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C h r i s T h o mp son
University of Minnesota Press
Minneapolis | London
See page 305 for information on previous publications.
Portions of The Art of War: The Denma Translation, translation, essays, and
commentary by the Denma Translation Group, copyright 2001 by The Denma
Translation Group, are reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc.,
Boston, Massachusetts. www.shambhala.com.
Portions of The Secret History of the Mongols, translated and edited by Frances
Woodman Cleaves (1982), appear courtesy of Harvard–Yenching Institute.
Words and music of “Ghetto Defendant” by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones
copyright 1982 Nineden Ltd. and EMI Virgin Music, Inc. All rights for the United
States and Canada controlled and administered by EMI Virgin Music, Inc. All rights
reserved. International copyright secured. Reprinted by permission of Hal Leonard
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Thompson, Chris, 1975–
Felt : Fluxus, Joseph Beuys, and the Dalai Lama / Chris Thompson.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-8166-5354-6 (hardcover : alk. paper)
ISBN 978-0-8166-5355-3 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Fluxus (Group of artists). 2. Beuys, Joseph--Friends and associates. 3. Bstan-’dzinrgya-mtsho, Dalai Lama XIV, 1935—Friends and associates. I.Title. II.Title: Fluxus,
Joseph Beuys, and the Dalai Lama.
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
The University of Minnesota is an equal-opportunity educator and employer.
17 16 15 14 13 12 11
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
(Remember that we sometimes demand definitions
for the sake not of the content, but of their form. Our
requirement is an architectural one: the definition is a
kind of ornamental coping that supports nothing.)
—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
Robert Filliou, Télépathique musique no. 21, Art-of-Peace Biennale, Hamburg, 1985.
Photograph: Herstellung Druckhaus Hentrich, Berlin. Courtesy of Marianne Filliou.
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Prefaces | ix
Intrigue: Toward the Scripting of Intimate Space | 1
1. Interhuman Intermedia | 49
2. Rate of Silence | 85
Entanglement | 133
3. What Happens When Nothing Happens | 139
4. Overgave | 193
Acknowledgments | 251
Notes | 253
Publication History | 305
Index | 307
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On January 23, 1998, I made my first visit to Amsterdam to meet with
Dutch artist and writer Louwrien Wijers, who had organized the 1982
meeting between German artist Joseph Beuys and His Holiness the
XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet. This meeting was the subject of my Ph.D.
research, which I had just begun a few months before. In fact my
first step as a researcher had been to write a long letter to Wijers
in October 1997, explaining my great interest in this meeting and
in her work. It was the kind of heartfelt and effusive student letter
that one, in looking back on it, cannot imagine writing as a “professional scholar,” and it was probably precisely for this reason that it got
so prompt and warm a reply, in a way that no well-seasoned prose
ever could. She wrote telling me that she was delighted that someone was actually interested in this meeting and its consequences, and
she invited me to come to Amsterdam as soon as I could, to meet
her and begin a conversation in person. This book is the result of
that conversation; it is an indirect result, in that the project that has
unfolded from that point to this has been circuitous and anarchic, but
a direct result in the sense that it was from precisely that moment—
my receipt of that welcoming reply from an artist I had never met—
that the project started. And upon its completion, of even those parts
that had nothing directly to do with her, this book reveals itself to be
circumscribed by that friendship in a way that makes this at once my
project and her invention.
After arriving at Schiphol Airport I took the train to Amsterdam
Centraal and then, following the canals, managed to find my way to
Wijers’s home. Just one block from it, I passed the bar that, I would
soon learn, had been the favorite haunt of her close friend the Dutch
Corner of Brouwersgracht and Herengracht, Amsterdam, site of d’Armagnac’s death on
September 28, 1978. Photograph by Chris Thompson, 2000.
performance artist Ben d’Armagnac, of whom more below. It was the
last place he had been seen alive, on the evening of September 28,
1978, moments before his accidental drowning at the corner of the
canals Herengracht and Brouwersgracht. A convex mirror, attached
to the wall of the canal diagonally opposite from Wijers’s front door
and used by boat pilots to help them see oncoming vessels around
the corner, today serves as a kind of makeshift memorial marking the
site of his death.
Wijers answered the door with a smile, showed me to the living
room, where we were to have our discussions, and to the tiny mattress piled high with wool blankets in the corner of that room, which
would be my bed as well as my desk during that visit and the three that
would follow—in January 1999, February 2000, and October 2004.
Atop the dresser at the foot of the bed were photographs of her
deceased mother and of the Tibetan lama who had slept in the same
bed during his visits to Amsterdam since the early 1980s. On the table
at the head of the bed stood a small statue of the Buddha.
Wijers wanted to run an errand before we began our interview,
so that we would not need to interrupt our discussion later. I looked
forward to the opportunity to see a bit of Amsterdam, so agreed to
walk along with her. We stepped out onto the pavement overlooking
the canal. As we walked, to make conversation in the way one does
as a first-time visitor, I asked her a question about Amsterdam. It was a
question to which I already more or less knew the answer, because on
the flight from London that morning I had begun to study the city map,
which was marked with a number of tourist attractions and places of
interest. I asked Wijers whether she lived near Anne Frank’s house.
She smiled and said,“Yes, it is very near.” I asked whether she had ever
been to see it.The air was cold and the sky was gray with the hint of a
snow that never did come.“No, in fact I have never been inside there.”
She looked at me then, with a smile connecting her cheeks. She told
me that the whole of Amsterdam was Anne Frank’s house.
“He’s drunk,” his wife said as she entered the room with my
wife.“He always gets drunk when you show up. . . . And when
he gets drunk he thinks he’s a poet or a philosopher.”1
Years ago, when I was an undergraduate student, during one of several late-night drunken conversations with one of my good friends,
our meandering efforts at erudition led us to stumble into a discussion of a short poem he had recently written.
I sit, motionless.
A tree moves gently in the wind.
What will move me?
I told him, pulling forth pearls of the wisdom gleaned from several
weeks spent in my Hinduism, Buddhism,Taoism class, that it sounded
like Lao-Tzu.This prompted him to tell me of a phrase he had always
loved, one that he felt sure came from the writings of some obscure
Taoist sage whose name he could not recall. We delighted in this
uncertainty like young undergraduates: much better, much more fitting, that the author was unknown. The phrase, the jewel of Taoist
insight, was: “It loves to happen.” What matter who said it, we two
sages said! Bottoms up!
It loves to happen. In one early draft of a chapter of my Ph.D.
thesis, some of which has been reincarnated in this book, I used the
phrase in reference to Joseph Beuys’s work and its quality of lateblooming epiphany. In the encounter with his most striking work,
one has the feeling of having “happened” along with it, of having
been absorbed into and engaged by the materiality of an event that
loved to happen.2
One of my professors read that draft chapter and was taken with
the phrase. “‘It loves to happen.’ Where does this come from?” she
asked. “It’s from one Taoist text. I can’t remember exactly which,” I
said, implying that I had read so many that my overburdened memory
now faltered, when in fact the Tao Te Ching and Monkey were the
only two I had ever read. Did Monkey even count, I wondered? “It’s
fantastic,” said my professor, who suggested that I get rid of some
of the more clunky explanatory text that I had clustered around it
and leave it at that: “It loves to happen.” This was 1998. I had imagined, wrongly in this instance, that my nugget of quasi-Taoist wisdom
would require some savvy theoretical styling in order to survive the
rigors of Ph.D. supervision in art history and visual culture at Goldsmiths College.
In May 2001, as I was coaxing that thesis toward completion, I
traveled to Los Angeles to present a paper at a graduate symposium
titled Mythologies of the Everyday, at the University of California, Los
Angeles. I took exactly the same American Airlines flight from Boston
to LAX that, had it been September 11 of that year, would have been
a one-way ticket to the World Trade Center.
Titled “Eurasianausea,” the paper examined the 1982 meeting
between Joseph Beuys and His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet.
This would eventually become the final chapter of the thesis and,
after much revision, the chapter in this book titled “What Happens
When Nothing Happens.” The paper asked whether, tucked away in
the creases of the romantic utopian rhetoric of the convergence of
the material and the spiritual that frames most “East–West encounters,” there might, at least in the case of this particular encounter,
be the makings of an alternative way to imagine the significance of
such encounters across cultures, disciplines, traditions—across differences. Perhaps, I thought, and still do think, the Beuys–Dalai Lama
meeting, its promises and its failures alike, might offer up a different
way of addressing both the Western avant-garde’s relationship with
Eastern philosophy and religious practices and the imbrication of
these concerns with issues of cultural difference and cultural translation more broadly.
After the meeting between Beuys and the Dalai Lama had come
and gone, Louwrien Wijers, who had invested much time and energy
in organizing it, came to feel increasingly despondent about the possibility that their discussion would not lead to any substantive outcome.
Beuys and the Dalai Lama’s short chat had been friendly, had touched
upon some important questions, but its results seemed vague and
inconclusive. In the days that followed the meeting, the disappointed
Beuys seemed to have lost interest in pursuing the possibility of further dialogue with the Dalai Lama and his immediate circle of advisers
and supporters. Given that Beuys was at once uncertain about how to
proceed and also immersed in a variety of other projects, Wijers, after
working on the Beuys–Dalai Lama project for years, had to let it drop.
Months afterward, having returned home to nurse her sick mother
and finding herself without her usual working materials, which were
back at her home in Amsterdam, she decided that while her mother
convalesced she would at least transcribe the tapes she had made of
the spontaneous discussions in the hotel café following the Beuys–
Dalai Lama meeting itself. Over sixty people had come to the Hotel
Königshof in Bonn on that morning of October 27, 1982, to be present for Beuys’s talk with the Dalai Lama. Although the talk itself was
private, Wijers, Beuys, and these dozens of friends and supporters,
including French Fluxus artist and Tibetan Buddhist Robert Filliou and
his wife, Marianne Filliou, spent the hours following the meeting talking about a variety of issues, ideas, and initiatives.Although Wijers had
been at the café table when Filliou proposed to Beuys that all of them
channel the excitement and energy drummed up by this meeting to
organize his nascent project that would later be known as the Art-ofPeace Biennale, not until she heard his voice repeat the idea on her
tape did she realize the full implications of his suggestion.
That day in the café in Bonn months before, Beuys hadn’t taken to
the idea of the project when Filliou posed it, and the conversations
drifted on to other things. But months later, Filliou’s words helped
Wijers, now alone with her typewriter and tape recorder, to realize that the Art-of-Peace project was the vehicle for mobilizing all
of the energy and interest that the Beuys–Dalai Lama meeting had
summoned. Despite the many interesting ways in which the Beuys–
Dalai Lama meeting proved to be abortive, it nevertheless became
the catalyst for a number of compelling projects that staged interdisciplinary, intercultural, interfaith dialogues among artists, religious
figures, scientists, and economists—notably the Art-of-Peace Biennale
in Hamburg (1985–86) and the Art Meets Science and Spirituality in
a Changing Economy conferences in Amsterdam (1990) and Copenhagen (1996). It could be argued that many of these discussions and
the fertile connections they have provoked would have happened
without Wijers’s moment of epiphany in front of her tape player; the
time was ripe for these dialogues, even though historians and critics
would take two decades to begin to understand why. What is certain
is that the remarkable unfolding of events that did in fact transpire in
the wake of her revelation could not have happened without it.
To drum up something of the mysterious elegance of this kind
of revelation when presenting my paper at UCLA, I hauled out the
There is a Taoist saying: “It loves to happen.” As Wijers sat
alone and listened to the tape recordings of the meandering discussions that took place over those hours at the café
tables, she picked up on Filliou’s comment, and suddenly it
Many revisions later I still wonder at how to address this “it”—this it
that hit her, that hits us all in those moments that we look back on as
significant ones in the history of whatever it is that we will have done
afterward.This “it” operates as a transpersonal agency, something that
cannot be willed but only prepared for.
Physicist and philosopher David Bohm, one of the participants in
the 1990 Art Meets Science and Spirituality in a Changing Economy
conference, in Amsterdam, defines art in a way that helps elucidate
the nature of this quasi-metaphysical “it” in terms of a notion of an
uncanny but ubiquitous “fittingness” of phenomena. He writes, “I
think that fundamentally all activity is an art. Science is a particular
kind of art, which emphasizes certain things.Then we have the visual
artists, the musical artists and various kinds of other artists, who are
specialized in different ways. But fundamentally art is present everywhere. The very word ‘art’ in Latin means ‘to fit.’The whole notion of
the cosmos means ‘order’ in Greek. It is an artistic concept really.”3
My symposium paper had a decent reception. I was asked one or
two questions, and then we all moved on to lunch. After the symposium, as is customary, a party was to be held at the home of one of
the professors in the department. While I waited for one of my Ph.D.
student hosts to clear up the extra programs and unused Styrofoam
coffee cups, put away the slide trays, and sort through the rest of the
detritus of the academic encounter, I sat down to check my e-mail.
There was one new message waiting for me. It was from my NYU
friend, whom I had not heard from in well over a year.
Long time no speak. I made a discovery the other day that
sheds some light on a question you asked me a few years ago.
You asked me to find a quote I had repeated to you a long
time ago, something along the lines of “It loves to happen.” I
looked through all my various Buddhist and quasi-Buddhist
books, even a few Hindu books and one Popular Mechanics
magazine. But I could not find the source of that quote. I quit,
figuring it would pop up again in time.
About a month ago it did, as I was re-reading Franny
and Zooey by J. D. Salinger. Except, I realized that I had misquoted. In fact, it is a quote attributed to Marcus Aurelius,
who stated that:
it loved to happen
Strange source for Zennish words, huh? No wonder I
couldn’t find it. (In the book the main character is looking at
a wall of quotes compiled by his two older brothers in their
youth, one of whom has since committed suicide.) In case
you didn’t read it. Sorry for the delay.
Otherwise, I hope all is well. Hope to talk to you soon.
Not a Taoist, present sense, but Marcus Aurelius, past tense. My
friend’s e-mail was dated the day before, Friday, May 4, and had been
sent at around 4:00 p.m. from New York—1:00 p.m. in Los Angeles.
Had I checked my messages before the conference on Saturday, I
would have had the chance to fix the reference in the text or even to
remove it. But as it turns out, I had stood before a room full of fellow
Ph.D. students—and the UCLA Art History Department’s illustrious
professors: Albert Boime, Miwon Kwon, Anthony Vidler, and visiting
plenary speaker Martha Rosler—and misled us one and all. None of
us seemed to notice.
When I got home I read Franny and Zooey, for the first time.
Near the end of the book, Zooey wanders into his elder brothers’ old
bedroom. His plan is to use the telephone to call his sister Franny,
disguising his voice in order to convince her that he is actually their
still-surviving elder brother, Buddy, whose consoling words she might
be persuaded to listen to as she lies in a kind of ecstatic despondency on the living room sofa in the family apartment, working her
way through her first serious spiritual crisis. But before he makes
his rescue call, he stumbles upon his brothers’ long unread wall of
No attempt whatever had been made to assign quotations or
authors to categories or groups of any kind. So that to read
the quotations from top to bottom, column by column, was
rather like walking through an emergency station set up in
a flood area, where, for example, Pascal had been unribaldly
bedded down with Emily Dickenson, and where, so to speak,
Baudelaire’s and Thomas à Kempis’ toothbrushes were hanging side by side.
You have the right to work, but for the work’s sake
only. You have no right to the fruits of work. Desire for
the fruits of work must never be your motive in working.
Never give way to laziness, either.
Perform every action with your heart fixed on the
Supreme Lord. Renounce attachment to the fruits. Be
even-tempered [underlined by one of the calligraphers]
in success and failure; for it is this evenness of temper
which is meant by yoga.
Work done with anxiety about results is far inferior to
work done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender. Seek refuge in the knowledge of Brahman. They
who work selfishly for results are miserable.
It loved to happen.
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!
Aurelius. I hastened to read his Meditations. The oldest copy I could
get my hands on immediately was the 1964 Penguin Classics edition,
translated by Maxwell Staniforth. Franny and Zooey appeared serially in the New Yorker, “Franny” in January 1955,“Zooey” in May 1957.
They were published together as a book in September 1961.
After poring over the Meditations text, I still couldn’t find“It loved
to happen,” which Zooey and my NYU friend had cited, but was surprised to locate the missing Taoist insight in its “original” form:“loves
to happen.” I considered searching through earlier translations for
the occurrence of the phrase in the past tense. But had I succeeded,
what would be next? Tracking down the reclusive Salinger and asking
in which translation he had come across it? The possibilities seemed
increasingly perverse—but of course they remain in play; the life of a
scholar is long, and I may well one day be desperate enough to turn
this into a grant application, or a sabbatical at any rate.
So, there “it” was, in the twenty-first entry of Book X of the Meditations, where Aurelius contemplates a line from Euripides:
“Earth is in love with the showers from above,
And the all-holy Heaven itself is in love”
[Euripides, Frag. 890]
—that is, the universe is truly in love with its task of fashioning whatever is next to be; and to the universe, therefore, my
response must be, “As thou lovest, so I too love.” (Is not the
same notion implied in the common saying that such-andsuch a thing “loves to happen”?)5
I began to see the wisdom in my professor’s suggestion that my thesis
could do without the effort to contextualize this phrase.
Much, much more important, though, Seymour had already
begun to believe (and I agreed with him, as far as I was able
to see the point) that education by any name would smell
as sweet, and maybe much sweeter, if it didn’t begin with a
quest for knowledge at all but with a quest, as Zen would put
it, for no-knowledge. Dr. Suzuki says somewhere that to be
in a state of pure consciousness—satori—is to be with God
before he said, Let there be light. Seymour and I thought it
might be a good thing to hold back this light from you and
Franny (at least as far as we were able), and all the many
lower, more fashionable lighting effects—the arts, sciences,
classics, languages—till you were both able at least to conceive of a state of being where the mind knows the source
of all light.We thought it would be wonderfully constructive
to at least (that is, if our own “limitations” got in the way)
tell you as much as we knew about the men—the saints,
the arhats, the bodhisattvas, the jivanmuktas—who knew
something or everything about this state of being. That is,
we wanted you both to know who and what Jesus and Gautama and Lao-tse and Shankaracharya and Hui-neng and Sri
Joseph Beuys, commercial message for Nikka Whisky, 1985, Dentsu/Japan. The English
translation of the Japanese characters on the right of the image is “I know tasty whiskey.”
Reproduced by permission of Dentsu Young & Rubicam, Inc.
Author Chris Thompson Isbn 9780816653546 File size 8.79MB Year 2011 Pages 320 Language English File format PDF Category Biography Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare Felt provides a nonlinear look at the engagement of the postwar avant-garde with Eastern spirituality, a context in which the German artist Joseph Beuys appears as an uneasy shaman. Centered on a highly publicized yet famously inconclusive 1982 meeting between Beuys and the Dalai Lama, arranged by the Dutch artist Louwrien Wijers, Chris Thompson explores the interconnections among Beuys, the Fluxus movement, and Eastern philosophy and spiritual practice. Building from the resonance of felt, the fabric, in both Tibetan culture and in Beuyss art, Thompson takes as his point of departure Deleuze and Guattaris discussion in A Thousand Plateaus of felt as smooth space that is in principle infinite, open, and unlimited in every direction, its structure determined by chance as opposed to the planned, woven nature of most fabrics. Felt is thus seen as an alternative to the model of the network: felts anarchic form is not reducible to the regularity of the net, grid, or mesh, and the more it is pulled, tweaked, torn, and agitated, the greater its structural integrity. Felt thus invents its methodology from the material that represents its object of inquiry and from this advances a reading of the avant-garde. At the same time, Thompson demonstrates that it is sometimes the failures of thought, the disappointing meetings, even the untimely deaths that open portals through which life flows into art and allows new conjunctions of life, art, and thought. Thompson explores both the well-known engagement of Fluxus artists with Eastern spirituality and the more elusive nature of Beuyss own late interest in Tibetan culture, arriving at a sense of how such noncausal interactionsinterhuman intriguecreate culture and shape contemporary art history. Download (8.79MB) Aung San Suu Kyi: A Biography Experience: Thinking, Writing, Language, and Religion Profiles #6: Peace Warriors By Andrea Davis Pinkney You Only Live Twice : Sex, Death and Transition Sacred Trickery and the Way of Kindness: The Radical Wisdom of Jodo Load more posts