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HAHA Book Review

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Steven Dwoskin’s latest production, “Ha, ha! La Solution
Imaginnaire” is a book of photo-montages and poetic prose following
the thoughts of a 75 year old man as he searches for a letter. The
letter’s significance lies in it’s potential to clarify the identity
of the man’s first sexual partner. Standing amidst the dusty discarded
memorabilia of his life he is joined only by a fantasy woman floating
in mid air beside him. (The sole remnant of a life of relationships
built only on perverse “love”). While searching he tries to mentally
piece together the contents of the letter. However the action of
looking through books, letters, photos and papers lying amongst the
debris, serve only to confuse an already unclear mind with
recollections of sordid incidents, which either happened or were
(are?) the products of his imagination, neither he nor the audience
are ever left sure as to which is which. Eventually after a great deal
of rambling his original question, (did it happen and with whom?)
remains unanswered. Finally he mutters “”Ha,ha!,” as though he meant
to say something else…… but he forgot what it was”-XI-

In order to get to grips with this book it is, I have found,
worth spending some time understanding the title “Ha, ha! La Solution
Imaginaire”. The significance of the word “Ha, ha!” lies in
Dwoskin’s interest in the potential for absurdity in language.
Essentially this is a book about the language of words and images. The
“ha ha’s and “mm mms” that make up a large part of every day
conversations, and their ambiguous allusions to profound understanding
or a complete lack of attention, are the imaginary solution of
Dwoskin’s title. The term “La Solution Imaginaire” also refers to one
of the main driving forces behind the surrealist movement, Alfred
Jarry. Jarry developed the notions regarding pataphysics, which though
too lengthy to explain here, formed the basis on which surrealist
cultivated their ideas concerning the juxtapositioning of the familiar
with the unfamiliar. With this in mind it is possible to understand
Dwoskin’s preoccupation with the surrealists, as there is a direct
comparison between the surrealist process, and the every day
experience of being disabled. We, the disabled, are the unfamiliar, in
an able-bodied concept of the familiar. When the two worlds meet one
could say that the situation has a surreal quality about it. (Probably
not in the mind of the disabled person, who’s most likely to be just
pissed off, surreal moment or not.)

A further facet to the title is metaphoric. Within the forward
of the book, the dictionary definition of an Ha ha is given as a
device of landscape gardening. It is a ditch that has been used
instead of a fence, with the benefit of not effecting the view. On
discovering such ditches people would exclaim “Ha, ha!”. It is with
this in mind that Dwoskin’s “Ha, Ha! La Solution Imaginaire” can be
seen too as a cut in the landscape of art, a new surprising boundary
where the beauty of the image is played around with.

It was, no doubt, one of Dwoskin’s primary concerns to
challenge people’s approach to viewing photographs. At present the
language of the photographic image is generally limited to being a
literal and inexpressive tool of the journalist and advertisers.
Therefore it follows that to deal with the photographic image in any
other manner is likely to meet resistance. Unfortunately such
resistance will most probably be overshadowed by the fact that all of
the images in Dwoskin’s book are photographic montages of naked women.
With a long history of women being exploited by male photographer’s
many viewers are going to be put on edge. Add to this the fact that
Dwoskin has edited the images in such a way that the women have
essentially been “cut up”, and it is not surprising that many people
are going to be angered by the images content before they think about
it’s form. In a recent meeting with Dwoskin I asked him why he chose
to use women as the subjects of his work. He explained that firstly
the negative reaction was very much an Anglo-Saxon response to the
naked female body. In other countries the feedback had been quite
different, except in the United States where it had been men who
seemed most enraged. His experience had been that many women found the
images exciting, challenging, attractive and erotic. For him focusing
on women seemed totally appropriate as for all of us (women and men)
it is “woman” that is the centre of being. “Her is the ancient and
basic root of you” -pg76-. His preoccupation with them, he continued,
is not motivated by an endeavour to uglify, but search for a new image
of beauty in art. The last image in the book is of a pregnant woman.
It should also be noted that any research in to surrealist art is
going to involve a large amount of images of the female naked body,
the question remains though, as to the relevance of such images in the

Not being particularly clued up on women’s politics, and it’s
debatable that as a man I should ever venture over such difficult
terrain anyway, I’ll leave the feminist critique to someone more
qualified. However what I do wish to raise is a point that relates to
all disabled artist. This being the choice one has to make when a
conflict of interest arises between one’s art and politics. Taking
“the cause” as your guiding principle may lead to artistic
limitations. The history of the constraints of political correctness
on art has not been a god one, for example The Social Realists, Nazi
propaganda, recent blasphemy cases against artist, and the burning of
Turners erotic paintings, all demonstrate that political correctness
and art do not always go hand in hand. Arguing that good politics will
not bring about a conflict of interest is a fallacy, what’s
politically correct one day is not another. And yet as disabled people
we should be well aware of the potential for politically incorrect art
to be deadly dangerous.

Perhaps the problem regarding Dwoskin’s book is not so much
content but medium. Had his images been painted then reaction to the
use of the naked female body would have been less. Fragmenting images
of women has been going on at least ever since the cubists, and while
people recognise that in painting, as in photography, the use of the
female naked body is, on the whole concerned with male fantasies, it
is still generally regarded as acceptable. It is this hypocrisy that I
believe drives Dwoskin in to pushing the viewer towards a
confrontation. What is it about photographs that make them
untouchables? What difference is there in the quality of voyeurism
that occurs when looking at “page three” photographs of naked women, a
Victorian “photo realist” work, Renoir’s “Bathers”, Rembrandt’s nudes,
and a large body of other work including Roman, Indian, and Chinese
erotic art? All these differ in artistic merit, original intention and
closeness to “appearing real”, yet all of them have been objects of
masturbatory fantasies, yet it’s still “page three” that stands out,
and why, because it’s a photograph, it “looks real”.

Although Dwoskin’s use of photographic montage has partly been
used to draw attention, shock and challenge his audience, it would be
a mistake to dismiss his images as not being of great artistic merit.
By fragmenting the photographs Dwoskin creates a multi edged metaphor
which not only serves in terms of subject matter, but also becomes a
powerful artistic device. For instance the image when fragmented is
released from a particular point in time, and as such takes on a
character similar to motion pictures, it also allows movement not only
through time and space but through subjects too, so that associations
can be shown, in the same way that they are made mentally. In addition
to the images working on these levels they also relate to disability,
in some instances the women look as if they’re missing limbs.
Obviously the idea of women without limbs does have a host of perverse
male fantasies attached to it. With no arms to push off an advance,
and no legs to make an escape, “she” is rendered relatively powerless.
Add to this classical psycho analytic theories relating to castration
anxieties, possession of the breast, and the drive to destroy the
unattainable and you could just about obliterate any belief that
Dwoskin’s motivation could be artistically based. But then the Venus
de Milo is an example of beauty in deformity, and Mary Duffy (a women
photographer who uses photographs of her own armless body in her work)
are acclaimed all over. Perhaps it is a question of motivation, but in
Dwoskin’s own words he is trying “to break the stereotypes of how we
look at humans…..It’s how to look at disability”

* * *

So where were we before we got way laid…? Oh that’s right
“…but he forgot where he was”. Dwoskin writes “This is a story of
memory fragmented” where by way of a meandering journey through the
most significant relationships the main character has experienced, a
new synthesised memory develops, involving his mother (possibly his
sister, he can’t remember) her friend, and the fantasy women.
Portrayed as a lackey to women, who are themselves depicted as seeing
him as their “toy boy”. There is a strong insinuation, (whether it’s
Dwoskin’s or the character’s is not apparent), that the women are
cruel man haters. It’s hinted that the mother is single, possibly
lesbian and conceived him through “rage not rape nor love”. “This is
the double edged quality of a mother” says Dwoskin “a child’s future
is totally at the mercy of her….Whether it’s Mother Earth, Nature or
our own mothers.” In the book the main character is never certain as
to whether the mother character was his mother, or one of the many
“surrogates”. As with early Freudian oedipal theories one is never
sure if the complex is simply part of the child’s imagination or
partly triggered by the behaviour of the mother. This lack of
definition is the nub of Dwoskin’s argument. Without a clear memory of
the past there is no clarity to the present, therefore it follows that
our perception of reality is founded on nothing but the wishes and
whims of our subconscious.

Dwoskin obviously believes in audience participation, and as
regard “Ha, ha! La solution Imginaire” the audience certainly has its
work cut out. This is, putting politics aside, an out standing book
artistically speaking. If you like Joyce, Beckett, Dadaism,
Surrealism, photo montage, and are interested in the workings of the
mind this book is for you.

Finally when I put the question of mid twentieth century
European art styles being appropriate for the 90’s to Dwoskin he
replied “If Thatcher can look back to Victorian values then I can’t
see the problem!”