Project / “School of Death, or, L'École de la Mort”

Dates: 6–14 October 2016
Location: Forum -1, Petite Salle, Centre Pompidou, Paris
FREE. More info here
Organized by Simon Critchley & Sina Najafi
By invitation from Jean-Pierre Criqui, Service de la Parole, DDC, Centre Pompidou

Cabinet is pleased to present the second incarnation of the School of Death, an educational institution dedicated to exploring the relationship between death and the examined life. The school, whose pedagogical framework is by definition displaced and displacing, is a permanently roving institution. Its exploration of the relationship between finitude, ethics, and life happens wherever there is a need for such contemplation—which is to say, everywhere.

The faculty for this particular convening of the school comprises: Corentin Chassard, Simon Critchley, Brian Dillon, Joseph Keckler, Wayne Koestenbaum, Matthew Dean Marsh, Sally O’Reilly, George Prochnik, Justin E. H. Smith, and Marina Warner

PROGRAM

Thursday, 6 October, 7–9 pm
“On the Suicide Note,” a lecture by Simon Critchley
Simon Critchley’s lecture will address an underanalyzed but distinct literary genre: the suicide note. Through an examination of a number of suicide notes, Critchley will bring out the peculiar dialectic of love and hate that defines the genre, as well as the ways in which revenge, retribution, voyeurism, and exhibitionism are interwoven in these final missives.

Friday, 7 October, 7–9 pm
“A Lesson from the Dead,” a séance with Michel de Montaigne, facilitated by a professional medium and Justin E. H. Smith
Guided by philosopher Justin E. H. Smith, a professional medium will summon the ghost of Michel de Montaigne, the great philosopher of death, and engage him in a conversation about how to lead a meaningful life, the fate of the soul after death, and the properties and uses of ectoplasm. 

Wednesday, 12 October, 7–9 pm
“The Underworld,” a conversation between George Prochnik and Marina Warner
Humanity’s speculations on the underworld are as variegated as culture itself, and in no other realm are terror and desire mingled so promiscuously. Using a rich array of images and film and audio clips, George Prochnik and Marina Warner will explore how different cultures’ relationship to hell, limbo, revenance, and the dead both reflect and shape the upper worlds of their respective societies. 

Thursday, 13 October, 7–9 pm
“One Last Thing,” an evening of musical performances by Joseph Keckler, Sally O’Reilly, and Wayne Koestenbaum

This program comprises three performances, all of which use music to investigate some of the ways in which we have imagined death and dying. The Ends, a multimedia performance by Sally O’Reilly and featuring cellist Corentin Chassard, is a study in cadence, in how to finish well. Final paragraphs, scenes, and bars from novels, films, and requiems will be collated in a performance that aims to examine the conflicted nature of conclusions.

In “Lounge Act: The Paris Session,” Wayne Koestenbaum will perform piano miniatures (by Fauré, Scriabin, and others) while incanting Sprechstimme-style soliloquies. Koestenbaum’s words—improvised on the spot for the occasion—will stream in correspondence with the score’s musical phrases. Nietzsche might have called this nervy practice a gay science; Koestenbaum calls it confessional Socratic cabaret, or stand-up comic séance pianism.

The evening will close with vocalist Joseph Keckler, who, accompanied by pianist Matthew Dean Marsh, will perform selections from his forthcoming performance piece Let Me Die. The concert will circle around different types of deaths, undeaths, and hauntings through a mix of playful original works, funereal blues, and arias and collaged fragments of death scenes from classic operas.

Friday, 14 October, 7–9 pm
“The Big Sleep,” a bunk bed conversation between Brian Dillon and Wayne Koestenbaum
The final evening of the School of Death will see a new installment of Cabinet’s ongoing “bunk bed conversations,” a mode of intellectual inquiry that aims to explore the public potential of this most private, archaic, and companionable of American scenes. For this closing event, Brian Dillon and Wayne Koestenbaum—dressed in their pajamas—will settle into a bunk bed, where, unable to sleep, their thoughts will inevitably turn toward the final sleep that will one day come to us all.

ABOUT THE PARTICIPANTS

Corentin Chassard
is a London-based cellist and chamber musician. He is one-half of the cello-and-laptop duo Partial Gathering, and a member of the Octandre Ensemble and the Arco Trio. Chassard is the artistic director of the Thornham Chamber Music Festival in the UK and the Festival de l’île du Guesclin in France.

Simon Critchley is Hans Jonas Professor at the New School for Social Research. His books include Bowie (2014), Stay Illusion: The Hamlet Doctrine (2013; with Jamieson Webster), The Faith of the Faithless (2012), and The Book of Dead Philosophers (2009). He recently published his first novel, Memory Theatre (2014), and Notes on Suicide (2016). He runs “The Stone,” a philosophy column in the New York Times and is one half of an obscure musical combo called Critchley & Simmons. 

Brian Dillon is UK editor of Cabinet and teaches critical writing at the Royal College of Art, London. His books include The Great Explosion (2015), Objects in This Mirror: Essays (2014), I Am Sitting in a Room (2012), and The Hypochondriacs (2010). He writes regularly for Artforum, Frieze, the Guardian, and the London Review of Books. He is working on a book about essays and essayists to be published in late 2016. He lives in Kent.

Joseph Keckler is a New York–based vocalist, writer, and interdisciplinary artist. He has performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center, SXSW, and many other venues. A collection of his essays and performance texts is forthcoming from Turtle Point Press in 2017. He is currently artist-in residence at the University of Michigan, where he is working on Let Me Die, a durational performance that combines many operatic death scenes. 

Wayne Koestenbaum is a poet, critic, novelist, artist, and performer based in New York. He has published eighteen books, including Notes on Glaze (2016), The Pink Trance Notebooks (2015), Hotel Theory (2007), Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films (2006), Andy Warhol (2001), and The Queen’s Throat (1993), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His book Humiliation was published in French translation by Climats/Flammarion. Koestenbaum is a Distinguished Professor of English, French, and Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. 

Matthew Dean Marsh is a New York–based composer, writer, and performer. His compositions have been performed at Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center, Michigan Opera House, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the TriBeCa Film Festival, as well as the White House in Washington, DC. 

Sina Najafi is editor-in-chief of Cabinet magazine.

Sally O’Reilly is a writer based in the United Kingdom. Recent projects include the novel Crude (2016); the libretto for the opera The Virtues of Things (2015), co-commissioned by the Royal Opera House, Aldeburgh Music, and Opera North; a monograph on Mark Wallinger (2015); and The Body in Contemporary Art (2009). A frequent contributor to Cabinet, she is currently writer-in-residence at Modern Art Oxford. 

George Prochnik, an editor-at-large at Cabinet, is a writer based in New York. His most recent book, The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World, received the National Jewish Book Award for Biography/Memoir in 2014. He is also the author of In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise (2010) and Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam, and the Purpose of American Psychology (2006). His book Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem & Jerusalem will be published in 2017.

Justin E. H. Smith, an editor-at-large at Cabinet, teaches the history of science at the University of Paris 7 Diderot. He is the author, most recently, of The Philosopher: A History in Six Types (2016).

Marina Warner is a writer and curator living in London, where she is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London. She is the author of numerous books, including Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors & Media (2013), Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale (2014), and Stranger Magic: Charmed States & the Arabian Nights (2012), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Cabinet wishes to thank Jean-Pierre Criqui and Alice Pialoux at the Centre Pompidou, and Richard Massey for designing the program brochure and poster.

Cabinet is published by Immaterial Incorporated, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Cabinet receives generous support from the Lambent Foundation, the Orphiflamme Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Opaline Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the Danielson Foundation, the Katchadourian Family Foundation, The Edward C. Wilson and Hesu Coue Wilson Family Fund, and many individuals. All our events are free, the entire content of our many sold-out issues are on our site for free, and we offer our magazine and books at prices that are considerably below cost. Please consider supporting our work by making a tax-deductible donation by visiting here. Thank you for your consideration.