conceptual writing

Repetition and revulsion

incantation
So a call for effect: I ask ________. I ask ________. I ask ________. I ask ________. The repeat entreats, endures out a threshold in its and again and again and again. A really really really ask “but not only that,”[1] the performance of devotion: I won’t stop since the source of power, the entreatied, doesn’t want me to stop “but not only that,” the source is boundless and will only answer if it reckons me for kin. So again and again and again as “recursiveness, incantatory insistence … repeated ritual sip … aiming to undo the obstruction it reports.”[2] Again.

Of theology, forms, and absence

Left: 'Exercises in Style,' © 1947 by Editions Gallimard. © 1958, 1981 Barbara Wright. Cover courtesy of New Directions Publishing Corp.

What writing isn’t conceptual? This is what a pundit might ask.

Finding (the other) Juan Luis Martínez

According to Chilean poet Juan Luis Martínez’s groundbreaking art object La nueva novela (The New Novel, 1977), “The universe is a phantom’s effort to become reality.”[1] In July 2014 I found that phantom. His name is Juan (Luis) Martinez and he is a retired journalist and aid worker for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

'Fractal Poetics': A rose is a leaf is a rose is a leaf

Iconic image of Romanesco broccoli, courtesy of Wired.
Iconic image of Romanesco broccoli, courtesy of Wired.

Before Benoit Mandelbrot’s fractal mathematics and Gertrude Stein’s roses, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote about a primal plant, “Urpflanze,” which was constructed as a leaf within a leaf within a leaf. I wonder if his Platonic vision for this plant, from which all other plants derived, was an early imagining of fractal mathematics and response to fractal forms in the natural world (coast lines, human migration patterns, Romanesco broccoli). Visual depictions of fractals have no beginnings or endings in time, no inside or outside in space, and self-similarity and repetition occur at all discernible scales. To my eye, these aspects of visual fractals are pleasing. I am also dissatisfied by the undeviating periodicity of fractals.

On drowning

A review of 'I'll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women'

A defining moment in the life cycle of any avant-garde movement is its declaration of aesthetic victory over the preceding team of textual innovators. These declarations of victory have proliferated over the twentieth century and into our own, ever since various modernist poets went to war against the previous century’s Romantic avant-garde’s elevation of ordinary vernaculars, “the real language of men” and “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, recollected in tranquility.”

Translation 2.0

Eric Zboya’s At the Heart of a Shipwreck

At the Heart of a Shipwreck
At the Heart of a Shipwreck

1.

Birdlike, a poem lifts off from the page, leaves words behind, ascends beyond ink.

But then it flies into a window.

The POD people

Writing through, erasure, appropriation, mimicry

Mimi Cabell and Jason Huff, American Psycho
Mimi Cabell and Jason Huff, American Psycho (2012). image: Mimi Cabell

So what might a conceptual, print-on-demand artist's book look like?

Several contemporary writers are using the form of pre-existing books as a container for innovative publishing experiments that they can make available at a reasonable price thanks to POD and affordable printing options. Like the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, these new books resemble their sources externally, but diverge dramatically in content, which involves erasure and writing-through. They are also facilitated by the availability of digital editions of these books which provide a searchable, scrapable, alterable source.

The following are not all print-on-demand publications, but they take on trade paperback form in ways that intrigue me: 

The conceptual artist's book

Are all artists' books conceptual?

Twentysix Gasoline Stations by Ed Ruscha
Twentysix Gasoline Stations by Ed Ruscha (1962), image via Franciselliott, Wikipedia.

This fall I am co-organizing a symposium through the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington called “Affect and Audience in the Digital Age.” A collaboration between researchers in poetics from the Bothell and Seattle campuses of UW, our event explores the impact of digital mediation on contemporary poetry. Here is how my co-organizers Sarah Dowling, Brian Reed, and Gregory Laynor and I describe it on the conference website:

Audience in the Digital Age is a one-day symposium exploring emergent modes of creative public scholarship. Specifically, we are interested in scholarly, pedagogical, curatorial, and creative practices that attend to the digitally mediated character of contemporary poetry.

Algorithms in conceptual writing

With Fernando Diaz

Fernando in the afternoon

Back in February, when I started this column, I wanted to interview Fernando Diaz about his sound art projects and also — because he's a computer scientist — about algorithms in poetry. The word "algorithm" appears often in critical analyses of conceptual writing, so I had been wondering what, if anything, conceptual writing and algorithms had to do with each other. I wanted to believe, but Fernando was skeptical about this metaphor. After 2.5 months of meeting, discussing, questioning, and haggling, we have only just begun to work through the chasm between our fields, our different values, histories, vocabularies, etc. Latour would be proud. It's been challenging and fun. And I'm grateful for Fernando's patience, generosity, and humor in working with me towards this provisional document.

Not knowing entirely how to live

Kristen Gallagher in conversation with Kim Rosenfield

Kim Rosenfield and Kristen Gallagher performing in "The Bedbug Variations"
Kim Rosenfield and Kristen Gallagher performing in "The Bedbug Variations"

Kristen Gallagher: So this started because we were talking about how we wanted a more historical understanding of the lyric. And so I made you a copy of this essay by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young summarizing Friedrich Kittler’s revolt in German literary criticism, his move from hermeneutics to discourse-analysis, because it leads him to some provocative conclusions about lyric poetry in Germany as a disciplinary effect. 

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