A Lover’s Discourse


Wall Text from the
Adeline Kent Award Exhibition
at the San Francisco Art Institute

A Lover's Discourse was David’s first major installation. The project was designed around the book of the same name by Roland Barthes, a philosophical investigation of obsessive love Barthes' main source material is a novel by Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Werther tells the story of a young man obsessed by a beautiful and charming young woman, happily married, and quite unaware of Werther's desires. His unrequited love eventually leads to his suicide, and he leaves a note revealing his true intentions. It is notable that, although the book was intended as a comedy about the romantic movement, it sparked an international epidemic of suicides by young men who, both visually and attitudinally, emulated Werther.

Barthes' investigation of Werther and its accompanying social phenomena takes the form of 80 small chapters (or "figures") that each use a single word or phrase to define an aspect of sexual obsession. These "figures"form the title of each use a single work or phrase to define an aspect of sexual obsession. These "figures" form the title of each panel, painted in fool's gold.

The relationship of meanings between image and title in each panel is often apparently nonsensical, contradictory and jarring, but the mind abhors a vacuum, so viewers often read multiple meanings into the panels, meanings that often have little to do with the intention of the artist or Barthes, but certainly in keeping with the obsessive practice of Werther.

The installation was originally intended as a model of a panopticon (a type of prison that could be controlled by a single guardhouse placed in the center of a cylinder).

The individual panels in their random array
symbolically represent a crazy-quilt with holes, an arrangement of bogus ideas that provide only partial protection from the outside world.

At the center of the circle sat a table lit by a red and green light bulb, symbol of the falseness of 3-D visual effects. The table contained a copy of the book (in it's original French) bolted text side down, representing the denial of analysis, a rotating pair of obsessive state, and a hidden tape player that repeatedly played a recording of Werther's suicide note (in German) followed by the sound of an unloaded gun going off.


September 26, 1987
San Francisco Chronicle 
September 12, 1987
San Francisco Sentinel
October 2, 1987

Estate of David Cannon Dashiell/
Artists Rights Association, ARS, New York City