Blame it on my ADD: on Desearch Repartment’s Quixotic Autopoiesis

Jacques Kardasheneault. Répartement de la doucherche, Pénis, France (June 2017)

In their 1972 treatise The Tree of Knowledge: the Biological Roots of Human Understanding, Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela made a lasting contribution to the understanding of both cellular biology and human consciousness by looking to a 400 year-old novel and its protagonist’s central tension. Trying to describe accurately how a cell reproduces only more of itself, with its own self-perpetuation in terms that would outstrip what mere magnification and DNA analysis would allow, Maturana and Varela looked to that most failed poet and lacklustre warrior, Don Quixote, and his anxious conundrum of whether to follow a life of action (praxis) or one of letters (poiesis). Hence the cell, rather than a building block of a larger, more significant body, is deemed an autopoietic machine, organised as a network of production which regenerates and realises the very network of processes that produced them – furthermore, the machine is continuous with the topological domain of these processes.

A generation after Maturana and Varela, literary theorist Jerome McGann posits that an autopoietic system is a closed topological space that “continuously generates and specifies its own organisation through its operation as a system of production of its own components, and does this in an endless turnover of components" (McGann, Marking Texts of Many Dimensions; 2000). Ok.

We will not linger long on Cervantes and his bio-theoretical fanboys, but imagine this as the place of the artist or citizen in our own time: in the flux and excess of Internet knowledges – video and the two-dimensional digital image primarily, but also text, always text – when did you decide to put down the shovel or the sword or the mop, and pick up the iPad stylus or remote control? Did the former implements ever even have a chance? Is the labour of understanding or the labour of avoidance your primary task?

In Desearch Repartment’s rooms of flags and movable texts, workshops, bus tours, boat parties, sticker emojis and Status Quo Elements™, what is being produced and for whom? How do we know when the joke is on us, and when it is on the world external to us as viewers? Quixote, driven “mad” by excessively reading chivalric literature (paperbacks, TMZ), famously embarks on a life of “action” so contorted and cradled by textual influence, that the landscape of his imagination and the borderlands of his material life as a knight – venturing forth to right wrongs in the “real world” – become irrevocably blurred. Are you looking at this on a screen or in the print catalogue? Are you reading it aloud? Whom are you with? Whom would you rather be with? What is in front you, and what is behind? Do you long for a world before the Internet, before all hope of extrication from its propagandist grasp was dashed by the permutated State of Exceptional™ in which we so interconnectedly hover?

Since its earliest iteration at Documenta in 2007, Desearch Repartment has engaged in sometimes sly, sometimes bombastic versions of autopoiesis. For the Desearchers, the machinations of profit and institutionalised state violence are considered not as ancillary but rather as coextensive with the economics of the art world – an allopoietic system because its outputs, money and power, cannot be made from and through its own components, or at least not entirely. DR’s Status Quo Elements™ and self-sustaining/carceral are the self-perpetuating viscera of a corporation in its oldest etymological sense: a body, without organics.

“Define irony,” Steve Buscemi’s serial killer inmate Garland Greene asks rhetorically in British director Simon West’s 1997 masterpiece Con Air. “A bunch of idiots dancing on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash,” he answers. The song is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama,[1] a Budweiser-demanding tune that is itself a melodic counterpoint to the poignant aria “How Do I Live without You[?]” (Diane Warren) used in pre-incarceration Nicolas Cage’s flashback scene in the same action film. Made famous by LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood in recordings released the same year, the aria’s plaintive lyrics are as relevant today regarding the meta-textual miasma of the Internet as neo-liberal burning library as they were 20 years ago when addressed to a romantic interlocutor:

How do I live without you?

I want to know

How do I breathe without you?

If you ever go

How do I ever, ever survive

How do I, how do I, oh how do I live


Without you

There would be no sun in my sky

There would be no love in my life

There'd be no world left for me


And I, baby, I don't know what I would do

I'd be lost if I lost you

If you ever leave

Baby you would take away

Everything real in my life… [2]

– Diane Warren, 1997


Thus, we return to Maturana and Varela’s Autopoiesis and Cognition: the Realization of the Living:

A social system is essentially a conservative system. This is so because it is generated through the interactions of structure-determined autopoietic systems and operates as a medium that selects the path of ontogenic structural change of its components, which, thus, become structurally coupled to it. In our case, we as social beings generate, through our structure-determined properties, our societies as the cultural media that select our individual paths of ontogenic change in a manner that leads each one of us to the structure that makes us generate the particular societies to which we belong. A society, therefore, operates as a homeostatic system that stabilises the relations that define it as a social system of a particular kind. (xxvii)

If, like Quixote, we have gone out into the world and been disappointed by how to make it better on our own, and returned sulking to our humble manse only to have our servants and local priest burn our library to bits, what is this world of letters that is left behind and this world of action that is our other potential path? Will we emerge from this archive fever only to rail against wind power? Will we overcome our nostalgia for a time when we could be the heroes of our own story? Will our self-deception cease where our commitment to autopoiesis begins? Is there a gesture or a text that cannot be co-opted for profit, control, or lies?

This is how I show my love

I made it in my mind because

I blame it on my ADD baby

This is how an angel cries

Blame it on my own sick pride


Blame it on my ADD baby

Blame it on my AD


Maybe I should cry for help

Maybe I should kill myself (myself)

Blame it on my ADD baby

Maybe I'm a different breed

Maybe I'm not listening


So blame it on my ADD baby






– AWOLNation, “Sail” (2011) [3]


[1] Sweet Home Alabama alabama-2

[2] How Do I Live without You; (cover): i-live- without-you

[3] Sail (AWOLNation):