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Who, or What, is John Kelsey? A Postscript

By Anon, 12 June 2014




At the onset of the summer of 2013, a collection of Artforum articles by a prominent New York City artist, gallerist, and writer were doctored and widely circulated.[1] The fabricators of this work have taken some time to assemble a few thoughts about their motivation for staging the stunt.

Amid the ballyhoo of “semio-capital”[2] and “social media,” our curiosity piqued at the thought of exploring the extent to which an artist evokes the dynamics of commodity society by selectively wielding his name in the public domain – what we describe as the advertised personality. Our experiment relied on having the viewer's attention and then pulling the old switcheroo. As such, we spammed our subject's network, masking his compounded relevance with irreverence. The somebody nominated for the transformation was John Kelsey. As an artist's artist, the thrust of his champagne flute is known to fizz with insider mystique and bubble on the tongue of the contemporary art scene & herd.

Fatigued by postwar critiques that were distraught by the elite status of the artist, our project preliminarily recognized that it is no longer possible to scrutinize the artist in terms of specialization without appearing reactionary. Instead, we chose to focus on the phenomena of the advertised personality and the manner by which identity formation is born from the exchange relation. As a result, the aforementioned personality emerged as the concretization of an individual’s false understanding of himself for others.[3] Becoming one’s self means enlivening objects through the effort of acquisition, forming allegiances as a forgone necessity of circulation in the adornment of everyday life. If we may take the inaugural liberty of making reference to our own fundamentals:

“Since the commodity form of value consists in its movement for-another, that is, to be exchanged, a certain logic of publicity must, somehow, saturate the dynamics of accumulation […] Within commodity society, the formal principle of exchange is also the substantial principle of publicity, a difference laid bare in the identity of commensurability. Here, exchange emerges as the basis for publicity, that is to say, as the exchange of all with all. All exchange aspires for sufficient publicity. The appearance of exchange value is the raison d'etre of publicity, […] As Rousseau enunciated, the thirst for publicity is therefore always the thirst for the appearance of wealth, a craving for which the contradiction between the public and private self is expectantly superseded.”[4]

Here, as an answer to the call of publicity, it could be said that the phenomenon of branding emerges as the mode of differentiating private individuals adequate to the exchange relation. It is not confined to monopolies, but a logical precondition of exchange in its most simple abstraction. For the accountant, the intangible asset of the brand is often the most valuable resource on the balance sheet insofar as it facilitates a constellation of commodities surrounding it. The personal brand of any proletarian fragment, for example, would refer to any number of skillsets or experiences it has collected to stay competitive in the labor market. The advertised brand may design itself in the style of its physical appearance, social milieu, digital presence, or intellectual indulgences, all in order to make the greatest impression, to attract buyers.

The advertised personality is an answer to the question: in order to have this world, what must we be? Interested in the way the reticence of our subject in his personal behavior (in essence, who he was) paired with the verve of his branded persona – as a prolific member of the artworld's enfant terrible collective Bernadette Corporation, as well an athletic collector of associations with subcultural signifiers via his gallery (Reena Spaulings Fine Art), writings, and flirtations with the far left – we hypothesized that the two were indelibly connected. When one was redeemed – the other was near at hand, and vice versa.

After unearthing the details of his personality, it seemed a critique was in order, one which, if effective, would call attention to a mode of denial with the intent to arouse, and ultimately degenerate, the frame by which its naturalized appreciation takes place. This was achieved by a sort of inverse advertising; by inventing John Kelsey's antithetical double: Monsieur Roubignoles. His name is a reference to Paul Valéry’s La soirée avec monsieur Teste, a novella about a character who appears as a man without qualities. Unlike Teste, Roubignoles doesn’t adhere to what the humble Scandinavians describe as Jantelagen, nor does he shy from schlock.

Monsieur Roubignoles presents The Kelsey Collection Artforum 2004-2012 incorporated the entirety of John Kelsey's writings for Artforum into a PDF. However, where art works previously punctuated the text, substituted in their place stood particularly young women grimaced in gratuitously pornographic poses. Cringe-worthily pink lips flame in posters pinned to garage paneling, not coupled with columns of art publicity. As will become clear, the employment of these images, which anyone spending time on a laptop can hand-select from a smorgasbord of internet spoils, was meticulously intentional. These women are of particular interest to the inaudible John Kelsey.

What many people broadly missed was that the pornography was banal, not salacious. Critics relayed back to the assemblers their gendered sexual preferences, suggesting that the document should have "included a few queer numbers, perhaps a freeze of the Cockettes' Elevator Girls in Bondage, or the fisting scene from Fred Halsted's LA Plays Itself." One person’s confessed discomfort was based on the sentiment that the reworked article featuring John Waters didn't fit the filmmaker. His reproach, missing the jocularity of kitsch, is better understood in the spirit of contemporary networked acuity and its demand for operators with quick reaction time when aversion stirs. Ignore things which are askew and follow unique designed preferences.

The new version of the articles had several intentions, elaborated below. However, the one to keep in mind, of immediate practical consequence, has been to alter the appraisable qualifications John Kelsey accumulates from his network of indexes aggregated into his own advertised personality. Tagging just a few will bring up a slew: Josef Strau, Cosima von Bonin, Cologne, Nicolas Guagnini, Steven Parrino, Jacques Ranciére, Art Collective, Jeune-Fille, Tiqqun, Marcel Broodthaers, Collin DeLand, Daniel McDonald, James Franco, etc.

The gambit, an unruly critique, played by Monsieur Roubignoles presents The Kelsey Collection Artforum 2004-2012 could be explained accordingly: when a thoroughly patinated coinage intermingles with a currency whose features are associated with popular dispersion, what happens to the scope of its circulation? Or to the screws affixing a nameplate when given a salt rubdown? When Google's PageRank is integral to social relations, what array of words and images will accurately convey literal turpentine reacting on a wad of digital gum?




The methods of M. Roubignoles have been subtle and expectedly overlooked. Once the document appeared, initially through an anonymous mass emailing, group discussions ensued and a welter of gossip did its best to assuage the injury. Salonkommunists and anarchists, at a loss to understand where the unethical approach came from, felt betrayed and acted deplorably. An editor at Artforum, Caroline Busta, censored documents by having them removed from internet sites for copyright infringement[5] while their publisher, Charles Guarino, made phone calls threatening legal repercussions repercussions on the laughable grounds of "child pornography," "cyber harassment," and "copyright infringement". Mr. Guarino reiterated that Artforum routinely collaborates with the state both in and outside the United States, chasing down copyright infringers in China, for example, dragging them before Chinese authorities. Mr. Guarino warns that Artforum is willing to do the same in this case if their intellectual property, brand, copyright, private corporate goods, and reputation of their contributors are not resolutely defended. Additionally, many duplicate sites offering the John Kelsey Collection were censored,[6] but of course it was easy to keep the PDF online. It should be affirmed that none of such reception comes as a surprise. When backed into a corner, the personality will utilize various tactics in order to fortify the means by which its reputation circulates. Its defense mechanisms can solicit a manifold of resources in which it has influence, including both its legal institutional leverage and the social milieus to which it extends the promise of either fame, or infamy.

A final disclaimer: M. Roubignoles implores his observers to suspend, even just for a moment, the intuited aversion that comes with witnessing the intimacy of one’s personal life dragged through the mud. The coveted theater of a car crash doesn’t simply speak to the barbarism of misery seeking company. It might rather be suggested that the pathologies of moderate distances are no longer a suitable bulwark against the incessant reproduction of an imperious social form.




When criticizing any personality, there is at first an impulse to keep an individual’s qualitative determinations and attributes apart from the quantitatively commensurate significance of their advertisement. Here, one witnesses the temptation to withdraw back into the dubious notion of a separated private and public life. This has been the burrow from which the accusations of bad taste emerged for invoking John Kelsey’s personal life. If you can’t say something nice…don’t say anything at all.

However, advertising is a generative principle of an individual. Justifiably claiming to be themselves and staking essential representation, advertising is created as their genre. Not however as an abstract universal power, one opposed to specific individuals, but rather as their own being, their own business, their own lives, their own creativity, their own criticisms, their own wealth. Here, the generic acquires a real and true existence through the idiosyncrasies of the individual. “The truth of the advertised personality is neither the individual or the generic, but rather the already completed and internal passage between the two”.[7]

A brief interlude to elucidate: Having turned the first lap by answering all the questions in the email survey correctly, the screening process for entering a paid consumer focus group proceeds, like all others, with a phone call interview in order to determine if my background corresponds to one of their target consumers. An increasingly thoughtless way to make an extra couple of dollars, I knew the preliminary interview questions to be as formulaic as the last group I attended, and so proceeded to give them what they wanted: an $50,000 a year salary with a mortgage, an obscure teaching career, a frequently satisfied desire for travel, a moderately exciting nightlife with the occasional sexual rendezvous, and three books off the New York Times best-sellers list, one of which I felt was “pretentious”. Having confidently turned the second lap, it was now, on-site and in the actual group, that I found myself traveling off the beaten path and broadcasting something of an exceptional individuality. It became apparent that while the seemingly preferred focus group candidate stayed within a market-researched inventory of preexisting consumer identities and aesthetic preferences, what was really coveted was the participant who stands out from the rest, capable of pioneering nuanced perspectives with dexterous sobriety and modest confidence. The vendor strives to harvest the maverick asserting the innovative and unique experience in order to stay competitive against other advertised commodities. In effect, by avoiding the generic responses, the eccentricity of the individual is furnished for quantitatively expanding the next reproductive cycle of the generic. Advertising does not, therefore, impose false desires, but rather cultivates individuality for inscription into the generic. An individual’s classification is not the subordination of its particularity to a priori systems of market niches, but rather an a posteriori formation of identity conducive to the exchange of commodities. As such, the realization of the individual can only occur through the generic, or rather, the individual is only a moment in the becoming-generic.

The dissolution of one’s character unto the status of a caricature expresses a real dynamic of social substance through the stunted development of the individual as “the elevated imprint of the wrong life lived.”[8] As their consistency, individuals must sloganeer inclusively when seeking public recognition. It is by base confusion for a difference that is no difference at all, that Kelsey can write, "I don't think I'm selling myself so much as something generic”.[9] The individual is the absolute form while the generic is its real social substance. “[T]he only interest of the industrial system is to have the producer or the consumer spontaneously appear as an aspect of themselves”.[10] By its very own unitary nature, the personality is always a split personality. Despite the frequently enunciated separation between character assassination, denounced as a crass overemphasis on the personifications of the economy, and the structural criticisms of the economy itself, the phenomena of the personality demonstrates the supersession of the divide between the public and private self. “There is no disparity between caricature assassination and the critique of political economy.”[11]




When we say, as we do, that our campaign approaches the fictional character of John Kelsey, make no mistake that such an entity cannot simply be contrasted with any empirical John Kelsey. However, by characterizing the personality as a fictional emanation of the individual, the particular content of the John Kelsey personality calls attention to the host of political and cultural indexical demonstratives engaged in a reciprocal gesture of appraisal by and through the John Kelsey personality. Kelsey is both validated by and validates these points of reference. Here, the topical importance of any one fictional character occurs in its circulation within a constellation, or, as an instrument for assembling a milieu, that is, as the total commodity. “What! You’ve read Bukowski but not Celine?!”, or, “What! You’ve seen “Get Rid of Yourself” but haven’t read “Premiers Matériaux pour une Théorie de la Jeune-Fille”?! In mimetic accordance with the circulation and autonomization of exchange value, the personality resembles less the movement of one particular commodity, but rather that of capital insofar as it "is not this or that commodity, but can become metamorphosed into every commodity"[12]. The appraisal of the personality – for which “the integrity of a person absolutely does not exist except in and by their productive yield, appraisable as currency”[13] – therefore derives from the “communal substance of all commodities, i.e. their substance not as material stuff, as physical character”[14], but as the facilitators of the circulation of all other commodities. It is for this reason that all personalities have advertising as their truth which therefore subsists on any number of individuated generalities and cultural affiliations.”[15] For the artist personality, of which John Kelsey both assumes and overshoots, it is not a particular medium or content that is of interest to the buyer, but rather a personality, a view of the artistic gesture, of its situation in society.

The success of the personality resides in its accumulated baggage. For this, the personality exemplifies low-relief scenery and high-relief figuration: the suggestion of the background gives the impression of raised and distinguished prominence. The result, again, expresses the identity of the generic with that of the individual. “The nominalism of the advertised personality reflects the generic by virtue of obdurate particularity.”[16] The effect of using the technique of reliefs is the exceptionality of the personality, a generic foreground reinforced by its equally mediocre background. The artist personality would do best to recall that since Malevich, the texture of art affirms only a flatness for which the surface of a painting becomes more important than its content, resulting in either an argument for the “soul of painting” or the Minimalist plunge into deeper emptiness, both of which ultimately culminate in the deflated cardboard of Warhol. What the artist personality is at pains to acknowledge is how it accordingly followed this envelopment into advertising: disappearing into the vapidity of the unexceptional. Our appropriation of John Kelsey’s Artforum writings is therefore an attempt to encourage his personality to exit its two-dimensional existence and relieve itself of being in relief. It is out of empathy that we appeal to the strained cul de sac of having to either give oneself over to unabashed public scrutiny, or conversely, having to admit to the self-love of one’s personality. Experimenting with entropy illuminates the pseudo-separation of caricature and real life individual. This is the reproduction of the doubling of John Kelsey, a pairing, we felt, deserved clarification.




While the Gehalt of any personality remains the generic as its real social substance, attempts to delineate the Inhalt of any one particular personality do not seek to predict its circulatory trajectories. The point is not where the personality will go next, but where has it already been and how its résumé conceals the fact that it has never had any experience. Reliant upon the empty formalism of the merely notable, the personality repeatedly flashes its qualifications until a pattern takes on the appearance of a trending now credential, which in turn legitimates its continual circulation. Such is the movement by which the validation of the personality is attained through reputation.

The riddle of the John Kelsey personality presents the aporia of a personality practiced in an aloofness to identity formation. For a personality which appears against its own publicity, willing to walk away from any of his own undertakings always with "one hand on the plug"[17], how does Kelsey nonetheless maintain his shelf-life? Adorned in the sultry attire of anonymity, conspiracy, and fluidity, Kelsey styles himself on dissolution. Indeed, it is depravity and loss that is advertised in the John Kelsey personality. When artist Claire Fontaine decides to depart from the Reena Spaulings collective, the latter duly respond by taking out an advertisement in Artforum, dejectedly brandishing what little one possesses.

This seeming contradiction is resolved once the truth of the Kelsey signature is grasped in its movement of recession and exposure. Indeed, Kelsey's most indicative archetype is not the Genoa rioter or the "whatever singularity", but the poor man’s magician, available for eighth grader ultra leftist birthday parties and willing to be paid in an idyllic metaphysics of friendship for “finding one another”. Kelsey's sleight of hand consists in the piddling ruse of disappearing and reappearing, a concretized intermediary making the best of both worlds; a real centrist. If "refusing to sign can just end up functioning as another kind of signature"[18], Kelsey styles himself on the wavering and yet standardized hesitation of fumbling for one's pen. Following the strategy of the Warhol factory model whose works were signed only after they were purchased – authenticated when the collector was present – Kelsey's name likewise appears when there is money to be made. Otherwise, within a select anarchist milieu, his cynicism and sober indifference gathers admiration which are in turn appraised once the signature appears again – a truly sagacious business model.

The John Kelsey personality itself will be the first to repudiate its own atypical appearance. As Kelsey himself admits, "I'm conscious of being half-disappeared and absorbed in a nasty monoculture here, but it takes too much energy to differentiate oneself."[19] Here, in the efficient interest of not exerting more than one has to, Kelsey embraces the generic, rather than deny it. However, it must be recalled that "as the inseparability of the universal and the particular, the truth of the advertised personality is neither the individual or the generic, but rather the already completed and internal passage between the two. While the individual and the generic differ absolutely from one another, each appear directly in their opposite. Their truth is in the movement of direct appearance of one into the other."[20] The reflection of Kelsey's own acceptance of the generic therefore emanates as its own inversion: the exceptional quality of admitting to no exception. "The denial of the exceptionality of the artist by the artist is almost always a trope for conceding the reality of an already bloated market."[21]




Straddled to the noncommittal John Kelsey personality is, of course, the inexperience and flippancy of the jeune-fille, always eager to please, so long as the promised position of experience remains as vacant as her stare. Kelsey's appropriate infatuation with the jeune-fille concerns her status as an accessory to the absolute movement of the personality, and in her fantasies for recognition, accentuates those around her, or at least makes them better looking. The best she can hope for is the cover of Texte Zur Kunst. For this, the jeune-fille is merely one gimmick among many for the self-enterprise of the personality, one for which John Kelsey is best suited to continually indulge.

The appetite for the John Kelsey personality is additionally satiated through his own location within Bernadette Corporation and Reena Spaulings Fine Arts, enterprises invested in exploring the extent to which a clouded inability to identify yields perpetual renewal in the image of the jeune-fille. These momentarily nameless collectives remain as such, denying the presence of the artist until, of course, the alibi of Kelsey runs its calculated gamut. Television producers are, after all, not interested in collectivity, but in getting intimate with individual personalities. In this tête-à-tête, all the time spent in the midst of the youthful New York City nightlife of drugs and debauchery – as well as black bloc euphoria – truly pays off. While John Kelsey can endlessly and unidentifiably participate within the Reena Spaulings Fine Art gallery, eventually, his signature must appear and realize the circulation of his personality.

Prior to this redemption, these collectives naturally find decorative fashion imagery – the most superficial voice of the jeune-fille – to best express the instability and opacity so nurtured by the Kelsey personality. The velocity between novelty and obsolescence – characteristic of the cyclical seasons of a fashion trend – renders difficult the ability to designate with any permanence. What is forgotten however is the fact that the puzzle of Mallarmé's La Derniere Mode is lost by the degradation of the mysterious and the marvelous to the moot and merely misshapen, regrettably championed under the banner of crass ambiguity whose crowning achievement is irony without satire.

Unconvincingly insistent they are at a substantial distance from the institutional critique of American Fine Arts, these groups correspondingly fortify their semblance of indeterminacy by minimizing risk through the diversification of investment. Writing, fashion, film, critique, and poetry – all are terrains that the jeune-fille hopes to make a name for herself one day. They are thereby capable of posturing a self-designed relation of the incongruous and the ill-fitted to the market and other institutional players. However, if you know what you’re in for, even the most eclectic buffet is digestible. Their intention of deliberate irresolution is not countered by the polished appearances of their products, but by the market niche of irreverence itself.




Exceeding in the technique of withdrawal, John Kelsey is, of course, reluctant to place his name on the cover of his translation of Michèle Bernstein's All the King's Horses, a text which, even without the display of his name, locates his efforts alongside the esteem of intellectual Parisian cafe culture, the Situationist milieu, and, most notably, at home in a ménage à trois with a young girl. There, the nominalism of the John Kelsey personality is in le contexte juste, despite the fact that his “translator’s introduction” is less concerned with Bernstein than with the achievements of his own gallery. Such maneuvering naturally finds company with the anonymity of the “Invisible Committee”[22] and the pathological recourse of appealing to deconstructed subjectivities. Kelsey’s corresponding incognito is however, again, constitutive of just such an intermediary position of facilitating the commodities surrounding him, suppliable at a moment’s notice. For this, John Kelsey is a brilliant advertiser: subtle while offering free promotional gifts.[23]

As it is referred to in the public relations industry, Kelsey’s “drip of disclosures” must, by necessity, remain incomplete. Such becomes the case that while garnering the sporadic associations of various ultra left and insurrectionary milieus, the Kelsey reputation expands the promise of recognition made to its constituents. What remains for his parasitical companions is not any subversive set of social relations, but rather a set of carefully placed public relations. That is, the nostalgia for the conspiracy is substantiated by the publicity of the secret. When people glance at the revered affinity group, with their inquisitiveness obstructed, the publicity is affirmed by the prohibition of admission. Public relations industries are well versed in the importance of the pseudo-intrusiveness required for the success of the personality, in which the secretive private life must allow for circumscribed accessibility. The currency of the John Kelsey personality therefore possesses the additional capacity of naturalizing the anxiety that someone might know something you do not.




John Kelsey is fully capable of its own differentiation and exhibits each of its types as having equal access to the totality of consumption, a terrain wherein, for example, modesty, dejection, cordiality, melancholy, awkwardness, and resignation are all commensurable elements of wealth to instantiate its caricature. “The personality must therefore possess a stock of human qualities alongside a set of cultural associations to circulate, each of their efficiencies and coefficients of friction included in the calculation.”[24]

It is an unchallenging exercise to prod a personality unabashed in its ambition for public attention. Of a more fruitful effort is the discovery that even the most hermetic personality exhibits the same adherence to the logic of the personality as the most trumpeted celebrity. Such becomes the case that John Kelsey offers distinctive insight into the mechanisms of the advertised personality, insidious tendencies unnoticed in your common Damien Hirst. “The advertising of a world seemingly without advertising chatters on about what it doesn’t sell, and correspondingly sells what it remains silent about.”[25] Any lack of advertisements does not abolish the social necessity of advertisements. In fact, “even where society has developed in the absence of advertising, its truth remains the unity of advertising. That is, even the lack of advertisement advertises itself. A pleasant afternoon in the Adirondacks occasions a boastful sermon on the pristine landscape devoid of image pollution, a virtue to be appreciated by any tourist guide.”[26]

The brand of Kelsey is the anxiety of perpetually flipping the light switch on and off, never content on either one or the other but capable of treading water without risking petrification. It takes real subtly to bring oneself foreword by retracting into the mob, a delicate balance of humility and competitiveness for which everything hangs on "one's relation to one's own archiving”. Kelsey never kills his own fictions, "even when they dangerously take defined forms."[27] He nonetheless knows that his brand is nothing without an element of danger, taking refuge between the space between two versions of oneself.

Such is the programmatic nature of the doubling of the John Kelsey personality: the venerated merit of decomposition in the service of the momentarily consolidated advertisement. For this, Kelsey must always prefer not to. Mimetic to the intrinsic relation between use-value and exchange-value, this dynamic "both affirms and denies heterogeneity insofar as it has, as its ultimate truth, the identity of the non-identical and the identical. The moment at which difference, or the exceptional, is affirmed refers to the logic of publicity, which must differentiate itself to itself as identical."[28] As a preventative measure, the proliferation of the personality guarantees the permanence of the exchange relation. For this, the reputation of Blanqui consisted in a rallying cry for both revolution and counterrevolution. As Marx observed in 1850, “the proletariat rallies more and more around revolutionary Socialism, around Communism, for which the bourgeoisie has itself invented the name of Blanqui.”[29]

By its own design, the real protagonist of the John Kelsey personality must never appear as he really is. A vicious anguish must corner Kelsey under such an imperative, one which undoubtedly must have started at the formative age of discovering the author of the Hardy Boys to be an nameless corporate team of stock writers. His is a precariously disseminated self-portrait of reference and an aggregate of recycled French solipsisms brandished episodically enough to appear as discourse. Kelsey’s ability to circulate and gain validity between the most boorish and benighted anarchist milieus, and the most sterilized and platitudinous cultural promenades, is a testament to the cunning of diversifying one’s assets in an environment of economic uncertainty.

Squeamishly unsettled by the overexposure of facial recognition, John Kelsey must keep his expectations skeptically low with tactical derision alongside a profound fear of commitment. It should, by now, be clear that “[s]ome see a disinclination toward the white-hot spotlight as an intelligent marketing strategy that discreetly helps perpetuate star power nonetheless.”[30] The prerogative of the society of the generic is to perpetually reproduce the innovatively unique for greater and greater yield, displacing conformity as an inadequate concept for comprehending its dynamics. Attentive to the risk of corrosion, the Kelsey personality remains appraisable only in proportion to his limited access. With unaffected modesty the crossing back and forth between art and politic, cultural producer and dealer, John Kelsey captured the imagination of Monsieur Roubignoles who uncovered the maneuvering of a figure whose performance has charted the newest and most pervasive liquidation of character unto the terrain of a Gilles mask. For his own, the John Kelsey personality seems to have built a reputation on the transgressive, stopping shy of saying or expressing tawdriness, and instead preferring coy adolescence, slipping silently into the realm of student occupation and remaining quietly in the corner, and yet open to proposals.

To the keen eye, Monsieur Roubignoles presents The Kelsey Collection Artforum 2004-2012 incorporates every one of these inconspicuously decisive components concretized through the John Kelsey personality. The assembled hashtags of indexical references substituting experience, the indecent jeune-fille images corresponding to the Gombrowicz-inspired narrative, the appropriation of corporate equipment and polish – all forcefully resonate through the figurative marker of the John Kelsey signature. M. Roubignoles appears to realize that which John Kelsey could only conjure, calcifying through his collection all of those details which Kelsey can only implicitly convey. Compelling others to despise the very thing that charms them, M. Roubignoles emerges as the revulsive exposition of the John Kelsey personality. Akin to the courageous Cynic of Sinope seeking advice from the Delphic oracle on how best to preserve his reputation, M. Roubignoles embraces the defacement of currency.




The personality is the preliminary real abstraction of the self-for-others in commodity society. This universal substratum mediating individuals, while implicitly always already there, concretely realizes itself at a moment when the affirmation of class identity recedes from the horizon and is replaced by an aggregate of segmented interests.

The fruition of the personality is thus subject to the crisis of reproduction of the capital-labor relation in its historical dynamics of social composition and recognition. While the general law of capital accumulation may erode all particular identity formations within the labor market, the universal logic of identity formation itself – the personality – asserts itself so long as society has as its purpose the production of exchange value. As both the result and precondition of the exchange relation, the personality expresses the need to continually broadcast the self, often maximizing one’s notoriety, in order to differentiate among many. Here, “the differential law of affinities became a principle of universal prostitution”[31].

At the origin of the exchange relation resides the struggle for self-preservation. It has been said that “in personality all persons are equal”, and that, “[c]learly it is only personality which gives us a right to things”. This voice located the abstract and formal subjectivity of the personality in an isolated condition of property acquisition. Such a personality progressively overturns its own secluded existence by reconciling itself with the outside world, and “bestirs itself to abrogate the limitation by giving itself reality, and proceeds to make the outer visible existence its own.” The personality furnishes the world with its own differentiated existence and is validated through the exposition of peer recognition. The personality is advertising’s perennial directive.

The sui generis of the personality does not evoke some pre-existing shrouded self, but is the formal determination of individuals in all of their bounty, articulating willful dispositions in order to circulate and autonomize nominalistic cultural meaning. “Since personality is something directly present, the comprehensive totality of one’s outer activity, the life, is not external to it.” As such, the personality gives substance to the freedom of expression so revered by the self, that is, by providing potentially unlimited access to constant self-reinvention and encouraging ongoing self-discovery, ostensibly replenishing further cycles of the generic. All personalities must appear, not as a closure, but as an opening of possibility. Curating is the ideal career of the personality. As a defense mechanism for the law of equality and identification, self-legislation becomes a pathology of regression.

In his withdrawal, J. Kelsey affirms a mandate of self-management integral to the entrepreneurial self that emerged in the late postwar period and intensified during the crisis of the early 1970s. Here, and after the dust had settled on the fragmentation of old workers’ movement, the obsolescence of self-organization as an expression of the class in and against capital finds refuge within the splintered individual seeking social validation. “Public life is about caricatures, and if you’re able to manage those caricatures or even define them yourself, then that puts you in control.”[32] To manage, educate, design, and improve the self is no longer a question of mere esteem – it is man’s foremost responsibility in order to competitively solicit employers and is, most importantly, presented as man’s most desired pleasure: the redeemed triumph of self-organization.

The personality need not commit to any particular message of its own. Judicious neutrality is welcome in a society for which everyone has a right to their opinion. “Personality does not arise till the subject has not merely a general consciousness of himself in some determinate mode of concrete existence, but rather a consciousness of himself as a completely abstract I, in which all concrete limits and values are negated and declared invalid.” The publicity of the personality definitively extends him beyond the sum of his particular indexes and finds adequate expression in its reputation, a means of circulation characterized by public opinion. As Tocqueville annunciated, the omnipotence of public opinion emerges within a society dominated by the formal principle of equality between private individuals. Public opinion is therefore the paramount expedient for publicizing the personality whose certainty of selfhood derives from the exchange relation. Once individuals are thoroughly commensurate with one another, the empty formalism of public opinion becomes the sole mechanism of social deliberation between personalities – that is, between generically constituted individuals restlessly fixated on rising to the occasion.

As the sheen off the latest exhibition dulls, and the evening's rolling panic attack lifts, the technical prowess of narrativizing nothing so much as a bundle of idiosyncrasies comes into focus and the eyelids of John Kelsey sink. An arm crooked under the pillow comes into view jacking the sanguine trunk upwards with a gentle twist, once again, to pry up a single paving stone! But finding that the idiocy of the whole is built up out of nothing but healthy common sense, mid-stroke, effort melts away into a schmaltzy watercolor of the Cape with footnote.


Zac Dempster

Eric-John Russell

Veronika Russell

Nicolas Vargelis



[2] Franco Berardi used to describe the disappearance "of production by a financial [...] and fractal-recombinant form of production [...] replaced [...] by a semiotic form of production." <>.

[3] It should be noted that outlining the historical preconditions for the personality are unfortunately beyond the scope of the present text. At the risk of brevity, these conditions might include the dissolution of the intelligentsia as a segment of society, the deskilling of labor by capital resonating into the programs of the early 20th century avant-garde, and the general postwar prosperity that enabled an increase in the accessibility to artistic production and consumption.

[4] “Theses on the Personality” <>.

[7] “Theses on the Personality” <>.

[8] Ibid.

[9] J. Kelsey, N. Guagnini. John Kelsey / Nicolás Guagnini (Between Artists). (A.R.T. Press, 2011) 43.

[11] “Theses on the Personality” <>.

[12] Karl Marx. Grundrisse (translation taken from Jacques Camatte’s Capital and Community), <>.

[15] “Theses on the Personality” <>.

[16] “Theses on the Personality” <>.

[17] J. Kelsey, N. Guagnini. John Kelsey / Nicolás Guagnini (Between Artists). (A.R.T. Press, 2011) 7.

[18] Ibid, 45.

[19] Ibid, 25.

[20] “Theses on the Personality” <>.

[21] Ibid.

[24] “Theses on the Personality” <>.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] J. Kelsey, N. Guagnini. John Kelsey / Nicolás Guagnini (Between Artists). (A.R.T. Press, 2011) 7.

[28] “Theses on the Personality” <>.

[30] A. Hawgood. “Shying From Fame’s Spotlight” New York Times 29 Nov. 2013. <>.

[32] A. Hawgood. “Shying From Fame’s Spotlight” New York Times 29 Nov. 2013. <>.