Why you should read … Sylvère Lotringer

A figure, in the precise sense of one who cares for (cura) — books, works, texts, people, ideas, people, oh people —, one might even say a guardian of ideas and people, persons with ideas, is no longer with us …

Most everywhere else, they have already been swallowed by the rise of the salesperson. Or the gallerist, if you prefer the other name with which they go by. Which is no fault of the gallerist as such: after all they are merely living up to their call to play to the gallery.

And, it is perhaps of no coincidence that galleries quite possibly bring with them echoes of church porches (galilea), albeit from afar (which might well be apt seeing that a portico is part of its structure) — after which, the klang of coins is never far behind …

… render unto Caesar.

Curatorial language is the language of people
who are afraid of not having ideas. [1]

Perhaps though, ”the whole art is know how to disappear before dying and instead of dying” (Jean Baudrillard) [2]. For in disappearing, one plays the final trick — might get to have the last laugh, as it were — not by returning, resurrecting, but by completely vanishing.

Even more so when something has gone well: for, whenever there is a model it’s going to be duplicated and then it becomes an industry. [3] And, “as soon as a programme is presented, it becomes a law and there’s a prohibition against inventing” (Michel Foucault). [4] Thankfully, once you’ve realised what everything is and how it works, how it’s going to repeat itself, endlessly, you just step out of it, and affirm other, positive values. [5]

For, to resist is to attune oneself to the resisting possibilities in each tekhnē, to the possibilities of resistance brought forth in each technology — all while trying to remain aware (insofar as this is possible) of its potential catastrophes, “refusing to collaborate” with its programmatic designations where possible; I see it as a complete refusal to compromise [6].

It is not about refusing to make books because books have also become mere objects of exchange; but, instead, bringing forth texts that refuse to be put-to-work (labore) in the same way as the rest of the shiny-shiny, are even-whilst-small too-big to be bite-sized, cannot be shelved-away, placed on display, shoved aside, easily palatable, resolutely remain uncomfortably unconsumable.

“My books do not settle down. I like books that slip away, the escapees” (Hélène Cixous). [7]

Perhaps if one listens to oneself, one starts to hear better. [8]

Which might well be why the magazine was first named so: “I look through your magazine and I was repelled by the title, Semiotext(e). It’s so dry, you just want to throw it in the trash, which I did. Listen: Hatred of Capitalism would be a much better title. It’s stunning. The world is starving for thoughts. If you can think of something, the language will fall into place, but the thought is what’s going to do it” (Jack Smith). [9]

One can well imagine Sylvère chuckling upon hearing this. Chuckling: ”the greatest enemy of authority is contempt, and the surest way to undermine it is laughter” (Hannah Arendt). [10] 

And then going on to name the “2001 Semiotext(e) reader” nothing other than Hatred of Capitalism; in fact, foregrounding the fact that they were playing along with Jack’s idea in the epigraph: not because it would capture more attention, increase sales, or any such thing but in memory of an era (1974 – 2002) [11]; not as some act of nostalgia, for this is a dedication to an “era” extending past the time of the collection, to a certain future that perhaps can only be glimpsed at through the past. For, even as the time in which all of these pieces have been written has past, it is not as if the time of the texts themselves have: capitalism hasn’t disappeared. It’s repercussions are even more momentous than before, but no one can seem to grasp them. [12]

Something Sylvère clearly not only understood but embraced: who else would have made, would bring forth, books that were so unique in their singularity and then ensured that they looked pretty much exactly the same, except one who realised that not only are things same same but different, but it is only in recognising the repeated sameness that difference is brought forth. Literature is like putting on glasses. I see the world differently … I’m able to see things that would otherwise remain invisible. [13] That things are not in themselves different, but with each other, alongside another — in relation — engender differences: to surround it with other stuff, ‘til it became part of something more fluid and couldn’t be isolated. [14]

That it is not in tragedy but in farce that resistances lie.


One has to be mad enough to do so. Why can we accept certain things about Druids, and consider their beliefs legitimate — but when someone takes himself for a Druid and “becomes” a Druid, we lock him away? If that’s madness, then doesn’t madness teach us about our own history? About who we are? [15] And, perhaps as crucially, “not just anyone can go mad” (Jacques Lacan). [16]

For, to think is quite possibly to do nothing but to be done with the judgement of God.

Our society desperately needs monsters
to reclaim its own moral virginity. [17]

With all of the risks it entails.

Sylvère’s challenge — to the university; to so-called intellectuals hiding behind desks, ossified podiums, increasingly rarefied spaces, within institutions, to the “art world”; to the attempted commodification of thought and continual attempts to commodify anything and every thing — was to offer a kind of protection, a shelter, a space: it was people moving around doing their things and I was just trying to do mine and it didn’t matter if it went anywhere or not … You don’t always have to try to make a point. [18] Nor have to subsume every decision under a ratio, reason; “a lot of the people that we publish were crazy” (Chris Kraus) [19] ; The Madness of Truth. [20]

A challenge in which all the books looked almost exactly the same, “completely ineffectual at the level of reality” — a challenge to the very imagination of capital, bearing in mind that the condition of exchange is differentiation, that one object is differentiable from another. The very same condition that the police need: that it is YOU and not another who did it — identify yourself! Point that person out! Raise your hand! Stand out from the crowd! Even to the extent of fabricating a difference where there is none.

And, in doing so, offering shelter — to writers, thinkers, artists; to all who were considered, who might well have been, mad. Sylvère, who would cover us, shade us, offer us the protection of the shadows; all while saying so, admitting to it, openly signing-off to the fact that he was indeed our friend of the woods (silvestris).

So, always already hiding in plain sight.

Like the very best kind of password.

Secrets: ”the sacred is nothing more than a privileged moment of unity in communion, a convulsive moment full of what is normally smothered” (Georges Bataille). [21]

The type that can sometimes be found in little black books.

For maybe, to care is to get out of the way, so the works, words, thoughts, ideas, people, can speak for themselves. I was trying to disappear for years by doing interviews. [22]Where to disappear is always also to diss-appearance itself. 


Sometimes, I catch myself wondering if thinkers who posit that beauty and truth are one and the same thing, or at least can be found in the same realms, were wondering if moments of truth (or even glimpses of truth) come, The Madness of Truth [23] comes, to us not just through but as moments of beauty. That glimpses of truth come to us at the very moment when we are moved beyond ourselves, when we are, at least momentarily, no longer quite ourselves, that truth is a moment that comes to “take my breath away” (Berlin). [24]

Beauty will be amnesiac or will not be at all. [25]
Forget meaning and with it the subject.

Perhaps I should …


This piece is dedicated to — and in loving memory of — Sylvère Lotringer (1938-2021).



[1] This notion, amongst many others, was explored by Sylvère as part of his seminar at The European Graduate School in June 2016.

[2] Jean Baudrillard, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, translated by Chris Turner, with images by Alain Willaume, Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2009, 25.

[3] Sylvère, in conversation with Jack Smith, “Uncle Fishhook and the Sacred Baby Poo Poo of Art” in “Schizo-culture”, Semiotext(e) magazine, edited by Sylvère Lotringer, 1976, & in Hatred of Capitalism: a Semiotext(e) reader, edited by Chris Kraus and Sylvère Lotringer, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2001, 255.

[4] Michel Foucault, “Friendship as a Way of Life”, translated by John Johnston, in Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961-1984, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)—Double Agents Series, 1989, 312.

[5] “Uncle Fishhook and the Sacred Baby Poo Poo of Art”, 257.

[6] Sylvère, in conversation with Jacques Latrémolière, “I talked with God about Antonin Artaud” in Sylvère Lotringer, Mad Like Artaud, translated by Joanna Spinks, Minneapolis: Univocal Publishing, 2015, 72.

[7] Hélène Cixous, interview with Rosalind C. Morris, ”the Writing, Always the Writing”, translated by Keith Cohen and Eric Nowitz, in French Intelligence, edited by Sylvère Lotringer, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)—Double Agents Series, 2002, & in Hatred of Capitalism, 123.

[8] “I talked with God about Antonin Artaud”, 72.

[9] epigraph to Hatred of Capitalism

[10] Hannah Arendt, On Violence, New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1969, 45.

[11] dedication, Hatred of Capitalism

[12] ”The History of Semiotext(e)”, in Hatred of Capitalism, 16.

[13] “I talked with God about Antonin Artaud”, 82.

[14] ”The History of Semiotext(e)”, 16.

[15] “I talked with God about Antonin Artaud”, 78.

[16] epigraph to Mad Like Artaud.

[17] Sylvère, quoted in David Wojnarowicz, in conversation with Johnny, ”The Suicide Of A Guy Who Once Built An Elaborate Shrine Over A Mouse Hole” in Close To The Knives: A Memoir Of Disintegration, with an introduction by Olivia Laing, Edinburgh: Cannongate Books, 2016, 202.

[18] ”The History of Semiotext(e)”, 14.

[19] ibid, 17.

[20] ibid, 17.

[21] Georges Bataille, ”The Culprit”, translated by Tom Gora, in “Polysexuality”, Semiotext(e) magazine, edited by François Peraldi, 1981, & in Hatred of Capitalism, 110.

[22] ”The History of Semiotext(e)”, 16.                                                                                                                          

[23] ”The History of Semiotext(e)”, 17.

[24] Giorgio Moroder & Tom Whitlock, “Take My Breath Away” in Berlin, Radar Radio, B-side. New York: Columbia Records, 1986. [25] ”The Dance of Signs”, 189.

Jeremy Fernando reads, writes, and makes. He is the general editor of Delere Press; the conception of which was, and continues to be, greatly inspired by the works brought forth by Sylvère Lotringer and Semiotext(e).

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