PERFORM-a-TEXT: Becky Cremin writing about and around text performed and performing.

The definition of performance is ‘the action or process of performing’. Performance is an object in a state of being; it involves interaction, it involves the exchange of energy. My explorations aim to deal with examining poetic performance as a plural event which is under constant construction in:



Examining: Carla Harryman’s Adorno’s Noise

Carla Harryman’s Adorno’s Noise is a self structured work which reaches out towards worlds of language, dialectics, art, sexuality, memory, politics, poetry, writing, the self, the object, space and Adorno. Carla Harryman plunges us into her minds eye- into her world which is a complex object fighting for its place in the world. Adorno’s Noise is a complex work, which aims to challenge. Like the Harryman work which has gone before it, this new example of her writing does not shy away from complexity of thought or process. This complexity makes this work initially daunting to engage with; this feeling of daunting is not a negative one, but one which spurs the reader on to uncover the meaning of the text. The text is a noise; a hybrid of hisses and spits from across genres. Harryman plunges us directly into this noise; a noise we are unfamiliar with, a noise which is forcing us to listen, a noise which is asking for change.
There is a need to uncover what this noise means; you must be willing to translate it. Carla Harryman demands that you listen and listen with intent. This text demands that you listen and listen throughout. Yet what are the implications of this intent listening and is it possible? Has Harryman constructed a dense enough text to be physically deconstructing itself?
I must firstly turn our attention to the title: “Adorno’s Noise”. There are instant connotations of thought here and from the beginning Harryman has set up a very open dialogue with Adorno’s work. Yet will this book be just that; noise from Adorno? I must admit that this text is noise, but it is certainly not purely Adorno, it is very much saturated with the voice of Harryman.
Adorno’s Noise is a melting pot of thought and dwells on and samples from one of Adorno’s key texts; Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. Adorno’s text is similar to Harryman's in that they both draw on a wealth of experience and offer a critical and political journey for the reader. Adorno’s text dwells on a damaged life; it is posing the possibility of teaching a “good life”. I will not dwell on Minima Moralia, but feel it is important to foreground any thoughts on Harryman’s text by taking a little time to look at what is causing her noise.
Minima Moralia is a dense text posing difficult questions of life, politics and place, which remain questions to be considered today. It is this questioning which I think is of great significance. I want then to open my discussion of Harryman’s text with these words from Adorno;

Today self consciousness no longer means anything but reflection on the ego as
embarrassment, as realisation of impotence: knowing that one is nothing.

In many people it is already an impertinence to say

The splinter in your eye is the best magnifying glass.[1]

Reflection on the ego is a laughable offence; the “I” is an irrelevant, there is an instant image of the “I” being “splintered”; it is being obliterated. Adorno poses many questions in his text, but this is one which is key to understanding and engaging with Harryman’s text and the use of voice within her work. We must remember then that Harryman’s noise is one where the “I” has been splintered and is still shattering.
The “I” as I see it is not only author and reader, but object and the object which Carla Harryman has created is one of great pleasure. The object itself is a magnified and splintered experience. If we consider firstly its visual form, it a flickering sign system which we the reader must negotiate. Adorno’s Noise is physical, it is blacked out pages/ lists/ inversions/ mirrors/ repetitions/ bolds/ narratives/ spaces/ italics/ bullets/ questions/ non narratives/ statements/ scores/ notes. It is noise; a visual and textual noise. Harryman by doing this is offering an essay which is a series of processes, each given its own space to exist. This space is important to recognise as it is these spaces or voids which offer the reader rest, and allow us to see how all of these different experiences can co-exist to form the basis for this one essay. Using these methods Harryman also suggests that text is image and this impacts how we negotiate this text which has now become; object.
In terms of the visual Harryman has created an oscillating essay, which does not stray too far from the rules, but just far enough to make it difficult and uneasy to negotiate. It is this negotiation of the text which I think makes this work such a success. We the reader must find our own strategy of listening in order to make this a personal reading experience. The text demands interaction and a sense of play from the reader and it is this sense of play which is key to the shattering of the “I” in the object. It is this sense of play which immediately notifies the reader that we are entering a very physical reading experience where definition is elusive. Harryman is offering up a space where the commodity of the very object we hold is being torn apart; it is being “magnified” and “splintered” using the techniques of Adorno.
This visual quality is directly reflected in the content of Adorno’s Noise. It is divided into a series of viewing chapters, Harryman is constantly shifting her focus; sections jump into the next as we are led through a language which moves from tones of the personal, to theoretical, to poetic, through sampled texts. Harryman has created a text which is lived in, this noise is a hybrid soundscape, yet it oscillates and changes in pitch, pace and volume. It is a consuming experience. This oscillating quality allows Harryman to maintain a distance with the object as it shifts and eludes definition.
In writing a poem she is not writing a novel in writing a novel she is not
writing an essay in writing an essay she is not writing a diatribe in writing a
diatribe she is not putting her body on the line in putting her body on the line
she is not going to jail in going to jail she is not getting a job in getting a
job she is not protesting in protesting she is not elucidating her point of view
in elucidating her point of view she is not writing a poem.[2]

We see Harryman define through the negative; what a poem is not, what she is not, what the reader is not. This attempted definition is important to recognise when we are dealing with a text which is eluding its own definition as object; this text is not a poem, it is not a theory, it is not an essay. Harryman plays with this repetition of image to create and build a series of differences, there is an ebb and flow of what this text could be. Deconstruction of the “I” is constantly occurring here. Yet Harryman pushes this deconstruction further by putting the body of her text on the line. Adorno writes that ‘the whole is the false’[3], and we see this at work in Adorno’s Noise. The labour of listening forces us to watch Harryman write, the negative constructs the positive and this chapter is an example of how she constructs a text. These shifts in definitions are not unfamiliar to Harryman; it is what I find pleasing in her work.

This idea of shifting definition is found throughout Harryman’s texts, yet what is most interesting is that Harryman focuses on trying to find definition within a text which is eluding it. It is these slippages which make Adorno’s Noise relevant to contemporary poets of today. Her language is not only pushing against definition, but she points at the idea of defining ‘the object’ with severity; it is under attack.


In her chapter “Just Noise” Harryman presents us with a list of names that include: Elizabeth Grosz, Kathy Acker and Jackson Maclow, attached to each is a weighty footnote. These footnotes are then removed from context and placed as text in the “Reprise”. The object of the footnote is being shifted; it is being communicated. This act of communication takes place by the careful placement and repetition of phrase. This labour of repetition is clearly of interest to Harryman and forms a key aspect of her writing process. By moving language its status as object is altered and this action leads to a new informed act of communication. The most important aspect of this action is that it shows that Harryman’s form is her content; the building blocks of language are exposed and re-addressed. Harryman’s building blocks of language are moved and re-moved. Adorno’s Noise is not only in dialogue with critical thought, but critical thought is being performed for us.

This labour of writing is paralleled in our labour of reading. Harryman in her performance texts sets about constructing a laboured reading experience, by laboured I mean that we work through the text, building it as we go. Harryman opens up the possibility of writing as not only a way of communicating ideas but a process of actions. Harryman is Brechtian in her positioning; she exposes the process of thought in this work. We know that objects for Harryman are not mere entities but essential constructs surrounding us. It is important to consider their status and Harryman exposes the status of the theoretical text, the personal text and the poetic text by not only placing these all side by side, but intertwining them. The labour of finding the stitches in this work is that of the reader if we choose to look for them. These stitches are well hidden, yet we know they remain and hold this network of texts together. The object of language is being exploded here and we must explode our views with it.

I ask us now to move from thinking about language in Adorno’s Noise to thinking about the reading of this text. Contemporary poetics concerns itself with how we read and there is something concrete about Harryman’s text; it is a mix of solid objects who seamlessly merge. Yet each chapter offers a shift and addresses a newness, they are all underpinned by our reading experience and the way Harryman not only gets us to read, but listen. Adorno’s Noise is a talking text which we engage with physically, temporally and emotionally. It is a space which asks us to consider our reactions and interactions as a reader and questions the very object of text.

This question continues throughout the piece and we are encouraged as readers to move through the text;

The preference is to move through the confrontation. This is executed. The
confrontation, which has tilted upward right in front of the noses passes into
the mimetic as it, mimesis, it passed through.[5]

A passing through of thought. Harryman offers an image of this noise passing through the body. She is offering ideas oh how reader should respond bodily to a critical text. Critical writing should be passed through, should be engaged with and be engaging. It speaks to a newness and a contemporary theoretical thought process. We pass through Adorno’s Noise until we reach a crescendo of noise, an “orgasm” fuelled by a poetic energy. Throughout this text Harryman sets up expectation, an expectation that this orgasm of sound will occur. Yet we are constantly assaulted by lack and ever eluding definition of what this text is. This lack is culled by the onset of Harryman’s orgasmic voice. This purely physical end to Adorno’s Noise is a climax to the readers’ very active and participatory reading; Harryman fills our lack not with definition but with hope that this text is allowed to exist.

In Adorno’s Noise, Harryman has constructed not only a text, but a temporal space to examine and form a dialogue between critical theory, poetry, spatiality and performance of object and text. This text is a performing text as we do not only read it, but listen to it and it is this listening which fills the voids of reading. Adorno’s Noise is a collage of experience and is a space where the text within is allowed to battle internally with itself and externally with the reader.

It is the battle for definition which is this text’s strength. Harryman’s work must be considered as poetic, as theory and as performing textual object. It is not a book which will sit comfortably on a shelf; it will whisper out at you and keep constructing new noise. It is this constant capacity to communicate anew which makes this text an important one to be considered in the light of contemporary theory. Adorno’s Noise is at play with itself and those texts it is in dialogue with; it floats happily between genres.

The noise of this text will continue and oscillate through more texts. As a piece of contemporary theory it challenges its very genre and asks its readers to consider the advantage of a space which is still defining itself. It is a text which will not be “ensnared”.

[1] Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, Theodor Adorno, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott, Verso, (London, 1978), pg 50

[2] Adorno’s Noise, Carla Harryman, Essay Press, (Ohio, 2008) pg 89
[3] Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, Theodor Adorno, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott, Verso, (London, 1978), pg 50

[4] Adorno’s Noise, Carla Harryman, Essay Press, (Ohio, 2008) pg 20.
[5] Adorno’s Noise, Carla Harryman, Essay Press, (Ohio, 2008) pg 7.


  1. This is a pleasure
    and an expectant / anticipated pleasure.

    You say
    the object which Carla Harryman has created is one of great pleasure.

    I have found
    a section of Adorno's Noise online

    and I agree it is the shifting in the writing that is pleasure. It is the pleasure in the writing that is pleasure and then the shifting in the writing is a release that is pleasure.

    In the section I have found I find pleasure here:

    points are reached at every point slimmed mirror prunes mere mourning rave

    Everyone now began to tear at Adorno. An orgasm is an elegy. I can’t explain
    this rationally.

    This splinter, to show you my pleasure, is a minimisation.

    This section I found is a minimisation
    of Adorno's Noise

    A minim.

    Until I read Adorno's Noise I won't quite know but how you describe it I think it too, all of it, says I am not whole. I am part of a larger


    This splinter, to show you my pleasure
    is a cinematic cut
    is a dramatic switch
    is a different task
    is a concurrent function
    is a signal change

    You say
    sense of play
    shatters the 'I'

    I say
    sense of play
    shatters the 'you'

    we say
    state of play
    shatters the 'they'

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  3. Excellent review, and Harryman's work sound extremely compelling, and this is so spot on for Adorno as well:

    "This complexity makes this work initially daunting to engage with" - this is utterly so in Minima Moralia - forced always to put these disturbing but epiphenomenally consistent claims to the test of self-experience, thus thinking in the negative about the social.

    "Harryman plunges us directly into this noise; a noise we are unfamiliar with, a noise which is forcing us to listen, a noise which is asking for change." - couldn't agree more - and Adorno's musical dialectic in performance and criticism is one and the same as his critical dialectic, which is absolutely as you say "physical" - a point made so strong in his work, and his most radical and still today most unrealised insight. Great one zillakilla, poetric terrorist!