Hole 3 and Transcendental Miserablism: It is Right to Revolt Against the Phallus. A conversation between Justin Lieberman and Nino Bozic

The performance Hole 3 : One Divides, by Colleen Asper and Marika Kandelaki took place on July 28th 2012 in the back garden of 147 Halsey St. in Brooklyn, NY at 7 pm. A small crowd of writers, artists, and political activists gathered to witness this brief event which was accompanied by an integral text printed on a folded red sheet.  Nino Bozic and I were present and involved. Three wooden partial boxes, each made of three sides, were placed in front of the audience. A white one, a grey one, and a black one. They were arranged so that the outer edge of each faced the audience, and their interiors were turned away. The black one had a single mirrored side. Those gathered for the event were told that it was about to begin. The black box’s sides collapsed outwards, revealing two actors concealed within it. The actors were further concealed underneath a large piece of black fabric. They crawled across the ground together underneath this fabric towards the grey box. They then emerged from underneath the fabric and opened the grey box, which was bisected diagonally through the center. The box was then reassembled in such a way as to reveal to the audience that the interior was mirrored. The performers exited through the crowd. After a time, the host emerged and told us that the performance was concluded.

The text specifically situated feminism within a dialectical orientation, over a classical binary one:

“The true contrary of black is not white. It is grey, patriarchal society—of which woman, as the antagonistic pole, is a notorious element. The famous contradiction of man/woman is a limited structural scheme that remains within the bounds of Western dualism: mind and body, reason and emotion, transcendence and immanence, form and content. All binaries privilege one pole so that the other becomes its negative counterpart, but any binary is a violent suppression of the dialectic, masked under the composed stability of empirical approximations. With the appearance of the Other appears torsion; this torsion is the dialectic. The political project of woman is not to define man, whether through affirmation or antagonism. It is the abolition of any place in which woman, as the negative of man, can be installed. The project of women is the disappearance of the space of placement of the Other, the destruction of a gender hierarchy.”

Justin: The performance seemed to last about 15 seconds or so. This brevity was striking to me and I noticed that many of those present were similarly struck. Although having read the text prior to witnessing the act, certain things seemed fairly clear. The visual component of the piece, while not without drama, had the diagrammatic quality of a demonstration of the text. The mirrored surfaces employed included the audience in terms of what was being mapped out.
To give an idea of the co-ordinates:  We are clued in by the text that the white box represents existing power, patriarchy, phallic repetition, etc. The grey box is neo-liberal society, ie; all of us. The “j’accuse” is the dramatic inversion of the grey box, the next-to-last moment in the performance, where it is divided in half and its mirrored interior is turned towards the audience by the amorphous black blob (bodies) that has emerged from the exploded black box. The white box doesn’t do much, either in the text, where it repeats the word “one” endlessly, or in the performance, where it remains untouched for the duration. The black box is clearly the key player, the radical. It stands for the thing that is outside, and makes weird proclamations like “There is a squirt that splashes out of every closure” and “We are included in this One, but do not belong.” It is left to the witnesses to choose which part it is they are playing. This is a highly simplified description of the pedagogical poetics of Hole 3 : One Divides.

NINO: Poetics? I don’t think so.. There is a brutal formalism at play here. Hole 3 neither summons nor annuls anything which it does not itself produce within the ‘scriptural’ materiality of its formal system (the boxes, bodies, “weird proclamations” (axioms): “There is a squirt that splashes out of every closure”, “We are included in this One, but do not belong”, rules of deduction, etc.), and the structures which provide the domain of interpretation for the system (the inversion of the gray box to a mirror, the draping of the red fabric). The audience is at no point involved here. There is no “j’accuse”. It is no doubt didactic, but it is not poetic or romantic.. Nothing is made present here, save for the formalizing act immanent to the performance itself. It is a pure space. It regulates its passages without recourse to any lack.

Its austerity is forbidding, but instructive when considered along with the text.

Justin: There absolutely IS a poetics of Hole 3, and possibly even a romantic one. Although that remains to be seen. When we speak about poetics in Hole 3, we are speaking about the relations between text and image (performance), which is clearly not a traditional one of caption/illustration. Without the use of metaphor and symbolism Hole 3 would just be submitting itself to an interpretive infinity. Even if we WERE to separate text and image, and consider for a moment text alone. A statement such as “There is a squirt that splashes out of every closure” is easily as evocative as it is instructive, and this giveness to evocation we can immediately apprehend as its poetics. To quote Marika : “There is ALSO a mathematics of Woman.”

In regards to the mirrors, I thought that they reflected the audience because there are some standard tropes, or uses of reflective surfaces in art and theatre. One of these is a certain self-satisfaction paired with a stoking of desire. This is akin to the reflection of oneself one sees in the polished surface of a new car and this we can qualify as repetition. Another, which comes closer to the use of mirrors in One Divides, but somehow seems still far off the mark, would be an audience’s recognition of itself as beholden to the gaze of itself. Which is just to say that those in the audience can see each other in a mirror that is placed before them. They too are on stage, and thus are no longer passive spectators. Dan Graham’s early “Mirror Performance” makes use of this dynamic.

Nino: Right. But the mirrors of Hole 3 never reflect the audience. Again, the ‘objecthood’ of the performance is detained within the immanence of the act. It localizes and enunciates the real by means of the act.

OK, though Hole 3 would say, “There is only a mathematics of Woman.” Marika’s metaontological claim is that these ‘neutered’ spaces (ontology) are entirely sexed, insofar as some ontologies treat the indiscernible – Woman – as universally foreclosed from its constructible becoming.

I think I see what you mean by a pedagogical poetics.. The ambitions of Hole 3 are immense.

In one sense (the ontological one), Hole 3 shows that what exists for thought is beyond what experience is able to present.. and it has a name for this beyond, Woman. One can localize this idea within a pair of axioms that have a proximate (though absent) trajectory to the text:

1. Axiom of the Empty Set, which would say something like, “There exists a set Woman, such that no Phallus belongs to Woman.” or, “Woman exists, and nothing belongs to her.”


2. Axiom of Infinity. “There exists a set woman, such that nothing belongs to her and such that whenever any x belongs to woman, the set formed by taking the union of x and the singleton of x is also in woman.” Basically: “We are included in this One, but do not belong.”


A conjunctive extension of the two axioms can be found in the text included in Hole 3, “There is a squirt that splashes out of every closure.” This basic existential axiom founds the differential/inductive conception of the Symbolic, it guarantees the existence of at least one infinite set, Woman.. The entire universe of the constructible hierarchy of sets is built upon Woman, which is universally sutured to being qua being, and which opens up successive levels that can be traversed by thought on the basis of its operations.

If we look at the axioms closely, we can see that Woman clearly has a double function. First is the affirmation that Woman (as void) exists. It is an existential axiom. It says simply, “Nothing belongs to Woman, yet we exist.”

In the second we have the idea that this nothing, Woman, is the foundation for the whole iterative conception of set construction. Woman, even though she has nothing, is universally sutured to the proliferation of sets.. Here, she says, “Let us be all.”

In their conjunction, we have “We are (the) nothing, let us be all.”

But…. the (classical) logics of set theory are incapable of thinking what experience lends us. In its upholding of the Principle of the Excluded Middle, set theory is ill fit for formalizing the actual local, experiential/discursive quantifiers which govern over the intensive distribution of identity and difference, other than by saying “it exists” (or, “it doesn’t”)… Surely, Woman can’t be just void, event, miracle, and the Phallus knowledge, duration, mark.. There are some women in the world, right?

And insofar as Woman is localized as the fulcrum of this double gesture, the void and infinity, Hole 3 does lend itself to the mystical temptation, by which i mean, dissolving woman (again) within the classical form of male succession/knowledge, female limit/truth.. This is my spontaneous criticism of the text.. But I can already see this being trumped, because in the deployment of this formalism within a performance, and by specifically not detaining it within an ‘atemporal’ object, it shows (and this is its didacticism) that the only support one can find for the constructible becoming of Woman is within the act itself.

JUSTIN: So what you are saying is that in Hole 3, the use of mirrors is not related to the presence of an audience. Given the use of mirrors in a performance without a stage, it is hardly surprising that we would assume the mirror as some a Brechtian device involving the audience, but we should see this as a red herring which disappears when we envision the performance as a model. In the first sequence, nothing moves. It is a bit difficult to imagine a sequence in these terms, as being totally static, but ok. The mirror on one side of the black box reflects the white box and it is this reflection that immobilizes the black box.  As we know that white is existing power, we can now see that black is a state of dissatisfaction, one rendered static through its inability to do more than simply reflect that existing power. The white box is powerful, and all the black box does is be unhappy about the white box. In the second sequence, the mirror on the black box disappears as it collapses. It becomes opaque. A formless opacity emerges from the ruins and inverts the Grey Box, effectively destroying it. This simultaneously reveals and creates the new structure. But we don’t know what that will be. To translate the matheme: Every time something is named, Woman pops out, and so Woman is like an infinite homunculus, whose suppression serves only to perpetuate more.  


Nino: Yea, just like the homunculus!!!!!!!WIUH!WIUH!W*&43@

Actually, something does happen in the first sequence. The collapse of the black box, we can say, the ‘immediate’ riot, belongs to the first sequence, and the splitting of the gray box constitutes the cut within which one can incoporate oneself in a post evental fidelity. After the splitting of the grey box begins sequence two. A red fabric (blood? Terror?) is strewn about the space, and the performers leave. We have witnessed an event.

Here are two quotations, one of which comes from A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze, and another taken from the red text handed out at the performance.

SEQUENCE 1 – The one-infinity posited as single gesture, the repetition of a rule:

“One becomes two: whenever we encounter this formula, even stated strategically by Mao or understood in the most “dialectical” way possible, what we have before us is the most classical and well reflected, oldest, and weariest kind of thought….Nature doesn’t work that way: in nature, roots are taproots with a more multiple, lateral, and circular system of ramification, rather than a dichotomous one. Thought lags behind nature. Even the book as a natural reality is a taproot, with its pivotal spine and surrounding leaves. But the book as a spiritual reality, the Tree or Root as an image, endlessly develops the law of the One that becomes two, then of the two that become four. . . Binary logic is the spiritual reality of the root-tree.”

    -Deleuze, A Thousand Plateaus, pg. 5

SEQUENCE 2 – The One of movement-as-scission, the double existential seal:

“To properly destroy the name we must create a new space of placement; we must abstain from reflection as repetition and instead detain reflection within the asymptotic becoming of a new concept. It is also necessary to tie the knot. The insurrection causes something to disappear; to be in fidelity to this hole we must replace the phallus with a vessel. This operation describes a feminism of castration and recomposition.”

    -Colleen and Marika, Hole 3: One Divides

I picked the Deleuze quote because it positions itself directly against Hole 3. It is a reasoning that I’ve encountered over and over again within a distinctly misogynist and miserablist NY political milieu: obsessed with bodily transgression, the poetry of inner experience, mixed with a Total suspicion of totality and universalism (of concepts as such), of ‘programmatism’ and the party, blabla… In terms of sex, often indexes itself in the practice of gender torsion, and valorizes a queer posture where the individual demonstrates the ability to perform gender “non-normatively”, through a general affective miserablism, or through exaggeration, irony, etc..

This metaphor belongs to what we like to call:

Justin: This is standard fare in the mainstream NY art world. People including myself, peddle our junk and back it up with nihilistic quotations from Bataille. It is amusing to me how we can be so blind to the similarity that our adolescent outbursts of anarchic window breaking bear to the run-of-the-mill new agey Jungian nonsense that some hare krishna would probably annoy you with in an airport, and which is the secular religion of all enlightened liberal art speculators. Their philosophy forecloses on the possibility of change through a naughty reduction of art’s political potential to hedonistic satisfaction. “Of course we all have THAT in common at least, right? Our penises and vaginas?”, They sigh to themselves,  “Ah, to be young again.”
Hole 3 effectively named that polemic.

Nino: Yea, exactly.. I know many types who are entirely eclipsed by this miserablism. And let me be specific: I’m not talking about an affect only, but an ontology..

The insurrectobros exemplify this tendency.

“Language is fascistic,” and its Marxist (in)variant (thanks Nick Land (also a miserablist)): “The polar bears are drowning and there is nothing at all that we can do about it.”
Situationism and the terrors of recuperation being another a clear example.


The question this form of miserablism asks over and over in its white box monotone is “What does it mean to engage the art object in the critique of the art object as a commodity?” The answer which the artists are incapable of arriving at is simply that they are having their cake and eating it too. This idea may begin its discourse as a form of miserablism, but it quickly establishes itself as a form of triumphalism.

repetition of the I.

synonymous with Pomo-Phallus

or after-phallus


repetition of the I masked under the repetition of the Other.

To actually switch to the repetition of the Other is to have a stick stuck in your spokes. But it is not possible to put a stick in the spokes of a power that masks its spinning. That is Pomo-Phallus. (from the International Phallus Dictionary, p. 1)

Broletarians belong to this category. They’ll spend 700 dollars on some goofy ass preppy outfit at JCREW cause capital has fully saturated every relation (real subsumption), so “in order to actually accomplish anything we have to work within the system and present ourselves with dignity.”

Nino: Haha, yes.. It’s these miserablists that construct the ‘totalitarianism’ (really, an entirely useless critical category).. It is a world that is completely devoid of any place in which a subject can incorporate oneself in the demonstration of any type of fidelity. But I can go a step further, I am totalitarian (we all are), because the accusation of totalitarianism is vomited out by all who assume that they can either opt-out of or outflank the limits/paradoxes of representational inclosure (spontaneists/strong nihilists), or, they obsess over those limits (dogmatists/strict nominalists).

For the miserable phallus, any demonstration, any decision or planning is totalitarian. Basically, language is totalitarian, because to detain an idea within its proofs or inscriptions is to distort the infinite beauty of Man/Nature/God/Substance/Life/Capital/etc. So not only is miserablism an aesthetic, but a total form of life. And the invisibility of its totality is developed by the ‘remaining within’ that space, by the repetition of that performance, by the proliferation of thematic same-others. It grounds its authenticity in the worship of the body and experience and fashionable sexualities and smashy smashy burn-the-libraries mysticism (Tibetan pornography! Lee Edelmania!)

Justin: To return to Hole 3: What we are trying to formulate here is an understanding of what known entities actually belong to the different categories symbolized by the boxes. It is a bit trickier than it seems because certain discourses can move between boxes and the piece surely accounts for this. An example from which the red text draws :

In an October 17, 2004, The New York Times Magazine published an article by writer Ron Suskind, quoting Karl Rove. Rove said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

We’ve got a situation here which occupies all boxes at once. Suskind, a liberal intellectual (Grey Box), is appalled by the statement of Rove, who represents existing power (White Box). But this statement clearly also has Black Box potential, and this potential is realized during the performance by the performers themselves, whose actions create a singular void-like reality which intervenes into the worlds where it takes place. Now we have to address the question of the structure of the Black Box itself as it changes across the the two sequences.

Nino: The spontaneous ideology of Sequence 1 is empiricist because all the black box can do is reflect the state of the situation. The grey box’s passive approximation of ‘reality’ is the lens through which the black box inverts the white box’s positivity, and represents itself as abstract negativity. Sequence 2 on the other hand demonstrates that this black box, this ‘abstract negativity’, is the impasse of representation tout court, and can only manifest itself as a local indiscernible, which – qua an act – can ‘return’ to displace the place of representation.

Justin: We know that phallic triumphalism belongs within the domain of the white box. But what about phallic miserablism? Is it White or Grey? I would have thought Grey, but given its repetitive and serial nature, perhaps it belongs to the White.

Nino: NO, it belongs to the Black Box, but only in the first sequence. After that it disappears.

Justin: So all abstract negativity belongs to the black box. And the second sequence is its evacuation. After that, abstract negativity is no longer a place that can be occupied within the structure. After sequence 2, a new structure will form, and abstract negativity will have a home again.

Nino: Hole 3 demonstrates what the miserablists cannot think.. That to properly interrupt the space of repetition requires not only a subtraction from the spaces in which such a repetition sustains itself, but also a recomposition. Woman is the space where the impotence of phallic repetition (the teutonic chant of the white box), and the exercise of its rule (its operation), is rendered as that which the rule cannot traverse. In Hole 3, Woman is the limit of the phallic rule. She produces the existence of the cause of this impotence and says,
“Don’t be the result of phallic repetition.”
And what she reveals is the rule according to which the repetition of phallic-others ‘suddenly’ appear as same. This is her ‘double existential seal’:

a. Woman is the multiple subtracted from the rule

and also what

b. if reached by the rule, would interrupt its exercise

To keep going:

1. Repetition: differential and limited. Produces the sensible effect of difference due to the fact of the reproduction of similar elements. It partitions identity and difference according to a local envelope, a discourse, a structure, etc.. It is experience, insofar as experience is entirely subordinate to an iterative structure.

2. Iteration: non-differential and unlimited, n + 1. Same operation, produces different ‘things’. Shows the rule as a rule. It grasps something eternally identical in a multiplicity of empirical marks.

3. Reiteration: differential and unlimited. the possibility of thinking differences outside the field of sensible repetition. Differential like repetition, but is conditioned by iteration, and opens onto the infinite. It is the formalizing act, the ‘showing’ of a limit, the writing of an undecidable. It is the destruction of a repetition, and the recomposition of a new iteration. So it is an act which ‘splits’ time, and allows one to determine what an old and what a new situation is.

Before anyone cries “essentialism”, it must be understood that from a dialectical point of view, what is understood as Woman – or Man, though Man hardly deserves a concept – is exactly the disjunction of sex qua its being indexed in a concept. Sexual difference (The One of the place-of-disjunction) is the material support which makes it possible for a subjective formalism (The Two which is the forcing of the displacement-of-place) to take hold of a body that an encounter has brought forth into the world.  “There is a One (difference), insofar as there is this Two (concept).”

or: There is a One (the impossibility of sexual rapport, in its total inconsistency), insofar as there is this Two (the subjective formalism, independent of the empirical sex of those committed to the encounter).

The One of sexual difference, in its effective divergence, can only be inferred retroactively from the processual unity of the Two-of-concept that displaces the consistency of any space of repetition, not the other way around, as Deleuze assumes above (“But the book as a spiritual reality, the Tree or Root as an image, endlessly develops the law of the One that becomes two, then of the two that become four. . . Binary logic is the spiritual reality of the root-tree.”). The Two is never synthesized into a third, or fourth, or whatever term, but (de)poses the One as the movement of the Two.

Which is to say, in the final instance, that Woman cannot find her support in some sayable existent. There are only some women. And what is so impressive about Hole 3 is how within a strict formal deployment, what is actually made intelligible is that Woman’s consistency (as subject-in-revolt) is detained within the periodization of her concept, within a formalizing act. To no longer oppose the separation of concept and existence; to demonstrate that the concept is a process, an event even. All Woman is historical. All Woman is woman.

Justin: This is “la femme n’existe pas”. Hole 3 demonstrates that because “la femme n’existe pas”, the rule of phallic repetition appears, and then we see that it is a boring and stupid rule. OK. I get it. I have learned my lesson and I will improve. Now what?

Nino: You’re kind of right. Phallic repetition as phallic repetition does not just appear. It is made to appear.. FORCED! This is exactly the problem of a Lacanian orientation. For Lacan, Woman is lack, and the simple fact of her lacking is what constitutes the structural distribution of the name.. Woman, as signifier, represents an essential lack of self-identity which is the subject. This logic of the signifier envelops or sutures lack (the subject/woman) to a signifier that represents it only in the differential movement within the chain of references to another signifier. The problem with this is it erases the potential for anything like an event, because the contours of where woman actually begins is entirely dissolved within the differential placement that the signifier woman occupies within the structure – which we know since Irigaray – is not one. There can be no event in an ontology that forecloses the existence of the indiscernible as immanent to the constructible becoming of names. Can Woman (in this Lacanian gender cosmology) have any place for an affirmative subjective virtuality, or a praxical actuality, rather than being the passive recipient of a phallic-ly constructed unrepresentable lack? For Hole 3 on the other hand, the ‘lack’ of the name only appears at the forced breakdown of the name, by the woman. But this forced breakdown is not the blind miracle of negative theologies, it is the destruction-recomposition dialectic constitutive of the forcing of a ‘sentence’ that the operations of a space of phallic repetition cannot traverse. It is a production.

To keep going: It is no longer an ‘emancipated’ vision of (becoming-)Woman, where she is now the fluid/active force, against a Male hypostatizing passivity, grounded in the intoxicated poetics of some untranslatable transcendence.. All this still maintains a wholly ‘antirepressive’ vision of gender politics, where Woman is still only the negative of Man. Women are ‘mobilized’ because they suffer too much abuse. Brutalized by what turns out to be the only force of the political field: the Man, the State, the boss, the cop. Which certainly is the case empirically, but in terms of gender politics, or any politics really, falls way short because it denies any possibility of an affirmative virtuality. The dominant class always presents its own position and practice as unifying/suturing. But an epistemology which does not take into account the role of the dominated class, in their subjective virtuality, in their position as a class in revolt, will always be bourgeois.

I can’t imagine a feminism devoid of an experiential index, this is important. But again, an experience that is solely indexed by means of the concept, without recourse to some transcendental corporeal/biological field.. This is very tricky.. What would a wholly ‘positive’, or materialist feminism look like? One that, again, has no recourse to the logic of the signifier as lack, nor to the approximations of biologism, nor to the asymmetries of active/passive forces, nor to the the still-born guarantees of a crappy negative dialectics. Hole 3 thinks this question.

What does this mean for a couple of frothing phalluses like you and me? Simply that we must now be held accountable to our name. Clearly I can’t know the psychic topology constitutive of being a woman (or anything other than what I am).. But this is the boring point of all reflexive conceptions of the subject.

Basically, I can expose myself to castration. Sure, we can read the feminist books, and we can nod our heads and sympathize in understanding (and we know what Hegel thought of the understanding), but for shit to actually change in terms of sexual difference (or, to make that difference proliferate), first, we should probably just shut the fuck up and listen.

Fuck it, let’s go there: “It is right to revolt against the phallus.”

Justin : As for being held accountable, I personally am looking forward to the communist flags dyed red in menstrual blood, the lycanthropic transformation synchronized to the cycles of the moon. I have often imagined a hero’s death for myself.
All names are beyond the control of those entities who possess them. This is not something specific or localized. One does not name oneself. Or if one does, this eponym is born of the hysterical question:
“Why am I that name?”.
All this is just to say that it is fine to change one’s name or even to go without, but this will not stop others from using it. It will probably piss them off and then they will use it even more. Just out of spite. I have felt the frustrations of both sides: those who have changed their names as well as those who resent having to call them by these new names.
Woman cannot name Woman. And yet, the violence of Hole 3 is directed at Woman-as-name. After this violence will come recomposition, and this will take the form of the circulation of a new name. So the question seems to be, Who will provide it?

Nino: LULZ, how come you’re still the hero?

About Voider

%d bloggers like this: