Diogenes: Defictions: Thomas McEvilley & Peter Koch

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Diogenes: Defictions
Thomas McEvilley, art critic, poet & scholar / Peter Rutledge Koch artist and printer (a collaboration)
Berkeley, California: Peter Koch, Printer, 1994


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Defixiones, more commonly known as curse tablets, are inscribed pieces of lead, usually in the form of small, thin sheets, intended to influence, by supernatural means, the actions or welfare of persons or animals against their will. They became popular in the fifth century B.C. and continued in use in Mediterranean lands until at least the sixth century of our era. These inscriptions, of which some 1,100 examples have come to light, provide our best continuous evidence for the practice of magic in the millennium from classical times to the close of antiquity. -A Survey of Greek Defixones, D.R. Jordan

The message conveyed by lead defixiones is affected by the 'soul' of the object. Therefore, directly following from the principles of sympathetic magic, the material substrate of a text transmission object profoundly affects both the nature and potency of the message. Lead was thought to be durable and crude; a sick metal. The message becomes infected by the medium. -Peter Koch

The collaboration between “McEvilley and Koch - an uncommonly assiduous critic of art, in league with an uncommonly philosophical artist-printer - have given [Diogenes] a new and richer life. In their compound-complex way, [McEvilley and Koch] are performance philosophers too.” –Robert Bringhurst, from the Introduction

Diogenes: Defictions
Thomas McEvilley, art critic, poet & scholar / Peter Rutledge Koch artist and printer (a collaboration)
Berkeley, California: Peter Koch, Printer, 1994

Diogenes: Defictions contains a selection of twenty-one short, philosophical performance pieces selected by Thomas McEvilley, composed from the lore surrounding Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope (c.412 BCE - 323 BCE, Corinth). Diogenes left none of his own writings behind, thus McEvilley rendered Diogenes’s anecdotes in his own words, based on a number of historical and scholarly sources, in particular Diogenes Laërtius’s Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers.

The 11 loose unpaginated plates which contain the epigrams can be arranged and read in a random order. Koch contributed the “text transmission object,” i.e., the lead plates, as a collaborative sculpture designed as a “forgery” of a hypothetical artifact unearthed by archeologists in the dump of ancient Corinth. The work combines self-reflection on scholarship and ancient philosophy, with conceptions about the artist’s book and performance art.

This remarkable and comprehensive archive of the Diogenes: Defictions collaboration presents the work in all its iterations, ranging from McEvilley’s original article, Koch’s experiments with different substrates (lead and various cardboard stocks), and a collaborative volume in which both creators describe their methods and approach to the project. The following items are included:
1). ARTFORUM, March 1983, the original appearance of Thomas McEvilley’s Diogenes essay
2). 2 proofs on lead sheets [unique]
3). 5 proofs on cardboard [unique]
4). Diogenes: Defictions (cardboard ed. One of 500)
5). A variant cardboard edition in printed envelope [edition of perhaps 20 copies]
6). Diogenes: Defictions (a book about the book ed. One of 500)
7). Diogenes: Defictions (lead ed.) housed in a ceramic box (One of 50)
8). A restored second ceramic box from the original edition, to house the proofs