When we at the Writers House brought Craig Saper back to Penn in 2001 to give a talk about Fluxus, some of us attended because we are fascinated by Fluxus and really admire Craig’s way of discussing such art. A few Writers House regulars came in spite of not having experienced Saper’s brilliance at first hand, but because it was known around the House that he had praised KWH as a learning community (see below). Others came because they still by then lamented the loss of Craig from the Penn faculty (by denial of tenure). On that occasion Joshua Schuster — he was by then a grad student but he'd known Saper from his days as an undergrad too — gave a fine introduction. Here is that introduction, in its entirety:
I have this vision stuck in my head of Craig Saper, at the University of Pennsylvania, in 1996, pulling up an essay by Walter Benjamin and reading: “I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am.” It was a storybook beginning to a storybook class. We were confronted from the outset that there was a crises in criticism and that we were going to have to invent our way out of it. At stake was a way both in and out of criticism itself. Benjamin was a model; that the act of unpacking one’s library could be the very model for a form of scholarship and knowledge. Where else could we find models? With adrenaline and a hallucinatory focus, and perhaps anything could serve as the conceptual apparatus from which to generate new ways of thinking. How can an event be a model of thought? How do you think a handshake or a barricade or a letter being passed through a postal system? All that is solid melts into air-there, capital in its own act of disguise was exposed as a model for new ways of thinking. Or a telephone call, that brings one to the question of what is called thinking? Or to take tonight’s topic Fluxus, the art movement, could it secretly be the code by which a university could be built anew?
Time to say a few words about the new free digital edition of The Fluxus Reader. I think I originally learned about this book through my admiration of Craig Saper, who has an essay in it. Somehow, along the way, I began an email correspondence with Ken Friedman, editor of the book. (I know Ken as a Fluxus guy, but he is also a University Distinguished Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Design at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia.)
I'm glad I have my own copy of The Fluxus Reader; it has been out of print for nearly a decade and a half. In the run-up to the 50th anniversary of Fluxus in 2012, Ken has been getting requests for copies, but he doesn't have any, and he doesn't know anyone who does. A recent Amazon search for used copies shows them running from $449 up to $2,500.
I'm completely thrilled and grateful that Craig Saper--one of my favorite quirky teacher-scholar-writers--has been putting so much effort into focusing attention on the work of Bob Brown. Craig is working on a Bob Brown biography. He's just recently edited and re-published Words, working with the Rice University Press on a paper and web version. My printed copy is on its way from Texas, but I've looked long and hard at the web transcription and facsimile and am, as I say, thrilled.