Chapter 28. Guerilla Hermeneutics – Becoming a respirateur

“I like living, breathing, better than working. I don’t think that the work I’ve done can have any social importance whatsoever in the future. Therefore, if you wish, my art would be that of living: each second, each breath is a work which is inscribed nowhere, which is neither visual nor cerebral. It’s a sort of constant euphoria.”1

What Marcel Duchamp describes is not only a humble take on his work as an artist it reveals that “working” however you might understand the word, isn’t everything in life. The quote anticipate also what Michel Foucault would understand as “care for the self”. Do I care for the self while I’m writing? Is my writing work or just enjoyment? I have to admit I do not enjoy writing at least not in every moment. There are some situations when writing is fun: when I get to a point while writing which lets me understand something about that I am writing about as well as about my own writing. But most of the time writing is work, exhausting. 

Especially when we get back to the quote of Duchamp, why would anyone work, when the importance of work is measured by its impact on social configurations? Writing just like art is something people do, sometimes with a goal sometimes not. But Duchamp unlike Sartre for example does not argue for engaged art, which contributes in political fights. He understands his art more or less as being alive, being present. The word euphoria seems to fit. But think about the adjective “constant”. Does someone wish to be in constant euphoria? 

On the other hand, Duchamp once said: “A painting that doesn’t shock isn’t worth painting.” Is shock related to the constant euphoria? It seems so. But can a text shock? I guess a lot of texts had shocked at some point society whether through its content or its form or both. But this isn’t very engaging nor is it very political to be shocked? And how does the reader react to shock in a hermeneutical process? 

Well Friedrich Kittler, once said, that text should be like Molotov Cocktails. Avital Ronell at least called his books like that in her eulogy on his death. And Michel Foucault – as long we can believe the book Foucault in California – said that he wants to write “bookbombs”, not real bombs to kill people, but books which work as bombs in certain constellations. Those constellations are the moment of writing or the moment in which they will be read. Then the work. There is to a certain degree a familiarity between Duchamp and Foucault here: both seem not to be interested in the long-term impact, but in the singular, transformative moment in which art or books can change the outcome of life. 

What does this mean for Dark Hermeneutics? Usually, we are not around when a book is written, but we all might know the feeling we have, when we open a book and right from page one, we feel drawn into it. Sometimes it is the opposite feeling: we will put the book back on the shelf. It was not the right time for us to meet. 

The challenge is to make a method out of it: I will call that method Guerilla hermeneutics. First, as writer and as reader we have to mask ourselves. What does this mean? Does it mean to use different names, like Kierkegaard used to do, to play a game of authorship, publishing and confusing authorities? Somehow yes: but we do not have to change our name. Does it mean to be an unreliable narrator? Yes and no. We must figure out how to talk about something without being discovered as the one writing it. This means constantly change positions, gliding on the process of producing meaning, the process of signification.

But as a reader I might do this as well: Don`t reveal yourself as the reader. Stay in touch with the text without getting yourself into the position of reading. This means to look out for entries and exists within a text, positions you can take and positions you might leave behind. Keep moving. 

Try to figure out the arguments. Use them to your advantage. A text which functions as a “bookbomb” will provide you with those arguments. So, write to give something to the reader which she can use for her fight. 

Become a respirateur which produces air to breathe. Trees do that, or coral reefs. Do not let your text be a smoke bomb, rather an air bomb. So whenever someone opens your pages to read the person might breathe more freely. 

Cite this blog post
Martin Bartelmus (2022, October 29). Chapter 28. Guerilla Hermeneutics – Becoming a respirateur. Dark Hermeneutics. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from

  1. Cabanne / Duchamp 1971, S. 72 []

By Martin Bartelmus

Martin Bartelmus is a Postdoctoral Scholar of German Literary, Media, and Cultural Theory at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. He studied German Literature, Philosophy, Political and Social Studies at Julius Maximilians University Würzburg and received his PhD in Media and Cultural Studies as part of the DFG graduate program “Materiality and Production” from Heinrich Heine University. His PhD-Thesis is entitled Cultural Born Killer: Poetics of Killing around 1900. Before joining the department of German Literature at Heinrich Heine University for his current postdoctoral position, he worked as a curator for the Museum of Natural History of the Benrath Palace and Park Foundation and as a freelancer for the Julia Stoschek Collection. He is interested in Animal and Plant Studies, killing in literature and film, French theory, Object-Oriented Ontology, and literature without humans.

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