Belgian Coast
Schmidt’s Belgian Coast (1979)

The stan­dard met­ric for eval­u­at­ing a case for tenure: is the can­di­date’s work cen­tral to the dis­ci­pline? This ques­tion arrests me. I like it, inso­far that I have spent so long assum­ing that any­thing worth doing is off to the side­lines; it makes me appre­ci­ate hav­ing to relo­cate my own strip of mar­gin to the center. 

The painter Peter Schmidt, remem­bered today as a friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor of the musi­cian Bri­an Eno, prid­ed him­self on not being a fig­ure in the world of art, of instead teach­ing, mak­ing, of keep­ing qui­et, of keep­ing his head down. This is very dif­fi­cult to not read as sour grapes. For those of us pre­oc­cu­pied with com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the dri­ve that is basic in oth­ers – to demon­strate their thought, to out­fox, to be excel­lent, to be rec­og­nized – is no longer intrin­sic, nat­ur­al, assumed. It is as though you were to think about every step as you walk, every con­trolled fall, the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a mis­fire at every moment. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and domin­ion are inter­twined, and seem equal­ly impossible. 

If cen­tral­i­ty means that the work fol­lows what is already writ­ten plain­ly on the agen­da, or that I must write it in bold strokes between the lines – even cross­ing out anoth­er line to put it in – than I am dis­cour­aged all over again. If instead I can find it implic­it in the agen­da, if I can argue it in, I can car­ry on. Cen­tral­i­ty, of course, implies a fig­ure whose cen­ter can be locat­ed. Point­ing at the fig­ure, I locate my own area of exper­tise every­where and nowhere, in the integu­ments hold­ing the fig­ure togeth­er, in the dot­ted lines that could upon exam­i­na­tion resolve into strings of texts with sup­port­ing images. 

Centralia smoke image
Smoke in Centralia, by Flickr user Jrmski.

(July 2016)