THE FLUXUS READER
edited by Ken FRIEDMAN, Academy Editions, 1998
The structure of this Reader is strikingly dominated by a certain trinity. Although the number of the component parts is not three but six (2 x 3, after all), each part contains three chapters. Three separate essays, that is, which are thematically linked by the title of the given part. According to editor Ken Friedman's original intention, or rather to the task George Maciunas had commissioned him with, he was going to write the history of the Fluxus-phenomenon. However, he soon realized that a "who and what" type of history concentrating on the individual artists and artworks thrilled him so much less than the "how and why", or the Fluxideas. As a result, the publication views Fluxus in several different light-settings, and within each setting it further experiments with another three postures, thus demonstrating that the goal is not to teach or to define something but to engage in a dialogue.
Except for Part Five. This part, entitled Two Fluxus Theories breaks the rhythm of the trinity on the Contents page: here we have only got two chapters. This tiny anomaly does not only strike the eye because it is contravening the structure but also because a couple of inches above we have already read practically the same title: Theories of Fluxus. What is the theoretical difference then? We may argue this way: the second title could be meant as "theories of Fluxus-as-such" or "Fluxus-related theories", (in yet other words: theories coming from art critics); whereas the essays of Part Five are written by Fluxpersons and these are about Fluxus indeed.
And now, after this introductory note, I have got a strategy to suggest. In case you are not quite aware of the nature of the thing named in the book title - you'd better start your inquiries elsewhere. In order to get a real taste of Fluxus and to really experience the ease of its complexity you should first carry out a few instructional Fluxworks (e.g., à la Ben Vautier, take a postcard, provide it on both sides with a different address and the proper value of stamps and send it simultaneously to the two addressee, the card reading: 'The postman's choice'); or rummage in the Yearboxes, and all such things. And when you feel satiated with pleasure yet you even want to go on reading about the thing, select from the 50-page list offered by the book's last, bibliographical part (also divided into three sections!). Perhaps only after not having first missed these kinds of experiences are you ready to get acquainted with what the theoreticians have to say about Fluxus.
For what we have got here is by no means an informative but more like a deconstructing (Fluxus)-reading. It attempts to break Fluxus down, firstly but not exclusively from Maciunas, "Mr. Fluxus". In spite of all deconstructing operations, a tough little Fluxcore is still left over condensing the minimum that one can or needs to know about Fluxus. It consists of the several meanings of the dictionary entry (all referring to the lack of fixture), as well as the close forerunners of the movement (Dada, Duchamp, Cage) and its broader roots (puzzles, Zen, desacralized rites), and the 9 or 12 (depending on who lists them) Fluxcriteria.
The editor also pays tribute to the task of the historian he was commissioned with as early as in the first part entitled Three histories. Here the function of the structural trinity is, apart from reflecting the variety of truth(s), is to chronologically divide the era. The book's attempt that is manifest in its structure, too, is not to give an incontestable definition or to reveal the one and only possible reading - corresponds to the deconstructing standpoint which, in return, really does correspond to the Fluxattitude. To say the least: Fluxus eliminates the Cartesian subject/object-division not by dissolving the life/art-dichotomy but by ignoring it! As one tends to look at deconstruction and its kindred, hermeneutics - in spite of all their abstraction - not purely as philosophical theories but also as usable life strategies, the same way Fluxus should be considered an art movement and a social theory. All the more so for Fluxpersons themselves do not think that Fluxus belongs to 'high art'. They prefer to think about it as a way of life and a way of doing things whose main elements are humor, concretism and perhaps functionalism. All forerunners and critical approaches get removed or at least deemed irrelevant in Dick Higgins' text in this book except for hermeneutics! He assumes that all analyses resulting from any different approach will only please the critic but not the reader. The same thing occurs in this volume here and there when one encounters questions that try to determine whether Fluxus is modernist or avant-garde or what? (Steven C. Foster: A Note on the Relationship Of Fluxus to Modernism). Or, when reading certain essays teeming with references to Derrida, Deleuze, Baudrillard, etc., one realizes that all those texts were written apropos of Fluxus.
Part Four (Three Fluxus Voices) stands for relaxation with its two interviews and a 'para-guide' that reads fast and is forgotten at the same speed. We have already read the interview with Maciunas elsewhere while the one with his wife is a novelty for us - though it is not at all sure that this volume would miss a great deal if this often gossipy conversation, giving away pieces of intimate information had been omitted. Unless we admit that reflecting the truth in various light-settings does entail such things....