Felix Bernstein: Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Dinner at Goldsmith’s

Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Dinner at Goldsmith’s: On Daniel’s Canon and Kenneth’s Memes
by Felix Bernstein

In his article Cheap Signaling, professor Daniel Tiffany argues that there is something new amongst a freshly grouped constellation of poets. That something new (to be brief: culture jamming) is not far from what I have written about in my own Notes on Post-Conceptual Poetry forthcoming from Insert Blanc Press. In Tiffany’s particular constellation, we seem to see poets working steadily in the traditions of flarf and the gurlesque, traditions that involve appropriating language from the Internet, pop culture, ethnic culture, often with a somewhat comedic intent. Additionally, he has thrown Anne Boyer into the mix, probably to give a radical feminist Marxist street-cred to his argument, and in spite of the fact that her work with its serious critical tone (that lacks the ironic parodic linguistic ‘play’ of many of the poets he mentions) just doesn’t fit what he is proposing. Obvious problems concerning his overlooking of racial and gender appropriation are crucial to discuss, but in the end, Tiffany claims these problems are irrelevant because his piece is about, point-blank, class. But though class is mentioned, class inequality is not looked at (anthropologically or economically or at all) but skipped over, as Tiffany flies straight to the utopian premise that the poets listed exceed class brackets and identity configurations. No longer a black poet or a white poet playing particular games with particular linguistic frames that cause micro-level subversions, his new constellation of poets, by his assumptions, are universally rupturing the system of class and forming a large meta-class of urbane bohemians who have a relatable inclusive authenticity, despite being counter-cultural and making fun of authenticity. Moreover, they have a direct relationship to pop and mainstream culture, and do not merely stand opposed to it in the stark Adornoian tradition.

Is this bunch of self-consciously complicit yet still leftist bohemians somehow also a resurrectionary Marxist faction important to the avant-garde canon? Tiffany answers resolutely yes, and does so without recourse to any socio-economic or anthropologic-historical argumentation or proof. Not that I am asking for demonstration that the class system has been altered materially by these artists, but even just demonstrating how any person’s ideals about the class system had been altered by these artists would be useful. As the argument is framed, it appears not that these artists have altered Tiffany’s ideas about class, but rather that these artists were useful to illustrate ideas about class that he already held. Though he avoids the topic of Conceptual Poetry, this sort of utopianism (a bohemia apart from the class system) is absolutely consonant with Kenneth Goldsmith’s recent memes that disparage the Adorno, celebrate Twitter as a form of Modernist art, and argue with a kind of Napster-Mac-Utopianism that copyright is dead, but never is able to sustain a claim these things alter the fundamental economic system of capitalism or even alter the hierarchical formations of art canonization, even if they make both appear to be more ‘inclusive,’ radical, and hip. This shift against Adornoesque tendencies to control not just modernism but also postmodernism, has been signaled as well in art world discourse by the shift from the core set of October criticism with its postmodern ‘masters’ (particularly the writings of Hal Foster, Rosalind Kraus, Benjamin Buchloh) to the looser, queerer, micro-masters proposed by Grey Room and recent issues of Artforum (particularly in the writings of Claire Bishop, Ed Halter, David Joselit). Here, by throwing out the king (Adorno, Foster, Brakhage, etc.) an attempt to yield a more fluid sense of the contemporary is given; yet nonetheless, as happens when kings are dispatched, the superego becomes more secretively coercive, power structures seem more neutral and less contestable. And thus there is an unconscious repetition of Adorno’s hierarchies even as they are attempted to be undone. Indeed this is the case with articles like Tiffany’s and in fact, the whole Grey Room, queer theory, micro-master enterprise [therefore it becomes harder to question the judgments that raise an artist like Ryan Trecartin into a superstar because it seems that this is beneficial to ‘us’ as a community, not just art patriarchs and academics: or at least, this is the story as it is told by Christopher Glazek in n + 1]. Goldsmith’s recent memes and Tiffany’s article [as well as the work of Joselit, for example] share a cloying desperation for empathy and empathic communities, as well as for adulation and shared canon values, all the while seemingly debunking the notions of such clean-cut canons as high art would premise. In Goldsmith’s case the refusal to be entertained by emotional tweets is all the more ironic given how pathos-ridden his memes are.

Indeed, Goldsmith’s work brings us face to face with the problematics of doing universalizing PR for microcultural formations. There’s a kind of horror then to his persona, even a kind of terror, for those who have fought to keep the idealized hermetic circle of experimental art sacred. And yet what Goldsmith is doing is hardly unique. Besides being enacted by the SparkNotes and textbook industry, professors and artists, who should allegedly be better equipped to write, think, and teach in less streamlined ways, have tended to op for the sales pitch. In part because the customer comes first, and the customer is in this case the college student, a teen-consumer who wants to do as little work and thinking as possible but certainly wants a Hot Topic T-shirt of Adorno or Perloff. This is not to say that the wearing of a Hot Topic T-shirt denies that there is a ‘thinkership’ at play here, a group of thinkers who are thinking through the irony of their inability to transgress in palpable ways.

However, it does not take a cynical historian to note that this particular brand of irony is too much old-news to be described as inventive. But is not particularly inventive to write in the Artforum or Mousse that this sort of irony is not Marxist enough, as if there is some better more authentic form of Marxism or that the hermetic art itself is somehow more authentic or sincere or better than post-80s art [a point that even Goldsmith traffics in] because to take this position in such a blasé way, especially within academic and art-world discourses, is merely to reify that work, and canonize it by virtue of it having a comparative moral high-ground, as if that is what is important about the art. All I am saying here is not that fourth-generation conceptual, ironic, institutional critique and culture jamming is immoral and ought not to be made or discussed (after all this is the sort of art I make too) but merely that it not inventive. However, Goldsmith is able to traffic his work as new-news is because what he does has not occurred in poetry per se, though it had in art, for the reason that it had been useless to make jokes about the complicity of poetry with capitalism when poetry had been so entirely uncommodified for so long. Goldsmith’s magic act was to make poetry seem like an art/fashion object that could be considered a commodity and as soon as he did this, he also simultaneously pointed to the irony of this fact. However, this joke is hard for others to maintain since the poetry book, even Goldsmith’s is still not a valuable commodity on par with a Warhol painting. Thus, there is a sublime irony in a Warhol painting that will always fall flat, comparatively, when viewing a Goldsmith book. For one thing, a main enjoyable feature of Warhol’s works is owed to his paintings selling for millions, despite being appropriations. Goldsmith’s work is not selling for millions, whatever his dandy posturing might indicate, and therefore the joke does not translate.

Still, there is something to Goldsmith that can’t be said of Tiffany, which is the ambivalence in his memes point to an underlying sadness: that what he is saying is beyond even his own belief systems. It is clear in many ways that Goldsmith is trying to keep up with the kids (or at least the Kardashians), the desperation is there as a kind of humor, call it the humor of the hipster.  While it is a generic, even Sophomoric humor, only acting as inventive genius, nonetheless it demonstrates more wit and intelligence than the humorless prose of Tiffany. Though, one must note that plenty of academics, such as Jeffery Nealon, who attempt use humorless prose to defend Goldsmith as if he were doing the same thing as they are, attempt to turn counterculture and subculture and the quotidian and the queer into a teachable 101 English course that can also be deemed Marxist and transgressive, despite being entirely catered to middle-class students. These professors, like Tiffany and Nealon, reduce the ambivalent complexity of works that trade in the culture industry so that they seem unilaterally ‘negative’ in the sense of holding up a critical mirror, and this of course, to our shared Leftist-Marxist values is meant to be positive. And yet what might be most interesting and dangerous about these works is that they really just wanna have fun, that is they might not be doing anything Marxist whatsoever, they might just be participating in the mass hysteria, and enjoying it.

The second mistake that professors like Tiffany make is they attempt to domesticate the nomad, and treat works that explicitly avoid partaking in the culture industry or the industry of dogmatic interpretations (the academy) as if they did (Tiffany does this with Anne Boyer’s work) or should. Tiffany hopes to argue that the interruptive impediments to communicative seamlessness marked by poetry ought to be viewed as the very enabling conditions for a political-ethical community. Though what he ought to say is: interruptive, rambunctious, difficult poetry forms the enabling conditions for his own seamless, safe, academic prose.

Tiffany writes in Infidel Poetics, “Obscurity, rather than being the principal impediment to poetry’s social relevance, would provide the key to models of community derived specifically from the nature of lyric expression.” His punchline is not unlike the desire to make a meme of the hermetic: Solipsism is socially connecting! Secrecy is expressive! Hostile politically indifferent poetry is polite and universal and leftist-Marxist! The impossibility of communication is the grounds on which communication is built! Disturbingly tricky riddles can be very catchy!

In my Notes, I ask a different question: Is not the creation of a single category of erudite bohemian –– merging the learned academic with the street rapper through a common language of uncommon speech, of slang and remix –– is this not merely the fantasy of a middle class, each with their Macs and each with their artistic hobbies? Exceeding class, race, and gender, while not actually doing anything to rupture the distribution of wealth? Even thinkers as astute as Žižek have fallen into the trap of attempting to create this unity –– to move beyond identity politics and to deliver us a counterhegemonic kernel of transgressiveness, a wounding punctum, not unlike queerness that would unite high and low, rich and poor, through nothing more and nothing less than a middle class oasis. This connects thinkers as unlikely as Žižek to the more routine Affect Studies tactic, of celebrating negative affects that speak to middle class students into positive radicalized badges-of-honor. Such is the routine used, for example, when Sianne Ngai admires Bruce Andrews: the curse word and the disgust it implies can become an identifiable place for empathetic unified transgression.

What the academy, from Žižek to Ngai to Tiffany has been able to do, is create a queer-Marxist post-class class of bohemians connected at the hip to the World Wide Proletariat-Queer. At most, the art historical import of this strategy has allowed for an extensive cataloguing of the transgressive hopes and negative feelings of a principally middle class group of recognized artists. The need to immediately rush to the ethical-moral defense of art is the problem here. It means skipping over the search for proof and for reality. One needs to slow down and look either anthropologically or socioeconomically at these problems or else, at least, bite the bullet and examine the art for merely its own aesthetic and formal properties without attempted to redeem it or make everybody love it. Or if one has not the skill to do any of those things, then at least be a little bit more critically acute. To start, here’s a very basic entry-level question Tiffany and Goldsmith might ask, to open the door to critical self-reflexiveness: do not our doors remain just as locked as they were before Napster and Ubu and Queer Theory and hip-hop? Or at least ask, whom does transgression serve, rather than simply saying ad nauseum “this is transgressive.” Then one can start to investigate the phenomenological distinctions in how the works serves, how intelligent or witty it is, how provocative, etc. Of course, this means making specific judgments and risking the posture of the fanciful elitist. But this risk must now be made, as the attempt to bill artworks as a priori novel and unique, based on a set of ethical egalitarian pretenses, is a tactic that has finally run its course.


Felix Bernstein debuted on YouTube with his real and satirical Coming Out Video in 2008 and went on to play characters from Amy Winehouse to Lamb Chop to Leopold (peter) Brant. His critical and uncritical writings have been published, or are forthcoming, in The Brooklyn Rail, Htmlgiant, The Volta, GaussPDF, Imperial Matters, Coldfront, Boston Review, The Believer, and Bomb. His main goal these days is to make his rent payments on time because now that he’s graduated and moved out, rent is a real thing and not some imaginary construct used by adults to scare him into responsibility. With Gabe Rubin he fronts the band Tender Cousins. The ambiguous duo directed and starred in Red Krayola’s opera Victorine at the 2012 Whitney Biennial and directed the films Unchained Melody and Boyland. Their next film Sweetly about Nazi-ish punk kids killing JAPs and Hipsters in Manhattan is in pre-production. You can experience all of the above, but slower, at felixbernstein.com. And you can preorder Notes on Post-Conceptual Poetry at insertblancpress.net. In his spare time, he plays ultimate Frisbee.

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Joey Yearous-Algozin on Trisha Low: The Compleat Purge

“After all: the ‘I’ is not to be expelled, but submitted to sacrifice.”

—Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism

PURGE-ebr-internalIn the current saturation of social media in which our daily confessions constitute only the generic projection of a self, The Compleat Purge (Kenning Editions, 2013) may mark the death of reading, not through offering something else in its place (the de facto mode of understanding contemporary poetry), but through the triumph of genre as an accumulation of dead language.

From the outset, I want to distinguish between illegibility and unreadability. Arguing that The Compleat Purge is unreadable is not to argue that it can’t be read. To prove it, I’ll give what I assume would be a good and faithful reading of the book.

1. Purging content

The Compleat Purge is Trisha Low’s first book, published in October of last year by Patrick Durgin’s Kenning Editions. Along with an opening disclaimer and concluding essay, “4 Real,” the main text of Low’s book is divided into three sections: suicide notes arranged as legal documents, a LiveJournal comment stream that enacts a cybersex fantasy between two rock stars, and an eighteenth century Romance novel.

First, there are the suicide notes written to family members, lovers and friends in the opening section. Chronologically arranged, the letters begin when Low was six years old and living in Singapore. As can be expected, Low’s relationships are mediated at this age through cheap plastic toys: “Caroline can also have my books and my Minnie Mouse night-light because she’s scared of the dark and still drinks milk out of a baby bottle” (15). Over the course of this section, as Low gets older and moves from Singapore to London and, finally, to the US, the possessions she gives away on the event of her death change and accumulate, but never grow in significance. For example, from a letter dated 2005: “I’ve enclosed a bunch of other letters that I’d like you to give out to friends I love, and certain items that I’d like them to have. But let Marsha have what she wants first because I love her most” (55). Even when these objects lose their distinctness in the later letters, they never cease to structure this intimately social world.

The second section of The Compleat Purge focuses on a single on-running comment stream, distilling this tension between intimacy and anonymity. Channeling teenaged desire through the fantasy cybersex play of two rock star avatars, Fabrizio Moretti of The Strokes and Anthony Rossomando of The Dirty Pretty Things, Low’s book concentrates the scattered disaffection and sexual trauma of the letters in the first section: “[[the roofie thing-I mean, I don’t think what happened to me is anywhere near as bad as some of the stories on here but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, right?]]” (151). While the first section operates through an elision of details only possible in intimate relationships, this quasi-anonymous cybersex works precisely on account of its specificity.

Cut across a romance novel and an antiquated book of spells to seduce the beloved, the final section of The Compleat Purge enacts the death of fantasy. If the second section functions as a way of bringing into focus the realization that trauma is communicated by way of popular culture and that experiences that structure our emotional lives are readily available to all, then the third section acts as an escape from this banal terror to the fantasy world of literature. In its stilted and flowery language, however, this final section fails to provide escape, ending with the extinction of the beloved and the lover: “These spells for True Love, handed down from generation to generation were compiled to work insatiably, allowing your objects of affection to desire your body so desperately that they drive themselves, with sure eventuality, to extinction” (222).

As I’ve already stated, Low’s seemingly confessional text is shot through with pop culture detritus. Throughout The Compleat Purge, “Trisha Low” is structured as a distributed identity, recognizable as much through the lists of products and famous personae, both real and fictional, as through the book’s recurring addressees. As Blake Butler notes in his interview with Low for Vice, the material that The Compleat Purge works through is simultaneously anonymous and intimate.

This narrative trajectory may lead one to argue that while The Compleat Purge cannot be confused with the real Trisha Low, the book does offer an authentic and contemporary portrayal of the teenage girl, fashioning her ala Tiqqun on the verge of becoming a grotesquely revolutionary figure. Blake Butler:

The lists of DVDs and albums the author wants to be given away after her suicide at age 17 somehow bleed against the Tumblr-like self-reportage as she attempts to clear her mind a final time. And that mind clearing, in turn, melds into endless sadistic contortions of ongoing internet sex and confession, continually shifting wishes for life to be altered at one’s will. (np)

Low’s book negates any alternative interpretation. However, I would argue that what distinguishes The Compleat Purge from its conceptual predecessors is precisely the self-awareness of its critical reception, which, in overdetermining it, eliminates our ability to read the book. Effectively, we get what we came for.

2. No more reading

Now that that’s done, let’s get back to how The Compleat Purge enacts the death of reading.As a supplement to the main text, Low provides an explanatory disclaimer. I would argue that The Compleat Purge provides its own reading without the need of a reader’s intervention. In pausing before the book begins, Low locates its content as “documents of emotional excess [that] have been squashed into the more legible and somewhat restrictive form of a ‘conceptual project'” (np). On the one hand, with its paratextual material, Low’s book mimics the layout of earlier and, by now, canonical conceptual projects.On the other hand, in claiming the mantle of conceptualism, Low’s text recognizes the latter as a legible literary genre. Rather than asserting the radicalness of its techniques, The Compleat Purge removes conceptualism’s novelty, acknowledging it as one form among many in the world of critical and academic discourse. In this way, Low’s book employs literary genre as little more than an empty bookshelf, a mode of organizing information without any regard to the nature of its data.

The Compleat Purge, in its posturing as a confessional and conceptual project, treats its subject as a site, i.e. text, in and of herself. After laying out and flattening The Compleat Purge’s formal co-ordinates, Low quotes Anna Watkins Fisher’s theory of the parasite, in order to argue that the multiple iterations of ‘Trisha Low’ dispersed throughout the book function as a “self-on-self drag,” in which “identity politics becomes redundant:” “[P]arasitism, taken as a model of perverse appropriation that seeks to undermine the very thing that it depends upon in order to do so” (np).

Contra Watkins Fisher, The Compleat Purge seems to imagine textual identity as essentially non-revolutionary. Rather, “Trisha Low” is a fiction that functions as a parasite on specifically this kind of faux radical discourse that seeks to normalize and consume whatever its critical lens encounters. It is within this fatalistic frame, then, that Low’s work approaches a nihilism rooted in a continuous cycle of parasite and host arbitrarily switching places. What’s more, in over-determining the textual field, this entire drama occurs without the reader and before The Compleat Purge has a chance to begin.

Ultimately, The Compleat Purge is not so much unreadable, but is proof that perhaps what we imagine as reading does not exist. It is not that it died, for that would be to assert that reading was born or at one time came into being. Let’s just say that what we call reading already happened without us and we are forced to mimic the empty gestures of an actual reader we will never get to meet. Suffice to say, without literary theory—no matter how attenuated—and its feedback loop of pre-determined reception, contemporary poetry would have absolutely no audience at all—a symptom of its total alienation from any relevancy to popular culture.


PICPICJoey Yearous-Algozin is the author of The Lazarus Project (2011-13) and Holly Melgard’s Friends and Family (2014). With Holly Melgard and Chris Sylvester, he edits TROLL THREAD. He lives in Buffalo, NY.

Toby Altman: Paragraphs on Lyric Poetry

I will refer to the kind of writing in which I am involved as lyric poetry. In lyric poetry the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an author uses a lyric form of writing, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the text. This kind of writing is not theoretical or illustrative of theories; it is intuitive, it is involved with all types of mental processes and it is purposeless. It is usually free from the dependence on the skill of the writer as a craftsman. It is the objective of the author who is concerned with lyric poetry to make her work mentally interesting to the reader, and therefore usually she would want it to become emotionally dry. There is no reason to suppose, however, that the lyric poetry is out to bore the reader. It is only the expectation of an emotional kick, to which one conditioned to Romantic literature is accustomed, that would deter the reader from perceiving this writing.

Lyric poetry is not necessarily logical. The logic of a piece or series of pieces is a device that is used at times, only to be ruined. Logic may be used to camouflage the real intent of the writer, to lull the reader into the belief that she understands the work, or to infer a paradoxical situation (such as logic vs. illogic). Some ideas are logical in conception and illogical perceptually. The ideas need not be complex. Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple. Successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable. In terms of ideas the writer is free even to surprise herself. Ideas are discovered by intuition. No matter what form it may finally have it must begin with an idea. It is the process of conception and realization with which the writer is concerned. Once given physical reality by the writer the work is open to the perception of all, including the author. (I use the word perception to mean the apprehension of the sense data, the objective understanding of the idea, and simultaneously a subjective interpretation of both). The work of literature can be perceived only after it is completed.

Literature that is meant for the sensation of the ear primarily would be called aural rather than lyric. This would include most poetry and certain strains of fiction.

Since the function of conception and perception are contradictory (one pre-, the other post-fact) the author would mitigate her idea by applying subjective judgment to it. If the author wishes to explore her idea thoroughly, then arbitrary or chance decisions would be kept to a minimum, while caprice, taste and other whimsies would be eliminated from the making of the text. The work does not necessarily have to be rejected if it does not look well. Sometimes what is initially thought to be awkward will eventually be aesthetically pleasing.

To work with a plan that is preset is one way of avoiding subjectivity. It also obviates the necessity of designing each work in turn. The plan would design the work. Some plans would require millions of variations, and some a limited number, but both are finite. Other plans imply infinity. In each case, however, the writer would select the basic form and rules that would govern the solution of the problem. After that the fewer decisions made in the course of completing the work, the better. This eliminates the arbitrary, the capricious, and the subjective as much as possible. This is the reason for using this method.

When an author uses a multiple modular method she usually chooses a simple and readily available form. The form itself is of very limited importance; it becomes the grammar for the total work. In fact, it is best that the basic unit be deliberately uninteresting so that it may more easily become an intrinsic part of the entire work. Using complex basic forms only disrupts the unity of the whole. Using a simple form repeatedly narrows the field of the work and concentrates the intensity to the arrangement of the form. This arrangement becomes the end while the form becomes the means.

Lyric poetry doesn’t really have much to do with mathematics, philosophy, or any other mental discipline. The mathematics used by most writers is simple arithmetic or simple number systems. The philosophy of the work is implicit in the work and it is not an illustration of any system of philosophy.

It doesn’t really matter if the reader understands the concepts of the author by reading the text. Once it is out of her hand the writer has no control over the way a reader will perceive the work. Different people will understand the same thing in different ways.

If the writer carries through her idea and makes it into visible form, then all the steps in the process are of importance. The idea itself, even if not made apparent, is as much a work of art as any finished product. All intervening steps – sketches, drafts, failed attempts, versions, studies, thoughts, conversations- are of interest. Those that show the thought process of the writer are sometimes more interesting than the final product.

Determining what length a piece should be is difficult. If the book were made lengthy then the size alone would be impressive and the idea may be lost entirely. Again, if it is too small, it may become inconsequential. I think the text must be long enough to give the reader whatever information she needs to understand the work and framed in such a way that will facilitate this understanding.

The page can be thought of as the flat area bound by the three-dimensional volume. Any tome will occupy space; one must never disregard the physical characteristics of the printed volume. If the text is meant to reside permanently on the computer or network, its placement on the screen or printout is equally important. It is the interval between things that can be measured. The intervals and measurements can be important to a work of lyric poetry. If space is relatively unimportant — as, for example, on a web page — it should be regularized and made equal (things placed equal distances apart) to mitigate any interest in intervals. Regular space might also become a metric time element, a kind of regular beat or pulse. When the interval is kept regular whatever is irregular gains more importance.

Marketplace fiction and forms of “purposeful” writing are of completely opposite natures. The former is concerned with making a text with a specific function. Fiction, for example, whether it is a work of art or not, must be utilitarian or else fail completely. Lyric poetry is not utilitarian. When poetry starts to take on some of the characteristics, such as staking out utilitarian zones, it weakens its function as art.

New materials are one of the great afflictions of contemporary writing. Some writers confuse new materials with new ideas. There is nothing worse than seeing art that wallows in gaudy baubles. The electronic writing landscape is littered with such failures. By and large most authors who are attracted to these materials are the ones who lack the stringency of mind that would enable them to use the materials well. It takes a good writer to use new materials and make them into a work of literature. The danger is, I think, in making the physicality of the materials so important that it becomes the idea of the work (another kind of Romanticism). It is challenging enough for the author to simply write with the rigidity of an idea in mind; add to that programming, design and sound and the challenge becomes insurmountable.

Writing of any kind is a physical fact. The physicality is its most obvious and expressive content. Lyric poetry is made to engage the mind of the reader rather than her ear or emotions. The physicality of the work can become a contradiction to its non-emotive intent. Rhyme, meter, texture, and enjambment only emphasize the physical aspects of the work. Anything that calls attention to and interests the reader in this physicality is a deterrent to our understanding of the idea and is used as an expressive device. The lyric poet would want to ameliorate this emphasis on materiality as much as possible or to use it in a paradoxical way (to convert it into an idea). This kind of writing, then, should be stated with the greatest economy of means. Ideas may be stated with numbers or words or any way the author chooses, the form being unimportant.

These paragraphs are not intended as categorical imperatives, but the ideas stated are as close as possible to my thinking at this time. These ideas are the result of my work as a writer and are subject to change as my experience changes. I have tried to state them with as much clarity as possible. If the statements I make are unclear it may mean the thinking is unclear. Even while writing these ideas there seemed to be obvious inconsistencies (which I have tried to correct, but others will probably slip by). I do not advocate a lyric form of writing for all authors. I have found that it has worked well for me while other ways have not. It is one way of writing; other ways suit other writers. Nor do I think all lyric poetry merits the reader’s attention. Lyric poetry is good only when the idea is good.


 Funeral copy

Toby Altman is a conceptual poet.

Kathryn Mockler: On Printing Out the Internet

by Kathryn Mockler 

“…capitalism has a knack for devouring and absorbing everything in its path—including any critique of capitalism.” (from Notes on Conceptualisms)

When I taught an experimental writing course to undergraduates this past winter my students and I were most surprised to discover, through some of the class exercises, the extent to which we are not free to express ourselves. There is a disconnection between our perception of our rights and freedoms and what we are actually allowed to do and say. Unless we are trying to push these boundaries, it is often something that goes unnoticed.

I adapted an assignment from Kenneth Goldsmith’s book Uncreative Writing and asked the students to do a non-permanent graffiti project in which they were to put an outdated slogan or old quote in a public place and document it with a photograph. One student tried to put up a sticky note in a lingerie store with the Picasso quote: “What is beauty anyway? There’s no such thing.” She tried to put the note “among all the sparkly bras” but got kicked out of the store. She went to Chapters and tried to put the note beside the beauty magazines but got kicked out. Then she went to a grocery store and tried to put it beside some beauty products and got kicked out again. In a final attempt, before class, she tried to put the note on the mirror in the women’s washroom on campus but “behold,” the student says, “a wild custodian” appeared and threatened to call the campus police. Finally giving up, she says, “I took down my art and left.”

What begins as a simple and, somewhat familiar, criticism of beauty, sexuality, and commercial culture, quickly becomes a project about freedom of expression as the student soon realizes, through the failure of being able to execute her initial idea, that there are limitations to expression and not even the bathroom of the school where she pays tuition is a permissible site of critique.

The knee-jerk reaction my student received reminds me of some of the responses to Kenneth Goldsmith’s project Printing Out the Internet, which he describes as “a crowdsourced project to literally print out the entire internet.” He has asked contributors to mail sections to LABOR art gallery in Mexico. There was even an online petition to try and stop him from doing it because of the potential environmental impact of the project. I’m not entirely unconvinced that Goldsmith didn’t start the petition himself because it fits so nicely into the narrative of his concept and has helped generate a lot of discussion.

But even if Kenneth Goldsmith had extended his deadline 10 times, he would not have been able to print out the entire internet. Sure, some people have printed out some pages—there was even an attempt to print out the entire YouPorn database—but not to the point of environmental catastrophe. (Incidentally, if we are going to talk about the waste of production, let’s talk about the real polluters—the corporations, the frackers, the pipeline pushers, the governments who peg environmentalists as terrorists—not to mention the entire film industry. And what about all those aspiring writers printing out manuscripts that may never get published? Should we bar them from wasting paper too?)

But rather than have a discussion on the environmental ethics of the project. I’m interested in other conversations Printing Out the Internet initiates. Like the conceptual writing tradition in which this work is situated, the “success” of Goldsmith being able to fulfill his objective is a secondary consideration for the artist. In “Paragraphs on Conceptual Writing” where he outlines characteristics of the conceptual writing movement, Goldsmith writes:

 The idea itself, even if not made apparent, is as much a work of art as any finished product. All intervening steps—sketches, drafts, failed attempts, versions, studies, thoughts, conversations—are of interest. Those that show the thought process of the writer are sometimes more interesting than the final product.

Saying that you’re going to try to print out the entire internet is like saying you are going to try to live forever. It just can’t be done. So why then should we bother to participate in such a futile gesture?

In Notes on Conceptualisms, Vanessa Place and Robert Fitterman maintain that the aim of appropriated conceptual writing is not to “critique the culture industry from afar, but to mirror it directly. To do so, it uses the materials of the culture industry directly.” Therefore by reframing the internet—by changing its essence from fluid to concrete—and asking us look at it from a different point of view, Goldsmith is holding up a mirror and turning on a light so that we may see ourselves more clearly. The discussion arising from this reflection helps us to analyze and critique the culture.

Printing Out The Internet asks us to look at something right in front of our faces that we don’t talk about in a meaningful way. It asks us to look at how being online plays a role our lives and what it means to make something as intangible and all encompassing as the internet into something tangible (a printed sheet of paper) in an era when everything is digital and many are lamenting the death of the book as physical object?


In 1998 when I first started using the internet and email regularly, I printed out all my significant email correspondence and organized it in binders by the name of each sender. I was writing screenplays at the time and printed out feature-length scripts from Drew’s Script-O-Rama. Once I even printed out the entire Moviebytes screenplay contest database. While this is now laughable, at the time, email accounts had limited space and computer systems felt unstable and impermanent. I had a gut reaction that if someone could put all this good stuff out there then they could also take it away. Paper was concrete while computer data seemed abstract. I carted those binders around for several years and eventually threw them out—recycled them, which is what Goldsmith plans to do with the content he receives at the culmination of his project. But in the meantime, while the documentation is being gathered, let’s think about why Printing Out the Internet might be worth examining after all.


Printing Out the Internet is an ostentatious premise. It’s larger than Goldsmith’s own UbuWeb, larger than Amazon or Google. It includes every email, every tweet, every e-book, every website from every country in the world and much more. It’s no wonder the idea gets under people’s skin. To say you are going to print out all of that data is just…well, kind of…obnoxious.

But Goldsmith doesn’t want us to just print out the internet, he wants us to talk about printing out the internet because for him, the process (the conversation) is just as important as the final goal or product.

We’ve reached a point in the life of the internet where corporations and governments are closing in. Our privacy, the security of our information, and the ability to keep a neutral playing field in terms of how content is delivered by the telecommunications industry are all at risk. I can’t think of a better time to print out the internet and do a close reading of what we have created and what we stand to lose. Perhaps Printing Out the Internet is really just asking us to stop, reflect, and for a moment, get our heads out of the sand—rather than to literally print it out.

In Printing Out the Internet, like much conceptual writing, the subjective or creative act takes place in what the artists or participants choose to include or leave out from this vast and continuously expanding amount of data. If you decided you were going to print out a section of the internet, what would it be? My 1998 “printing out of the internet” consisted of things I wanted to hold on to for nostalgic reasons or information I deemed as useful to me as a dictionary. Each day as I moved from web browsing to email, I felt like I was in a perpetual state of escaping a burning house, always evaluating what I should take with me and what I should leave to the flames. Sometimes YouTube still feels like that, and I often download videos I’m worried will get taken down. If I were to print out a section of the internet today and send it to LABOR gallery, I might go back to the scarcity model motivating me in the late 1990s and print out something I valued and feared losing like the entirety of Archive.org.

What would you choose and what would that choice say about the current social, political, or economic climate or about your perception of the internet and its stability? Think about what the internet looked like in 1994, 1998, 2002 and how our relationship with it has changed. How would this project have been executed when access to the internet was mostly limited to those affiliated with universities or government? Before images? Before the mainstream use of social networks?

Whether we like it or not, the internet is ubiquitous. It is where we conduct much of our trade and participate in many of our social interactions. People live and die online. Earlier this year web activist, Aaron Swartz, tragically took his own life when he was facing a heavy prison sentence for downloading academic articles and disseminating them. Goldsmith has dedicated Printing Out the Internet to the memory of Aaron Swartz, a gesture that suggests this project is more than a joke or publicity stunt.

 The recent protests in Turkey demonstrate how those in power see the internet—in its current form—as a threat. A peaceful rally in response to Istanbul’s Gezi Park being demolished for a military complex and shopping mall turns into a violent clash. In trying to protect the land against government and corporate interest, ordinary citizens become enemies of the state. It was reported that social networks had been blocked during the height of the protests. The Turkish government denies this; however, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has since deemed Twitter a “menace” and is now trying to enact laws against internet crimes and pressuring social media companies to comply with requests to release information. Turkish citizens are in a position where they must rely on corporations (Facebook and Twitter) to protect them from their own government. What was once a simple way to connect with friends has become a storehouse of information that governments can use against its citizens. This is a chilling reminder that the internet is not ours and it is not free.

We have willingly fed the Internet’s insatiable appetite for information for about twenty years now. Our ease of access to this information and to our ability to rapidly communicate with each other is something that we’ve not only grown accustomed to, but also something we’ve taken for granted. It has fundamentally changed our lives and, some argue, it is even changing the way we think. It is my guess that in years to come the internet is going to be a very different place and likely much more controlled than it already is. If we’ve so easily consented to handing over our personal information and to constantly being surveilled then likely we will consent to whatever shape or form governments and corporations decide that the internet will take—according to what is in their best interest.

Perhaps we should see Goldsmith’s project not as one of triviality, spectacle, or waste, but rather as a vital (even if temporary) documentation and as a form of protest to keep the internet free, in so much that it is. Why print out the internet? Because we can, for now, and because maybe we should.

The exhibition of Printing Out the Internet runs from July 26, 2013 to August 26, 2013 at LABOR gallery in Mexico City.

Kathryn Mocker

Works Cited

Fitterman, Robert and Place, Vanessa, Notes on Conceptualisms. New York: Ugly Ducking Press, 2009. Print.

Goldsmith, Kenneth, “Paragraphs on Conceptualism.” Penn Sound, EPC. Web.





Abstract/Concrete #3 – Natalie Czech

I’ve written in several places about erasure texts (most recently in the latest issue of Evening will come) as typified by Jen Bervin’s nets. Berlin’s Natalie Czech creates uncanny limit-case poems that point to the end of erasure texts, each piece a seemingly impossible conjuring of texts within texts.

czechCzech’s Je n’ai rien à dire. Seulement à montrer. / Ich habe nichts zu sagen. Nur zu zeigen. / I have nothing to say. Only to show. (Spector Books, 2012) is an awe-inspiring book of literary conjuring. I have nothing to say. Only to show places text-based visual poems within larger textual fields, embedding them into the margin-to-margin written from which they assert themselves.

Inspired by Frank O’Hara’s 1950 poem “A Small Bouquet,” Czech invited seven authors to write a background text in which O’Hara’s poem could be seamlessly embedded. The seven radically different resultant texts share one trait—within each piece O’Hara’s poem is perfectly, uncannily, hidden. Each photograph represents the new texts with O’Hara’s poem roughly highlighted; a small bouquet hidden in a larger poetic field.

Czech has also commissioned friends to write the background text of one of the most famous concrete poems. Apollinaire’s classic calligramme “Il Pleut” rains down the page in a now clichéd trope; under Czech’s tutelage, her colleagues craft pieces of prose in French, in German and English—each of which contain the letters of “Il Pleut” in the same textual position as the original. Czech then photographs each piece as if it were part of an entire volume, a dream book where a single page contains the material for any given poem.

“Hidden Poems,” [PDF] detaililpleutThe middle third of I have nothing to say. Only to show is the most astonishing. Czech has scoured an unfathomable number of magazines and popular culture scraps and has found embedded—in a mind-blowing act of literary archaeology—evidence of famous modernist poems embedded in larger blocks of texts like fossilized dinosaur feathers preserved in the crush of shale. Czech simply highlights the uncanny occurrence of entire poems, photographs them in situ and exhibits these bravado acts of poetic discovery as troubling the line between poetic and photographic documentation.

In “A hidden poem by E.E. Cummings #2,” Czech discovers Cummings’ 1961 poem

insu nli gh t


e ne wsp aper

weirdly embedded within the text of a a Life-magazine eras article who headline reads, in part, “far away the huge bomb explode […] / insured, unlikely enough toward […].” Not only is the article and accompanying photograph an uncanny commentary on the poem, but cummings’ original is somehow entirely extantwith line breaks and spacing intactwithin the article itself.

insunlightc A single example of this seemingly impossible task is enough to incite jealousy and wonder at the audacity of Czech’s find. What makes “Hidden Poems” even more impossible is that Czech’s ability to find repeated poems by Creeley, Brinkmann, Khlebnikov, Lax, Kerouac and O’Hara, each also embedded within the cultural fabric of non-poetic media.

derek beaulieu is a regular contributor to LemonHound.

Version Anglaise: Candice Maddy in Conversation with Steve Giasson

Steve Giasson


1. Matérialité : Comment pensez-vous que la permanence ou l’impermanence de votre travail éclaire son sujet? Vous sentez-vous que vos œuvres moins tangibles ou de nature moins permanente vous permettent de prendre plus de risques? Éprouvez-vous de la nostalgie envers l’imprimé?

Each work has its own issues, but materiality is always one.Take LOVE FROM NEW YORK, which I presented in my exhibition about 9/11 at the Centre des arts actuels Skol. It was a ready-made, an appropriation of a DKNY perfume of the same name. Each day, the perfume was sprayed into the gallery space by one of the people who work there. There was nothing to see. A text indicated the “presence” of the work to the visitors. If they did not read it, they might have thought another visitor had simply worn too much perfume… This work evaporated very quickly and, to my mind, it was as invisible as the love or capitalism that surround us. And, perhaps, it was also as ephemeral as them, who knows?

Looking at some artists’ works today, one might get the impression that conceptual art has become a “style.” And, paradoxically, another way to make objects… However, I think the real work is the concept. But it happens that this concept is rooted in the materiality of an object, a book or a puzzle, for example. In addition, some proposals are more risky than others, and there are ones which are foolish or so minimal that they might go unnoticed. However, if they seem fully justified by the basic idea and integrated into the whole, I have no problem with presenting them. Anyway, the idea has to mature for a long time before I realize its physical medium or ask an industry to do so.

To answer your question, I love books with great passion; their thickness, color, texture, volume… I collect them. They are, for me, an excellent way to present my work and ideas. I always come back to art books and poetry around me. Books are my real studio.


2. Géographie : Pensez-vous qu’une pratique conceptuelle allège l’obligation de l’auteur d’avoir un lien personnel géographique avec le lieu qu’il traite? En tant que non-New Yorkais, pensez-vous que vos œuvres récemment exhibés au Centre Skol auraient été perçus comme étant inauthentiques s’ils tiraient vers une tradition plus lyrique? Ressentez-vous une envie de traiter des sujets régionaux dans votre écriture, ou bien quels sont les lieux qui vous inspirent ces temps-ci?

I think, indeed, that the context of realization of a work must always be taken into account. And obviously this context includes a geographical location. For example, if you take a look at many conceptual poems, you’ll see how they are (North) American. Their relationship with commodities, advertising, newspapers, the Internet, art history – all of this is so deeply Western, and, by extension, American…

Not being a New Yorker, of course, influenced the way I designed the exhibition “11” at Skol, since it wasn’t about the event itself, but about its “mediatized manifestations.” (Like millions of others, this is how I witnessed what happened). In fact, what interested me, as a conceptual artist, in the attacks of September 11 2001, was the impact that the images of this disaster – immediately put on loop – have had on our relationship to images in general, and how they still haunt us and generate other ghosts.

In this sense, I think my geographical distance was probably useful, since it helped me to avoid too much pathos. In my opinion, this exhibition shouldn’t only have been a place for commemoration, but also a place for reflection. One of my favorite Robert Barry pieces is the one in which he refers to the gallery as a place to think: SOME PLACES TO WHICH WE CAN COME, AND FOR A WHILE, “BE FREE TO THINK ABOUT WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO.” (MARCUSE)

Many of my works are about my geographical location. For example, DIRECTIONS, which I co-authored with Robert Fitterman, presents most itineraries (by bicycle, by jet, by foot, etc.) between his apartment in New York City and mine, in Montreal. This work can be read as the site of a meeting between two North American artists / humans / citizens, but also as an outlook on all means of transport that are now at our disposal and which have irrevocably changed the way we live.

I’m in progress now on a project in which I compile the latitudes and longitudes of all the places I travel in the course of each day. This project, which began on November 1 2012, is part of a series of texts entitled CLOCK WISE produced by several authors around the world and published daily on the blog http://clockwisewise.wordpress.com/. All texts refer to a change observed in the day. Through all of these, I am looking for a poetry of movement, but it is also a way to explore an approach that is both conceptual and subjective. Meanwhile, it is a reflection on the changes that have occurred with GPS or Internet on our modes of travel. After all, we all live on Google Earth these days.


3. Langue : Comment choisissez-vous la langue dans laquelle vous allez explorer un sujet, que ce soit l’anglais, le français ou par symboles ? Quand et pourquoi avantager une et non pas une autre ? Quels sont les éléments qui guident la décision ?

Everything depends on the concept. For example, if the subject that I’m interested in deals with an American topic and the texts that I appropriate from the Internet are in English, there is no reason why the book should be in French, unless I want to talk about the gesture of translation.

I have to take dozens of small decisions in the selection process and ownership: what font should I use, what is the history of this particular font, in which format should the book appear, how many page should it have, what should appear on the cover and especially, must I absolutely publish this book, etc. The choice of a language is only one of them.

Recently I published a fairly radical work in Matrix Magazine titled FOUR QUIET POEMS. These poems are an attempt to dialogue with Agnes Martin’s paintings and Robert Barry’s One Million Dots. I tried all sorts of things and finally I arrived at this poetry composed of dots, very minimal and like much of what resides in the margins of literary production, quiet and alone. I never thought that anyone would be interested in these.


4. Concepts: Choisissez-vous une approche conceptuelle pour traiter un thème qui vous intéresse, ou est-ce le thème que vous choisissez pour sa capacité d’être traité par une approche conceptuelle qui vous intéresse ? Est-ce l’approche ou le sujet qui vous est plus stimulant ?

All my works are “conceptual”. Sometimes it is the subject which comes to me with burning evidence. In these cases, I must be on my guard: it may be too subjective, too easy or rehashed. Sometimes, as I said earlier, it is the form that inspires me the concept. (For example, I produced a series of poems based on short Samuel Beckett prose, because I wanted to explore the  “monochrome” in poetry…) But, more often, it is a desire for a dialogue with the works of other artists and other writers that pushes me to create a new work. I love art history passionately. Recently, I came across a sentence of Robert Morris that pretty much sums it all: “The problem has been for some time one of ideas – those most admired are the ones with the biggest, most incisive ideas (e.g. Cage & Duchamp)… I think that today art is a form of art history.” But again, I must be careful not to let it go unchecked…


5. La mort: Beaucoup de vos oeuvres semblent motivés ou inspirés par la mort. Quels sont les éléments de la mort (surtout la mort historique et non-sensationaliste) qui vous intéressent?

I would like to respond as Warhol “…I realized that everything I was doing must have been Death.” Death haunts me, but I cannot say that I am “interested” in it. I love Freud’s story: long ago, a British king, devastated by the death of his wife, had her transported throughout the kingdom. Whenever the coffin was placed on the ground, a monument was erected there. Some of these monuments still exist today. Imagine, Freud continues, a woman crying before one of them every day. She would be a neurotic.

I may be wrong, but I think this story has something to do with art. Many works are hidden monuments.


6. Comment vos impressions et votre relation avec votre travail sont-elles modifiées ou affectées par la réception publique de vos oeuvres? Pensez-vous que votre conception du votre art soit changée par son exhibition?

The act of publishing my books or publicly displaying my work has fundamentally changed my perception of them, and in a good way, I think. It is an incredible opportunity to share one’s work, one’s thoughts, as here, with you. I hate ease. When I work, I’m my own cop. Not because I censor myself, but because I do not let anything go, especially if I know it will be shown publicly or published. I can remake a book 10 times, 15 times, before being satisfied.


7. Quelle sera la suite ? Sur quoi travaillez-vous en ce moment?

I’m currently developing three new exhibitions, one of which should be almost invisible… I’m also producing several books at once, including my own “Bestiary”. I hardly ever stop working. I do not know what it means to rest.


9. Que lisez-vous présentement?

Prêts et renouvellements


Titre    Rudolf Stingel / Stingel, Rudolf.

No de document          32002510704842

Emprunté à     Grande Bibliothèque

Emprunté le    11/10/2012

Doit être remis le



Renouveler    ?

Frais à ce jour 1,80 $


Titre    Sol LeWitt wall drawing 1176 : seven basic colors and all their combinations in a square within a square : for Josef Albers / LeWitt, Sol, 1928-2007

No de document          32002510704925

Emprunté à     Grande Bibliothèque

Emprunté le    24/10/2012

Doit être remis le




Titre    Buren / Lelong, Guy, 1952-

No de document          32002516640198

Emprunté à     Grande Bibliothèque

Emprunté le    24/10/2012

Doit être remis le




Titre    Sol LeWitt : a retrospective / LeWitt, Sol, 1928-2007

No de document          32002507115440

Emprunté à     Grande Bibliothèque

Emprunté le    27/10/2012

Doit être remis le




Titre    In & out of Amsterdam : travels in conceptual art, 1960-1976

No de document          32002512831460

Emprunté à     Grande Bibliothèque

Emprunté le    02/11/2012

Doit être remis le




Titre    Une révolution symbolique : l’iconoclasme huguenot et la reconstruction catholique / Christin, Olivier

No de document          32777007448546

Emprunté à     Grande Bibliothèque

Emprunté le    08/11/2012

Doit être remis le




Titre    Les protestants et la création artistique et littéraire : des réformateurs aux romantiques

No de document          32002511567958

Emprunté à     Grande Bibliothèque

Emprunté le    08/11/2012

Doit être remis le




Titre    L’iconoclasme byzantin : le dossier archéologique / Grabar, André, 1896-

No de document          32002515466983

Emprunté à     Grande Bibliothèque

Emprunté le    08/11/2012

Doit être remis le




Plus Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing, L’art conceptuel, une perspective, Klaus Scherübel, Vol. 13 and Agatha Christie’s Mort dans les nuages (Death in the Clouds).




Vanessa Place: The Allegory and the Archive

The Allegory and the Archive/ Vanessa Place

But I must constantly repeat that I say all this in connection with repetition. Kierkegaard Je ne suis point la justice. PlaceWith luck, I ended yesterday on guilt and shame; now that you are in a proper frame of mind, we will consider—thankfully more briefly—allegory and the archive, which are, after all, ways of mediating and instantiating both. That is to say, how memorials are forgotten and made.

Allegory (from Greek: αλλος, allos, “other”, and αγορεσειν, agoreuein, “to speak in public”) is a figurative mode of representation conveying a meaning other than the literal. Medieval thinking accepted allegory as having a reality underlying any rhetorical or fictional uses. The allegory was as true as the facts of surface appearances.(Wikipedia)

So Wikipedia defines the allegory historically, as ahistorically represented in Wikipedia. One of the confusions about conceptualism appears to be this issue of the allegorical. We know what allegory was originally, Dante‟s Commedia, Bunyan‟s Progress, Langland‟s Plowman, and my copy of The Marvelous Career of Theodore Roosevelt (and the story of his African Trip). And we all remember that allegory is extended metaphor, wherein objects (signifiers) within a narrative equate with meanings (signifiers) outside the narrative. That there is always a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning, that synthesis between narratives lies with the reader, that personification within the literal is not determinative, and that the allusive is not necessarily the allegorical, but the allegorical is very often allusive. That the allegorical was further defined by Dante as polysemous in the sense of relating to past events (typological), present events (moral) and future event (anaological). That then Benjamin came with his ange of history, and, upon contemplating the state of German tragic drama, took the baroque too literally and found allegory confounded. So the neue allegory was the skull and the ruin, fractured renditions of imaginary castles.
Wikipedia is ahistorical because it remains paradigmatically unfixed. There is no “edition” or publish date by which to historicize any one entry or the archive as a whole.1
Benjamin wrote extensively and cribbed copiously on Baudelaire, poet of the allegorical; in his Passengenwerk (The Arcades Project), Benjamin writes of his desire to relate the figure of the modern and the figure of allegory, while quoting Baudelaire, who concluded that “almost all our originality comes from the stamp that time imprints upon our feelings.” Benjamin later quotes a 1933 edition of Les Fleurs du mal, which notes in turn that Baudelaire “always concentrates on the inner life, as Dante focused on dogma.” Thus, allegory, via Benjamin via Baudelaire via his 1933 editor is the psychic center that holds, or doesn‟t, as the allegorical internal/external (es-ternal) whole, represented by Dante, is crumbled. The modern allegory is one of despair, melancholy, the man on the move, motored by egoism, mystification, and purely private conversation.
Conceptualism similarly maintains there is no single allegory, and no potential allegorical loss. One of the legacies of post-modernism is that polysemousness is as promised; one of the differences with post-modernism is that there is no ache for, or cognition of, truth, not even in the absence or lack thereof. Rather, there is a recognition of the truth of the soup in which the individuated we and you stew. So that there is no divide between subject and object, hence the conceptual “sobject.” Defined by me in Notes on Conceptualisms as existing in an ongoing procedural loop, self-eclipsed by degrees. Thus the antique notion of dogma, or sacred text, or single allegory is as impossible as the modern conceit of sacred interiority. In this sense, all text is equally sacred in conceptualism. Sacred in the sense delineated by Giorgio Agamben as the man who murders, who can be killed for this murder, but who cannot be sacrificed—the murder of the murderer cannot be sanctified. His guilt makes him the exception to both the rule against murder and the rule favoring sacrifice, i.e., giving to the gods. In this way, Agamben‟s sacred man proves the rule that only the sovereign can determine who dies. In conceptualism, all text is sacred, but there is no sovereign, not even the sovereign that once was or was once. Moreover, all text is equally sacred, the living dead of the world, as text has overtaken text, subsumed text, overwritten text, but there‟s not time or space sense to this incessant juxtapose and jockeying, like amazon sales ratings, you may be #32 one day and 4,455,658 another. The blog hit or the Twitter-miss. On the other hand, you can also be issued in limited chapbook form, or spring, fully-formed via print-on- demand, i.e. fetishized or simply snapped into instantiation. No king or king of king determines who dies, for no one dies, just as no one decisively is. On the other hand, one man‟s garbage is another‟s madeleine. Our allegory is the abyss, but our abyss is a mountain, our mountain an archive.
Benjamin reported Baudelaire‟s condemnation, in 1852, of “the puerile Utopia of the school of art for art’s sake” Let us consider, in our post-Duchampian, Wikipedian time, the puerile utopia of the school of anything for any other sake, or, in other words, of anything that is immune from becoming art. So that art that may be extracted or pressed, like oil, from everything. Is this true? This changes the question from the utility of art to the art, that is to say, the excess or the residual, of utility.
Though I might aside here that my sense of ahistoricity is itself historical, and specifically American, as geography is always history. We are a people that like to be history-free, a people who pride themselves on assimilation of the melting variety, one in which it is good to fit and fit in and be as ordinary as your average, as uniquely fungible as any perfect snowflake or new masculinist lyric. So we URL our world, which is an historic gesture, historically bound, we‟re Whitmanesque sans Whitman, American without England, though English all the hypertrophic way.
Whereas conceptual art institutionalized the dematerialized, such as Lee Lozano‟s general strike piece (refusing to engage with the “art world”) and Yves Klein‟s proto-work Le Vide (The Void, an essentially empty gallery space, complete with opening party), conceptual poetry valorizes the immaterial. Immaterial meaning irrelevant, such as the yesterday‟s news of Kenneth Goldsmith‟s Day or the unimportant, such as the suburban banality of Rob Fitterman‟s Sprawl, or the neatly eviscerated, such as Craig Dworkin‟s grammatically-correct and contentless Parse or the scientifically and socially denuded, such as Kim Rosenfield‟s re:evolution, or my own vomitous—50k words = 1 sentence—baroque in Dies or the effectively impotent, such as my Statement of Facts. Immateriality also having to do with unreadability. In this sense, “pure” conceptualism is a surface allegory about unreadability because something has already been read (such as the NYTimes) or cannot be “read” (such as grammatical structures), and impure or sampled conceptual work concerns unreadabilty as the gaps and chunks in the mashup (such as when high evolutionary theory meets advice on the lay science of living), and the baroque is unreadable because its de trop (such as war itself). If modern art is that which thoroughly exploits a medium‟s surface, and the remainder in Lacan (the psychologist of the post-modern), is that part of the Subject which cannot be thoroughly absorbed into the Other, or the lack in the Other that defines the Subject by way of excess, then conceptualism (heretofore unpsychoanalyized) is concerned with the way that the surface excess of text mirrors the excess of the remainder. That is to say, what cannot be read. What is immaterial because it is dull and contentless, dense and difficult, erased or rococco‟d. These are specific ideas about immateriality, evidenced in specific allegorical forms. By specific, I mean multiple.
Thus, just as ahistoricity is a point of perspective, not a statement of fact, allegory is currently the alienation of realism from the real, and the real from the Real. By allegorizing the real, conceptualism emphasizes its non-reality, its material fabrication, its ubiquitous status as matter of fact, its essential uncontainability, its Reality. Newspapers, dictionaries, shopping mall directories, appellate briefs—all are represented outside their natural habitats, i.e. those webs of ethical and aesthetic conditions and assumptions, including the condition and assumption of communication itself, i.e., readability itself. This is when thinkership takes over and overcomes readership, when readership supplants thinking in the sense of the supplementary. Though it should be noted that there‟s a fight to the photo-finish.
In an appellate brief, statements of facts are that portion of the brief which presents, in narrative form, evidence that was presented at trial. Evidence presented at trial typically consists of two stories, one articulated by the prosecution, one by the defense. A story of guilt and a story of innocence. All stories are told under oath, all sworn to be true. They are “statements of fact.” In my book, Statement of Facts, I take statements of facts from appellate briefs that I‟ve written and represent them as poetry. The allegory here includes an allegory about law as subsumed by the case, the case as rhetorical gesture, as linguistic “fact.” The Law is revealed a speech act, a speech act that is fundamentally about witnessing.
The Law of the Father is Lacan’s response to the Oedipal complex: the child perceives that the mother desires something, and tries to make itself into that something. When the child sees the father intervening in this aspiration, the child must submit to this intervention. If the child understands the intervening father as the representative of a larger social law, a law also followed by the mother, the child will be non-pathologically normalized. The Law of the Father is thus about witnessing and is thus always the allegory of language itself, of ordered interpolation. In Statement of Facts, the Law of the State is an allegory for the Law of the Father. So too with poetry and the Law of Poetry. All that poetry is is witness. On a case-by- case paradigmatic basis.
Agamben analogizes paradigm and allegory as the “singular case that is isolated from its context only insofar as, by exhibiting its own singularity, it makes intelligible a new ensemble, whose homogeneity it itself constitutes.” In this regard, Agamben distinguishes between the exemplar—that which is to be imitated—and the exemplum, that which gathers together “a new intelligible ensemble and in a new problematic context.” The archive is exemplum as it is the fusion between paradigmatic structure and institution. The archive creates a gesture of equivalency between things archived (i.e. contained within an archive). To do so, the archive must be authored, that is to say, signed. In other words, it is the authority of the archivist that creates the archive, that says these things are gathered together, to be read as one thing. Let‟s think about signatures for a moment. According to my Black‟s Law Dictionary, signature is “the act of putting one‟s name at the end of an instrument to attest its validity,” to sign something is to “give it effect as one‟s act.” Thus, signatures literally “effect what they figuratively express,” as noted by Thomas Aquinas, they efficiunt quod figurant, for, just as in the holy sacrament, the “effect depends on a signator.” In 17th century ontology, exemplified by the philosophy of Lord Edward Herbert of Chirbury, every being presents the signature of unity, unity of truth, truth of good: quodlibet ens est unum, verum, bonum.
In Roman law, the dies fasti were those days on which courts were open and justice could be administered, when the prætor could pronounce the three words—“do,” “dico,” and “addico.” “Do” is to grant or give, “dico” to speak, “addico” to award. These “triverbial days” were thus days of instantiation and articulation, of bringing into being by speaking. In Latin, the index is the sign, or an informer, that which shows by means of the word, just as the iudex is the one who says the law, and the vindex the one who takes the place of the accused and announces himself ready to suffer consequences of the proceedings. Thus raising the relationship between event and its evidence, evidence and its subject, and subject and its sobjective effect, which are the fundamental questions of the index.
To be archives, materials must be preserved for reasons other than those for which they were created or accumulated. (T.R. Schellenberg)
Archival art tends to manifest in some form of uniform. Andy Warhol archived his documentary stuff—all his documentary stuff: invitations, letters, photos, souvenirs—by regularly filling a series of regularly shaped cardboard boxes. Once one was full, it was taped shut and shipped off to storage. At the time of his death, he had created the archival work, Andy Warhol’s 610 Time Capsules, now neatly shelved in Pittsburgh. Similarly, Gerhard Richter‟s work Atlas, consists of a grid of same-sized framed photos of newspaper clippings, photos, and sketches; project was begun in 1964, and is ongoing. Note the role of the signator, for Richter produced some of the original material, and some he simply collected. Too, a number of the photos are reproduced in two forms: blurred and un-, or focused and un- . Too, note how the un- follows and defines the originary intent, alternating, that is to say, what is the image and what does it represent. Benjamin Buchloch‟s essay on Atlas notes that trauma (the originating trauma of WWII) is the one link that binds image to referent in the work‟s archaic photo montage/barrage. Hanna Darboven‟s great installation piece Kulturegeschichte 1880-1983(Cultural History 1880-1983) was composed of 1,590 sheets and 19 sculptural objects: the work included postcards, pinups, documentary references, doorways, magazine covers, art catalogues, and kitsch. In her introductory essay for its Dia exhibition, Lynn Cooke describes the “libidinal exuberance” of Darboven‟s work, while at the same time, its pathos—there is no synthesis of referent or representation possible, no making it “readable‟—all that is is “the possibility, albeit qualified, of individual demurral.”
Raising for us the important question: what is “it,” that is to say, what is it that is to be read? In other words, while much conceptual poetry is archival, or has the features of the archive, and we can use archival art to understand this kind of conceptualism. It is perhaps more useful to consider how the archive helps us understand the allegorical, given that all conceptualism is allegorical.
Art historian and curator Charles Merewether has questioned the relationship between testimony and record, document and archive. In his consideration of aprés-bomb Japanese poetry and photography, Merewether quotes Allan Sekula‟s definition of a document as that which “entails a notion of legal or official truth, as well as a notion of proximity to and verification of an original event.” In post-Hiroshima Japanese photography, according to Merewether, truth is represented either as “a linear progression from past to present or by virtue of the fact that the camera as a mechanical form of reproduction provides a „source of factual knowledge‟ and „objective evidence. The document it produces therefore becomes the source and foundation of the archive and the archive itself authorizes the veracity of the document through its incorporation.‟” Merewether goes on to note that the post-bomb photographic archive became a comment on, not memory, but forgetting: “citation as representation” becoming the “mise-en-abyme of representation….” demonstrating “the impossibility of a lieux de mémoire.”2 The very fact of the very pictoral, i.e. representational, abundance creating a gap between seeing and having seen, a gap characterized by excess in refer-ent and representation, creating in turn, as Merewether puts it, “an archive of the unconscious, an archive of the avant-garde or an avant-garde archive.” Again invoking the remainder, the left-over of our own (arguably traumatic, though which trauma do you prefer, homecrown or soemthing with a more international flavour) present-tense existence, which poetry puts in the futur anterior—the what will have been. iFor it is the sense of what will have been that incites documentation.
Marjorie Perloff‟s forthcoming Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by other means discusses the role of citation in poetry, of “poetry by other means.” Poetry persists as taste, as selection. But taste must be framed.
Some citations: The Raqs Media Collective/First Information Report (2003): “because a document‟s raw material is rhetoric, the practitioner has to constantly evolve a rhetoric of rhetoric to make documents yield.”
Paul Ricoeur: “If history is a true narrative, documents constitute its ultimate means of proof. They nourish its claim to be based on facts.”
Whether factual or no, proof of memory or of what I forget, archival art assumes there is no great difference between event and evidence. Or rather, it taps into a desire to synthesize event and evidence, which the archivist may satisfy or cock-tease. I assume there can be no real synthesis, for there is always a gap between event and testimony, even if the difference is that of the country fact of the witness. Agamben has described tradition as that in which the traumatic event is suppressed or preserved, which comports well with Merewether, and a number of other archive thinkers. I would like to introduce here another definition of archive, put forth by Foucault: archives as “systems of statements.” According to Foucault, “the archive is first the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events.” That is to say, the archive defines statement‟s “system of its enunciability,” the “system of its functioning.”
Taking up from Foucault, Agamben distinguishes between the archive as a system of relations between the said and unsaid and testimony as a system of relations “between the inside and outside of langue, between the sayable and the unsayable in every language.” The archive presupposes the subject as a function “founded on the disappearance into the anonymous murmur of statements. In testimony, by contrast, the empty place of the subject becomes the decisive question.” Renée Green writes that “to be a subject and to bear witness are the same and that same is a remnant.” But we do not have to decide whether it is an object or link that is missing, whether the subject is functionary or functional. Put another way, we must not decide.
For if what a subject is is a witness and what a witness is is a subject, then subject is again defined in relation to object, that is to say an event, even a linguistic event, then we are back to our porous sobject. The one who witnesses some thing it is witnessed by. What is critical to conceptualism is that the one who witnesses is the one who decides what the allegory really is, what is really archived. The encounter is all that is provided. And as I have said, these encounters engage in the discourse of the slave, a discourse in which the signified, suppressing the fact of its excess, addresses the signifier with the language of the signifier, repeating the language of the signifier, producing the split subject, the subject pre-divided by language itself. So the key is not what trauma or whether trauma or this utopia or that utopia but the repetition that comes post-trauma and sans utopia, the Sisyphean move of reiteration, the patterned joy of the same all over again.
Kierkegaard put forth two metaphysics of time: recollection and repetition. Without one or the other, Kierkegaard writes, “all life dissolves into an empty, meaningless noise.” Recollection is the category favored by the Greeks, repetition “the new category that will be discovered.” In what has been called less a philosophical doctrine and more a thought paradigm, Kierkegaard encourages the “courage to will repetition,” arguing that, as contrasted to the causal bonds of recollection (the new traced to the old) the moment of repetition is when there is no causal chain (the old becomes new).
Why is the grid used in archival art? What is the allegory of the grid?
Are grids serial? Are they simultaneous?
Is there a difference between the serial and the archival, and, if so, is the difference necessary? Eighteenth century police archives have been described by contemporary art historian Arlett Farge as having “un effet du réel,” an effect of the real, an effect of accident, of contingency; Duchamp referred to his 3 Standard Stoppages (1913), 3 lengths of tailor‟s thread dropped from a height of 1 meter onto a piece of painted canvas, as “du hasard en conserve” (some chance in a can). Later archival art has leaned on chance, and then play, so that Andrea Fraser‟s Information Room (1998) involved her installing the library archive of the Bern Kunsthalle in a gallery, the spines of the boxes unidentified so that visitors, invited to search through the archive, didn‟t know what they were looking through or for until the boxes had been duly dug through, creating chaos out of order. While a nice riposte to the original impulse of the archive, this of course simply reaffirms the conceit that the archive is fundamentally order. What I am proposing is that the archive is no more ordered than any autobiography, that is to say, a real one, one that exists serially only temporally, but is an act of happenstance and repetition, recollection and accident. In myStatement of Facts, I narrativize criminal acts, sexual assaults, many of which are the result of winning the bad luck lottery: you happened to have an uncle who loved you too much, I happened to leave that window open. It was hot. So was he. Each of the thirty-three texts in Statement of Facts forces the question posed by Deleuze: What does it mean, therefore, to affirm the whole of chance, every time, in a single time?”
Books are structurally serial, i.e., they occur sequentially. Books contain their own grid, i.e., the page. I question the relation between the grid and the archive, or rather wonder if there is something in the immaterial one that wants its material other. In his book on the document in art, Sven Spieker argues that nonarchival collections are tied to Lacan‟s Imaginary, the library of books to the Lacanian Symbolic, and that the 19thcentury version of the archive, a gesture against contingency and chaos, was the embodiment of the Real. (The Big Archive 6) Not to deluge you, but the Lacanian categories or orders may be roughly and mistakenly equated with their Freudian counterparts: the Imaginary is the realm of the ego, concerned with image, imagination, deception. It‟s illusions are wholeness, synthesis, similarity. The Symbolic may be linked to the superego in the sense that it is also a structuring field, a realm of law and order, essentially linguistic. (Lacan‟s most famous aphorism being “The unconscious is structured like a language.”)3 The discourse of the Symbolic is the unconscious, the topical regulation of desire. The Symbolic is concerned with radical alterity, the big (A)Other, and thus is always a triadic structure. It is the realm of death. (The realm of the Soviet artist Aleksander Rodechenko‟s Productivist archive of Lenin photographs, for example, though Rodechenko wanted a commonplace mythos of the man, i.e., a monument of Lenin created from snapshots.) The Real is that which is neither symbolic nor imaginary. The leftover, the remainder, the excess. The abyss upon which we sit.
To quote Lacan: “At issue, in an analogic or anamorphic form, is the effort to point once again to the fact that what we seek in the illusion is something in which the illusion as such in some way transcends itself, destroys itself, by demonstrating that it is only there as signifier.” According to Kierkegaard, it is only through repetition that there can be transcendence because consciousness itself is “a relation” that is the contradiction/collision between what is and what was which opens up into the third possibility. And it is this third possibility which caused Delueze to say that repetition “is against the law.”
To quote Stewie: “Again, again! I love repetition!” (“Bird is the Word” Family Guy)
And so we know that the “same” of repetition refers to the effect of repetition, which is a forced consideration of difference. And here I may have snuck in—finally—meaning. In theory, repetition is endless, the old turning new turning old turning new, the eternal return, the come again again. The Danish word for repetition is gentalgese, “re-taking,” “taking back.” If something is taken back, it can be given again. This makes repetition brutal, unrelenting. Nietzsche countered this horror by advocating amor fati, love of fate, “that one wants to have nothing different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity.” The embrace of the same, which, again, leads to the new and different. In Tender Buttons, Stein wrote: “the difference is spreading.” Spreading as in spatial, spatial as in archival.
When I wrote in Notes on Conceptualism that all conceptual writing is allegorical, the question became what is it allegorical of—note the preposition. I did not include this preposition. I refuse to assume the prepositional position. If you, reader, writer, audience member, lecturer, do, then you have assumed the position of the enunciation rather than its reiteration. I have quoted a great deal in this paper, saying again what has been said before, gathering these statements into my own archive—this paper, this grid, this series. This allegory. The work I am interested in engages with various registers and disciplines outside those registers and discipline, or at least ostensibly outside, work that resists the false dyad of chance versus premeditation, but understands the triad that meditation is always canned chance—that perception is categorical as well as cant. And categories are contagious. It is a serious question to answer to what are you witness? It is a serious answer to question what is poetry?
Agamben writes, “Only he who perceives the indices and signatures of the archaic in the most modern and recent can be contemporary.” Put another way, and here I quote from the 1960 French film “Eyes Without A Face,” (Les yeux sans visage) “The future, Madam, is something we should have started a long time ago.” (“Le futur, Madame, est une chose que nous aurions dû commencer il y a bien longtemps.”)
To quote Walter Benjamin:

“The power of a text is different when it is read from when it is copied out. Only the copied text thus commands the soul of him who is occupied with it, whereas the mere reader never discovers the new aspects of his inner self that are opened by the text, that road cut through the interior jungle forever closing behind it: because the reader follows the movement of his mind in the free flight of day-dreaming, whereas the copier submits it to command.”

Poetry is witness. Put another way, quoting here from the 1960 French film “Eyes Without A Face,” (Les yeux sans visage) “The future, Madam, is something we should have started a long time ago.” (“Le futur, Madame, est une chose que nous aurions dû commencer il y a bien longtemps.”) What do you want with it?
Vanessa Place, Buffalo 3.2.10
1 When recent news of a Brad and Angelina split hit the Times UK online, one reader said that, being 19, she would not believe it until it appeared on Wikipedia. Thus the idea that truth is a matter of majority opinion, subject to popular rewriting, is now understood by everyone, up to and including sophmores.
2 Baudrillard, “In the exact duplication of the Real, preferably by means of another reproductive medium— advertisement, photography, etc—and in the shift from medium to medium, the real vanishes and becomes an allegory of death. But even in its moment of destruction it exposes and affirms itself; it will become the quintessential real and it becomes the fetishism of the lost object.” (L’écharge symbolique et la mort
3 We could make a small discursive movement here to note how the Freudian notion of the unconscious is hermetic, archival—a mollusk (whose inside Benjamin analogized to the 19th century domestic interior), and the Lacanian is synchronic, temporally pulsating, opening & closing—a vagina (whose interior was not so analogized by Lacan, though he did note that the Other is always woman = A). And how many others unwittingly note this analogue via Clam, Bearded Clam, etc., mollusk-based synonyms for vagina. Is there something envaginated about repetition? As contrasted, for example, with the famous Aristotlian cathartic arc?
Vanessa Place, 2010. This originally appeared as a chapbook, No Press, Calgary 2010.