torsdag den 7. april 2011


Rosa van der Meijden,
Three ghosts, 2009
 I saw a ghost the other day. Well, actually I did not. What I did was see nothing where I believed there would be something to see. Now one might argue that that is not all that surprising. After all, the same thing happens with half your socks, most of your biros and all the money you earn. But I came face to face with a ghost nonetheless.

I was visiting the library of the Royal Conservatory in Copenhagen to investigate a Fluxus concert called Concerto that took place there on 23 April 1963. It was organized by the conservatory’s study group on new music and featured, besides a programme of Fluxus pieces, a selection of happenings by the local Experimental School of Painting. I know it took place: not only was it discussed in the June 1963 issue of Danish Music Magazine, there also exists a typewritten programme. I have held it in my hands. And yet the conservatory’s archives do not contain a single scrap of evidence of its existence.
The concert should have drawn attention to itself. The program mentions such classics as Alison Knowles’ Child Art Piece, Benjamin Patterson’s Pond and György Ligeti’s Trois Bagatelles. Surely, an evening that featured a child on stage ought to attract attention? And what about a work that has the performers croak questions, answers and exclamations with a mechanical hopalong frog as conductor, should that not leave its traces in the archives? Or what about a piece that consists of three movements and only one note? In 1963? Nevertheless, I found a gaping hole where the concert should have been. All the other concerts in the same series are listed in the Royal Conservatory’s yearbooks, but of the Concerto, not a trace.
The Concerto, it appears, has both taken place and not taken place. It “happens between two”, as Jacques Derrida puts it in the Exordium to Specters of Marx (1993) - and things that happen between two “can only maintain [themselves] with some ghost, can only talk with or about some ghost”. The Concerto can only maintain its bizarre existence between having taken place and not having taken place if it speaks to and expresses its own ghost.
That may seem an impossible task, but there is a temporal twist to this ghost business that may make it possible after all. As Derrida writes, there is no being-with, and thus no socius, without a being-with-ghosts; ghosting is an eminently social thing. And not only do we live with the ghosts of past generations, we live with those of generations to come as well. The living present, writes Derrida, is “non-contemporaneous with itself”: it moves towards the future, but the future moves towards it as well. This means that, if the present comes from the future, the future must precede it – it must in a sense be “already and irrevocably past”.
Back to the Concerto. In a commentary in Danish Music Magazine, the rector of the Royal Conservatory, Knudåge Riisager, wrote that he had “already witnessed the samples presented here for half a dozen years ago in Paris and other places”. The concert he attended in Paris was a ghost of the Concerto, and the Concerto a ghost of the earlier Parisian concert. The Parisian concert ghosts the future Concerto and the Concerto ghosts the past Parisian concert.

Between them, the programme of the Concerto that I have held in my hand in New York and the evidence of its existence that was so conspicuously absent from the archive in Copenhagen speak with and about the ghost of the concert.  There can be no doubt that it was Riisager’s experience of the concert as not-present – of his own Parisian experiences as future – that caused its disappearance from the Conservatory’s archives. Riisager made the event a social one. He may have wanted to protect others from what he saw as superfluous, but in actual fact he turned a mere piece of archived paper into something that can be addressed, in the double sense of the word: something that can be engaged in conversation and something that can be the subject of conversation – while at the same time not being there at all. Not a mere thing, but a ghost.