Décade is a book by Anne-James Chaton, accompanied by a CD of “pièce sonore créée avec Alva Noto et Andy Moor”. The book is attractively laid out, and the glitch and guitar effects of Noto and Moor make a suitably eerie accompaniment to Chaton’s vocal performance. In French, Spanish, German, Dutch, English, and Japanese (the latter five languages mainly distinguished by purple font in the book) we are presented with ephemera (application forms, bank statements, recipe ingredients, and the like) and simple sentences indicating times, locations, and activities. Representative selections follow:
He reads The Guardian. He reads an article. He comments. He analyses. He talks about the French referendum. He talks about Europe. He talks about France. Il a une carte. Il est de première class. Il est dans le magasin. He is with the crew. He is at the launch pad. He is at the European Space Agency. He does research. He talks about benefiting mankind. Il est chez H+M. Il parle de PEUGEOT. Hij is in de CITIBANK. He is with a pediatrician. 彼はカーニバルにいる。彼はクリーニング室にいる。
Across more than 100 pages, various identities (for men) are created through a seemingly infinite supply of simple information – times, locations, and activities. The activities, which locate identities within certain taste cultures and financial means, are strikingly generic. Nothing is accomplished: identities arrive in certain places at certain times, are present with certain parties, do things, and say things. The things they say are valueless and have no effect. All things are presented in the same simple sentences (simple subject, simple object, verb) and are therefore of equal value: “He talks about benefitting mankind” is equally as (un)important as “Il est dans le magasin.” Identities are empty and actions are absurd in the sisyphean sense. Lives are determined through identities, and identities are meaningless.
Décade provides a hopeless view of our world; of life in (post)industrial consumer societies. Some of its targets are less expected than others. The US border is a less original target than the Guardian reader, whose knowledge and interest in European affairs are of equal significance to shopping at H+M, and are simply part of an identity.
In satire we expect a demand for betterment, but it is hard to know whether Décade can be classified as such. To be sure, it demands us to question. Do we act in order to have an effect, or simply to situate ourselves in a taste culture or economic milieu? What is efficacy? If standards of identification are not for effect, why are they deemed important for crossing borders? What is the purpose of borders? Décade provides little in the way of answers or hope — it is not a hopeful statement if one believes effectiveness is a standard for existential meaning.
Décade is, nevertheless, an immensely enjoyable artifact for both reading and listening. Its content – ephemera – tells us something unpleasant about our world. But it is presented as a kind of riddle, like a Zen koan: the transmission of ephemera and empty acts is repetitious and hypnotic. And by granting unknown significance to what normally is not venerated, we approach considerations that, if not sinister, are perhaps mystical.