Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Conceptual/Writing

I have trouble getting at all interested in Poetry Magazine's latest manufactured "controversy" about Conceptual Writing, but let me add a couple of cents.

In about 1972 or so, the very conservative journal Triquarterly had a special issue devoted to conceptualism - featuring Beuys, Smithson and others. It's pretty much awesome. And I have a couple of points to make about that.

To begin with, conceptualism to Triquarterly did not mean to import or adapt ideas of the visual arts to poetry. Kenny Goldsmith has been calling for poetry to imitate art from the 1960s; but it seems to me a much more radical and interesting to follow Triquarterly's suit and see conceptual art as already poetry (not needed to be adapted to poetry). (I'm really interested in this art, but I'm also intersted in art since then.)

This issue has however a touch of retrospective about it. A better comparison might be the Swedish journal Gorilla (1966-67), a journal that is involved in conceptual art, counter culture (LSD etc), media criticism, poetry, happenings, McLuhan, arhictecture, the Internet. Featuring Burroughs, Fahlstrom, Hodell (who wrote an entire "novel" that was merely the instruction manual of a sewing machine) and political critique. It's just about my favorite publication of all time.

5 Comments:

Blogger Brennen Wysong said...

I'd love to get my mitts on that issue of TriQuarterly, but one question: Is the art in the issue language as art? (I'm suspecting not, considering you mention Beuys and Smithson).

And yet, much of Conceptualism as it arose was textually based in its attempt to escape the materiality of the art object.

So it's a bit tough for me to understand this in Kenneth Goldsmith's statement:

"Language as matter; language as material. How much did you say that paragraph weighed?"

Where's the concept when language is considered the material?

Beyond that, I really don't think other writers under the umbrella of Conceptual Writing would agree with Goldsmith in regard to language being so easily disposable.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

Retrospective - so true. Bergvall has been doing her thing for ages, Steve McCaffery and Karen Mac Cormick as well (and far more interesting then the sterility of much of Bok's work, to compare Canadians with Canadians) - Johnson's Radi Os and Phillip's Humument, along with Cage and Mac Low seem to fit the bill, if Bergvall does.
And conceptualism seems a bit old hat in the visual arts these days, or the kind of bare-bones work of Craig Dworkin (though maybe I'm not getting the whole picture there).

I'm not sure how it's any more conceptual than any precursors - which is what the fuss, and Kenny G's posturing, seem to imply.

5:14 AM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

But one has to admire the labors of Bok, whatever the "poetic value" of the results. In Bok's work, actually, you can't really separate value from method, and that seems a big part of the point. In Eunoia, for example, it almost doesn't matter what you think of the text itself (not much, honestly, as far as I'm concerned); it's how the text got to be.

In an interview with The Believer, current issue, Bok twice uses "Herculean' to describe his own efforts, and that seems accurate to me. In the interview, if I can remember, Bok discusses how he has been at work, in collaboration with a biologist, to create a genome sequence that will be alphabetically coded into a poem. This sequence will then be inserted into a super-hardy bacterium (can't recall the name of it) so that the poem will live and mutate beyond the extinction of the human race-- survive to be, in fact, the last remaining poem of humanity, perhaps to be discovered and decoded by some alien civilization down the road. It will carry the name of Christian Bok as its Author. (Like most Flarfists and Conceptual poets engaged in all this supposedly Self-transcending work, Bok also seems to have a Herculean Ego, and the candor of the ambition and self-promotion itself--Goldsmith is also obvious example of this--becomes a kind of theatrical component of the poetics, hard to separate from the methods and texts. In general, there are no better, more unembarrassed representatives of the Author Function today than the F-Con Po's.)

Anyway, in the case of Bok, I don't think we can dismiss the package as "sterile," as Ross Brighton has it. There is a drive involved that is so intense it seems touched by a kind of mad genius. While nearly all the F-Con Po work will fairly soon be forgotten, I'm quite sure Bok will make his way into the Norton!

Kent

8:50 AM  
Blogger jjanssen2 said...

I really enjoyed reading this blog and its comments. I ama long time writer and am just getting into conceptual writing myself. Your words give me some good insight into the direction I should go. Over the course of my life, I have spent a lot of money on a fantasy card game and now am trying to use all the cards I have accumulated to make art. At the moment, I feel like I am just re-treading DaDa footsteps with varying ways of randomizing the words through cut ups or other destruction of the cards.

Speaking of Eunioa, what's not to like about:
'What carnal acts can a man transact? A gal can grab a man's balls and wank a man's shaft; a man can grasp a gal's bra and spank a gal's ass.'

It pours off the tongue and brings to the surface all kinds of fond memories.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

jjanssen - yes, that's some great phrasing. what makes me a little uncomfortable about eunoia is the extras at the end, that seem to say "and you thought that was cool - I can do this shit in my sleep. ain't i awesome?" Compare this to Jackson Mac Low, whose work generally contains a rundown of the procedures, that you can follow and end up with exactly the same results (or take to another text and make something awesome yourself).

I think i'd like eunoia more if it just stood as it is, and spoke for itself (so to speak).

Do you knnow what i mean?

6:56 PM  

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