Specific objects. In his 1964 statement of that title, Donald Judd returns over and over to the same words to describe his art and his milieu: “the new three dimensional work,” “work in three dimensions,” “the use of three dimensions,” “three dimensions,” and so forth. There’s something about that phrase and what it points toward — not a movement, not a medium, not an art form, but a volume — that has resonated with me these past five or six years. Partly it’s the subtle implications of the phrase, that it is so many things — a description, a sort of technique, almost a name, but not — and also just one thing, the simple fact of space, all around you all the time: as if you looked up from the page and realized, there’s there here. Most of all it appeals to me, though, because that’s how I read — distractedly — and it captures something about the work I do and the work I care to read. Briefly, I find myself most attracted to projects that take up the book, the page, the screen — the many, many sites of reading and writing that stand in simultaneous relation in a given work, at a given moment, over time, and make it specific — but also, always, break it up, make it generic, diffuse it, send it coursing down new paths and channels each time we each open it.
Two images come to mind:
1. I’m in the Reading Room of the NYPL, poring over Boccaccio’s Genealogy. My phone is on the table next to me, and from time to time I use it to look up some obscure name or clarify some point of Latin grammar — even tho I can only “really read” the facing translation. In my headphones: Sabbracadaver. Boccaccio sez noctis erunt filie, they are the daughters of night, and my phone lights up — it’s a text from Holly Melgard. I look across the room to find her sitting with Anna Vitale, staring in unison at me. The text sez: too bad the people at your ten o’clock are being amazing right now, and ten o’clock is underscored with a link to my calendar.
2. I’m on my laptop, making notes for this piece — but actually I’m online, reading an Atlantic article abt Yale’s acquisition of three thousand slasher films on VHS, which I picked up thru Twitter. I flip to Google Docs and type three thousand slasher films on VHS. I do a quick search for Sorority Babes in the Dance-a-thon of Death, then abandon it. More windows and tabs in the background: Yumchat, a ’90s-era auto-refresh chatroom; Fetlife, a social network; Judd’s essay, an imperfect scan in PDF; the Encyclopedia Metallum page for Grave Upheaval. Textedit is open. My handwritten notes for this piece are scattered on the table, a splayed notebook and two quarter-pages of scrap paper dredged from the recycling bin. The browser on my phone is open at Wiktionary — “dimension: (geometry) The number of independent coordinates needed to specify uniquely the location of a point in space” — behind a lock screen showing a Kimochi “feelings” plush: cranky.
What is the minimum number of points needed to specify the location of reading and writing under these conditions? How could we not begin to produce work that takes in many points of reference “off the page” — across pages and platforms, spaces and programs and devices? Books that incorporate the book itself as one more in a complex series — an arrangement — of mediations. Works written for ZIP file. Pieces that involve skimming and looking and looking up and running and scrolling, and have forgotten what reading is and have to find it again in all these things, because it’s all of these things, it’s crowded now and beautifully dispersed, focus held in solution like pink glitter.
So when I read and write, I look to Tan Lin’s Heath, in which the pages form a thoughtfully, but carelessly made transcript of the writer’s reading life, flashing up text and images of text and images from his reading or writing like so many screens in codex form.
I look to Rob Fitterman’s Sprawl, in which the mall directory (already a complex volumetric form) is flattened and embedded strangely in a book, and reinflated with other flat layers of borrowed text.
I look to Kieran Daly’s Tentatively nullpropriated assay from Gauss PDF’s 36 (missed by two), which puts me at a null point between file types, swimming in generic content: an MP4, an uncertain movement, the edge of a carpet, and a phantom urge to click.
I look to Kristen Gallagher’s Dossier on the Site of A Shooting — written, transcribed, screenshotted, video’d and visited and walked thru in the wrong-right privileged body some time after the horrible fact. Dossier: a perfect, imperfect, always incomplete nonliterary form.
I look to Holly Melgard’s Black Friday, in which the Lulu printing process itself is at stake — and what a book is, and what is “content” — and I watch the oil from my fingertips make tracks across its ink-blackened pages.
I read @organ_____ on Twitter. Friedrich Kittler describes a time when language was the only conduit for recording experience in complex forms, then shows us how that unity was broken across media — breaking us up — then shows again how it’s been (partly) recentralized in computational media, distributing the person, what a person is, anew. In Specific Objects Judd points out, “Materials may vary and are simply materials — formica, aluminum, cold-rolled steel, plexiglas, red and common brass, and so forth. They are specific.” What makes a work specific is what they produce in how they’re brought together.