masses, traces of a full space, further framing the lines of the triangle which penetrate the circle.) The circle is basically a fixed, closed figure foreign to that other figure, the triangle, foreign to Its straight lines, its movement and its energy Here the figure of the triangle breaks with the symbolic plane of the circle. At the point where the triangle plunges into the plane, it creates the center of the circle and at the same time destroys it. The circle becomes a mad figure, a death form iacking reference to its center The triangie shatters the myth at its very root. Further in time and space, as between parentheses, the red triangle completely expels the white circle, throwing it out towards the black background (E) (fig. 7). At the periphery of the white circle and the red triangle we find: (a) Lxiwer and to the left on a white background, bits of red, black and white rectangular spaces.
(b) Opposite in the upper-right-hand corner of the black background, smail red, biack and white triangies and squares Space surrounded on all sides. Vibrant echos refracted in the opacity of black, in the fluidity of white. Colors: white, red, and black "nsing" to create a kinetic space. Reading the words "wedge," "red," "beat," and "whites" dissociatesreadingfrom its horizontal base and left-to-right coordinates, casting it into an unusual up-and-down dimension. The phenomenon of writing outstretches in a spatial dimension which was unitl now prohibited This extension brings out the "direction" included m the legible. Using the letters of the word as figural material, without undermining the word's legibility, involves displacements of writing Itself. A critique of the orderiy space of writing poses the problem of the space of respresentation, a pseudo-deep space, but also the problem of the body (a vertical balanced to left and right) This displacement does not consist only m a shift in the position of the word or the transgression of the regulated intervals of syntax, an unfolded text, but equaliy in a "shift in accent" in Freud's sense of the term. The characters are handled as follows: a black and rigid line for "wedge"; a fine line for "red," which delimits its letters and at the same time creates privileged, denser white spaces; red lines for "beat", grey lines on a white background for "the whites," like a iabel, which, far from transgressing meaning, makes it more "audible." Reading can be scanning by ear. Reading, by the establishment of a space of difference with regard to its normal legibility, by the positioning of words in different planes, reinforced by different colors, can be scanning with the entire body according to the pleasure principle alone. Reading can be scanning with the look. The red triangle is not the expression of the object "wedge," its abstraction, but the expression, unreifiable meaning, form and pure violence of sharpness. The words remain iegible, and thereby refer to the horizontal with which they mutually arose (co-naissent). This action is a "critique" "of reading," of reference. In other respects the text has a purifying function in its relation to a figure which it empties in advance of the projections that it could all up, to which, through its lateral luminosity, the text confers an "uncanniness" (Freud) Due to its normative-space, this text precludes a return to a space governed by perspective, a theater-form space. Forms, visible and invisible iines: their free play creates a space of contradictory energies which completely breaks from the May 1st poster; that stage-space where attitudes and "sentiments" are the directly "readable" "expressions" of the body: captured energy reified in an image. We should here oppose the writing of images (the pictorial) in the first Russian poster to the "pure creation of figures" (the figural) in the second. The quasi-depth of perspective gives way in the latter
to the only real density—meaning. To pose the problem of writing is to pose that of representation, of the body And this is substantiated m the second Russian poster because our body, upset in its naturai balance of viewing and reading, must shift, find new positions from which reading once again becomes legibie: the seeing seen. The Utopia here is the very act of creation which transgresses the interdiction, making possible the relation between two supposedly heterogeneous spaces, spirituai breathing of revolution without which It wouid be merely reassuring revolution, linear in its search for truth and justice Conclusion in the May 1st Russian poster the recovery of social space is effected through representation, that is, the presentation of an absence, but readily identifiable. The spectacle is recognized through a highly connoted use of colors, the reaiistic organization of space, and recourse to the social stereotype of the steel industry (tracks and locomotives are needed to transport the Red Anny). The properly plastic iines of force are submerged, they act, they do not invite detection by the eye. This submersion corresponds to that of the plastic surface which is drawn according to the rules of Leonardo's window. The viewer is summoned to pass through this "window" and climb onto the stage, to join the Saturday workers. The perspectivai treatment works in the same way as the use of stereotypes, provoking desire and at the same time focusing It on a known and communicable situation. An appeal is made to an experience which already bears title and terms: labor as the struggle against material; the workers' collective as active subject. Recourse to these sociai objects, to that experience and to the discourse and representations grafted onto it (to that experience and its complementary ideology) rules out a critique of the social space in all its dimensions. Some regions of experience remain sheitered from the critical overturning. They are, moreover, presented as regions to be invested by desire, and their representation IS used to invoke in the poster's readers the channels through which this experience is reproduced. We can see the correiation. Piasticaily, it is a case of simpie reversal, reality is represented, presented as a readable absence. With regard to libidinal economy, what the poster evokes in desire is the drive to repeat the formation of an organic unity (the work collective, of which the proietariat has experience). Politically, the social space is not critiqued but applied to the ends of ideological exploitation. The function of the French poster of May '68 is no different from that of the first Russian poster except in that the fulfillment of desire is evoked more by what is written (le verbe) than by the image. This iatter is written, symbolic. The syntagm "cadences infernales" is doubly conventional. First, in the graphic treatment of the signifier, and, second, in the powerful connotation of the signified. Even the "a bas," which is to some extent figuralized, conforms to conven-
tional criteria (inscription on materials used m work) The figure of the textual is textuai in its turn. This textuality does not call for commentary different than that of the May 1st poster it seeks fast recognition of the social object (mass-production), and to induce conduct which itself has a long tradition within the history of working class struggles This effect is not produced by establishing a visual scene m a deep space, but by inscribing a text and symbol to be read on a sheet of paper, in fact, to be read twice, first, so as to understand the signified of the discourse itseif, and then so as to understand the second signified (connoted) of the discourse and the figure. This predominance of the written must be related to the time and piace of the poiitical action, the decline of figurality within the western tradition. Capitalism's advancement of articulated linguistic communication over all other forms, the importance of the student environment. The poster's iaden connotations attest to the paucity of the critical deconstruction—in fact, to its absence Piastically, the poster might very well be an advertisement. From the libidinai viewpoint, however, it should be categorized under the death instinct, since it invites destruction rather than construction. The libidmat and political meaning of the poster are, in reality, contradicted by its piastic organization The combination of elements (ensemble) operates like a compromise-formation, with a manifest content which comes under the death instinct and a latent content, secreted in the form of the object, which satisfies Eros by inducing, through connotations, the strong feeling of belonging to a commmunity. There is a piastic paradox m Ei Lissitzky's poster. The writing assumes a specific form, while the figure seems to create a text of forms. There is a deconstruction of letters and words on the one hand which is not oniy manifest in the signified ("beat with a wedge") but aiso in the graphism designed in plastic relation with the space, and thus figurai work. But, inversely, we might say that the deconstruction of any representation, the placing of form and color in a flat twodimensionai space, and the repiacement of the window illusion with an opaque surface, changes the pictorial givens back to scripturai ones, it IS indeed characteristic of writing to treat the material support like a board rather than something transparent This trait, however, is oniy a secondary manifestation of what is essential to writing, that is, that the graphic units oniy have differentiai vaiue, and not by their reiation to a body (or the unconscious) Now this is not the case In this poster. Here there is a disappearance of the object, resulting from the Suprematist critique of representation, which involves a use of form and color entirely subordinated to their elementary power on the body, and not only the perceiving, worldly, body but the erotic one as well. It follows that desire cannot be lost here in an object or a discourse by which it is fulfilled It meets the screen and is reflected on it since the opaque surface mereiy refiects the sensible formal elements with which the work of fantasmatical fulfillment is done The poster recails desire to itseif as fiesh, as a region of rhythms, profiles
and colors. It lacks objectif ication and object recognition. The plastic space IS a space of anguish. There are three elements in Lissitzky's poster which are linked to a radical critique of social space: (1) the reflection of desire on itself; (2) the redoubled reversal (where the reality invoked is not only presented in Its absense, but the desire which invokes it is manifested in its very process, thereby also reversing the relationship between desire's operations and the fantasmatical object which results); (3) the empty space which is opposed by the painted surface to its being fiiled by desire. To beat the whites with a red wedge is not only to win the civil war, improve the economy, build collectivism; it is also to drive this wedge into all the white zones of expenence and ideology, the instituted; and it is to submit everything social, political, moral, and aesthetic to the same reversal that desire undergoes in the poster. The enveloped and closed sphericity of the white investment must be opened and broken everywhere by the red sharpness. It would be necessary to open up another direction offered to analysis by making use of the complex opposition introduced by Freud m 1920- reality/pleasure-Eros/death. In the first Russian poster, the destructive drive is invested on the material (anvil, sledgehammer, etc.), sparing the sociai unity formed by the workers. This unity is not only represented on the stage, but presented in the connotation of the images and the text, thanks to which it is easily reconstituted. We have said how the French poster organized these two components. In Lissitzky's poster the dimension of death wins. There is no recognition, representation or connotation, there is no point where we are able to link communication and participation to an "erotic" unity. The forms presented are situated well short of discourse and action. They are silent because they break the illusory fulfillment of desire, the lure by which Eros gives itself to seeing and hearing as reality. The connivance of the principles of reality and pleasure is the mainspring of ideology. The reader will not fail to object that the composition of the poster and its critical force bear witness to the isolated situation of the artistic avant-garde in revolutionary Russia. That's an inconsistent "concept," a fulfillment of desire in words. On the one hand, men of this period like Mal6vitch and El Lissitzky were not an artistic avantgarde. They were anti-art, insofar as critical overtuming (it was the "rearguard" which was merely "art"). On the other hand, they had no pretention of being an avant-garde in the political sense. What Is important is that today they give us and artists and politicians a chance to reflect on a critical aesthetic, an aesthetic of the death drive (which, moreover, Freud suggests in Beyond the Pleasure Principle) in Its relation with revolutionary critique. Translated by Mark S. Roberts
This IS a translation of "Espace plastlque et espace poiitique," which appears in D6rive d partir de Marx et Freud (Pans Union G^ndrale D'Editions, 1973) The text, however, has a history which precedes this particuiar pubiication According to a note in preface to this version of the text, the work first appeared as a seminar presentation at Nanterre in 1968-69, and was then later discussed in another seminar offered by Mikel Dufrenne in 1969-70 This text aiso contains a note indicating that it was first pubiished in the Revue d'Esthitique, 23 (December, 1970), crediting Dominique Avron and Bruno Lemenuel as coilabortors (I would like to acknowledge the vaiuabie heip of Professor Geoff Bennington of Essex University, who thoroughiy read and corrected an earlier version of this translation) (Translator) I have kept the French terms for the May '68 poster, since their pecuiiar graphoiogy seems essentiai to Lyotard's anaiysis "A Bas les Cadences Infernales" is perhaps best translated as "Down with the Heliish Work Rhythms" (Transiator)