Cut It Out
Francesca Cicchetto, Sadiani Rognoni. Edited by Shinaz Giusti,
with accompanying text by Nils Ya. Buffalo, NY: Tailspin Press, 1995.
Reviewer's Note: An obscure press in Buffalo, New York has recently
published one of the more interesting documents in aesthetic theory to emerge in
the past few years. Ostensibly a reissue of Italian writer Francesca Cicchetto's
Sadiani Rognoni, an avant-garde work originally published in
Bologna in 1952, the book includes, in addition to the Sadian cut-ups (or more
accurately, cut-outs) that occupy its recto pages, a philosophical commentary by
guerrilla theorist Nils Ya. Printed thus, both texts run parallel to each other,
informing each other yet remain distinct as befits their generic allegiances.
Both address the curious status of the fragment as aesthetic topos in our
post- and unprepossessing-of-anything historical moment. And both work the
ragged seam marking that marriage of poetic and philosophical discourses that
increasingly informs contemporary theory.
Ecstatic time can only find itself in the vision of things that puerile
chance causes brusquely to appear: cadavers, nudity, explosions, spilled
blood, abysses, sunbursts, and thunder.
A poet recently remarked, apropos of the American serial poem: "Little
potato prints of consciousness." The child's absorbed attentiveness in
art-making summoned by that phrase could hardly be further removed from the
cool, antiabsorptive conceptualism of Francesca Cicchetto's work. A neon
impassiveness lends its steady charm to the cookie-cutter, heartshaped shape of
readerly awareness in these poems. No aura - no bliss either. The Italian
impulse to laugh off artefactual mystery. Yet the imprint of method, be it
figured as crudely as acorn head or ace of spades on the raw cut half of a
potato dipped in paint, has nonetheless an exploratory deliberation about it
that poses certain questions to the (re)viewer through these portholes of the
What can we discern there? A short history of the uses of "method" in
twentieth-century poetry of the West might take us from modernism's odd uncle,
Raymond Roussel, to the surrealists, the lettrists, Language poetry, and back
again to the Romantics, without still ever addressing the crucial determinations
that underwrite a writer's use of one "method" over another; and the question
becomes acute when, as here, the method involves a framing of found material.
Method as window - opening on to different scenes, certainly, but homogenizing
them (as Cicchetto's Sadian source-text endlessly reiterates its subject matter)
within the unchanging fact of a single reiterated frame. And that frame, as Nils
Ya demonstrates so clearly in his exhaustive commentary on the logic of the
fragment accompanying Cicchetto's texts, is an art frame, a frame
encrusted with a flaking history of perception whose very scabrousness causes
us, paradoxically, to overlook it as historical (rather than aesthetic) object.
What is the point of Cicchetto's method? Baldly stated, shorn of
literary-historical braidings, what does her work propose - about Sade, about
sexuality, about postwar (or post-Wall) Europe, about language? After the
passage of forty years, years whose same-as-new rhythm has appeared to be
ineradicable from the texture of Italian political life, does her point need
Like the slipped wig that provides the movie Naked Kiss
with its single real frisson, Cicchetto's work reveals the sloppiness of
modernism's hold on mid-century European culture, at a time when it was supposed
to reign triumphant. The perfect symmetry of her cut-outs only serves to point
up what's askew in the culture that provides their primary frame of reference -
askew not morally or aesthetically or politically, but "out of joint" in the
sense of Hamlet's despairing description of his time. And this temporal
dislocation of the century's high noon is in no way a reflection of
retrogression or anachronism in the realm of the arts - it could be argued, in
fact, that the stylistic "imperatives" pressed by international modernism were
among those things that Adorno's Auschwitz made definitively obsolete. To take
two roughly contemporary examples from the realm of the (Italian) visual arts:
when Lucio Fontana slashed his canvases with a razor, or when Piero Manzoni
produced, for sale, sealed cans labeled "Artist's Shit," they were hardly
interested in pressing some quasi-Hegelian logic of modernism to its next
identifiable synthesis. Art is health, Yves Klein asserted in 1960, and Joseph
Beuys would later respond: it is healing. Scabs, knitting tissue, crusting over
a live wound whose lips speak a great deal more than the usual dilemmas of
sexuality - is this the health promised us by a thoroughly appropriative art?
~Ut pictura poiesis~ indeed! Yet in this space of disarticulation, the hip bone
unconnected to the thigh bone, a space for articulation: Cicchetto holds fast to
her method as Rosselini does his camera while filming Open City
amid the fresh ruins of a recently abandoned Rome.
Georges Bataille, parsing the language of flowers, has remarked on the
image of the Marquis de Sade among the mad in his asylum cell, stripping off the
petals of a rose and throwing them into a latrine. The time is long past due,
suggests Sade's redactor here, to abandon the postcivilized world. Derelict
structures of half-smashed thought, held in abeyance, so many matchflames
shielded by cupped hands, they burn out of sight the next step we might take.
Yet we don't need extra light to read the graffiti on walls and screens: No more
hedging around the demands of the last decent extremism. Human chance reappears
at this juncture not in her medieval dress, randomly blindfolded in a double
personification of Fortuna-Justice (is that a torture-wheel or scales she holds
behind her back?), but as the frolicsome boys, familiar from Lear,
tearing wings off flies to see what will happen next. Flinging art's petals to
the breeze may indeed give pleasure to those suffering from a newly authorized
boredom, that form of blank restlessness that has long been the ground of modern
creativity. But to expose, to strip off the patterned wallpaper of aesthetic
assumptions buried under layers of peeling paint: it could take a lifetime, and
the basic questions of redesign - "what next?" - still go unbroached.
What Francesca Cicchetto suggests, I think, is that a total negativity
as asymptotic aesthetic limit might well fit our fortunes now - "we" having no
horizon on which to construct images of perfect cities, neither hill nor ditch;
better the tears and holes of a negative architecture, Matta-Clark's exuberant
ruin of dead policies of renewal. Leaves shattered before the mellowing rot of
eroticized spatial relations: is that what we, turning the corner of a page,
find in the familiar neighborhood that Cicchetto outlines for us in her book?
Elegiac smoke, without a hint of self-pity, gets in the reader's eyes. We should
be careful, of course, not to draw too close an analogy between the time in
which she writes and our own - between the languid fifties and the scraped-thin
nineties. But neither should we overlook the parallels.
Klaus Lorenz is a graduate student in comparative literature at
the State University of New York at Buffalo.
© CTheory. All Rights Reserved