Welcome to the Comedy of Things! We are extremely pleased to see all you of here and we cannot wait to experience what is going to happen over the next 4 days!
For the next 45 min or so, Morten and I will make a basic introduction to the CoT event, and there will be an opportunity to ask a few questions. Then we will have a short break, which is to followed by some information of a more practical and logistical nature, and then the CoT event which begin proper, probably around 11 am.
In 2011, Morten Nielsen, Nigel Rapport and I (along with Nina Wohnsen Lise Røjskjær, who is also here today and several other people) received funding from the Danish Research Council of the Humanies for a research project called “Optimal Distortion: Comparative Ethnographies of Paradoxial Connections”. In my (nominal) role as “principal investigator” of this project (now reaching its final year), I was allocated an extra pool of money under the aegis of what I had orginally entitled “After the Relation” for research activities and travels to strengren the so-called “”internationalisation” of Danish research, Meanwhile, Morten Nielsen also secured some funding from the University of Aarhus’ “Research Fund” for a project called “Experiments and Exhibitions: The Power of Imaginary of Research and Representation” that also listed several people present here today, myself included.
At some point early last year, Morten and I decided to pool the remaining funding from these sources togeher to stage a major experimental research event. Our motivations were both pragmatic and idealistic. For one thing, it seemed more practical and economic (both in terms of money and time) to organise of one large event together, also because there was bound to be a signtifant overlap between bith potential participants and the sort of questions and themes to be explored. Which brings to the more idealistic reasons that led us to begin organising what was to become CoT, namely the fact that we were quitely frankly bored with the prospect of organising anothrer large state-of- the art conference around some sort of new or emergent theme (like, say, “After the Relation”) with keynortes, panels, audience etc, – not to mention fed up with the thought of having to put toegther and try publishing yet another edited volume or special issue (many of you know may know the feeling…). Surely, there must be other ways of organizing academuc events, ways that might capture and perhaps allow for more of all the creativity and expeirmentation that ussually takes place in the breaks and in the evenings of more conventional gatherings.
And so it happened that we came up with the One-Week-Format presented to you in our original invivation. I emphasiese “format” because we did not – and, as you will soon hear more about from the other Morten, still do not! – know much about the concrete content of CoT! However, what has been very clear to us from early on on is that certain quesitons and problems seem better suited to engage with for a gathering like ours. For precisely what might a group of twenty professional anthropolgists and a few “wild cards” accomplish by working intensciely on a common projevt for exactky 7 days?
Clearly, it seems us, the rigid (but we hope produciotve) time limits of the present event does not lend itself to a collaboraotve investigation of, say, “global climate change” or “transnational migratoon”, or any other global matter of concern. We recignise, and cherish, the fact that anthropolgists explore and engage with and to a growing extent also seek to directlyt intervene in such pressing issues and problems. But, we equally firmly believe, these are not the sort of things that the particular group people gatherered here for such a limited period of time should attempt to ecplore, let alone solve.
Much more, we believe, the format of this gathering offers a unique oppurtunity to explore in a sustained expimental way questions pertaining to how anthropolgical knowledge is made. Or more preisely, CoT allows for a collabrative experumental exploration of a very particular mode of idea generaiton or knowledge producion that lies at the very heart of ethnographioc analysis and anthropoligical thinking. What we have in mind, in other words, is to experiment with what anthropolgical thinking might be and how it works. There has been a lot of dicussioon about what a antropogival expoeirment might be – this might our best chance to try orchestrating one.
This may sound like a somewhat navel-gazing if not dowmright frivolous enterprise. But cruciually, as Morten will now explain in more detail, while what we refer to the CoT may play a bigger role in anthroology than any other discpline ,CoT is a also a feature of other fields of practivces both witjon and perhaps especially outsude the acacemy.
2. What the Comedy of Things is
At this point, many of you are probably expecting to be told what the the Comedy of Things is. That is not going to happen. The reason for this ackward concealment of content, however, has little to do with a reluctance on our part to confuse you even further. We cannot tell you what the Comedy of Things is because it is not something that exists. As worrying and troublesome as it probably is to hear this from the convenors of a workshop that you have willingly dedicated eight days of your life to, we do not as yet know what the Comedy of Things is.
For several years now, Morten and I have worked together on numerous research projects; many of which have included participants that are present here today. Over the years, we have come together around certain key ideas, approaches and methodologies that we love about our discipline and which, we feel, merit further experimental investigation. It is something that we have practiced together and discussed loudly at bars in the golden after-conference hours when the more vibrant and, we might argue, interesting ideas come to the fore, during lunch breaks, in taxis in San Francisco, outside Chinese timber companies in the northern Mozambique and from one cold tent to the other lying in the dark on the Mongolian steppe. What we have also found out is that we are fortunately not the only anthropologists attuned to those ideas and experimental approaches that have guided us towards formulating the ideas behind this particular event. During conversations, panel debates, coffee breaks and late-night beer mumblings with you, we have realized that those key ideas and approaches that we wish to explore further are integral to several lines of thought both within and beyond the confines of our academic discipline and, moreover, that there is a widespread willingness to explore these ideas further in a collective gathering such as this one – we take your presence here as a sign of that.
With this event, we want to single out these ideas in an intense and experimental way and thereby test their relevance and viability for a broader research collective. By doing so, we do not claim that these ideas characterize our discipline as such nor that they are relevant for the entire anthropological community (if one such did exist). What we will be exploring during the coming days is nothing more than a particular crystallization of our discipline that Morten and I – and, we believe, many of you as well – happen to find indeed very productive and which probably is the reason for us being in academia. While it may undoubtedly be found in numerous other fields and genres outside of academia, the anthropological discipline is probably where it plays out with greatest intensity and force. It is, we think, as anthropological knowledge-making that these ideas acquire a certain kind of self-contained and pristine generativity, almost like a joke that tells itself to itself and therefore never stops laughing.
The Comedy of Things is precisely our attempt at turning anthropological knowledge on itself – and on the anthropologists. Our ambition is, in a sense, to take those elements of our discipline that we love and cherish and let them play out their internal relationships, paradoxes, contradictions and potentialities on a stage that is set by us but which, during the course of this week, we will control to a lesser and lesser degree. Ideally, at the end of the week, what we will be left with is a particular kind of anthropological knowledge acting upon itself without the unwanted involvement of the anthropologists. At the dawn of the eighth day, we essentially hope to have produced an anthropological outcome that perpetually produces its own conceptual and material thoughts. So, to return to the initial and perhaps somewhat perplexing response to the question of what the Comedy of Things is. Perhaps the appropriate question to ask is not what the Comedy of Things is but how the Comedy of Things is. What does the Comedy of Things do? That is probably the right question.
3. How the Comedy of Things will be done
So, while we for reasons that will hopefully become increasingly clee cannot offer a description of what the Comedy of Things is, we can provide you with a sense for how it will be done (indeed, *how* to do to Comedy of Things may well turn out to be what it “is”).
To begin with, allow us to remind you of what you have already been “warned” namely that the CoT finished this Thursday at 6 om at which point our outputs will be made public (shortly, you will learn more about how and where these outputs will become public)
Possibly inspired by Lars von Trier and other Danish experimentations with “dogma film” in the 1990s, the basic logic of the CoT event is to distort the conventional form (and content) of academic meetings via the strategic imposition of certain productive limitations. Ideally, imposing these rules and restructions should allow for the experimental creation of conceots and things in an unfamilar framework that compels compels (if not fores) us to think and act outside our usual experpiuse and comfort zones.
One such producitve limimation of the Comedy of Things lies in the fact that various information will only be made gradually available to you as the event unfolds (for example, it was only after you arrived here at Helenekilde that you were provided with informatoon about the identity of the other participanrs). But this strategic witholding of information from yiyr does not stop short with this. Each morning (including today) you will be presented with a program and some instructions outlning the specific details of what is going to happen during that particular day, but not the next days, meaning that only by Thursday morning you may have formed a full picture of the event.
Another “rule” imposed by us is that evething that we hare organised here until Thursday at 6 pm will occur in groups. Indeed, the participants in CoT (and here we include oursleves) will be working together in a very intense and at times perhaps also unfamilair ways in the course the next four days. So we trust or hope that you will enjoy and find inspriaiton in each other’s company! Some of you already know many people here, and some of you only a few. However, all of you have been invited for the same reason, which is that we really like your work and are inspired by what you are doing (so once again, let us repeat really happy and honoured if also somewhat surprised that you accepted the invitation without knowing what we are going to do with you!).
Perhaps the most crucial such producitve limatation of CoT (in addition to the very strict time limitataitons surrodding the event incklduing its outout) has to do with the materials we will be using to conduct our joint expeiment. Basically, the only raw material can be used to do the Comedy of Things is what each of us have prepared. That is, from each of us, two artifacts, two myths/mythylocical narraties, two jokes/humoerous narrrive and a one-page blurb on what CoT might be. What is more, there are also certain restiecitons on what you are supposed to do with these materials, and how. Without revealing too much, one could perhaps see CoT as attempt to ask a group of anthrolpogists to be their own “briceleur” subjects. Instead of discussing and analysing how “the savage mind” might work, the present gathering is about putting anthripolgists in a posiiton where they have to “think through things” themselves.
Give these restrictions and rules, we have now more or less reached the limit of what we can at this point tell you about the Comedy of Things experiment. Indeed, all that you basically need to know is this: you will always be working with other participants, tinkering with the materials, incl artifacts, that you have prepared and brought with you; and you will be preparing outputs of both a textual and material form. The time has now come to learn a more about how and where these outputs will be made public.
4. The Comedy of Things Output
Judging from your comments during yesterday night’s dinner conversations, there is one question that you have all been wondering about and that is the meaning of the count down clock. As Morten and I emphasized on the recorded message, it is of crucial importance that you carry the count down clock with you at all times and we assume that you have it with you right now. Of reasons that we already have outlined we cannot tell you what the Comedy of Things is but we can provide you with some crucial information about the significance of the count down clock.
During the next four days you will collectively produce certain forms of output that will have both a textual and a material form. When the clock runs out the coming Thursday at 18:00, these outputs, that is, both the textual and the material products, will be made public and enter into circulation with the wider world. Indeed, while we are both very inspired by and enjoy the benefits of a reclusive and monastic event at a safe distance from the disturbances of the outside world, we do, in fact, believe that the products of this endeavour should be made accessible for a wider audience.
And just to demonstrate that we mean this very seriously, we have already contacted and made agreements with a number of publishers and curators in different parts of the world who will help us in disseminating your work. We will now show you 3 brief film clips that have been prerecorded with some of these external partners who will be responsible for publishing the collaboratively generated Comedy of Things products.3 FILM CLIPS
You might still be wondering about what it precisely is that will be made public with the aid of these external partners. Again, we will respond to this rather crucial question not by explaining what the content of the products will be but, rather, by telling you by what formats the outputs will be made public at Thursday at 18:00. Here they are:
1. Boxes (Kasper pushes them into the room and opens them)
2. Webpage (Katrine/Christian ready to show webpage)
5. The Comedy of Things Team
In order for this experiment to be realized, Morten and I have been fortunate to collaborate with a number of partners who have been absolutely vital in organising and facilitating the event. Some of these collaborators that we have conspired with over the last many months are present here today while others, our socalled ‘wild cards’ will make their appearances at different stages of the event.
Kasper Jelsbech Knudsen, PhD student at Aarhus University, has participated in organisering those elements of the event that pertain particularly to the material outputs.
Lise Røjskjær Pedersen, PhD student from University of Copenhagen, has helped with the logistics of the event and particularly so with coordinating the collaborations with our external partners.
Like Morten and myself, Kasper and Lise will also be semi-participants and will take part in the ongoing collaborative work to the extent that it is possible during the coming days.
Christian Vium, postdoc at Aarhus University. During the days here at Helenekilde, Christian will document the event through still photos and filming.
Katrine Duus Terkelsen, MA student at Aarhus University. For the last many months, Katrine has been involved in nearly all logistical operations leading up to the event. Her crucial administrative importance during the preparatory period cannot be praised enough. In particular the snazzy look and aesthetics of the introductory boxes is all Katrine’s work.
Karen Waltorp, post doc at Aarhus University. Karen will function as the executive producer and will from now on take over the management of the event including all collective exercises and tasks.
Morten and myself will join you as participants in the event to the extent that it is at all possible. Having prepared this experiment, there are certain sessions where it would be inappropriate or unproductive even for us to participate. During these intense and laborious sessions, we will be sitting half asleep in the deep sofas in the hall listening to soft bossa nova music and probably wondering about what the Comedy of Things is. Indeed, and let us emphasize this again, Morten and I do not know what the Comedy of Things is because it does not exist yet. Although we have a quite detailed plan for how to do The Comedy of Things during the next four days, there is no hidden master plan. We are truly in the deep waters together and we are looking very much forward to being there with you.
Before we get to the practicalities of how we will let the Comedy of Things play itself out, let us conclude this session with a brief introduction by everyone where we simply introduce ourself stating our names and affiliations. Then we will have a short break after which Karen Waltorp, our executive producer will guide us through the practicalities of the event.