What constitutes conceptual writing is still up for debate. For more than a decade, poets and critics have been claiming, reclaiming, or disclaiming the territory of conceptual writing. Who's in? Who's out? What are its limits? Isn't all writing somewhat conceptual? Or, conversely, doesn't the very act of writing preclude any kind of pure conceptuality? But in all the back and forth, two facts remain firm. One, that conceptual writing — however we define that term — has come to represent a new avant-garde in poetry and poetics. And two, that the term conceptual writing alludes to Conceptual art. Now that we're at least eight minutes in to conceptual writing’s fifteen minutes of fame, it’s time to query that relationship.
One of the central unified field theories of quantum gravity is string theory or superstring theory, where spacetime is conceived of as an ambiguous ecology. In string theory, the known universe is thought to be part of a larger wilderness of universes, the multiverse, which is comprised of multiple and perhaps infinite dimensions of space and time that are created by collisions between subatomic, vibrating membranes of energy known as open and closed strings. The theory defines the evolution of space and matter from the connections between these vibrating membranes of energy. String theorists aim to reconcile quantum mechanics and relativity into a single description of physical reality that is often referred to in contemporary physics as a Theory of Everything.
Upon reading Christine Wertheim’s mUtter-bAbel (Counterpath Books, 2014), where Wertheim tells the “story of language and some bodies of the word made flesh in a child’s imagination” through visual poems often highlighting the letter “o” that sonically treat words as “vocal organs,” I thought about the open and closed strings in string theory and wondered if the author was—consciously or without intent—responding to the colliding, subatomic, vibrating membranes of energy that string theorists think create the multiple dimensions of the multiverse.
derek beaulieu’s Prose of the Trans-Canada is an epic inscribed scroll, a graphemic saga as Odyssean and graphic a roadtrip as traveling the eponymous Trans-Canada highway. The 16” x 52” work is named after Blaise Cendrars’ monumental Prose of the Trans-Siberian (1913), a milestone in the history of artists books and visual poetry.
beaulieu writes that naming it after Cendrars' work, “places it within a continuity of engagements with the artist's book (as Cendrars' volume is considered an early progenitor of that form). Cendrars’ Prose of the Trans-Siberian was also a reply to the architecture of modernism: if 150 copies of Cendrars’ volume were placed end-to-end, the result would be the same length as the height of that symbol of Parisian Modernity, the Eiffel Tower.
The following is an occassional dialogue composed for this occassion. Derek Beaulieu and Natalia Fedorova may not have met apart from the artifice of this conversation. Nonetheless, there is a conceit of some commonality of interest and points of divergence. This is part two of the series.
Derek Beaulieu Both my concrete poetry and my conceptual writing focus on distancing myself from subjective representation. I am fascinated by Place and Fitterman’s idea of the Sobject and by Goldsmith’s proclamation that “I am interested in subjectivity, just not my own.” Goldsmith argues that Conceptual writing is only the 2nd truly international writing movement, coming approximately 50 years after the formulation of Concrete Poetry.
Natalia FedorovaSobjectivity translated into the post-soviet reality will read: “re-politicization of the form” as a key tendency in reanimating conceptualist ostranenie of the language from the official propaganda. History is recycling itself in the absurd Kafka-esque Pussy Riot trial that calls for the same methods today as in the Soviet times.