Some of the most extreme acts of writing now being composed in the capitalist Anthropocene are being performed by petrochemicals. What does it look like to write in response to this writing? How do we “make oil a more conceptually powerful part of our knowing,” as Imre Szeman suggests must happen as part of any larger political activism?
Craig Dworkin’s collaboration with conceptual percussionist Jarrod Fowler, Rhythmic Fact, provides a striking limit-case of legibility. The work is comprised of a short piece of text printed on the label side of a blank Compact Disc-Recordable, or CD-R. As with other iterations in Dworkin’s “Fact” series, the text exhaustively details the chemical composition of the medium in which it is concretized:
“Amongst other Diversions and Recreations practiced by, and delightful to, the Inhabitants of this Island; none is more diverting, ingenious, harmless and healthful, than the ART OF RINGING, used and practiced with Discretion,” writes Fabian Stedman in his 1677 book Campanalogia, or, The Art of Ringing Improved.
“Amongst other Diversions and Recreations practiced by, and delightful to, the Inhabitants of this Island; none is more diverting, ingenious, harmless and healthful, than the ART OF RINGING, used and practiced with Discretion,” writes Fabian Stedman in his 1677 book Campanalogia, or, The Art of Ringing Improved. Stedman is widely considered to be the father of “change ringing,” a practice that emerged in sixteenth-century England when new methods of hanging sets of church bells on whole wheels enabled ringers to control the speed and order in which the bells we
Note: Craig Dworkin, author of Parse (Atelos, 2008), No Medium (MIT Press, 2013), and founding senior editor of Eclipse sat down with me on July 21, 2015 for a conversation in Salt Lake City as part of the one on one podcast series.
It is a truism for the experimental translator that as Google Translate gets better, it actually gets worse. Witness the demise of the ability to "Turn Your Google Translate Into a Beatbox." If you follow the instructions now, you only get a perfunctory recitation of consonants, alas.
Emily Dickinson’s poetry is perhaps the closest thing canonical American literature has to a “sacred language.” In Robert Duncan’s lectures on Dickinson, we could say that he posits her as the ultimate untranslatable poet, even within her own language. In her poems she “bring[s] us to the line where everything is so fraught with meaning that we can’t find the meaning.”
In this commentary, I want to contrast two artists’ visual prosody. In previous commentaries I have paired an artist and a poet. In this case, both of the writers are artists and have practically never been called poets. Here I am interested in setting Adrian Piper and Hock-E-Aye-Vi Edgar Heap of Birds side by side, and as an heuristic, specifically, two pieces: Piper’s Concrete Infinity 6” Square (1968) and Heap of Birds’ Vacant (1995). My excuse for pairing these examples is not art- or literary-historical so much as it is guided by the motif of a “derelict void.”
In 1869, the first version of the Periodic Table of Elements was created by Dmitri Mendeleev to illustrate the known chemical elements of the time and predict new ones. Elements are distinguished by having a single type of atom, and as they are discovered by scientists, the table grows. But what of the elements classified and discovered by poets, elements not made of atoms but language? Is poetry a kind of periodic table of language where poets chart, predict, and make elements as alchemists? Perhaps the P.T.O.E. is itself a P.O.E.M.
One under-acknowledged and yet groundbreaking phenomenon of our time is that, in addition to some poets responding to science as a way to think about language, poetry, and science in more novel ways, some poets are practicing science by making poetry and therefore making something else from practicing both science and poetry at the same time.