Spill Writing

Spill Geist: On the Spirit of Resistance

by Jonathan Boddam- Whetham


Geist – Hegel’s word – a phenomenological study – of Spirit or Mind.

Zeit – the ‘age’ – or epoch – in essence ‘time’ [if time has an essence?].


At Spill Festival Geist is spilling out and staining London.  I think there is a struggle for recognition, a Master/Slave dialectic at work here; the City and the Transgressors.


Zeitgeist is the Spirit of the Age, what though does it mean for us here?  Certainly the term has a momentum, a progression, moving towards or perhaps away from something.  But it is also definitive in that it imbues that culture with a sens [both meaning and perhaps touching the senses], but is also both present and absent.   It clings to the metal monoliths of the City like a shroud.


But playing out around and under this shroud are hauntings, inexorably leaking out – rupturing the ‘spaces’, making the City unheimlich – an uncanniness that seems to be a contagion that resonates with the audiences and infects the body of the City itself.   Transforming it, for a time, or perhaps in more permanent ways, the appearance of which are yet to be fully present.


Touching Silence spilled out into the evening at the end of one night.  Where the fractured limbo between this world and Faerie was brought about.  Otherworldly creatures, where once were formed of rock and leaf, are now formed of humanity’s detritus.  A branch here, a left over glove there, a broken garden rake as a shoe.  Stepping out into the City air – nothing was the same walking back through the forest of steel and glass buildings that night.  The working haunted it.


Hegel says that Spirit is, in short, a mutual recognition – a common self-awareness with the other ‘person’.  In a language not very Hegelian, but still very German, this is, I would argue, a Being-with [Mitsein].  Spirit is characterised by a struggle for this recognition, famously epitomised in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit in the chapter on the Master/Slave dialectic.  This is a violent dialectical progression of dominance and servitude until both self and other come to an common understanding, or rather a necessary understanding; the self can only affirm its own self-awareness if it allows the other the same kind of status.  We might ask whether Spill Festival itself is in this dialectical struggle with the City itself?  Not a full on battle, more a spectral guerrilla warfare, an army of ghosts.


At last year’s Spill Festival in Ipswich, the theme was On Surrender.  The political acts of surrender, resistance, of sacrifice bleed through all the workings.  And this problematisation of servitude, dominance, and resistance carries through to On Spirit this year.  What is particularly apposite is this idea of struggle and recognition.  Whether through dialogues on the creation of identity, and its precarious contingency, to the artists themselves engaging in a struggle with the spaces, rupturing it like little volcanoes breaching the City’s mantel.


What if the ‘Age’ somehow captures this Spirit – dominates it – so that it just becomes a semblance?  A kind of invocation.  To invoke and evoke are obviously linked, in and out, and to evoke is to make all the more present, to draw into a space.  Evocation is a resonance, and as Jean-Luc Nancy says, we are resonant beings.  We are attuned to the world, we cannot be anything else.  Just as we find ourselves happy or sad, it is the emphasis on the fact that we find ourselves already coloured by a particular mood [stimmung]; perhaps a particular Geist or semblance of one?


Just as the shaman stands between two worlds, that of the community and of the other spectral world, so to do the artists haunting the City with their workings.  But the gravity of the zeitgeist, the shimmering shroud of the City, draws us away constantly trying the get us to recognise ourselves in it, it’s 24/7 corporatisation of life and death, [re]constructing our identity, so that we become like it, an unending line of simulacra of the same.


But there is something in-between, disrupting this procession down the avenues of glistening steel cathedrals.  A haunting resonance drawing us away – do the artists themselves embody this spectrality, shamans bridging the divide?  Do they not exorcise the captured semblance, this remnant, so that Spirit ruptures through the shroud?  Spirit is the name for this resonance – the in-between or the with – which seems so difficult to identify.


I said that ‘Age’ [History?] seems to try to capture some aspect of this resonance somehow, appropriate it.  In its search for Truth, that is what philosophy does, it attempts to understand in order to get to the essence of Truth.  But then is this philosophy as violence; an inexorable force driving towards wisdom?  Philosophy is violent. 


There was a working of privilege on the last day.  Perhaps too difficult to write down.  But let us say that the drive for Truth and understanding can represent a certain totalitarian internal movement within philosophy itself.  The relation between the political and the philosophical and what Claude Lefort calls a ‘soft’ totalitarianism.  The search for understanding, peeling the layers away like an onion skin, or perhaps a polar bear’s?  A struggle for recognition for what is and what is not our selves.  We must make the other like us in order to be us.


But Spirit itself is not defined by struggle, it is rather a resonance of sharing what is between us as finite beings.  Beings as Heidegger says, who are mortal; it is death that individuates us [it is my death and no one else’s], but contra Heidegger it is also a [co]possibility that is already shared by us as mortal beings.  The recognition that I/We die, each other’s own possibility, but one shared in common.


So Spirit is both limit [mortality] but also transgression, the spacing of the with between beings.  Spirit is that clinamen that is both commonality and rupture.  Death is both that hole in being and is the whole of being; it is what carries sense and meaning even though it is senseless.  So zeitgeist is we could say, dynamic, it is a struggle, an attempt to capture the wisp of the in-between, like a moth fluttering by the light, although as soon as we do grasp hold of it, we are just left with mottled dust tattooing our hands, and the moth behind glass, named and studied.  Yet it is our shared mortality, our shared Spirit that resists this, which spills out into the City.