Jonas and Her Precursors
by Jordan Kantor
Once I planned to make a survey of Jonas’s precursors. At first I thought she was as singular as the fabulous Phoenix; when I knew her better
I thought I recognized her voice, or her habits, in the art of various cultures and various ages. I shall record a few of them here, in chronological order.
The first is Noh, the Japanese dance-theater tradition. Dating back to the 14th century, Noh theater is highly stylized, with codified choreography and a narrow narrative repertoire determining the courses of action. Its performers usually wear masks, which deemphasize their personal identity and make them more like mediums. With all-male casts playing both male and female roles, Noh theater on some level presents gender as social performance, an idea whcih is theoretically refined in Jonas's work On a formal level, the clapping blocks used in Noh, which provide a percussive undertone to the actors’ vocal performances, prefigure Jonas's strategies for exploring the disconnection between sound and image. Noh performers would be perfectly at home in her Delay Delay (1972).

In the second tradition that happened to come to my attention, the affinity is of both form and voudon, which are included in the admirable Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren (edited and released posthumously in 1977). These ritualistic drawing practices emphasize the action of drawing rather than its product; its practitioners are focused on performance instead of authorship (to borrow a formulation from Roland Barthes). Voudon drawing specifically concerns itself wth the spiritual and mythical work of imagining the border between life and death, and the role the artist can play in that important imaginative task.

The third prefiguaration I found is in Repetition (1843) by Søren Kierkegaard. The affinity of both Jonas and Kierkegaard for repetition is known to almost everyone; what has not yet been brought out, as far as I know, is that Kierkegaard, like Jonas, addressed such questions of content through experimental form and structure, all the while with an eye to psychological effect. Indeed, how many remember that Repetition was published under the pseudonym Constantin Constantius (itself a repetition!) and with the subtitle “A Venture in Experimenting Psychology”? In Kierkegaard’s book, which ranges widely in its examination of ancient philosophy, personal reverie, and religious narrative, Constantius seeks to experience “authentic” repetition, only to discover this to be an impossible goal. In particular, the aesthetic sphere proves particularly inauthentic, characterized as it conventionally is by absorption and recollection, actions that are always backward looking. By selfconsciously thinking through repetition as a formal structure to enter present history, Kierkegaard models the re-conceptualization of time and experience in a way that rhymes nicely with concerns central to emergent postmodernism.

The fourth text proceeds from a more foreseeable source: the writings of Jorge Luis Borges. The Argentine’s obsession with mirrors, loops, and non-linear time is famous, as is his engagement with myth, the dream, and labyrinths. However, as much as his dazzling iconography and formal prowess loom large, Borges’s writings also tackle questions of time and artistic subjectivity in particularly pointed ways. In “Kafka and his Precursors” (1951), for example, the author reverses the traditional trajectory of models of influence, arguing for a past that is written in the present. Problematizing teleological narratives of history and classical notions of subjectivity in both this text and in his oeuvre as a whole, Borges rethinks causality, originality, history, and identity: all issues that Jonas’s work also incites us to consider anew.

My notes also include mention of the art historian Aby Warburg. When in 1896 Warburg visited the Hopi people of present-day Arizona, he was particularly interested in the snake dance rituals that he witnessed them perform. Both the look of the snake dance and what it endeavored to do—to communicate to the ancestral underworld through the snakes—touched Warburg deeply, and he returned to this experience in his later thinking about the cultic motives of art-making as a phenomenon. The art historian is also known for his last project: the iconic Mnemosyne Atlas, which he began in the late 1920s. By studying the transhistorical migration of visual resemblances and forms in art, Warburg drew novel correspondences between works from different times and contexts and, perhaps more importantly, provided a model of visual thinking at once analytic and highly intuitive. (In both projects, the topical content and structural logic can be understood as Jonas-like). If I am not mistaken, the heterogeneous selections I have mentioned resemble Jonas’s work: if I am not mistaken, not all of them resemble each other, and this fact is the significant one. Jonas's idiosyncrasy, in great or lesser degree, is present in each of these examples, but if Jonas had not worked, we would not perceive it; that is to say it would not exist. Borges’s Labyrinths are like a prophecy of Jones's works, but our readinf of Jonas refines and changes our reading of these stories perceptibly. Borges did not read them as we read them now. The word “precursor” is indispensable in the vocabulary of criticism, but one should try to purify it from every connotation of polemic or rivalry. The fact is that each artist creates her precursors. Her work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future. In this correlation the identity ofplurality of men matters not at all. The first Jonas of Wind (1968) is less a precursor of the Jonas of the shadowy myths and looped repetitions than is Kierkegaard or Borges.

Buenos Aires, 1951
San Francisco, 2014