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A Transcription of Adrian Rifkin’s ‘On Writing the Last Line First (One of Three Possible Titles)’

Adrian Rifkin

To cite this contribution:

Rifkin, Adrian. ‘A Transcription of Adrian Rifkin’s “On Writing the Last Line First (One of Three Possible Titles)”.’ Transcribed by Yuval Etgar, Jessyca Hutchens, Anita Paz, Naomi Vogt, and Nina Wakeford. OAR: The Oxford Artistic and Practice Based Research Platform Issue 0 (2016),

This talk was delivered by Adrian Rifkin on 26 February 2015 at the Ruskin School of Art, The Green Shed, University of Oxford. It has been transcribed by five different audience members (and four editors of this journal) using a video recording of the lecture. All images used are stills from the video recording.

Transcribed by Yuval Etgar (minutes 0.00 – 8.00)

Adrian Rifkin during his performance-lecture ‘On Writing the Last Line First (One of Three Possible Titles).’Justin Coombes:  Thank you for coming everybody. A lot of you already know Adrian Rifkin and his ground-breaking work. We’re honoured to have him here this afternoon for a short presentation, performance, titled… Adrian?

Adrian Rifkin:  What did I say? Yes, ‘On Writing the Last Line First’

JC:  Yes, you gave me three alternative titles, but I think that was the first.

AR:  Let’s get to it.

JC:  Ok.

AR:  Thank you, thank you. Thank you for inviting me, thank you for coming. I should give you a certain amount of explanati.. E-x-p-l-a-n-a-t-i-o-n in this… no let’s not. I want you to listen to this song. It’s a song by… written after the Second World War actually by a very famous French poet, Pierre Mac Orlan, and sung by a very famous French Chanteuse, Germaine Montero, and it’s called La Fille de Londres which means ‘the prostitute of London’. I’ll explain something to you, I’ll explain something to… You deserve some explanations. [pause]. Until… yeah I guess the 1940s, the mythic Chinatown of Europe was in Limehouse. If you read The Picture of Dorian Gray that’s where the mythic Chinatown of Europe was, and that’s where the worst things happened and the greatest cultural fantasies unfolded, and this is a song written after the war, sung by Germaine Montero, and I suppose I’ve known it for years and years and years and years, and then you listen to it one day and as you know, you all know, you know this very well, you hear one line rather than another. And the longer you listen to it and the longer it goes on, the more times you listen to it, the more one line replaces another. It’s a bit like a kind of virtuality even if it’s from long before the invention of the virtual. So I want you to listen to Germaine Montero singing La Fille de Londres. It’s about a prostitute; she has a Policeman in her room and then he goes and she has a Chinaman in her room. And it’s like all those things from that time: it’s a bit racist, it’s a bit sexist… but… it is, it’s a piece of material. In different times and different ways we live differently and we tell ourselves different stories. And I want to tell you, this is not the beginning to my lecture, this is not the beginning, this is just to begin to explain to you how I came to… near to the beginning, and how I came near to the beginning after deciding the last line first. But I have to say that deciding the last line first came very late in the day, so it’s a very compressed, very strange relationship between the first line – which was never really uttered – and the last line, which really was, even tha… Should I tell you the last line now? It won’t spoil it. I decided… No… Let me explain you the situation, you don’t even know the situation yet, the situation is this, the situation is this, before we listen to the song… that I was asked to be a visiting professor at Central Saint Martins school of art and I said yes, that would give me something to do. It’s great. Because after I left Goldsmiths I’ve been doing too much. I said great, this sounds like a good nothing to do, and they said it is a good nothing to do, so I accepted. And I had to give an inaugural lecture, and an inaugural lecture to be a visitor, so I decided to do a lecture on visitation as such. Now visitation is something very very complicated as a subject, so I went away, I like to do research, I still like to. So I did some scholarship, I did some research on the virgin Mary and her aunt, Saint Elizabeth, because when the virgin Mary became pregnant she went to see her aunt to tell her about it, and that’s called the Visitation. And her aunt also was pregnant, one was very young and one was very old and they were both pregnant and they met and they touched each other’s bodies and it gave rise to a huge religious movement to get out and hand out and hand out and hand thousands of paintings of Elisabeth and Mary in the Visitation, … a whole religious order called The Sisters of the Visitation which was founded in 1610 by Saint François Xavier [Saint François de Sales] but the Sisters of the Visitation not only got painted in their turn but invented a lot of good cakes called ‘Visitandine’ which they distributed throughout the world and which they baked. I remember a painting of them baking and photographs of them baking them, and distributing… so the minute you start with this word ‘visitation’ it’s out of hand. I thought of all kinds of visitations; some of which were queer visitations, some which were [xxx] visitations, and I began to realize that for anyone to invite me to be a visitor, it is a terrible risk. It’s a risk for the visitor and it’s a risk for the visited because between these two words, ‘visitor’ and ‘visitation’, there’s a very tense relationship about what happens to whom, where. And… I wanted it to be a really beautiful set up with a quotation. On the left hand side of the set up I had a table with a big book on it. And that has… It’s a book that I still read bits of now, from time to time I read paper books. I am not very much a virtual person but I read paper… This is a big dictionary, which I couldn’t bring today. If you were to see… it’s an etymological dictionary in French, it has the word ‘Visite’, so I thought if I get stuck I got this big book here on the table and I can go read bits of ‘Visite’ and translate it to the audience when I get lost, when I get stuck. So that was something I thought I would do right from the beginning, that’s before I had the last line. So, but that was a quotation too, that was a good quotation, it was a quotation from the picture I sent round here: Saint Augustine by Carpaccio. So it’s a proper talk; it has quotations, even if no one ever sees that quotation I am satisfied, it’s there, there isn’t a footnote but I quoted, and now I am acknowledging to you, if not the last [xxx]. This is a quotation from Carpaccio. And then when I came in I had a whole pile of archives and I threw them all on the floor as if I was in a rage and then I got down on my knees, I’ll do it in a minute, I’ll show you how I did it, I’ll show… I dropped down on my knees and went through these archives and found things to talk about, I didn’t know quite what I could talk about but it turned out that there are all kinds of interesting things in my archives. I visited my archive and it visited me. Visit and Visitation all in one terrible gesture, scrambling ‘round on the floor looking to find… It was quite frightening anyway. And I had a bell, this is the bell [ding ding!]. But I didn’t ring it. I rang it now so this is different from the previous lecture.

Oh… What was I up to. Yes, Visit and Visitation, that is a quotation. And my kneeling on the floor, that was also a quotation. It’s a quotation from a film by the American video artist Vanalyne Green from a film she made called The House that Ruth Built where she talks about… made in nineteen eighty one or two. Where she sits on her own, surrounded by baseball memories and papers and photographs and video extracts, and she talks about the relation between the radical feminist article and baseball. And she kneels on the floor amid these archives and talks. And I always admired that video, I admired Vanalyne’s works, so I thought I’d quote this too.

Transcribed by Naomi Vogt (minutes 8.00 – 18.00)

Adrian Rifkin during his performance-lecture ‘On Writing the Last Line First (One of Three Possible Titles).’I thought: ‘I’ll quote that too, I too will get down on my knees and announce the archive and I’ll talk…’ So that’s one of them… Now I can’t remember, I remember I have to tell you something about this now. [He turns towards the table he is sitting at and lowers his voice. He turns back to face us. Then he cups his face in his hands and raises his voice.] So I’d done all this research, I’d been doing weeks and weeks of research, all of which vanishes without technology, all of which has no footnotes, maybe would have appeared as a line, half a line, a quarter of a line [He brings his hands to his face again, this time as a gesture of worry] And then I said: ‘Well I know [He coughs and drinks from a mug] you may think I’m wrong or I’m crazy but I came up with the last line, and the last line is going to be: “Play it again, Tinker Bell.”’ You may ask: ‘Why “Play it again Tinker Bell”?’ and I’ll try to tell you, but that’s what I decided to do; I want my last line in this piece – even if the piece doesn’t end there, and it didn’t end there, it went on well after the last line, but without me – I want the last line to be that, which as you know is partly a quote, ‘Play it again, Sam’, but now it was Tinker Bell. You all know who Tinker Bell is, or was?

So I wanted it to be a fairy story, so once I decided that my last line would be ‘Play it again, Tinker Bell’, I also wanted it to be a fairy story. But at the same time, a fairy story with two fairies, because there would be Tinker Bell, if I could find her, and there would be me, if I could find me; we would both be fairies. [He turns towards the table.] Let me play you that song, I have to play you that song, I need to play you the song – here it is, I get to play it for you. [He jumps back when the accordion starts playing loudly.]

Germaine Montero sings:

Un rat est venu dans ma chambre
Il a rongé la souricière
Il a arrêté la pendule
Et renversé le pot à bière
Je l’ai pris entre mes bras blancs
Il était chaud comme un enfant
Je l’ai bercé bien tendrement
Et je lui chantais doucement :
Dors mon rat, mon flic, dors mon vieux Bobby
Ne siffle pas sur les quais endormis
Quand je tiendrai la main de mon chéri
Un Chinois est sorti de l’ombre
Un Chinois a regardé Londres
Sa casquette était de marine
Ornée d’une ancre coraline
Devant la porte de Charly
A Penny Fields, j’lui ai souri,
Dans le silence de la nuit
En chuchotant je lui ai dit :
Je voudrais je voudrais je n’sais trop quoi
Je voudrais ne plus entendre ma voix
J’ai peur j’ai peur de toi j’ai peur de moi (…)

[He lowers the sound until the song can no longer be heard.] Did you hear what she sang? [He screams]: DID YOU HEAR IT? She said: ‘I want something, I don’t know what, I want not to hear my voice anymore.’ And then she says some other things too. And that’s what I heard when I heard it a year ago, two years ago. [He almost whispers and it sounds like an echo]: that’s what I heard. [He screams]: I DON’T WANT TO HEAR MY VOICE ANYMORE! ANY-MORE. DO YOU HEAR ME? And I shouted it to myself, I said: ‘I don’t want to hear my voice anymore, I’ll stop, I’ll stop, I’ll stop speaking.’ I’ve been standing in universities for 43 years talking, and I’m [he shouts]: SICK TO DEATH OF IT! I DON’T like listening to anyone else speak and I don’t like listening to myself either.

So I gave up. I gave up and I wrote some very long PowerPoints with lots of images and lots of [he moves his hands to mimic something that is floating down] movies and lots of little texts, and exclamations, and this horrible ugly print you get on PowerPoint and I sat with my back to the audience and I played them. And they watched, and all I did was that [he imitates pressing on a button with his index.] I didn’t want to talk anymore, [his voice brightens] I was very happy not to hear my own voice. But it’s HARD [he says this word almost onomatopoeically], because it’s HARD to be tired of your own voice… and at the same time, sometimes it doesn’t work, it simply doesn’t work. I did one of these PowerPoints and I was being very very silent, very quiet, and very good, and it was a long narrow gallery in Istanbul and I realized no one could read the screen, or that hardly anybody could read the screen. So I started reading the screen, and then when I realized no one could hear me read the screen I started shouting the screen, AND THEN SCREAMING THE SCREEN [by now he is screaming]. AND THEN THE SCREEN TOOK OVER because I didn’t like what I’d written. So I started shouting at the screen, because it disagreed with me. And then I realized: I didn’t have to stop speaking; I had to carry on. I had to carry on, because the point at which what one is constructing – what one wants to say – comes together is very seldom, it doesn’t always work like that, you don’t always see what you want to see, or write what you want to have written, or read out what you wish you had written, or now would have said – even if it’s only half an hour after you’ve written it.

These things are complicated, and… I thought: ‘What would someone else do in these circumstances?’ I’m not an artist, I can’t do anything I want, I’m just an academic but I’ll try, I’ll try to take that gesture of what has ludicrously come to be called ‘practice based research’. I say now: ‘LUDICROUSLY come to be called practice based research’. I’ll try and take that gesture from when I learned what it was, from people with whom I first worked; I’ll try to train that gesture and put it alongside what it is to be an academic, and that will silence my voice. You won’t hear the voice of the lonely researcher; you won’t hear the voice of the careful unfolding of the archival research. Now let’s hear the end of the [he turns towards the table, picks up a pile of folders and throws them to the floor, using the sound of them falling to fill the gap in his sentence – THUMP]… finish. That’s the archive, it’s a bit of the archive, we can do what we want with it, we can throw it away, we can pick it up, [he throws a few other folders to the floor: THUD, BAM]. We can get down on our knees and scrabble amongst it, but we may never find a proper footnote. It will be a gesture that brings together the impossibilities of finding, and enunciating, and saying something. So, the last line is going to be: ‘Play it again, Tinker Bell’. [He repeats it in a softer, inquisitive tone]: ‘Play it again, Tinker Bell’. Why would I want to say: ‘Play it again, Tinker Bell’?

It has… Well let me tell you a story about myself. It’s a story completely about me. I do think I remember – there’s no evidence for this by the way, I can’t find any evidence. I’ve been on the Internet, on programmes, I’ve done research: there is no evidence and what I’m about to say is unverifiable. Even my sister doesn’t remember. And she ought to because we were together. Can you imagine… did you know that, talking about ports and East End, that Salford Lancashire was once the Barcelona of Northern Europe? It had a huge inland port, seething with sailors and dirt and sulphur and coal and products from all over the world. [His tone is now a storytelling tone. He brings his hands to his face in a gesture that seems to say ‘Oh my!’, but he then leaves his hands near his cheeks in a calm, frozen posture]. And part of that dockland is now a smart dockland with people living there; and they have these little chains and they turned it into petit bourgeois housing because it sounded indecent – which it was.

And when I was quite a little boy, I probably wasn’t fourteen yet, my father was a doctor – he looked after people on these docks. He called me through once, from the front of a boat to the back of the boat and said: ‘Would I phone the Manchester Royal Infirmary V.D. Clinic and tell them he had fourteen syphilitic Turkish sailors, and that they needed to be seen straight away!’ So, you know, I was a good child, I phoned the Manchester V.D. Clinic, and I said: ‘I’m Dr. Rifkin’s son’, and they said: ‘Ah yes, what is it?’ and I said: ‘He’s got fourteen syphilitic Turkish sailors and they’re on their way!’ And the woman said: ‘No no! It’s ladies’ day!’ I said: ‘It’s too late! They’re in taxis now!’ And then, very inventive – no, I mustn’t flatter myself… Well, they said: ‘What should we do?’ and I said: ‘Put up a screen!’ Now that’s interesting, because for whom was this screen? Was the screen meant to save the ladies on ladies’ day? Was it to save me from my own fantasmatic structures? I mean [and he brings his hands back to his cheeks]: f o u r t e e n s a i l o r s ! Syphilitic or not syphilitic, a few years later I would have invested in it quite differently… So you can see something there about living in this density, living in this framework, which is producing a kind of fairy story – in which I’m already this innocent little fairy, who’s fluttering around himself, maybe fluttering towards leading the bad fairy, Tinker Bell, to help him in his life.

Now, imagine this in the middle of this seething dockland, this Northern Barcelona. There, there is the Salford Hippodrome. The Salford Hippodrome. And the Salford Hippodrome is a big old fashioned, cavernous, booming, working class music hall, of the kind which we’ve left. And me and my sister had been taken to see Peter Pan, as a Christmas treat. [At this point, the automatic screen saver is activated and the projector begins to show, on the wall behind Adrian Rifkin, a picture of penguins in a group on a beach]. Peter Pan is played by Margaret Lockwood, a British film star now down on her heels, out of fashion; and she’s playing Peter Pan in provincial hippodromes. Which for us was a great excitement, but for her I think a great defeat. But nevermind.

At some point, they all think Tinker Bell is lost. [He rings the little bell twice. The screen saver is now projecting a pink and purple sunset behind a Marula tree.] And Margaret Lockwood says: ‘Tinker Bell! Tinker Bell! Is that you Tinker Bell? Tinker Bell, is that YOU?’

Transcribed by Anita Paz (minutes 17.00 – 27.00)

Adrian Rifkin during his performance-lecture ‘On Writing the Last Line First (One of Three Possible Titles).’So… imagine in the midst of this seething dockland, this Northern Barcelona, there is the Salford hippodrome… the Salford hippodrome… and a… the Salford hippodrome is a big, old-fashioned, cavernous, booming, working-class music hall of the kind which we’ve left. And me and my sister are taken to see Peter Pan, as a Christmas treat. And Peter Pan is played by Margaret Lockwood – a British film star now down on her heels, out of fashion, and she’s playing Peter Pan in provincial hippodromes, which for us was a big excitement, but for her I think it was a great defeat, but never mind.

At some point, they think Tinker Bell is lost [bell ringing] and Margaret Lockwood says
– ‘Tinker Bell! Tinker Bell! Is that you, Tinker Bell? Tinker Bell! is that you?’
[Bell ringing]
– ‘Oh, Tinker Bell! Tinker Bell!’

And the audience all start shouting ‘Tinker Bell. Tinker Bell! Tinker Bell, Tinker Bell!’ [Bell ringing] and the bell gets louder and louder, and Tinker Bell comes back. She comes back, and she sorts everything out… As I remember, but my memory is very feeble. And however much I search, I can find one reference to Margaret Lockwood visiting Manchester hippodrome in 1941, but there wasn’t a Manchester hippodrome, there was only a Salford hippodrome, so some… this is a lost document.

So I decided… Not then, but now I’m going to alter a filter, and this is to do with magical tricks and it’s to do with how you get to the last line, and this is the dossier for lost… lost documents [points to an empty green dossier]: you can see – completely empty, and what we have to do with that dossier, is to learn how to fill it up. [Throws the dossier on the floor] we’ll see at the end if it’s still empty.

So where was I up to? Yes, I was getting to finish the lecture. Yes, so, Tinker Bell – so, she visited me every few years of my life, this [sound of bell ringing] would visit me… would visit me. Here’s a longer story about me writing – I just want to tell you how I came to write a scholarly learned performed piece for a group of people I don’t know. Let’s see, where to begin? When I was a small child, we had rationing. Do you know what rationing was? It meant you had little tickets to get sweets, food – we were quite lucky because we’d gotten all off these ships, with obviously sailors, sailors, whatever, you know, we got lots of food and things we shouldn’t have had, it was illegitimate that we had it. And… I used to get every year, every time this American ship was cycled, I got a box of M&Ms, and in those days M&Ms came in a brown cardboard box, with 24 small packages. And this was the most important thing for me. The most important thing. Because it was mine, because… I have to tell you, my father stole my sweet rations. So I used to eat one package of M&Ms and then throw the whole box onto my parent’s wardrobe, so that I wouldn’t gobble them all at once. And then I would get a table, and another table, and a chair, and I would climb up on them, to get one down again, and then throw it back up – so, it was what you might say was an erotic gesture in childhood: the desire to protect these sweets from my father who would have been there, from my own desire to gorge on them, running to this fantastic structure where everyday I put my life at risk, several times, by building these fragile, collapsible structures – repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat… If anyone had known, I would have been in child therapy. But I wasn’t, and I was left throughout my life with the insatiable desire for M&Ms. So even when walking in the Pyrenees in the 1980s, I’d be dragging my partner from one station sweet shop to another, to see if we could find them in the Pyrenees, and this was… no one could understand, and frien… academic friends who went overseas: ‘Do you want us to bring some books? Do you want us to bring…?’ I said, ‘No, just bring me a mega pack of M&Ms!’. And then one day I was sitting at a dinner party – a very very polite dinner party, of course, with Victorian chandeliers with the candles, and the things and the flowers – and we were in the middle of dinner, and it went [sound of bell ringing], and I lost track of the dinner conversation, I went into a kind of trance, and Tinker Bell came, and at the end of that dinner I never had an M&M in my life. Since then, I was cured.

So, in a sense, once I worked on this line ‘Play it again, Tinker Bell’, I began to realise what it means, and here I’m being serious – you understand? Very serious. But I mean very serious! To take very seriously the notion that the personal is political. Because, when in the 1970s and 80s the feminist movement, and then the gay movement, and before this all the personal is political, we felt ‘tear your clothes off!’, tear away your false identities, outface the world, be out, out-front yourself – then the personal is political. But I didn’t think we ever stopped to ask what is the personal and what is the political. What is the thinnest possible interface of these two words, and what kinds of theories we need, or what kinds of knowledges we need, or what kind of therapeutic notions we need, or what kind of political conflicts we need – we decided which is which, and which one slots over at a certain moment, so that you can see the personal is political. This is ‘the personal is political’ – it’s this, it’s that, it’s this huge battle, it’s this kind of detail, it’s this emergence of sex and annunciations, which move now in one direction, now in another. And that we never know what we’re going to come up with, if we plunge into the instance of ‘the personal is political’, we may end up somewhere completely different where we don’t even know either of these, or we’re in a new situation, because that plunging process has changed everything, because something we found out, which is, in a sense, you might say, not a result of what we’ve looked for. And that’s kind of exciting.

So I decided, at a certain point when I decided to stop speaking (you may say this is contradictory), to think much more about this weird relationship between the personal and the political – what’s the thinnest possible thing? So, you can see that in some ways it’s a vague process, but it’s a process I think I’ve learned from artists – I need to say that… (or picked up from them, like a kind of contagion…) That it’s a risk, or maybe not a risk, but if I talk about Pete… Tinker Bell, and I talk about the M&Ms, it’s because I don’t know where this borderline is between the personal and the political, and because I have to take it where-, follow it wherever it can go, into any memory, into any frivolity, if necessary. So that it will emerge as something, which is paradigmatically now – in the present, personally and politically – as some kind of fragile healing of the relation between those gestures, which I would say, I can often find in art, and I can less often find in life, to use these silly old categories of art and life.

So, you can take a film like Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be, which begins with this wonderful comic classic screwball sequence, where… the heroi-… where there’s a play within a play about Hitler, it’s set – it’s made in 1942 – it’s set in… in Krakow… in Warsaw in 1939, and it’s made in America in 1942, and it makes jokes about the Holocaust, which hasn’t happened yet. Which is the most dangerous thing! You couldn’t… first of all to make a joke about the Holocaust, and second, to make one before it’s happened. They’re doubly dangerous processes. And there’s a scene where the heroine walks out to where the director is arguing with his minor actors, in a beautiful beautiful shimmering evening gown, and says to the director within the film, where they play – ‘do you like my evening gown?’ – ‘Yes, of course I like it’. ‘Isn’t it pretty?’ she says, and he says ‘you’re not going to wear that in the concentration camp scene, are you?’, and she says ‘But of course I am! Of course I’m going to wear it in the concentration camp’. She says ‘I thought: people will hear me screaming, and suffering, and being whipped, and then lights will come on, and I’ll be wearing this beautiful dress’. And another actor, who’s a Jewish actor, comes up and says ‘It’s good for a laugh!’.

And that’s I think what I mean. So, when I stopped speaking, I decided that I would let things speak for me. I started accumulating more and more of these instances from movies: little connections between them – maybe some of them ‘Haa!’, or a group of things where people go ‘Haa!’. Because ‘Haa! Haa!’ reminds me, for example, of my earliest education in art history, which was at this university in 1965, where there was an old professor now famous and mythical – Edgar Wind. And at the end of all his lectures you went ‘Haa!’ because you didn’t believe you could get to a conclusion like that.

Transcribed by Nina Wakeford (minutes 26.00 – 34.00)

Adrian Rifkin during his performance-lecture ‘On Writing the Last Line First (One of Three Possible Titles).’They are doubly dangerous processes. And there is a scene where the heroine walks up to where the director is arguing with these minor actors, in a beautiful, beautiful shimmering evening gown and says to the director within the film, that she plays within the film ‘Do you like my evening gown’ ‘Yes of course I like it!’ ‘Isn’t it pretty’ she says. And he says ‘You’re not going to wear that in the concentration camp scene, are you?’ And she says ‘But of course I am’ ‘Of course I’m going to wear it in the in the concentration camp.’ She says ‘After all people will hear me screaming and suffering and being whipped, and then the lights will come on and I will be wearing this beautiful dress.’ And another actor, who is the Jewish character in the film, comes up and says ‘It’s good for a laugh’ And that’s I think what I mean. So when I stopped speaking, I decided that I would let things speak for me. I started accumulating more and more of these instances from movies. Little connections between them. Maybe someone going ‘Ahh!’ [Gasp/Intake of breath]. Or a group of things where people go ‘Ahh!’. Because ‘Ahh!’ [turns] ‘Ahh!’ reminds me, for example, of my earliest experience of art history which was at this university in 1965. There was an old professor now famous and mythical called Edgar Wind who at the end of all his lectures went ‘Ahh!’. Because you didn’t believe you could get to a conclusion like that.

I went to little classes, but people came from all over England to listen to him. You know, he filled the Oxford Playhouse. And at the end of the… all his lectures he went ‘Ahh!’. It was more than Tinker Bell, and I’m sure that’s because he wrote the last line first. I’m sure it’s because he did that. But it took me 50 years to work that out. 50 years of remembering the ‘Ahh!’.

So things begin like that. Accumulations. Shots of films where people go ‘Ahh!’ Shots in films where people say ‘It’s good for a laugh’ but it has to have that screwball [claps] crack crack crack, turn around visually and verbally perfect. So everything turns around. So the minute it is gone, you can’t remember it. Because its too swift, and it is too perfect. And I started projecting these instances, these moments instead of speaking because each one of those was something that I would have wished to say had that been my form of enunciation. There were a lot from Fassbinder too. There’s one where a man turns round and round in a courtyard shouting ‘frische Birnen! frische Birnen!’ ‘Fresh pears! Fresh pears!’ And when he has done it several times the girl goes [raises right shoulder, turns head and smiles]. And I thought yes, that’s… that shot is who I wish to be. It’s that shot. It’s that sequence and that shot that I would wish to be. That, that could become my ‘I’ for a certain moment of enunciation.

So that became a sort of dictionary, a Bilder-Atlas, just like Warburg’s, but one already in ruins. It’s not a construction. It’s a series of ruins, like these ruins lying on the floor now. So you can see now that I am getting near to telling you, why I wanted to have my last line ‘Play it again Tinker Bell, Play it again Tinker Bell, Play it again Tinker Bell’. See, the logic to a last line to allow something called a visitation. But if you have written your last line, you are so determined on your last line, where on earth do you begin? How can you begin? How can you begin to get to a last line? How can you be sure that when you say the last line everyone will go ‘Ahh!’ with a sense of an overwhelming logic that the last line really was written first, which I suppose in a way it was now I come to think of it. Or as if they were convinced that the last line was absolutely ineluctable in terms of this, or maybe a completely different set of precedent enunciations. And I think that again brings one to this question of how it is to bring, if you like, knowledge into a present, into an enunciation which is a characteristic of certain forms of art, and rarely the characteristic of certain forms of academic discourse. And here I’m being quite serious. I’m saying maybe what we become sick of is not hearing the sound of one’s voice, but hearing the capture of the sound of one’s voice by a certain logic of expectation, a certain logic of normalization which becomes that of academe. My political critique of that in our own time, the endless research assessment exercises, the endless pronunciation of opinion about work based on anything other than its, if you like, enunciative powers. Its capacities to sustain a certain kind of relationship in the present or in the presents.

So that is where I ended. But once I had the first line. Once I had the first line, I had to have another line. The last line had to have a first line. I thought about this as a first line. It seemed to me to be important… [helped with computer – shows picture] This is a fairy. Here’s a fairy. It is called John Vassall. And he was one of a group of British spies, who were all gay, like Anthony Blunt and so on. And this is a picture of him. He is pretty. Cute, actually. I always thought he was cute. And in 1962 he was arrested. And there was a huge fuss, a huge, dramatic [?] fuss, fuss, fuss. This homosexual spy. And this cartoon appeared, I think in Punch. I think it must have been in Punch. It must have been in Punch as my father had Punch in the surgery and I used to go and sit in the waiting room and read Punch. And I found out about all kinds of things in Punch. I actually found out about the French New Wave in Punch. Went to see Les Quatre Cents Coups at a night-time porn cinema/daytime arts cinema in Manchester after reading Punch. It meant you had to play truant, because um [?] the only way to see the film. There it is. There was this cartoon about civil servants, ‘Now surely Sir Percival, if you had visited Sir Vassall’s flat, you would have noticed his, well, unnatural tendencies’ ‘No dear, he seemed perfectly normal to me’.

Now something very strange happens to this cartoon. Which was lodged in my memory. Which I just finally found 6 months ago on the Internet. It had really vanished. Because I wouldn’t do the research on Punch. Too much too much too much. Then [?] the internet. Something strange happens to it in the course of our life, and the course of my life. And it is called ‘theory’. Now I’m not going to criticize theory. I’m not going to detach myself from theory. I’m not going to deny the importance of theory. Not one little bit. But I am going to say that after the emergence of the theory of performative, in people like Judith Butler or Kosofsky Sedgwick, a cartoon like this suddenly became a bad memory. I always wanted to cling on to it like Tinker Bell was a bad fairy as a good memory, because it used the word normal when I didn’t know what I felt about myself, or who I was. I was a very naïve 17 year old. The word normal was like being saved. Was being visited by a form of salvation. ‘Normal? Yes, maybe that’s what I am. I am normal’. Later on of course I wanted to be abnormal. But at that time, to want normal – it was a safety. Now it is interesting to note, to note, to note, to note, to note. There’s an academic phrase for you. It is not even interesting, but it is worth remarking on the fact after the theorising of Butler on the performative and on the excitable speech and after the work of queer theorists in France such as Didier Eribon what you were supposed to remember, you felt, was the insult, not the redemption… [?]. But the insult. And in a sense one of those relations between the personal and the political, is this relationship between me and the memory, and me and the theory of the insult. Is such that my own memory is falsified, or made wrong, or wronged by the theory that tries to save me from the insult which this has come to represent afterwards. So it is there, if you like, a tracing of this thing that the person puts into all kinds of archives of one’s formation, of one’s being in the world now, one’s capacity to enunciate in the world now. Which… somehow you have to overcome theory, if you like, or overcome the predications of theory, the predicates of theory. Not to rediscover some Eden-like primary feelings valid forever, but to discover this layering in the person which can’t be invented, that has to be in a state of constant, if you like, cognitive, or epistemological unfolding, in circumstances.

Transcribed by Jessyca Hutchens (minutes 34.00 – 45.00)

Adrian Rifkin during his performance-lecture ‘On Writing the Last Line First (One of Three Possible Titles).’…and when I didn’t know what I felt about myself, or quite who I was, because I was a very naïve seventeen year old, the word normal was like being saved, was being visited by a form of salvation. Normal? Yes, maybe, that’s what I am; I’m normal. Later on of course I wanted to be abnormal, but at that time, to want, normal, it was a safety. Now, it’s interesting to note, to note, to note, to note, to note, there’s an academic phrase for you. It’s not even interesting but it’s worth remarking on the fact that, after the theorizing of Butler on the performative and on the excitable speech and after the work of queer theorists in France such as Didier Eribon, what you were supposed to remember you felt was the insult. Not the redemption, if you please, no the insult. And in a sense one of those relations between the personal and the political is this relationship between me and the memory, between me and the theory of the insult, is such that my own memory is falsified, or made wrong, or wronged by the theory that tries to save me from the insult which this has come to represent after all. So there’s there if you like a tracing of this thing of the person who (inaudible, 35:25) all kinds of archives of one’s formation, of one’s reading, of one’s being in the world now, of one’s capacity to enunciate in the world now, in which somehow you have to overcome theory, if you like, or overcome the predications of theory, the predicates of theory. And not to rediscover some Eden like primary field that’s valued forever, but to discover this layering of the person which can’t be invented, that has to be in a state of constant, if you like, cognitive or epistemological unfolding, in circumstances. And somehow Tinker Bell led me back to this. Once I decided that Tinker Bell was going to be in this lecture, it led me back to this, and to the notion of being visited by fairies, and that indeed, in this advanced time of my career, I was still a fairy visiting Central St Martins. These frames had to be brought together and fed into each other. So, you can see that, whereas I started out with the Virgin Mary and her sister, her cousin Elizabeth, the writing of the last line was now forcing me into a set of visitations in which I was calling up all kinds of knowledges I’d had, obsessional, historical, queer theory, whatever, which had to be configured and re-configured, to enable Tinker Bell to emerge at the end, as the force who, in the eventuality enabled me, enabled me, to achieve this re-configuration in which I was lost. In which I was hopelessly lost. But that said, I didn’t reach a first line until dangerously near the beginning of the lecture, and this is something Nina [Nina Wakeford] will remember, but um, she won’t remember the lecture, she will remember the situation. Which is kind of this, that shortly after I met – and I’m not going to go on and on about this man Edgar Wind – I met one of his colleagues at Manchester University, I retreated to Manchester after uni here, and I met his colleague and an old sort of comrade of the pre-Nazi period, Helen Rosenau, who is an art historian, then she took me under her wing and she taught me art history for two terms and that’s all the formal education of art history I ever had. We sat down and we talked about architecture books for two hours a day, one day a week, for two terms. But she was kind of a remarkable person. [Reaches over to desk to pick up a folder] In 1943 she wrote a book called Women in Art. Which was published in 1944. [Removes book from folder] This is it. Which I must have read then, but… [Shows pages of the book to the audience] It’s in a modernist print, published in ’44, it was written in a research program with the famous sociologist Karl Manheim, one of her fellow exiles at the London School of Economics. And I’d forgotten it, no I’d read it but I’d forgotten it, and I kept telling my colleague in Leeds Griselda Pollock that she should read it and she should write on it. And after thirty years she did. It takes us all time to get round to our projects. And a week before my visitation lecture she gave finally a lecture on this book at University College. Now, no-one could remember it but three-hundred people turned out to hear it being talked about. And, someone asked Griselda a question, he said to her, what do you think of this, that and the other about Rosenau’s pedagogy, and Griselda gave an answer, which was so complex and said she’d never met her, she never knew about her, she never even knew as she said in the lecture that at the time Rosenau’s very last book, on the ideal city, was on the publisher’s desk, when she… Griselda’s very first book with Rozsika Parker, the, the, the, the, the, ah, Old Mistresses, must have been a manuscript on the same desk. That those two manuscripts lay side-by-side without their authors ever recognizing each other at all. An old generation of feminists and the new one, side-by-side but invisible. Again, a cut of the personal and the political, that can take decades to unwind, and was unwound on September the, December the 4th, last year. So Griselda gave this remarkable account of what she thought Rosenau’s pedagogy must have been, and I said, ‘That’s it’. It was a moment, if you like, another Tinker Bell moment. I’d realised what I’d got from her. And I thought, oh my god, I got it but I’d missed it. I’d never heard that until now. We’re talking about something over forty years later, and I missed it. And I went home and rummaged through my archives and found the notes I’d made of her lectures in 1967. I didn’t know I had them, but a week late-, three days later, they turned up. And I read the notes and boy did I miss it. You know I’d lived by what I’d missed. That is, one doesn’t necessarily recognize the level at which this strikes you, that this moment, to emerge, over forty years later, in someone else’s enunciation, has something now clear, even if one has been living with it all those years nonetheless. So, I decided at that point that I’d throw all these papers on the floor and say, this is where I’m lost, this is where I’m lost. I am lost with something which is a record, if you like, these are my archives, of my own stupidity, or my own short-sightedness, or my own, like other people’s capacity, always to miss, but to end up coming somewhere near, with something you might have found afterwards, and how likely a way that is in terms of looking at art, or listening, or coming back to the song and hearing that phrase. I don’t want to hear my voice anymore, after all these years.

So, the first line, or one of the first lines. This is the first line, the table is the first line okay? A quotation from, from Carpaccio is really the first line. Then the second line is throwing all that crap on the floor, and then the third line is picking that book up and saying, ‘I got it wrong.’ Well I didn’t get it wrong, I just didn’t get it. You can’t get it wrong, if you didn’t get it that’s that. And then there’s the question of Tinker Bell, and I thought well, okay – okay, okay, okay – something has to work like this, that Tinker Bell was a fairy. I’m a fairy. I’m always being woken up by bells, very very banal level of thought, let’s do some, so I, I, I, I, I got in touch with Hayley Newman, who also, just after Liz [Elizabeth Price] did her PhD in practice at Leeds, and I said, I, I asked Hayley if she’d be, if she’d play Tinker Bell in the lecture I was giving, and she said, ‘Fine yes I’ll play Tinker Bell. What shall I wear? I’ve got a…’ We went online and found there was a Tinker Bell make-up video on YouTube that shows you how to make-up as Tinker Bell, so we’re not alone. There were lots of other people who wanted to do this as well. And I said, ‘Hayley, just wear a cocktail dress I think.’ And, um, from the Whitechapel bell foundry I bought two little bells like this – still being made the way they were in 1410 or something like that, you know long before Tinker Bell. And Hayley took one and sat right at the back of the lecture theatre and I left this one on my desk, and her sole instruction was to ring it from time to time. She could ring it when I said the word fairy – which was quite often – and she could ring it when she felt it was appropriate, she’s a performance artist after all, it’s not for me to decide. And that implied the slow transition – seeing she was in the last line – of my performance into hers. Which is a way of saying I’m not an artist. People say, ‘oh, you’re being like an artist now.’ No, I’m not being like an artist. I’m not an artist. I am not an artist. And Hayley would ring her bell and no one knew where it was coming from so I just looked at mine and said, ‘I’m sorry folks I don’t know how to turn it off.’ I didn’t touch it I would just say, ‘I’m sorry I really do not know how to turn this off yet. But it’ll come.’ And this became a procedure, in which we had to recognize, if you like, a certain point of exhaustion. And I was going through my images, I had images of the visitation from all over the place, I had this one of Vassall, and this cartoon, I had ones of Jean-Luc Godard, Je vous salue, Marie, Hail Mary where there is a wonderful visitation scene in the garage forecourt, a Parisian…

Transcribed by Nina Wakeford on behalf of Joseph Noonan-Ganley
(minutes 44.00 – 56.53)

Adrian Rifkin during his performance-lecture ‘On Writing the Last Line First (One of Three Possible Titles).’And that implied the slow transition, you see, if she was in the last line, of my performance into hers. Which is a way of saying I’m not an artist. People say ‘oh, you are being like an artist now’. No, I am not being like an artist. I am not an artist. I am not an artist. And Hayley would ring her bell and no-one knew where it was coming from. So I just looked and said I’m sorry folks I don’t know how to turn it off. I’m sorry I really haven’t learned how to turn this off yet. But, it will come…

And this became a procedure in which we had to recognise, if you like, a certain point of exhaustion. And I was going through my images. I had images on visitation from all over the place. I had this one of Vassall, and a cartoon. I had one of Jean-Luc Godard, Je vous salue, Marie, Hail Mary, where there is a wonderful visitation scene in the garage forecourt of Parisian banlieue, if you like, of the 1970s. A film in which in fact I had, uh, when I first saw it in New York actually – from the Virgin Mary by a woman called ‘xx xx’ sent by the Virgin Mary – condemnation of it… to the New York cinema where it was playing. But that is another story.  And I had whole scenes to bring back. The queer theme of the story is Sodom and Gomorrah which in the first instance was not a queer story at all. It was a story about hospitality. The angels were sent to destroy Gomorrah, Sodom and Gomorrah because the people were inhospitable and it is the Christian church which turned it into – about sexuality. But there are very very complicated stories of visits and visitations by angels, by angels to the patriarchs in the Old Testament, by angels to Sodom and Gomorrah – a whole theology of visits and visitations which somehow seems to articulate and carry all the other stories of queerness, of fairies, the lot. And they feed into each other.

And these were flashing on the screen and the truth is I did get lost. I really did get lost after 40, 39 minutes, I think. I wanted to hit 45, but after 39 I was in despair. I didn’t know what my next move would be. My images on my screen were a mess. My images on the floor were in a mess. I was in a mess. And at that point the bell from the background became louder and louder and louder. And I said to the audience. It is Tinker Bell. Tinker Bell is here. Now, you might already have noticed that everything in this lecture is actually about the lost document. There is not a single document in it which I could revive. I could find a cartoon about that sort of thing. But that has now been lost again with theory – so it’s a lost document. I couldn’t find Tinker Bell because there is no trace of that performance. Document after document. Rosenau’s book in a sense is a lost document. Because I never really learned from it.

The lost document dossier gets thicker and thicker and thicker. And if you could see it now, were they not lost documents, it would be higher than all the rest put together. That dossier of lost documents would be the biggest one. This is something to begin to learn in creating these enunciations, I think. To enunciate the lost documents. And at that point, that I was lost, I became the lost document. She swept down in her cocktail dress from the back of the lecture theatre, and played a video which I asked her to play. And which is a song I particularly love. I’ll play it to you if you want. It’s from the Talking Head’s film True Story. And it’s a song called ‘People like us’, and the chorus is: we don’t want freedom, we don’t want justice, we just want someone to love. That seems something to hold on to. So I decided to leave it. And to ask Tinker Bell to play it.

No, I didn’t. I just said… Tinker Bell came and she played the video and we danced to it, together, with our backs to the audience. And then she turned it off and I said ‘play it again Tinker Bell’. And what follows was out of my hands. She threw me away from the centre of the stage. So I was on my knees at the side of the stage. And she played it again. And danced to it, and talked about it.

So, for me if you like, without fully gripping it or intending it, having written the last line first enabled me, in retrospect, to envisage the lost document as myself. So if you like the lessons of the whole of what we call post-structuralist, Lacanian post-critical theory could be seen to remain somehow seated, within our power, to say something, to be in our enunciation. But that loss and presence in their contiguity are at the heart of that process of ‘the personal is the political’. And that, if you like, is something I might have learned from having been immersed in a history of art and in a history from the very first… since I started teaching, and working with artists.

So I… I think that is all I really wanted to say about that. And, um, we can talk about it. But would you like to see the song, or not?

Audience:  Mmm

Right [inaudible… looking through images on computer] You see I can’t… [inaudible] No. It’s not that. That’s not it! That’s from Parsifal. Oh I’ll show you a few things. These are Visitandines nuns. Being given their power by… these are Visitandines nuns making cookies with the infant Jesus. Um. This is Elizabeth and Mary having their visit. This is another Elizabeth and Mary having their visit. You can see what I meant by the flourishing. This is the holy trinity, which is based on a visit. Not on Jesus. It is actually based on a visit. This is Kundri in Parsifal… visiting the Knights of the Holy Grail, and unleashing the whole hideous story that unfolds. All concentrating somehow, one way or another, on the risk, the danger of the visit. Here is what we had to work with before we were visited by high technology. Here is a slide list from Edgar Wind’s lecture which you can find in the, find in the Bodleian library here, which gives you some sense of the ‘ohuhh!’, the ‘ohuhh!’ as his ‘ohuhh!’ is lost except in the present when you might find a new ‘ohuhh!’ in relation to another situation. So that is both a visitation and a visit. Because I had to visit the Bodleian to drag it out and be visited by some sense of the event, when I read it out. Can anyone see another mp4 here? Ah. Here’s… [opera music plays briefly]. Wrong one! Mp4… Mp4… Maybe you are not going to get it. Maybe it is a lost object this time.

Audience: chuckles

Voice from audience [looking at projection of desktop]: Um, Sam? O6/O5 Mp4 on the left?

Where is that. On the left? Your left or my left?

Voice from audience: Uh, both, I think it is the same left.

No! You know what? It’s gone.

Voice from audience: You can sort the folder by type.

You know what? It’s gone. Or, maybe it’s this?

Voice from audience: It’s not a .mov?

Yes, it could be. It could be a .mov. Is it that one? No! Do you know that film? It’s The Mill and The Cross. Ah. Let’s try that one. No! I’m sorry about this folks. Shall I sing it for you? It’s gone. It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s gone! There you are it’s gone. I’m sorry. Oh maybe it’s this? Ok we are not going to have it. Ah?… No! Actually I’ll tell you what. Because of the way Macs work now, I actually have to film all of these with my camera from the screen. Because Macs can’t do movie screen back anymore. I mean Elizabeth knows…

Elizabeth Price: Uh, I do that as well.

Um. Ok, we are not going to have it. I think I have gone on quite long enough. I’ve tried to do the impossible for you which is describe something, which is kind of indescribable. I was going to try to give you a blow by blow account. But it’s gone. I’m sorry. So, thank you.


About the author:

The biography and writings of Adrian Rifkin are available at