Daniel Johnston, Captain America and Casper the Friendly Ghost, 2011 (détail). Photo: Caroline Smyrliadis. Collection de l'art Brut, Lausanne

Auto-reverse learning: Daniel Johnston and recording

A podcast by Christophe Kihm

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Portrayed as an absolute oddity, both solitary and providential, the American singer-songwriter and cartoonist Daniel Johnston (1961-2019) has often been labelled an outsider, ‘naïve’ and ‘crude,’ by artistic historiography. Based on readings of his work that are in turn mundane, hagiographic and biographo-pathological – and accompanied by his songs in the background – Christophe Kihm (HEAD – Genève, HES-SO) explains how Johnston embodies a certain myth of the self-taught genius, in contrast to the values of a pop music considered inauthentic and commercial. By analysing Johnston’s specific practice of recording – which is never duplicated but constantly being re-recorded – Kihm suggests that this permanent repetition allows Johnston to establish a dialogue with himself all the while ‘learning’ and inventing himself as a subject. Kihm thus suggests that the idea of learning by oneself be replaced by that of learning with oneself – ‘with oneself’ being constructed through the manipulation of, and connection to, machines (the tape recorder), instruments (the piano, the guitar), and specific figures – whether they exist in the intimate sphere or in the fictional sphere of comics.




Press articles read in: Les Inrockuptibles, Rolling Stone, Le Monde, Télérama, Benzine…

Daniel Johnston, éditions Rizzoli, 2009

Xavier Lelièvre, Sorry Entertainer. La production artistique de Daniel Johnston de 1979 à 1986, éditions le Camion blanc, 2017

The Devil and Daniel Johnston, documentaire de Jeff Feurzeig, Mongrel Media, USA, 2005 (109 minutes)