On Reviewing: Thom Donovan

LH: What do you think the purpose of a review is? If you also write about books on a blog, why? What does blogging let you do differently?

TD: Review differs for me a little whether I am reviewing performance, visual art, poetry/literature, or something less identifiable through its particular field, discipline, genre, etc. In the past couple years, for instance, I have been reviewing more dance and performance. Basically, I started reviewing dance/movement performance as a way to learn how to write about dance, and as a way to start sketching a set of conceptual coordinates that may help me to think more clearly about choreography and movement. In regards to my dance writing, I like the notion that one doesn’t need to be an expert to write about something; that their naivety may be able to produce an openness, or that their perceived expertise in another knowledge context or discipline can perform a dis-equilibrating or estranging effect towards a critical discourse. Maybe I’ll say something that hasn’t been said about a particular performance because there are ossified ways of writing dance criticism—a field which I remain largely outside of, though I am beginning to become friendly with more and more choreographers and dancers since I started writing reviews, and am finally beginning to teach myself more about the history of dance criticism and dance itself.
In the past five years, I have also been writing more about contemporary art. Writing about visual art is tricky to me for a variety of reasons, and set apart from the realms of dance/movement and literature/poetry. One of the main reasons for it being set apart is the current economics of art—or at least the New York ‘art world’—in which you find artists in very exploited situations, many of whom are trying to survive in a kind of market game (it is widely known that art is one of the most deregulated markets in the global economy). I am not interested in bolstering the reputation of an artist for the sake of their work’s profitability, nor do I think one review can determine the success of an artist (though it certainly helps if Jerry Saltz or Roberta Smith recommends your work). I am, however, sensitive to the fact that reviews can shape what artists do (and are capable of doing) and so when writing about a show or exhibition I tend to be fairly generous while keeping the reality of the artist’s situation in mind as much as I can, as well as the situation where their work is being shown, which is increasingly foregrounded in our current economic atmosphere. For instance, I am currently trying to write a review of Mika Rottenberg’s show at Mary Boone gallery, Squeeze, which alludes extensively to the commodity fetishism of her product (one encounters a picture of Boone herself holding the ‘product’ of Rottenberg’s art—a cubicle of trash—before one enters the installation space in which one sees an approx. 20 minute video of the cubicle being produced), and the situation of its distribution (said cubicle is withdrawn to the Camons Islands where, by contract, it has been agreed to never be exhibited publicly).

Then again, I am very interested in artists who are trying to work as much as possible outside of art market dynamics. One of my current outlets for writing about said artists is PBS’s Art21 blog, where I have a regular column called “5 Questions for Contemporary Practice.” The first three features are with Miriam Katzeff of Primary Information, a press which republishes facsimiles of rarified visual art printed matter and distributes PDFs of uncopyrighted art writings; Temporary Services, a group from Chicago who has been proliferating work having to do with the investigation of public space and DIY culture since the late 90s; and Carin Kuoni, who curates the indispensable Vera List Center for Art and Politics, an organization based at New School University whose programming tackles an incredibly diverse range of issues and practices pertaining to civic responsibility and cultural politics.

Writing about art, I often have pangs of bad conscience, because I don’t want to just be an advertisement or endorsement for a particular artist or cultural institution (though maybe this can’t be helped?). Yet, I am also partisan, and so I think that certain individuals, groups, and institutions need to be supported more than others (and, in many cases, more than they are) so part of my work is in the interest of both making legible the necessity of that organization or individual within a broader context and of promoting what they do while simultaneously maintaining enough critical distance to reflect on why that doing matters historically and within out current situation. With art, not being particularly educated in the field of art history (I haven’t completed an art history degree, nor an MFA, nor a degree in curatorial studies or art conservation), I tend to be led by my nose. In regards to individual artists in particular, there is something that I see in their work that reflects my own concerns and practices, so I wish to write about their work in order to know it better, or so that I can express something I may wish to say through it. Some of the things I’ve written about Guy Ben-Ner, Catherine Sullivan, Adam Pendleton, Martha Rosler and others I would certainly put in the category of a kind of investigation or essay rather than review per se, though these writings have some of the rhetorical and generic trappings of the review as a critical format.

With poetry, generally, I feel like I have a considerably different relationship with the things I choose to write about. Mainly, I feel like writing about others’ work can be a gift to them—an act of devotion, courtesy, or friendship (though I have been criticized recently for writing introductions that were not “short” enough). Yet, perhaps more importantly, I feel like others’ work can reflect larger problematics that I detect within a culture at large, and which become exigent through those works. To write about another’s work can help you to voice your own concerns and preoccupations. It can also help one to deepen a discourse about historical preoccupations pertaining both to poetics, literary criticism, and cultural production at large. More and more, I wish to write criticism that participates in a conversation among my peers, which is to say, among the people whose work really excites me, and which I see as adding something to an ongoing conversation that I feel myself to be most a part of. If I haven’t gone the ‘negative’ route in terms of what criticism I’ve written (there have been so many calls to ‘negative criticism’ in recent years, as you know), it is probably because I am still too busy celebrating my peers and connecting the dots between different ideas which still really haven’t come into focus, or simply cohered. Maybe this connecting will never end; or maybe it is the true route to the negative—through a situatedness within the particularities of a discourse rather than outside one. As if anyone could be objective anyway, or impartial, which always seems like a self-perpetuating myth of criticism since the New Critics (who seem to be more in vogue now than in the past forty years, no?), especially the ways certain people would articulate the ‘purpose’ or ‘function’ of criticism/the critic. If you love something you want to care for it. Why would it be any different with criticism? Criticism can bring into existence forms of caring, while also potentially saying something that really speaks to the situation we’re in, or the conditions (and I think this is a crucial distinction) that we will have wanted to have been. Which is to say, that will have brought a certain future into being.

Blogging lends a certain independence to this activity, because the weblog—despite its “devaluation” as a format (I’m using this term after an insightful article written by Rich Owens about Sean Bonney’s blog, Abandoned Buildings, and the blog that I have edited for the past five years, Wild Horses Of Fire, recently published in the Poetry Project Newsletter)—is fairly autonomous and flexible. I have long used a blog because something felt like it needed to be said fairly immediately and, as reviewers know, it can take a long time to pitch a piece and then have to edit it—often months. One has so much control over what they do at a blog. The only thing is that some people feel like the blog is cheapening. I think what people say at blogs can tend to be cheap, and perhaps the format promotes this, but I don’t see why people can’t post sustained criticism at a blog, especially with many of the new templates that have emerged in the past few years such as Tumblr and WordPress, not to mention the advances in PDF and POD formats, which can supplement blogs through printable objects.

LH: If you write reviews, how would you describe your approach, or method? Do you offer or engage in exegesis, theoretical, academic, reader response, close, contextual or evaluative readings? If you don’t write but read reviews, what aspects of reviewing do you notice?

TD: It is different with dance/movement performance, art writing, and poetry/literary criticism. With dance/movement performance the criticism is so dependent on my mindset seeing the performance live—since there probably won’t be another opportunity to see it. So when I attend dance/movement performance I usually am caffeinated, take a lot of notes, and try to look back on those notes as soon as I am at home, or in a place where I can tell whether or not they can eventually be useful. If they are not useful, I try to supplement them with more notes and reflections on what I just saw, anticipating that I may be forgetful later.

With art writing, the situation is a little bit more involved. Usually, before I write a review now, if the artist is a contemporary (like, say, Mika Rottenberg) I request their press package and any media that may be procured from the gallery which represents them. In the case that the artist does not have gallery representation, I will try to contact them personally through Facebook or email or some other means. Of course there are situations in which one cannot be so deliberate, so what I am trying to express instead through the review is a registration of reaction or encounter. An example of this approach is a series of pieces I published at Art21 around consecutive museum visits to the New Museum, Harlem Studio Museum, and P.S.1, in which many of the works that attracted my attention during those visits were ones by artists whose work I’d never encountered before. In this case, what I tried to present through the review were impressions, hunches, and perceptions. There is a certain freedom that this kind of review affords, which I like very much, however it can also make me nervous—that I am being glib or irresponsible without more context. My ideal situation writing about visual art is to form some kind of relation with the work, a kind of process in which I am able to deepen my understanding of the work throughout the course of writing the review or conducting an interview with the artist. This approach is certainly true of the interviews I have conducted with Adam Pendleton and Guy Ben-Ner for BOMB, who presented me with a lot of challenges throughout the interview process, and overturned many things that I thought I knew or understood about their work. It has also been true about reviews I have written of Catherine Sullivan, who increasingly I approach more as a scholar than as a reviewer. Which is to say, I am increasingly interested in conducting research about and around her work than I am in responding to the immediate circumstances of the work presented in exhibition.

In terms of literary criticism and art writing in particular, “exegesis, theoretical, academic, reader response, close, contextual or evaluative readings” are all in effect. Most of all theoretical, reader response, close, and contextual. For me, though, all of these forms of criticism start from an idea, images, sounds, affects/emotions; they try to be useful at the level of concept, or how the object could serve something social, ethical, interpersonal, public, even political. Almost every critical offering I have made has gestured towards, if not laid bare, its political-ethical commitments, and how one might approach an object of cultural interest or value through a sense of its socio-political content. Certainly, that is a guiding principle. Though I would not want this sense of content to overdetermine the object. The subtlety, it would seem to me, of the critic, lies in their ability to maintain a sense of reality about what the object can do—or what it is actually doing or can do though its appearance within a particular context or milieu. Then again, I am an optimist, or better yet an affirmationalist, and if you suggest that an artist is doing something (or resisting something in certain ways) then I believe there is a possibility you may activate a particular reception or performance of the object. Wishes, or simply certain kinds of belief, in other words, can lead to action. And art works are active to the extent that we enable them to be; that we, in other words, interact with them.

LH: What do you think makes for a successful review? Is there an aspect, a stylistic choice, or perspective that necessarily produces a more significant document?

TD: I am pretty open to different styles of review. The reviews I find useful, when I read them (which is probably not often enough), inform one about the object, provide a sense of their investment in writing about the object, and reflect that object within a broader (and not purely formal) milieu. Passion, personal disclosure, investment, motivation, desire, even worship, I believe, can produce exceptional reviews. So can the ‘sober’ eye of a reviewer who is trying to be as generous as possible towards something that might be problematic, or just not quite working for them. Although ‘flaming’ reviews can be entertaining, I’m not exactly sure where they get us. This is an issue I have with many practitioners who use of the term ‘negative’ nowadays, since they are using it in the most pedestrian senses of the term. Whereas I prefer a negative criticism that literally approaches the object through its qualities of negation, or its refusal of certain cultural or socio-political imperatives. I find precedent for such a negative (or negational?) criticism in so many thinkers, writers, and artists that it would hard to enumerate them all, though the Frankfurt School is always a good place to start, as are artists like Robert Smithson, Mike Kelley, Hollis Frampton, and Martha Rosler, all of whom wrote criticism and essay as both a means towards and out of the making of particular works and projects. I guess what I am opting for instead of negative reviewing is ‘immanent critique’; the idea that one is complicit not only in the reception, but the production of this object by participating in its reception, thus its social and historical imbeddedness. And perhaps, a la Walter Benjamin, that a particular object not only can make visible our complicity with certain powers relations, but also holds the promise of a different world, different futures. My friend Dana Ward recently called this manner of transcendence a “redemption through fetish.” Benjamin pointed to the redemptive qualities of commodity culture through those “dialectical images” offered by any particular object of consumption. At bottom, I guess I believe that dialectical materialism can still get us somewhere—that we have not exhausted its possibilities—but dialectical materialist criticism resolves around thinking and not just rhetoric. Too much contemporary criticism would seem the result of rhetorical histrionics that extend from turf wars and personal gripes (and maybe this is all much of what we call ‘criticism’ eventually amounts to, unfortunately). Sometimes I wonder what would happen if before making a critical statement about something people took a step back and asked why they were making the statement, what the intended result of the statement is. For many, including myself at moments, I think this could be a potentially ugly moment of self-reflection, since I think most of us would find the answer is power—its attainment and maintenance. What if obtaining and maintaining power was no longer the principle motor of criticism and what replaced it were accountability to one’s actions, intentions, and decisions in regards to a particular phenomenon of cultural production and to those perceived as one’s community, friends, and peer group? Would criticism per se whither, because what one was doing was something else? (Nietzsche’s comments that one should “deserve” their friends and their enemies is relevant to what I am saying here.) I keep gesturing towards this something else whenever I have to reflect on the ‘purpose of criticism’ though I’m not exactly sure what it is yet. If nothing else it has something to do with ethics, and love, and (social) justice, and a sense that critical reflection can still act transformatively through a limited universe of possible actions.

LH: When you review, do you focus on a particular text (poem, story), the book at hand, the author’s body of work? Do you think this choice of focus influences criticism, or your own criticism, and if so, how?

TD: A book of criticism that I really love—and unfortunately don’t have in my possession, because it never came out in a softback, and the hardcover is really expensive—is Peter Quartermain’s Disjunctive Poetics. A strength of Disjunctive Poetics, is Quartermain’s approach to criticism through exploring a single poem, in some cases a single stanza or line of a poem. There is a lot to be said for this method, especially when it can relate the entire body of work. This is certainly the case of the canonical American texts by poet-critics: W.C. Williams’s In the American Grain, Charles Olson’s Call Me Ishamel, Louis Zukofsky’s Bottom: on Shakespeare, Robert Duncan’s The H.D. Book, and Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson (and I’m sure we could add quite a few others to this short list at this point). That there is a poignant sense of scale; that a single word or phrase can address the whole work—as in the case of Howe taking up Dickinson’s “My Life Had Stood a Loaded Gun,” or Zukofsky the ‘play within a play’ of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Sometimes I think I would like to write a book in a similar spirit, but I don’t know how to go about it in a way that feels right for our present circumstances. I have taken all of the approaches you mention, but with contemporaries (and I write about contemporaries quite a bit) I especially love to consider the entire body of work to date, and to try to articulate what I think holds it all together. I have attempted to do this especially in the magazine I co-edit with Michael Cross and Kyle Schlesinger, ON: Contemporary Practice (which actually advocates this approach to a contemporary’s work as opposed to single-book reviews), when I wrote about the work of Brenda Iijima in the first volume of the magazine and Bhanu Kapil in the second. How a writer or artist gets from point A to point Z, which is to say, how they approach their problematics as artists horizontally in many cases, is fascinating to me. Yet, there is also the sense sometimes that a writer or artist is pursuing discrete problematics simultaneously, and it is exciting to identify and articulate what these discrete problems are too.

On the other hand, there is a simple pragmatics when writing criticism, a kind of ‘bottom line’, especially living under certain labor conditions both within and without the academy in New York City (I work part-time as an archivist while adjuncting and writing criticism on the side). And this pragmatics has to do with the fact that certain labor conditions allow you to write certain kinds of criticism. Living in New York, I feel that my life as a critic is very much contingent on other forms of labor I need to perform in order to subsist. It is also contingent on who asks me to do what, and what leeway I have given a particular assignment. Sometimes I feel under pressure to perform more as a journalist, sometimes more as an academic/scholar, sometimes more through my practice as a poet. Criticism, here, becomes largely about ‘audience’, but it is also about who is editing you and where you are publishing. Oftentimes an editor is incredibly helpful in shaping your piece; other times you are seeing what you can get away with. These dynamics produce constraints that both can help and hinder the result of any attempt to write criticism. Fortunately, even though I have had to make compromises, I don’t feel like I’ve written anything that I would ‘take back’, and dread a day when I do. Feeling compromised, to my mind, would involve an editor asserting something I completely disagree with, but letting it go because I am in need of the income or have become tired of working on a piece. Occasionally I dream of having all of this time to work on a more extensive article or book length project, something that would only become possible for me through the award of a grant at this point in my life, or finding a full-time job that did not pull me in a thousand different directions. But then I wonder, what would I even pursue? And would this even be useful—to have so much time at my disposal? I joke with my friends that what I am doing now is “small game hunting,” but maybe it’s the small game—blog writing and essays for little journals and correspondence—which eventually leads to the “big game” (or whatever to call it). I love this only half-serious metaphor of the hunt (which I lift from Catherine Sullivan), even though there is something bitter sweet about not being able to write through more sustained projects, or what one would perceive as a ‘project’.

LH: If you also write non-critical work, how different is the way you approach reviewing or critical writing to the way you approach your own “creative” writing?

TD: We have discussed this before Sina, particularly during our blogging stint at the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet weblog, but as I have written before, a lot of the work I produce as poetry writing is ekphrastic, or rather represents a kind of ekphrastic mode which does not seek to describe the object, so much as wonder what the object would say about the conditions of its making. The object, then, becomes a subject in a certain way; or flickers off-and-on subject/object, subject/object. I think this contributes to my own sense of objectivism, and my sense of “sincerity and objectification” (to take-up Zukofsky’s terminology). That a lot of things can form relationships of sincerity with the poet (not least of all the words of the poem themselves), but especially other objects of cultural production. During a lecture about Jack Spicer for the St. Mark’s Poetry Project’s Monday night series, Kevin Killian said that he was personally “dictated” to by the Ted Turner Broadcasting Network. There are a lot of things that certainly dictate to me—one of them is friendship, another community, yet another my reading practice—but so, too, does visual art, and perhaps less often film, music, and other forms of art and media. I’m sure this is because I am writing about visual art more than I used to, but also because I am attracted to a form of synaesthesia which one can cultivate through an ekphrastic practice. It is interesting to me, in many of the things that I’ve written, that the emphasis actually tends not to be on the image, but on sound and semantics and idea; as if the image ‘track’ was too easy to simply describe, and to avoid or withdraw image was to forego a description that may be all too visually arresting or identifiable (too ‘easy’, as such). Another way I have thought about poetry writing in relation to visual art is as a kind of pre-scriptive device, or as a processor. Before writing more discursively about a work of art there can be a more direct or intuitive comprehension of the object through the recourse to poetry. The process I am referring to is both alchemical and constructive, mediative and meditative. I usually don’t publish the ekphrastic work without considerable recursion and revision. I often find that it is easier to write the criticism after having wrestled with the poem; likewise, poems often come at some point during or after the process of writing criticism. In this way, ‘poetry writing’ and ‘critical writing’ form a kind of circuit or feedback loop with one another.

LH: Have you been in a position where you have had to write about a book that you don’t care for, or a book that is coming out of a tradition that you are perhaps opposed to, or resistant to on some level? How do you handle such events? Or how have you noticed others handle these events?

TD: One can always be more or less generous to an object they have elected or been asked to critique. And I normally try to be as generous as possible, to start from a position of generosity rather than closing myself off. That said, it is hard to resist hating when you see something or someone being favorably reviewed and you just don’t understand why that person or thing is gaining favor. I think this is where most ‘negative’ reviews come from—a knee jerk reaction to something new, or illegible, or simply outside one’s sensibility/solidified set of values. I try to resist saying something critical unless I think I understand, and suspend judgment until I have found some point of entry that would allow me to understand what a writer or artist is attempting to do. Then again, as I find with many books of poetry, poets are still calibrating their practice early on, so what a negative review would serve a younger or emerging writer is beyond me, except maybe to keep that person from a job, or further publication. Then again, I think it was Anselm Berrigan who said that in our current moment the worst review one can receive is not to receive one at all, because it seems like you don’t exist, or no one cares enough about your work to say anything at all—whether ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. I look forward to situations in which people can be led in their critical practices by their sense of having a conversation with others, in which arguments and agreements can depart from this point. Most of my own work as an editor—both with ON and with a new project I recently launched called Others Letters, which features the correspondences of contemporaries—is geared to producing such moments of interface and dialogue that may make a larger field available to those within and without particular communities and coteries.

LH: What is the last piece of writing that convinced you to a/ reconsider an author or book you thought you had figured out, or had a final opinion on or b/ made you want to buy the book under review immediately?

TD: The question you are asking seems to have to do with consumerism, which I don’t think is what reviews should serve (and again, maybe the problem is with the review itself as a format, because it grows out of a culture which oftentimes seeks to make objects irresistible to the consumer). That said, often when I am shopping for music, it will be helpful to read about what a group ‘sounds like’, or who their ‘influences’ are. I have been persuaded on more than one occasion to make a purchase of a LP or CD based solely on a description at a local music boutique like Other Music in NYC. I think another way to think about this would be to throw less emphasis on the review/reviewer, and more on the press, which obviously injects a book of poetry with certain values before you know who the author is, let alone the work itself (a friend who is a visual artist, but who is also familiar with contemporary poetry, once remarked that presses were like galleries in the art world, and full-length books of poetry like having a solo show). Same is true of magazines, schools, other institutions. We seek things out because they interest us, or are well made, or have a quality we can’t easily account for. And this goes back, I think, to Dana’s sense of redemption through fetish, because I think most of us would have a hard time imagining our lives without this relationship to certain products, which partially constitutes us as subjects, and which is not easily reconciled by an imagination of alternative economic possibilities, consumer habits, etc.

LH: Is there a quality you are looking for in a review that you haven’t found?

TD: I think it is less that there is a quality in reviews that I haven’t found, and more a sense that the review, as a form of criticism, should whither. In fact, what I really want more of are forms of literature that enfold their critical reception, and especially their reception as it is inflected through community, friendship, and civic responsibility. What if the poetry book included the review (the blurb is an unsubtle device gesturing at this)? What if the book disappeared into its reception and distribution as, for instance, Tan Lin’s Seven Controlled Vocabularies seems to do in some ways. What if, in other words, the work itself started to constitute an act of meta-discourse that intends to present its role in exchange, community, correspondence, reception, distribution, and its complicity in all of these events. What if distributed authorship (or choral modes of criticism—a term I have been using recently to describe a recent trend within contemporary poetry) made the perceived object disappear, dissolved in a network of others, in becoming, in archive and collective performance and the desire for emergent modes and models of subjectivity? Perhaps, for many of us, that is what the poem already is. Though there is nothing announcing this formal quality through its context within a book, magazine, or wherever else the poem may be encountered. The problem I’m identifying involves a crisis of the media itself, which continues to ‘implode’ in relation to the US’s current oligarchic political system, but perhaps also points to the unsustainability of anything which does not acknowledge its connectivity through higher forms of organization, systematicity, and corporatization.

LH: Critical work is increasingly unpaid work; will you continue to do this work despite the trend? Do you see this trend reversing, or changing course?

TD: I don’t think I would continue to write reviews and essays if I didn’t think it was somehow useful for my own and others’ practices. One way that I believe criticism can be useful is that it can help you define a set of questions and concerns, and relate them through other forms of work—whether these be writing, teaching, performance, library science, curation, or any form of cultural production one performs (in my case, all of the above). The payment question is tricky, because I do think people should be paid for their work, and especially if they do a ‘good job’—which is to say, invest time, care, and effort. But the way we evaluate things—the way prestige and authority is invented and maintained—seems pretty out-of-wack. And the fact that people compete for resources which may or may not in fact exist doesn’t help this situation. I think people should write reviews largely to serve their own practices and concerns, as well as their friends, peers, and community, because with art and writing in particular, it is not clear who else you would be serving by writing a review except a potential consumer or, at best, a larger public who prefers to consume poetry rather than a Hollywood movie or baseball game (at least in the US). When I see people gunning to appear in widely distributed and some would say ‘prestigious’ publications such as the New Yorker and the Paris Review (whether reviewed or reviewing) I wonder what they are gunning for, and if competition is not to blame for a lot of the ill behavior that goes on and ideas about how criticism can and should function. My critique here reflects much larger concerns that I have for ecology, where competition, speed, over-consumption, immiseration, misuse of resources, and an inability to see things in relation are (literally) killing us. These ways of approaching things need to be rethought, and I think writers can do their part by modeling certain practices and conducts. I am talking about aesthetics here; the problem Wittgenstein referred to when he cited ethics and aesthetics as being one and the same thing. Criticism, too, partakes of this equation.

LH: What do you hope to achieve by writing about writing? Do you believe that reviews can actually bring new readers to texts?

TD: I would hope that reviews could bring new readers to writing and art, but partially because they also like the review—something it says, the way it presents the reviewer in relation to the artist/writer/performer/work. I think especially that reviews can be important for a younger readership, who are still figuring out what things they are into, and the styles or problems they are compelled to pursue. I also think reviews can draw attention to things that one loves and that one believes deserve more attention. They can create a readership, in the best possible sense. Reviewing blends with editing at this point, for me, where it also becomes an act of adding crucial context for the reception of an object. Right now, for instance, I am working on editing a book by Robert Kocik, a midcareer polymath (he designs furniture, buildings, and sets; makes drawings; writes about philosophy, history, philology, theology, science, poetry, art, dance, and medicine in tandem) who, despite the fact that he has generated a ton of material, is barely published in book form. I would like to change this fact. And I believe some combination of good editing, crafty distribution/advertisement, and critical reception is one way to make Robert’s work legible to a readership which has yet to exist, but which I would very much want to exist. Making legible is crucial here, if only because readers will be encountering this work in medias res, which is to say, well into its course and without a lot of previous work to refer to and thus provide a contextual backdrop. How to provide context? How to attract the readers who will take something away from this work, who are not just poets and writers, but architects and performers and theologians and people on the cutting edge of experimental and controversial medical research? I am seriously wondering about this question right now—out of both a sense of friendship and moral commitment (because Kocik’s work might change the way we think and act)—and how to rise to the occasion without a lot of resources at my disposal (ON publishes at a loss, and out of the pockets of myself and my collaborators, as I suspect most publishers devoted to poetry/poetics also do). The critic, in this case, becomes a mediator between the work and its possible receptions—though of course the work may eventually stand alone, without the help of review, editorial, design, promotion, or anything else. And this is actually the best possible scenario I could imagine as a critic, publisher, and editor—that a work need no help from a review or other critical mediation. That whatever is said about the work may be in addition to a readership’s use and appreciation of the object.

Thom Donovan lives in New York City, where he edits Wild Horses Of Fire weblog and co-edits ON Contemporary Practice, the third issue of which will be devoted to the work of Robert Kocik. He is a participant in the Nonsite Collective and a curator for the SEGUE reading series. His criticism and poetry have been published widely. Currently he is working on a collection of critical writings, Sovereignty and Us: Critical Objects 2005-2010, and on the Project for an Archive of the Future Anterior (with Sreshta Rit Premnath). His book The Hole is forthcoming with Displaced Press this spring. He teaches at Bard College, Baruch College, and School of Visual Arts and holds a Ph.D. in English literature from SUNY-Buffalo.

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