I am going to discuss three examples of Conceptual writing. My purpose in doing so is merely to define one of a larger set of questions. Defining questions is going to be more productive than pretending to have answers. I don’t want to even seem to be making an argument about these examples; that would truly be shortchanging the artists’ efforts.
Mexican writer and academic Cristina Rivera Garza introduced the term disappropriation (desapropiación) in her essay book Los muertos indóciles (Tusquets Editores, 2013). Based upon the idea that language is a common good, the term indicates that the writer who works with documentation is actually disappropriating that language in order to give it back to the community. For the benefit of the collective. This testimonial is the poetry of the people. The question “Is appropriation OK?” has been rendered pointless.
If, as Miranda July messaged, “texting is tacky,” “calling is awkward,” and “email is old,” then Snapchat, insofar as Irish composer Jennifer Walshe’s Milker Corporation has come to utilize its API, is tasteful, adroit, and original.
Doggedly conceptual, impishly ephemeral, hers is an MMS all so simple:
1. Go to “My Friends” 2. Tap the “+” sign 3. Search for user “milker_corp” 4. “Add”
Before she matriculated to clairvoyant grande dame of the Language poets, Hannah Weiner was a Conceptual writer, performance artist, and lingerie designer on the Lower East Side. In light of Divya Victor’s call for this forum, I want to briefly address her Conceptualism. The tricky part is that little record of her early activity has survived. Her collaborator John Perreault reports that she set fire to the documentation of her Street Works and performance projects of the 1960s.
One curious aspect of so-called Conceptualism is the form’s latent interplay of excess and insufficiency. If a given Conceptual work privileges dissolution, then what precisely is being dissolved? Is the text meant to serve as the deleterious excretion of a corrosive authorial edifice? Or is the authorial edifice also in on the decay, and so reified? And if dissolution is part of the game at all, then why is its published output so frequently beholden to relative girth and overload?
You conceived this forum in the midst of attacks on Conceptualism for being a pain machine wielded by and for white people. I wondered whether your goal was salvific: could Conceptualism’s reputation and potential be rescued, could its soil be aerated and fertilized, could histories, lineages, practices, and ideas not normally associated with the current branding of Conceptualism become part of our sense of it.
I would like to consider Angelo V. Suárez’s Philippine English: A Novel (Gauss PDF, 2015) as a testing ground for the political work Conceptual writing can accomplish. This means historicizing before interpreting.
One of the questions I want to ask given the failure of some recent so-called Conceptual poetry is, what are metaphors for the production and experience of black life that do not primarily reproduce the trauma of antiblack racism? What metaphors, although historically part of the maintenance of white supremacy, can be repurposed in the service of sustaining black life? And how?