The Inscription of Art and Everyday Life: How Being Slips into Performance was published in activate Journal Issue 1, Vol. 1 (2011)


This article analyses practices of cultural production that bear upon the relation between the actual (the indicative: x is) and the inscription or performance of the actual (the subjunctive: as if x were). In my analysis the act of linguistic inscription emerges as an analogy for these practices: name-giving ostensibly restores the indicative world to human experience while in fact contributing to the retreat of the indicative and to the restoration of the subjunctive in its place. I argue that certain cultural practices exhibit the same structure of inscription, retreat and restoration, and as such can be interpreted as instances of (non-textual) inscription: of writing the indicative world into a subjunctive performance of itself. I argue that this slip from indicative to subjunctive is acknowledged and problematized in some cultural practices (e.g. instances of readymade, conceptual and lifelike art; instances of theatrical performance), but is concealed in others (e.g. the TV news broadcast, the holiday snapshot, the online persona). As a consequence of this concealment in contemporary popular culture I identify an expansion of the subjunctive field to the point of its apparent ubiquity: the writing of performance becomes so compelling that the writing itself no longer shows.

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See also Anyone Could Do That: the performance of art in the work of Tracey Emin (2012), an unpublished essay developing ideas from this article.