Conceptualist Autopoiesis: a dialogue between Divya Victor (United States/India/Singapore), Swantje Lichtenstein (Germany), and Riccardo Boglione (Italy/Uruguay)
20 April 2013
The following is an occassional dialogue composed for this occassion. Divya Victor, Swantje Lichtenstein, and Riccardo Boglione 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 five of the series.
The question of community – a group of people sharing similar artistic/literary concerns who experiment in analogous directions – is absolutely crucial if we take a look at what has happened since the last big avant-garde groups died (’70 and ’80). On one hand, new and improved forms of communication have grown immensely; on the other, the idea of a strong community of artists/writers working together closely has been replaced by that of single authors who, in the best case scenario, share some ideas with others. This is somewhat paradoxical, but it is obvious that the present situation sprung from the abstruse development of solipsism that has invaded the arts (and society at large) in the last 20-30 years. For example, in the area where I live, the Cono Sur (Uruguay, Argentina, Chile), I know of only a few writers who employ creative strategies that might be said to connect with conceptualism. Moreover, as far as I know, these writers do not conceive of themselves as part of a community. Of course, there are some writers, for example Felipe Cussen and Carlos Soto-Román, who are well aware of the conceptualist movement, and who in fact embrace it. Still – ironically – it is much easier for me to find interlocutors in the US or Northern Europe (for example) than in the streets of Montevideo. I am interested in literary conceptualism because a trans-national community that recognizes itself as such does exist. Through collaborations (this dialogue is one example), it is endorsing a new, shared way of looking at literature. One advantage conceptualism has over other “isms” is that it is basically an “attitude” that does not imply predetermined topics or strategies of writing. Some might see this as a flaw, but as long as conceptualism’s hardcore self-critique and perennial displacement of materials are preserved, it might call itself disruptive (which is probably all we can ask from a “late” avant-garde, in 2013).
Margins and frames (as in reframing) are two key-concepts of Global Conceptualism, along with appropriation. In my practice, margins are of great concern. So is the use of pre-existing material, and the idea of “taking literally” elements that are usually not taken into consideration by literati. This enacts a sort of suspension of the “symbolic” that is, once “conceptualized”, immediately perceived again as symbolic. For instance, my brief Unplanned Ruptures In Geography and Plays (included in the anthology The Unexpected Guest) involves “margins taken literally”: the margin of the page, the physical rupture of a word (a formatting convention), is isolated in order to “signify”, in spite of its lack of articulation. “Rupture” is of course a very charged word. This strategy is powered by the fact that all these ruptures are taken from a book by Gertrude Stein, who used displacement extensively. If it is true that “all conceptual writing is allegorical” (Place & Fitterman), allegorizing not just the literary conventions (its rhetorical charge) but also its literal conventions (that is, elements not generally perceived as part of the work, for instance the paratext, in the genettian sense) could prove, I think, very effective.
I want to begin by thinking about strategies of mimicry and repetition here. Riccardo names “reframing” and “appropriation” as the most pronounced gestures in conceptual making today, and I agree with him. Each gesture performs what Antoine Compagnon has described as récriture— the doubling of language through “removal” and “graft.” Or, contemporaneously, what Walter Benjamin’s more violent but humanistic description of the same doubling describes as literary mimicry that “wrenches” language “destructively from its context, but calls it back to its origin.” We’re enjoying new ways in which the violence of repetitive forms witnesses “language consummated” not in the age of mechanical reproducibility but in the age of mimetic proliferation. In other words, conceptualism is doing with language what language has always done for itself— resembling something that it is not. Mimetic practices operate through repetitions of various kinds— deformations, allegorizations, adaptations, etc., but at bottom, language appears twice: first as itself and then as something that carries the illusion of pattern or totality. We are merely presenting gestalts for language’s continued infancy.
I was at a reading last night, in Buffalo, New York’s Rust Belt Books. As per tradition, we talked with the visiting poet, Laura Elrick. Steve McCaffery asked her a question about repetition in her work. She responded with a seemingly indisputable statement: “Of course we cannot think repetition without Stein.” As academics, we all nodded very sagely, sort of enjoying the context of belonging on the cozy lap of the Mother of Us All. I want to argue that if there is to be an articulation of conceptualism’s globality, and if we want to use its trans-national significance as a way to catalogue and historicize contemporary literary production, then we must insist on thinking repetition without Stein. In other words, we’ll have to circumvent a Western, primarily imperialist pedigree. The critical effort (Goldsmith, Perloff, etc.) has portrayed conceptualism as a historical continuity between two origin myths— one set in European, sometimes transatlantic, modernism (Duchamp, Stein, Klein, etc.) and one set in North American conceptualism in the 60s and 70s (Huebler, L. Wiener, Acconci, Cage, Schneeman, Kosuth, etc.). These artists and writers supply our ur-texts that then essentially allow us a convenient, but narrow, regionally- and racially-specific way of imagining the projects that present as conceptualist right now. It gives us good mothers and fathers, and then in turn defines our pedigree. This is obviously insufficient.
If critical efforts have managed and controlled our genealogies of conceptualism, the continually documented simulcast of coterie has defined its geographical parameters. Of course contemporary coterie matters, but that too is only a partial explication of influence. It is necessary for us to imagine and articulate conceptualisms not only as a product of regionally specific scenes or communities— for instance the thriving and brilliant community of poets working in New York city, and circulating in the gyre generated by the compelling and ever-dynamic Segue series. We need to also describe emerging forms of conceptualism as results of historical pressure and consequences of globalization. To do so is to include a consideration of who else is making conceptual works and to pluralize the poets who can occupy the cartography of conceptualist tendencies. To do so is to explain these emerging tendencies as a response not only to already institutionalized origin myths, or already privileged urban centers of making (New York, L.A.), but also as responses to lived practices of immigrants, travelers, or those who have systematically eschewed the fabrication of localized community by being itinerants. Conceptualism has made space for new forms of inclusivity, but these spaces have to be articulated into existence. Conceptualism’s “globality,” in other words, has to also make place for placelessness in practices of writing that come out of geographic transitionality.
Younger poets and thinkers have been documenting new sources of influence, and they are increasingly necessary, especially for those of us who imagine literary praxis outside the academic-industrial complex, which has historically tended to affirm its center by disavowing its periphery. In a recent interview with Kristen Gallagher, Steve Zultanski notes the ways in which durational arts have informed his latest book Agony. In lieu of citing literary works, he opens up networks of influence by citing David Tudor’s realization of Cage’s variations (1961), Morton Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet (1991), and Elaine Radigue’s E = a = b = a + b (1969). Yet Zultanski’s work doesn’t interface like a Feldman or a Cage piece. The difference is, precisely, spreading. Zultanski’s epic performances actively threaten some of the pleasures of abstraction rehearsed in the temporal wastelands of these sound pieces. His methods of cataloging and confessing also reject the fetishized drone of impersonality, offering instead to oversaturate the audience-poet relation with opaque personal itemizations. Similarly, in her concluding essay to the hyper-confessional work of self-appropriation PURGE: The Last Will and Testament, Trisha “4Real” Low addresses alternative influences on her own work. Citing Zultanski, she argues alongside him that poetries seem to be rejecting the “ambitious austerity of ‘high’ appropriation work” in favor of “low culture appropriation practices that come out of punk.” The post-punk ethos that influences some of the work being made in New York both produces and takes pleasure in a direct affront to the very authenticity punk once fetishized.
These emerging mimetic works reject the anxiety of influence while also cutting up Daddy’s “special meeting” ties. While I myself cannot partake in these trajectories, Low’s and Zultanski’s claims here suggest that the most interesting work happening today launches not from the rejection of the cultural parent (preempting the arrogance of that assumption), but rather from the ambiguous formal and affective muck between the allegiance to influence and the resentment built into structures of loyalty. As someone who did not grow up in the United States, the record of my own trajectories of influence is quite other. I do not see my work as responding only to forms of art I’ve consumed, studied, or engaged with in the last ten years or so. When I began writing poems, the objects or oeuvres they resembled were entirely alien to me. I made Beckett-like poems or Joyce-like narratives knowing nothing of either writer. I was told I was “channeling” dead white men even as I tried to explain that I had never heard of them. Institutions instrumentalize even alien life, such as my own, and I was understood through my resemblance to these men— their beards and frosted noses superimposed on my flesh. As an immigrant and a woman of color, these networks of influence that have defined conceptualism in the United States— whether modernist literary experimentalism or post-punk commodities— continue to remain alien to me, and necessarily so.
For example, my current work engages with durational forms, much like Zultanski’s, but my influences are not experimental NY-school composers. My own durational performances of repetitive pieces (“Middle East”, “Touching Feeling”, Partial Derivative of the Unnamable) respond to a variety of devotional practices that are quotidian features of domestic spaces in southern India. I spent a childhood waking up to cheap, gritty recordings of an epic Hindu devotional 15th-century Sanskrit poem, the Venkateśasuprabhātam, booming in a staggering cacophony of chants from different houses in my neighborhood. This recitative work is highly repetitive and “wakes the gods” through minor variations within the phrasal unit. No Catholic child understands Sanskrit, and yet years of listening to the durational arc of the Venkateśasuprabhātam has taught my body to understand that temporality affects signification. I also engaged with other forms of music that expect extended attention from the listener— particularly those that conflate discourse with song, such as the kirtan, which is relevant both to Carnatic singing (which I learned) and to expressive devotional practice in Sikhism. Kirtan are “responsories” that operate through call-and-response and proliferate signification through n-glossic forms that accommodate multiple speakers. They are musical variations of what Deleuze and Guattari call “ensembles of enunciation” that produce indeterminacies between who speaks and what they may say. The Venkateśasuprabhātam and Kirtan are highly repetitive forms that require an athletic attention to the arc of signification. Given that they are both typically performed in languages I do not speak or understand, I enjoy their repetition as a renovation of syllabic forms in time without ever being able or willing to capitulate to their ideological and religious content. These forms were open to emptying. It is precisely because they are culturally saturated, sacred texts that they became open to being misinterpreted or vandalized by my own attentions. And the same goes for my own turn towards appropriation and repetition.
Conceptualist moves allow for radically varied attachments to repetition through duration in performance. They are epically long, as in Joey Yearous Algozin’s The Lazarus Project: Nine Eleven, which performs an extended, incantatory, nearly-droning recitation that resurrects every single person who died as a direct result of the attacks on the Twin Towers (2001). Or they are extremely brief, as in Sarah Dowling’s Birds and Bees, which appropriates slivers and shards from Frank O’Hara’s poem “Morning” (1951) and the song “My Girl” performed by The Temptations (1964) to construct jarring tonalities within mosaic verse. Rather than attempting to emancipate their sourced material through estrangement (too modernist) or fetishizing an ethos of reader-participation (too Language Poetry), Yearous Algozin and Dowling deploy repetition and mimicry to convey language to its due place— to its continued imprisonment within ideological structures. So, whether I’m appropriating swathes of text from various editions of the Old Testament (Partial Derivative of the Unnameable), or re-transcribing Charles Reznikoff’s appropriation of the transcripts from the Eichmann trial and Nuremberg tribunal (Hellocasts), or summarizing The Poetry Foundation’s website (“Subjects of Poetry”), I am merely emptying already existing forms onto durations that are unavailable in their original iterations.
Documenting the process of thinking about conceptualism might be a strategy to avoid falling behind the concept of conceptualism. The task is to write “about” conceptualism rather then to describe the climate around it, or myself (I, it, lyrical I, etc.) behaving (as in the act of writing) in this climate. Especially if the (production) communities are also more of a concept than a reality, as in my case. There is not a community of conceptualist writers in Germany, even if several ideas and references have a specific connection to this country. Historically, Dadaism, Concrete Poetry, the Vienna School, and Fluxus have all taken place here as art movements. There are also people who work with the concepts of literary conceptualism or appropriation, but there is no concept or discussion of literary conceptualism, so I can’t talk to them. To introduce the idea, I translated Notes on Conceptualisms (Vanessa Place/Robert Fitterman, forthcoming in April 2013). Until now there has been no discourse or community or reference place. (Heimrad Bäcker, who used the material and papers of fascism and the holocaust to make poems, is known more in English speaking countries than in Germany.) Some people pick up words (Flarf, etc.), but there is no academic community that might act as a filter for taste. This field is being rebuilt as a German idea with a natural sense and Freikörperkultur (nudism), in my opinion.
Riccardo suggests that literary conceptualism is a transnational, and therefore transcultural, community, and this might require special effort if you live in a country where you have no conceptualist communities. It proves the concept of conceptualism. The proliferation transfers to the production process and questions the production, not only as outcome, but also as income. As if authenticity would ever have been possible. The Consideration of Art/Literature as a product or creation is rather different than the idea of a work or an act. Conceptualism is an act and as act it is political. “All texts cause exigencies of understanding” (Oswald Wiener), as in “All our prices are quoted ex works.”
The concept of creativity and productivity serves the market. New things look fishy, but they might build a bridge to the bourgeois (“Make it new!” (Ezra Pound)). There is a poetic industry and there is conceptualism, which is questioning this industry as an aesthetic question. It is the floating of the Fountain (Marcel Duchamp) and it says “All good things have something lazy about them and lie like cows in the meadow” (Friedrich Nietzsche).
Conceptual texts are asking, and not answering. My main interest is in the possibility of conceptual texts offering a perspective on writing as art, as concept. The result is post-production. As a digital fact. As a search engine. As a destabilization of the stabilized suggestions. They are more like collaborations and not like competitions. Conceptual texts are not a supply of services or an event. They are more “transversal practices” (Felix Guattari), as in: text does not end. As surface. Conceptual texts are processing rather than producing. As transcripts or transactions, they confront themselves with themselves and are signs of a digital and cyclic age (Rainer Kosselek/Volker Demuth). As conceptual texts ignore the fleshly genealogy, which is especially important for me, using the language of the murderer for artistic contexts (German), another important aspect emerges. Conceptual texts always question the body of the text and do not follow the bloodline. As in synthesizing texts.
I absolutely agree with Divya that the great possibility of literary conceptualism - in order to protrude beyond a simple literary mode - is to enlarge monstrously its borders, both geographically and genealogically. If it is true, as it is, that historical paths (rigidly Euro-US-centric) do exist, it is also true that other paths are to be (re)included and possibly re-used in contemporary conceptual experiments. One of the purposes of the journal I make, Crux Desperationis, was (and still is) to expand the horizon of that English/White sector of production, which is undoubtedly hegemonic in today’s conceptualisms, and in other cultural fields as well. (The question of gender seems a bit more complicated - too complicated to be engaged here, perhaps - since most of the conceptualists willingly expunge the subject/author dimension from their works.) At the same time, it would be unproductive to simply cut “that” tradition and promote only the rest (chaining oneself to the rhetoric of “difference”): a mix of languages and places, with occasional translations, seems to me the most practical and sharp solution when you want to problematize a line - already established - without eradicating it (which would be, on a communicational and a cultural level, suicidal).
A brief note about the “community.” I would stress the power of the suffix. I prefer to speak of a Transnational Conceptualism instead of an International one. Whereas Inter- designates the flat relation between two or more agents, Trans- stresses the metamorphic condition of such agents: its permanent revolutionary status that connects different realities. Geopolitical peculiarities emerge even if it’s a single person who promotes and discusses conceptualisms. (On a personal level, I am an Italian writer who lives and creates in Latin America employing, circumstantially, 3 different languages, and as far as I know, I am the only one in Uruguay who practices Conceptual literature.)
Swantje is right when she describes the effort of Conceptualism primarily as an act rather than an aesthetic affair. This reminds me of Bürger and his Theory of the avant-garde, where he claimed that the real strength of Dada (and other historical movements) was to destabilize the "art system" itself, not to provide a lineage of works or an obsolete aesthetic (which might even be the modernist family tree Divya was talking about). However, this is a slippery terrain, because the industry knows how to absorb the (apparently) not absorbable, as we know all too well. Benjamin has been cited in this dialogue: the point is – mutatis mutandis – probably still the same as it was in 1936, not the aestheticization of politics, but the politicization of art. Global Conceptualism has at its core the abandonment of all aesthetic drives (it promotes itself as uncreative, dull, repetitive, un-entertaining) and a disavowal of all entertainment. In the context of our society of the hyper-spectacle, this might lead to a change of perception/production of what literature is (and how it has to be done).
Edoardo Sanguineti used to point out that in all avant-garde movements there are two “moments”: a “pathetic” moment (the artist creates something that does not want to be reduced to “commodity”) and a “cynic” moment (the artist knows that his/her works will enter the Market and later the Museum, but she/he creates them anyway). Now, we can live cynically the pathetic moment, and live pathetically the cynical one: conceptual writers produce “commodities” that are happily sterile – they give no formula to engender other similar products, just an “attitude” – yet they already embrace the fact that some of their tactics will soon be used by the mainstream to entertain (example: Jonathan Safran Foer and his Tree of Codes). Everything is at stake in the (virtual) third moment, the interstice: the one between the pathetic and the cynical, where the conceptualist “creates an object that creates its own disobjectification,” as Place & Fitterman put it. Hopefully, Transnational Literary Conceptualism’s modus operandi (not its individual strategies) might prove hard to swallow, even for Capitalism and its logic based on fertility and procedures.
I enjoy Riccardo’s point that Global Conceptualism challenges the “hyper-spectacle” by engaging the “uncreative, dull, repetitive, un-entertaining” and disavowing “all entertainment”—and we have a long history of this through John Cage or a more contemporary Anne Teresa Keersmaker, who strip the medium (the note, the body) of its ability to signify fully, or re-code its saturation in some way. But I would be reluctant to use the word “disavowal” to describe what I see as conceptualism’s relation to pleasure, pedagogy, and identification (the holy trinity of “entertainment”). I enjoy conceptualism because of its inability to disavow its own ability to entertain, preach, and conduct imaginary identification. I like its inability to control itself. It entertains, communicates, and “makes relevant” and pleasurable in spite of itself, or, in spite of our expectations of art’s so-called critical remove. I’m thinking of Vanessa Place’s recent performances in which she reads “rape jokes” for twenty minutes, to responses of stifled laughter, grunts, and moans from the audience. And I’m thinking of Chris Sylvester’s recent performances of “Macrophilia Poems,” in which he yells, cajoles, seduces, and insults the audience into engaging with a transparent discourse that openly desires and demeans them. In both these works, entertainment produces a necessary triangulation of desire.
Whatever we imagine as “conceptual” here is a conduit for that triangulation, rather than an obstacle. Pleasure and entertainment are not disavowed; neither are they used as bastions from which to espouse some critique of ideology/the market/culture industry. My enjoyment (and there are no quotation marks around that word) of rape jokes or being yelled by a man in a slouchy blue hat is the last remaining symptom of my own complicity. And my complicity composes my favorite gestalt. Whatever I say can and should be used against me. I’ve been Mirandized— the audience knows that.
Rather than resigning themselves to the cynical “Fate” of art (to be co-opted by the industry), there are artists working actively to preempt that cooptation and to deliver the artwork fully to it (and in this, I agree with Riccardo)— to see what happens, to witness the audience’s slow recoil. The move, as Swantje has described, is to “ask and not answer.” At a recent panel at the Sorbonne on “Global Conceptualisms” Vanessa Place claimed that she would define this emerging poetry as “work [that] does not contain the keys to its own kingdom…work that is not self-reflexive.” She elaborates that she is invested in the “dumb materiality” of poetry— a materiality signifying nothing else than its existence as matter. But I don’t think “dumb materiality” and lack of reflexivity forecloses pleasure and complicity— in fact, it produces them. We are enjoying writing that is not interested in wallowing in a Greenbergian universe of 1960s navel-gazing, in which institutional critique and self-reflexivity endlessly produce the institution itself, affirming the center by appearing as its periphery, blah blah.
We are seeing works like Josef Kaplan’s 1 to 100, Holly Melgard’s Black Friday (both from Troll Thread Press), Brad Flis’ Food (Armed Cell 4), Mathew Timmons’ Credit (Insert/Blanc), Money by Maker and Kate Durbin’s Women as Objects project. These works are self-sustaining Ouroborous— they eat and excrete the archive that makes the artwork possible. It is small wonder that this is happening at a time when waste-making is humanity’s primary activity. Rather than “repurpose” wasted language (as Kenneth Goldsmith has described “uncreative writing”), these works have no interest in making flower planters out of potties, or in the so-called ethos of recycling. They use waste just to make more waste. There is no real interest here in rescuing language’s innate hidden potential, or rehabilitating the “good” in what is otherwise shit. Poets are working antithetically to the way in which any culture industry (if I can use a fiction of this separation for a second) processes the material facts of urban accretion and industrial metabolism. Rather than hide waste-making with the aestheticization of kitsch and the production of simulacra-vintage gewgaws (as these other processes do), they are drawing a lot of attention to art as waste making. This antithetical position circulates in the binary that Joshua Clover posits: “the shattering of representation happens twice: the first time as revolution, the second time as fashion.” Yes, but this circulation is only interesting until the artwork swears an allegiance to either of these neat categories. In other words, as Shiv Kotecha says about his own practice, this is appropriation that does not “attempt to relieve or release the stopcock of textual instrumentalization – because sometimes that’s just really hard. And I’m not into begging for it either.”
“The decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing” (Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle) might be the ground on which conceptualism— as appearance of art, as appropriation of entertainment— acts and reenacts. An early play of Peter Handke (1966) called “Publikumsbeschimpfung” (“Offending an audience”) works with the expectation of its audience and reloads the expectation of the audience and the author at the same time. This might be the movement of art and its unhidden appearance as, in Divya’s words, “a necessary triangulation of desire”, which leads us to Roland Barthes’ distinction of a texte lisible and a texte scribtible. Conceptual writing might be a crossing of both, might be the complicity of contemporary art and writing, as described by Johanna Drucker for example. If so, it is not necessary to write about this process, but rather to show it in the artistic field of conceptual writing. As both a field of similarities and of difference. Vanessa Place’s work, as a performance of the legal field of complicity, reenacts the complicity on both sides, which abstracts and distracts the audience from the artistic act and brings it together at the same time. As the hopelessness of capitalism, which absorbs all actions of subjects and objects alike. Repetition in time or reproduction in form come to the same point then, as the ways to produce unproductivity and create uncreativity. Conceptual texts are a process of production in time, and the performance of time is an important part of it, as in the length and duration of Samuel Beckett’s “Spooool!”, an endless ending and reversal. Conceptualist production is the reverse and forward processing of the tape, an endless tape, with no beginnings as the beginning of a field of performative and critical strategies of texts and art. Since in Germany the whole idea of conceptual writing is just coming to be known, it is very interesting to observe which concepts and ideas flow over to this country. Even if there is no discourse or artistic discussion, there is an appropriation of ideas. Just recently an anthology of flarf poems in German (flarf the pain away) has emerged, but it appears as a new, original form of poetry without any contextualization. So even if a recently published book follows the ideas of conceptual writing, like O.T. by U.D. Bauer, nobody mentions it. But then, conceptual writing is not very “new” or interesting without discursive connections or knowledge of writing as a process and theoretical field. The interesting part is that ignoring the ideas of Conceptualism only proves those ideas (as is the case in Divya’s example of Vanessa Place’s performance of rape jokes). Conceptualism is not only a subtext or a second line; it follows a more dialogical or dual or digital form, it doubles itself and carries its own reproduction and an intrinsic Autopoiesis. And this could be considered a form of appropriation as well, an uncreative act of production.
Divya Victor is author of Partial Derivative of the Unnamable (Troll Thread). She is also author of PUNCH and Goodbye John! On John Baldessari (both from Gauss PDF), Hellocasts by Charles Reznikoff by Divya Victor by Vanessa Place (Ood press), and SUTURES (Little Red Leaves). Her books of poems Things to Do with Your Mouth is forthcoming (Les Figues), as is her book UNSUB (Insert/Blanc). She is/has been a citizen of India, Singapore, and the United States. She lives in Buffalo, New York and is part of the publishing collective Troll Thread.
This is a speculative Laundry List of Outfits Left Behind by Corpses at the 1919 Jallian Wallah Bhag Massacre if all Victims were Female and British, Instead of Indian Women, Men, Children, and Infants.
6000 Calico nightgowns not stained with mud
6000 Silk or wool nightgowns not covered in blood
6000 Calico combinations not damp with well water
6000 Merino vests not splattered with blood
6000 Spun silk vests not stained by rust
6000 Trimmed muslin bodices not ripped by gravel
6000 Calico slip bodices not shredded by thorns
12000 Paris tan stockings not smeared with mud
12000 Lisle thread stockings not speckled with blood
6000 Strong white petticoats not drenched with well water
6000 Lace trimmed petticoats not splotched with clay
2000 Flannel winter petticoats not dripping with well water
3600 Cotton pocket-handkerchiefs not specked with burrs
2000 Evening handkerchiefs not stained with loam
2000 Winter morning dresses not rent by gravel
2000 Summer afternoon linen dresses not torn by thorns
2000 Tennis dresses not ripped in flight
6000 Summer tea gowns not ripped in flight
1000 Riding habits not ripped in flight
1000 Sun jackets not ripped in flight
1000 Ulster capes not ripped in flight
2000 Sunshades not ripped in flight
1000 Mackintosh jackets not ripped in flight
2000 Pairs of Mackintosh boots not shot through
1000 Pairs of tennis shoes not shot through
2000 Pairs of evening dress shoes not shot through
4000 Pairs of house shoes not shot through
2000 Pairs of work and gardening shoes not shot through
1000 Pairs of leather riding boots not splattered with blood
The stockings would have been neither open-work nor black in color, the dresses would have been of washing material and of the sort requiring little starch. Summer cashmeres, delaines, and washing silks would have been suitable, as would have tweeds and warm shrugs. Gloves would have been rolled up in flannel and bottled in prune jars to keep them from becoming soggy in the humidity, along with the flowers, the ribbons, and the neck scarves. Leather goods would have been wiped weekly and the dresses aired. Needles would have been sealed in court-plaster and camphor would have been added to all chests to keep away mold. Gauze and tulle dresses would have been disastrous, as the damp makes them drop to pieces, as the damp makes them drop to pieces, as the damp makes them drop to pieces.
Swantje Lichtenstein lives in Cologne/Germany, writes and performs poetry, essay, theory, prose and conceptual works. Professor for literatur and esthetic practice in Duesseldorf /Germany. She is author of: The Poetry Project, Munich: Iudicium 2004 ( Das lyrische Projekt), Blurfigure or: Blind Posting, Aachen: Rimbaud 2006 ( figurenflecken oder: blinde verschickung), Landing, Munich: Lyrikedition 2009 (Landen), Along the Living Line. Sexophisms, Vienna: Passagen 2010 (Entlang der lebendigen Linie. Sexophismen and Horae. Resisting Hours, Berlin: J.Frank 2012 (Horae. Widerstaendige Stunden), she translated Vanessa Place/Robert Fitterman: Notes on Conceptualisms into German, forthcoming as Covertext. Anmerkungen zu Konzeptualismen, Berlin: Merve 2013 and tries to inaugurate the ideas of Conceptual Writing and Literature in Germany.
excerpt from: donne la/le donne
[all sentences taken from "york notes on john donne selected poems," notes by phillip mallett, essex 1983]
the lady has falsely claimed
flicker, as if about to go out
the lover who will possess
you at that time
even more a ghost than
I shall be
his love is finished
a valediction: forbidding mourning
the conventional expression
see the note
the contrast is between
obvious occasional movements
the essence of whose love
physical composed it
gold is beaten out
makes me complete
a perfect circle
the lady is now thought of
this is not so much a slip
the warm moisture
the theory of sight
the contact of a beam
a gardener produces a graft
their fingers are twined
the same balm flowed
statues of tomb
the process of refining metals
he has heard them
resolve their difficulties
in their state
of extasy or seperation
from their bodies
the soul was presumed
a mixture of things
love mixes these souls
not obliged to
an angel related
to the sphere
the power of senses
the line is not
with a hundred eyes
blindfolded rumour, gossip
twenty more lovers
incapable of constancy
not worth having
whose endlessly subtle
arguments led to
doubt his cleverness
she claims to have
not use for the things
poet, lady and love
Riccardo Boglione (1970) was born in Genoa, Italy. He received his PhD in Romance Languages from the University of Pennsylvania with a dissertation on radical texts of the Italian New Avant-garde. He now lives in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he writes about visual arts for a newspaper and several magazines. He is the founder of the first journal of conceptual literature, Crux Desperationis and the author of, among others, Ritmo D. Feeling The Blanks (Gegen, 2009), Tapas sin libro (Gegen, 2011) and Riscrivendo l’illeggibile (Ocra Press, 2011).
Percy Bysshe Shelley, January 1810
(Roman Numerals Version) 2011-2013
[i] Valentine Ackland, Communist Poem, 1935
[ii] William Collins, Ode on the Poetical Character
[iii] Walt Whitman, I Sit And Look Out
[iv] John Milton, L’Allegro
[v] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Monadnoc
[vi] Dylan Thomas, The Hand That Signed the Paper
[vii] Thomas Campion, My Sweetest Lesbia
[viii] Henry Vaughan, Regeneration
[ix] Rita Dove, David Walker (1785-1830)
[x] Herman Melville, In the Turret
[xi] John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, The Disabled Debauchee
[xii] Abraham Cowley, The Mistress (5. Written in Juice of Lemmon)
[xiii] Jonathan Swift, Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift
[xiv] Elisabeth Bishop, First Death In Nova Scotia
[xv] Diane Wakoski, I Have Had to Learn to Live with My Face
[xvi] Gerard Manley Hopkins, Andromeda
[xvii] Wallace Stevens, Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself
[xviii] Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat (1)
[xix] Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Picture of the Gone World (6)
[xx] Baron Alfred Tennyson, The Lady of Shalott
[xxi] Elizabeth Barrett Browning, The Best Thing in the World
[xxii] Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, The Spleen: A Pindaric Poem
[xxiii] Diane Di Prima, More or Less Love Poems
[xxiv] William Bingham Tappan, Look at T’other Side
[xxv] Emily Dickinson, Love - Is That Later Thing than Death
[xxvi] Stephen Crane, Think As I Think
[xxvii] George Barker, Leaning in the Evenings
[xxviii] Luis Zukofsky, A - 12
[xxix] George Meredith, Internal Harmony
[xxx] Robert Browning, Home Thoughts, From Abroad
[xxxi] George Eliot, Sweet Evenings Come and Go, Love
[xxxii] Jerome Rothenberg, Seeding (4)
[xxxiii] Samuel Butler, Hudibras (Part I, Canto 2)
[xxxiv] Christina Rossetti, “I Gave a Sweet Smell”
[xxxv] Kenneth Rexroth, New Objectives, New Cadres
[xxxvi] Charles Bernstein, My/My/My
[xxxvii] edward estlin cummings, my mind is
[xxxviii] Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol
[xxxix] Hilda Doolittle, Heat
[xl] Edith Sitwell, Sir Beelzebub
[xli] Alexander Pope, Sound and Sense
[xlii] Kingsley Amis, Against Romanticism
[xliii] Ted Hughes, Relic
[xliv] Frank O’Hara, To Hell With It
[xlv] Amiri Baraka, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note
[xlvi] David Herbert Richards Lawrence, A Passing-Bell
[xlvii] Robert Creeley, “To think…”
[xlviii] Emily Dickinson, Ambition cannot find him
[xlix] Jack Kerouak, Sep. 16, 1961, Poem
[l] Thomas Gray, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College
[li] Anne Bronte, A Word To The Calvinists
[lii] Claude McKay, Sweet Times
[liii] Edward Thomas, This is No Case of Petty Right or Wrong
[liv] Anne Sexton, Where It Was At Back Then
[lv] Robert Southey, The Battle of Blenheim
[lvi] Lyn Hejinian, Redo
[lvii] Mary Oliver, Wild Geese
[lviii] Ezra Pound, Dieu! Qu’il La Fait
[lix] Stephen Spender, Oh Young men Oh Young Comrades
[lx] Mina Loy, Gertrude Stein
[lxi] Algernon Charles Swinburne, Plus Intra
[lxii] Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, The Slave Mother
[lxiii] John Keats, On peace
[lxiv] Robert Frost, Carpe Diem
[lxv] William Wordsworth, The Triad
[lxvi] James Monroe Whitfield, How Long?
[lxvii] Edgar Saltus, Infidelity
[lxviii] Thomas Love Peacock, Instead of Sitting Wrapped up in Flannel
[lxix] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Part the Second)
[lxx] William Butler Yeats, An Image From A Past Life
[lxxi] Susan Howe, Pythagorean Silence (an excerpt)
[lxxii] Carolyn Rodgers, Breakthrough
[lxxiii] Amy Lowell, The Cremona Violin (Part I)
[lxxiv] Philippe Lamantia, Contra Satanus
[lxxv] Christopher Morley, Inscription For A Grammar
[lxxvi] Bernadette Mayer, I Was One of the Skunks
[lxxvii] John Ashbery, Landscape (After Baudelaire)
[lxxviii] William Makepeace Thackeray, Sorrows of Werther
[lxxix] Sir Philip Sydney, Astrophil and Stella (39)
[lxxx] Christopher Marlowe, Hero and Leander
[lxxxi] Charles Olson, The Kingfishers
[lxxxii] Mary Sydney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, Si Vere Utique (Psalm)
[lxxxiii] Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (Prologue)
[lxxxiv] Arthur Conan Doyle, Master
[lxxxv] William Bell Scott, To the Artists Called P.R.B.
[lxxxvi] Walter De La Mare, Arabia
[lxxxvii] Gwendolyn Brooks, Jessie Mitchell’s Mother
[lxxxviii] Norman Mailer, The Economy of Love
[lxxxix] Ed Sanders, CIA Chaos
[xc] Dorothy Parker, Superfluous Advice
[xci] William Blake, You Don't Believe
[xcii] Djuna Barnes, To A Cabaret Dancer
[xciii] Bruce Andrews, Sun (10)
[xciv] Percy Bysshe Shelley, Letter
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E ¡CONTRAATACA!: Poéticas selectas (1975-2011) [Spanish translation], ed. Heriberto Yepez
from Aldus, Mexico City
Heriberto Yépez (coord.)
Prólogo de Eduardo Espina
Traducciones de Mario Bogarín, Alejandro Espinoza Galindo, Hugo García Manríquez, Mayra Luna, Erneto Livon-Grosman, y Heriberto Yépez
With thanks to Aldus publisher Gerardo González, Eduardo Espina, Heriberto Yépez, and the translators
Prólogo: EI poema como “Comedia dell'idea” Eduardo Espina
De CONTENT'S DREAM. Essays1975-1984 (1986)
Tres o cuatro cosas que sé sobre él
Pajas sueltas y hombres de paja
La medida del pensamiento
Escritura y metodo
Una entrevista con Tom Beckett
DE A POETICS (1992)
Estado del arte
EI artificio de la absorci6n
Profesando Stein/ Stein profesando
DE MY WAY. SPEECHES & POEMS (1999)
La venganza del poeta-crftico o Las partes son mayores que la suma dell todo
Thelonious Monk y la interpretacion de la poesía
Poética de las Américas
Instituciones provisionales. Las editoriales alternativas y la innovacíon poética
Una entrevista autobiogràfica
A quién le toma el pelo
La escucha detenida. La poesfa y la presentacion pública de la palabra
Precauci6n: Área de poesía: Públicos en construcci6n
DE ATTACK OF THE DIFFICULT POEMS (2010) Y TEXTOS NO RECOGIDOS EN LIBROS
El poema diffcil
Lectritura creativa: Un manual
La poesía y/o 10 sagrado
Contra e1 Mes Nacional de la Poessía
The poet's novel
When I think of Incubation A Space for Monsters, I think of the form of the list, and how Kapil has transplanted this form so common to poetry into the form of the novel.
We think through lists, live them, annotate and move through time non-sequentially as we insert our prerogatives into lists. With each iteration on a list, as we enact it, who do we become?
“The secret pleasure of refusing to live like a normal person in a dress/with a sex drive and fingers/dreamy yet stabilized in the café of languages” .
Incubation A Space for Monsters, is a book akin to movement as a form of identity. The movement is many-directional. A character, Laloo, is literally moving. She is in transit via hitchhiking, which means in a sense that she has no idea which direction she will move. Her body is spliced, part “monster” part “baby” part “cyborg” part “dream.” She is moving in the direction of female identity, an identity between borders, between safety and risk, between any fixed notion of intimacy and the question — how to be a person intact? She is revealed to herself within a moving landscape, but she is also hidden. She attempts to grasp the many convolutions and distortions of meaning that shake her to alertness. This book behaves as a poet’s novel in that the interior movement within language and character is mostly intractable. We don’t care where, literally, a character moves. Who she becomes if she survives is the central question but this is not an answerable question. In a conventional novel readers expect to be told — what happens to Laloo? Is she a reliable source of her story? Who is she in any one moment and how can we trace who she has become by the end of the novel? A progression is demanded. Has she moved forward or backward? Are her movements intelligent? What is intelligence?
Readers of poet’s novels want our relation to the text to be released from the expected conventions of telling. We want instead, to be shown one of any manner of ways in which a text can behave. We desire our own definitions of multiple intelligences, which may require multiple readings not condensable into a limited number of words. We require, not a text behaving for an industry, but a text which wants to know something that cannot be told. An impossibility. We desire text that tries to push against the painted sky one often arrives at within a novel — in horror. We desire characters to laugh as they cut through the imaginary backdrop to reveal props, staging, minutia to address frame, perspective, methods of ambulation and to probe the interior or ulterior motives of any descriptive surface. A type of inertia or a type of cutting is required which feels almost like stillness or violence, both with a similar, though wildly different potency. For example, at the end of Incubation, a Space for Monsters we are aware of various rules, such as, “Divorce then re-marry the road at least twice” . A setting is never static and a setting is never merely a setting. This could be said of action within any novel, but in a poet’s novel action is not more important than quiet, arc is not the same as plot, character is not necessarily person or portrait, and time is often a character or operative device.
"Strike because you are abandoned."
[The following is the text of an introduction I gave before a reading by Charles Bernstein from his book Recalculating on April 16, 2013, at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia.]
In Recalculating (Chicago, 2013), Charles Bernstein follows every imperative invoked from the late Emma Bee Bernstein in its epigraph, among them “Pump up the radio,” “Retrace your route in reflection,” and — profoundly — “Race your future to the finish line.” For Bernstein, via Fernando Pessoa, poets are fakers whose faking is so real they even fake the pain they truly feel. Reversing effectiveness with an eye on redemption, he seeks to kill two stones with one bird. Recalculating Wallace Stevens’s “Loneliness in Jersey City,” he offers us “Loneliness in Linden,” where — as is not the case in Stevens — “Jews do Jewish things” with failed language: cobbling together the six million tunes of the never-heard-of-in-modernism dead.
In “Fold,” the poet makes a prose-poem list of sentences in which transitive verbs are identical to direct objects, facing faces, voiding voids, gulping gulps, fearing fear and hating hate. Re-addressing friends and poetic colleagues, he offers a poem in honor of Bob Perelman in which Bob is presented only by way of possessives: what he has, what he writes, not what he is. His numinous nominalism. His casual attire surrealism. His direct address to entropic homeopathic Jewishness. In “I Will Not Write Imitative Poetry,” Bernstein — teacherly — sends himself scolded to the blackboard, forcing himself to write sixteen times that he will not write imitative poetry, he really won’t, he won’t, he won’t, he promises he won’t. It’s a wash-your-mouth-out-with-soapistry, an ars poetica as bold as the poetic-pedagogical absolutism it opposes, a few don’ts for the post-imagist. Thus he recalculates – re-understands – innovative writing in the progressive socio-literary lineage, the “pen [being] tinier than the sword,” free verse being “not a type of poetry but an imperative to liberate verse from constraints no longer applicable for a new time and new circumstance.” He recalculates a pragmatic progressive politics of language, thinking aloud through Lakoffian reformist optimism: “All the signs say no passage; still, there must be a way.”
And so he loves originality so much he keeps copying it. When Charles Bernstein at 60-plus recalculates, he submits unironic internet-age radical idealism to 1930s-style vaudeville: “Poetry wants to be free.... Or, if not, available for long-term loan.” And misanthropy in the style of Shecky Green or Morey Amsterdam: “I love humanity; it’s people I can’t bear.” And this laugh line: “I am a Jewish man trapped in the body of a Jewish man.” He’s unready, unwilling and unable – the title of the poem in which these lines occur – but he’s still constantly hearing Emma’s drive-fast/race-to-the-finish imperatives, and so his poems are ready, willing and astonishingly able.
Yes, this personal recalculation gives us poems of incomprehensible and uncomprehended mourning – “I was the luckiest father in the world / until I turned unluckiest” – but it also makes possible poems like “Strike!” – right out of the Popular Front, a list poem telling you to strike, but you don’t know if you’re aggressively thrashing or nobly resisting. “Strike because your only hedge fund is your bare hands.” “Strike because you are sick of all that’s called new and despair that nothing changes.” “Strike because you are abandoned.”
“Recalculating” – the book but also the title poem – means that “The Jew is a textual construction,” which suggests the realization, finally, after all these years, that “You’re not even there when you’re there.” “The Jew” is a poem not about this poet but another – revered bearded wandering father and surrealist Jewish vaudevillian – turned 80 years old for the occasion of the poem: Jerome Rothenberg. The poem consists of 24 Talmudic joke-stories inflected by Cagean contemplation: “A reader complains about the obscurity of a line of verse and seeks a Jew’s counsel. ‘Obscurity is like the yeast in a cake. It is long acting to ensure the dough rises on time.’”
Recalculating means: rising on time.
Just in time for election day 2008. Just in time for some serious autopsychographia. Just in time, in the era of digital unoriginality, for realizing that computers will never replace poets because computers won’t take that much abuse. Just in time for retracing your route in reflection and for putting your hands on the wheel. Just in time for poet-fakers who’ve learned for years in poems to fake the pain they really feel. “Strike because you are abandoned” is a line exactly as political as it is personal.
by Margaret Ronda
What might an ecological education entail in a time of planetary crisis? Can a poem, or a walk, or a site-based action, produce new paths for thinking? How might ecopoetics inhabit a mode of collective and collaborative inquiry, a form of radical pedagogy?
In his opening remarks at the conference, Jonathan Skinner pointed out that a central dimension of ecopoetics is “what happens off the page,” both in terms of “where the work is sited and performed” and in terms of its reception — what happens, that is, not only within but beyond the bounds of a given work. Performance, conversation, collaboration, collective research, active investigation of materials and specific sites: such methods, prominently on display at the conference, foreground ecopoetics as “field work” whose aim is the development of new literacies.
The panel “Ground Scores: Unburying Ecologies through Embodied Practice” explored various on-the-ground examples of collaborative learning as path-making. Its panelists — David Buuck, Jen Hofer, Seung-Jae Lee, Rachel Levitsky, Ira Livingston, Jennifer Scappettone, Kathy Westwater — presented their various work with site-specific research, performance, and collective “detours” in public, urban spaces. For the conference, these panelists collaborated on a keyword chapbook — a primer of phrases, concepts, mini-manifestos — called “A Neural Net: OoRS, PARK, BARGE, and ANTENA." What these groups share is an active engagement with the material histories of vernacular environments — places not often associated with ideas of ecology or environmental aesthetics, except perhaps in negative terms (the urban street, the landfill, the toxic waste dump). Their investigations involve archeological survey of the layered pasts that compose a given site and active engagement with the social ecology of its present. As the definition of “Expedition” from “A Neural Net” reads: “What we will discover is not pre-set. The path will be crooked and multiple.”
Scappettone, Westwater, and Lee presented images from their collaborative, site-specific performance project, PARK, which considers Fresh Kills landfill in its transitional phase from active waste-disposal site to a remediated parkland — a landscape of mounds “capped” in layers of plastic, dirt, and grass. Dancers in white-paper gowns forming circles; wind; bags of plastic, socks, styrofoam, mylar; words read from scrolls; words whipped away by the air; the shiny mylar ‘capping’ the dancers; participants gathering stray scraps of paper. Or, as Scappettone puts it: “strings, post-consumer waste, a phantom city block and chorus, dance, and empty horns of plenty.”
Buuck, founder of BARGE — The Bay Area Research Group in Enviro-aesthetics — led an excursion over the conference weekend, “Buried Treasure Island,” to Treasure Island, a former military base and landfill in the San Francisco Bay which is still occupied by 3,000 residents who live in subsidized housing. The BARGE tour “attempts to unearth the secret histories of this site, and explore how this landscape is transformed not only by how it is used, but also by what is elided from view.” Images of the tour revealed eerie figures in white Tyvek gear digging up dirt, exploring abandoned buildings, and removing soil samples from sites marked as containing hazardous waste. In his presentation about Buried Treasure Island and other site-specific works, Buuck explained various forms of his bodily engagement with the site, from eating its dirt to reclaiming the sides of buildings as public art. In such acts, a different kind of learning takes place — an education by way of “listening to materials.”
The conference itself emerged as a site of interactive learning, particularly with regards to the discursive ecologies of the Bay Area. Skinner urged participants to learn something about the local ecology over the weekend, and there were abundant opportunities to undertake such study. On Robert Hass’s tree walk, participants learned about recent debates at Berkeley over whether to replant the aging eucalyptus trees, a non-native species, or to return native species to the area. At Urban Adamah, a progressive Jewish community farm on an undeveloped lot in Berkeley, conference participants heard not only about the practical dimensions (and difficulties) of farming in an urban setting, but about the cultural and community-oriented work of the farm — growing, for example, collard greens for the nearby Baptist church and sugar cane for their Jamaican neighbors. (Poet Cate Lycurgus provided these reasearch notes.)
All these engagements involved forms of deep listening, attending to the particular knowledges and communicative practices associated with a particular place. At the same time, many presentations at the conference drew their listeners deep into the field of language, examining the complex layers, assumptions, and histories built into words — meanings that happen both on and “off the page.” Brenda Hillman’s presentation, “Radical energy: beyond a poetics of emergency,” traced the evolving meanings of “stem” in an era of ecological and financial crisis: “stem” as a noun, the “stalk of a plant most above ground but occasionally subterranean…” or “long thin supportive main section of something” as in “the root or main part of a noun, adjective, or other word,” but also “stem” as a verb, as in “many of California’s deficit problems stem from Reaganomics.” Hillman mentioned recent uses here: “stem the bleeding” (of the economic crisis), “stem the flow” (of oil during the BP oil spill). “Stem,” then, means both “stop or delay,” “stand and support.” Hillman’s talk advocated for what Raymond Williams, in his seminal “Ideas of Nature” essay, calls a “radically honest accounting” of the history of language and its real effects on ecological and social systems.
Myung Mi Kim’s talk, punctuated with silences and “swerves,” considered the implications of ecological and cultural “deracination.” How, Kim asked, might language account for these effects? How does language—as a vehicle for the production of “competence,” “correctness,” monocultures — participate in the diminishing of various forms of habitat? At the same time, how might the charged language of poetry serve as a means of remediating the commons?
During the question and answer period, Kim suggested that we — audience members and presenters — enact a form of “engendering new discourse.” She invited the audience to raise questions that would hover in the air, unanswered, urgent, fodder for collective contemplation. In the charged space of question and pause, we thought together and in silence; we disagreed; we listened; we looked out. We were in a room, trying to hear the unknown. Following a line of words — where?