What is banalysis? An analysis of the banal, of the absurd? It can be so much more than that, just look at its followers, who convened for years at the Fades train station in the middle of France, for nothing less than “a complete and utter loss of irretrievable time.”
Éléments de Banalyse, Édition de documents établie par Marie-Liesse et Thierry Kerserho, Avec une préface des cofondateurs du Congrès ordinaire de banalyse, Pierre Bazantay et Yves Hélias, Éditions Le jeu de la règle, 2015.
Éléments de Banalyse, op. cit., p. 23.
Éléments de Banalyse, op. cit., p. 24.
Éléments de Banalyse, op. cit., p. 536.
Ivan Illich, Énergie et équité, Traduit de l’allemand par Luce Giard (Version française initialement publiée par les éditions du Seuil en 1975), Arthaud Poche, Collection « Les fondamentaux de l’écologie », éditions Flammarion, Paris, 2018, page 27.
Éloge de la fadeur, Éditions Philippe Picquier 1991, Le Livre de poche 2010 pour les passages cités, p. 21.
Once upon a time there was Banalysis, a “critical and experimental movement created by Pierre Bazantay and Yves Hélias in the early 1980s”.
Banalysis is an invented word that means “decomposing the banal”.
An extremely discrete movement, it gave rise to the “Ordinary Congress of Banalysis, an annual meeting held from 1982 to 1991 at Fades train station in Auvergne. The congress, at which nothing happened, was dedicated to observing the banal.” Sound easy? Whenever it seems like nothing’s happening, there are actually crucial questions about presence and encounter at play.
In Éléments de Banalyse1, published by Éditions Le jeu de la règle in 2015, authors Hélias and Bazantay explain 2 :
“From the outside, it is tempting to reduce this game to a practical joke or some belated surrealist revival. But in practice, we were actually surprised by what this confrontation with the absurd can do to our thinking.
What we call Banalysis is a mental activity, still rather confusing, provoked by a rather irrational but rigorous experimentation with reality that is both pointless and thought-provoking. And yet we do not presume that the term encompasses any knowledge content: a banalyst is anyone who, having heard of the Fades Congress, felt a strong urge to join.”
And why a train station in Fades? “Because it represented,” explain Hélias and Bazantay, “a complete and utter loss of irretrievable time in a world increasingly fascinated by profits.”
Keeping with the Situationist International legacy, the Banalyst stance, flirt though it may with irony, nevertheless remains serious and politically engaged: “All signs point to finding ourselves in a disastrous situation that can be rather simply and narrowly analyzed. We were powerless because we were bad, we inept thinkers unable to assert ourselves, handicapped in the mind, occupying the place they deserve.
We have neither the panache nor the talent of the strong-willed, of those who deserve world recognition and power. We have to accept the cruel fact that we are not part of the elite. This radical frustration, aside from eliciting unpleasant pain, lifts a great burden. It suddenly makes us audacious and by promoting the Fades Congress, we intend to make it clear which side we are on.3 ”
The key is in the banal person, a notion elaborated in-depth by Hélias and Bazantay, and which Austrian writer Robert Musil, famous for his Man Without Qualities, would certainly have appreciated: “The banal person,” write banalysts, “is probably the most successful representative of our times.” “A slave to a routine out of his control that consists of repeated tasks lacking all depth, he relentlessly copies attitudes over which he no longer has any real command. The immense desert of modern acculturation is his residence. The places he inhabits all dissolve into the same nowhere. Historical weightlessness is a destiny that is democratically reserved for him. From the banal man’s burgeoning conscience, banalysis emerges4.”
Today: With a piece entitled Une minute pour le temps (A minute for time), French artist Carol Cultot invites us to pause for a moment. On the communiqué that she has been distributing for years, often hand-written, she writes:
“Let’s make a kind of date. To calmly sit without doing anything. LET US SUSPEND ALL ACTIVITY FOR 1 MINUTE.”
Take time. Opt for less. Recall what one important political ecology thinker, Ivan Illich, once said: “Free people must travel the road to productive social relations at the speed of a bicycle. 5”
But let’s get back to the “complete and utter loss of irretrievable time,” the Fades train station in Auvergne that banalysts call home in order to “consider, every year, real insignificance.”
And to conclude this chronicle, let us examine more closely what this vapidity, this blandness is made of.
In the West, ‘bland’ is a problematic notion. Our immediate response would be to say that it embodies the absence of character, being soft or the “artistic blur”. French philosopher, Hellenist and Sinologist François Jullien dismantles this a priori point by point: Writing about Chinese culture in In Praise of Blandness, published in French by Philippe Picquier in 1991, he writes that blandness “is recognized as a positive quality–in a class, in fact, with the ‘Center’ and the ‘Root’.6” And, explains Jullien, this applies particularly to the arts, as they are especially apt to render even more perceptible this fundamental blandness—“their mission is to reveal blandness through sound, poetry, painting.”
Only when we start to break through our ideological automatisms, claims the philosopher, surpassing our “cultural conditioning” to embrace a possible positivity of blandness, “we will have entered China”. The poem “Seeing Off Canliao”, written over a thousand years ago, says exactly the same thing: “The salty and sour mix with ordinary tastes, between them there is a perfect flavor that endures.”
THIS WAS: An interest in what is (seemingly) of little interest as subtraction.
Translation by Maya Dalinsky
Cover: © Anaïs Enjalbert