A beautiful book with excellent reproductions of some of the most interesting works of collage in contemporary art. I found it slightly lacking in context. Though the two essays that were included were interesting they could have been more thoroughly developed. The O’Reilly essay made some really surprising reductions of the development of early twentieth-century collage techniques. Still a lot of good concepts raised – a good introduction for undergraduates beginning to think critically about collage. The second essay posited some fantastic ideas, especially his notion of the chimeric edge and the dissolving edge. The more interesting ideas were dealt with a bit hurriedly for my tastes, in order I think to get to a number of other ideas of the edge that were somewhat less compelling. I would have liked to get deeper into the idea of collage in medical science and current technology – prosthesis and genetic engineering as a collagist technique. Some very provocative ideas in there.
The book’s focus is unsurprisingly on the UK, with only a handful of the most known artists outside of the UK included. But I like the way the book was organized, by style/subject rather than chronologically. And the reproductions are really stunning.
Was considering assigning this for The Art of Stealing, but though there are moments that are very interesting, as a whole the book fell short of my hopes. The Fitterman section seemed a little too enamored of its own brilliance, as evidenced by the reliance on fairly obtuse language and a lot of the kind of name-dropping reference that is fine for notational purposes but I think is really a kind of self-satisfied flouting of ones’ own library. Though I had read most (not all) of the authors referenced, and so knew enough to decipher the encoded references, I would never expect my students to have to wallow through that. Still, a great source for other texts I might have them look at, so that’s useful anyways.
Vanessa Place’s section was much more engaging. But there was less engagement with the idea of conceptualism, more joy in the act of writing a kind of manifesto but less to say perhaps.
Still, for anyone interested in conceptual writing this is a great little text to read over.
The first proposition of the manifesto is that conceptual writing is allegorical writing. This relies really heavily on Benjamin’s idea of allegory, though that’s never expressly explored (or even alluded to). Since that is the premise, and it’s not explicitly stated or explained, the development of that idea might leave some wondering. This idea is actually not all that new, Benjamin Buchloh develops it and I suspect that’s where Fitterman is getting his start, because he directly references Buchloh’s essay later on.
The essential idea is that allegorical writing is writing that depends on the existence of other texts (pre- and post-) for its reading. Texts here in the broadest sense of “things that can be read” which of course includes images, media, advertisement, political rhetoric, etc. Fitterman doesn’t argue this, but I might, that all writing is allegorical writing, which leaves the idea of conceptualist writing un-usefully vague. This comes from my background as a translator, in which one of the first things I think about is the violence that is done when extracting a text from its cultural/linguistic context and placing it in a foreign one. Every text, no matter how “original” depends on the entirety of its cultural context for its rendering and it’s reading.
So the question really seems to be how conceptual writing, as allegorical writing, engages with the pre- and post- texts that it invokes and relies upon. Here Fitterman interestingly engages with the idea of failure: “Failure is the goal of conceptual writing” (22). Again, it’s thrown down like a lovely little nugget without any exploration or development, or even showing of what pre-texts he’s relying on in formulating that statement. Which is a little frustrating, because I’m intrigued by the idea but not willing to swallow it wholesale.
Again, I think of translation. There are some theories of translation that posit all translation is essentially a work of failure. Because the wholeness of the text can never be transferred (see, for a great example of this idea, Borges’ “Pierre Menard Author of The Quixote”) all translations are fundamentally failures. If this is the inevitable condition of a translation, then I might also assume the inverse. All translations are successes, as conceptual projects at least. I’d like to explore this more, but the Fitterman is so lacking in any in-depth engagement.
He does develop two interesting ideas of open and closed conceptual texts. An open text is, in his formulation, one that can be read horizontally – multiple readings but not multiple meanings/levels of reading. A closed text is one that can be read vertically, multiple levels of reading, but not necessarily multiple readings. These are things that translators have to consider at every step – what kinds of readings the text is open to, and how to re-create that openness (or another kind of openness) in the new language. An easy example is pun – that is a level of reading that does not necessarily create a new reading, but is a place to enact the existent reading of the text.
He briefly engages in the ethics of appropriation, deciding that ethics are essentially constructed by communities, and that it is “enacted in the question of editing.” A very interesting idea I wish had been developed or explored, again. Ethics leads to the question of faithfulness, another translation mainstay, in which he posits some perhaps-radical to those outside of translation questions like “faithfulness to what?” Again, no exploration.
In the end he talks briefly about the attention of conceptual projects to language of mass media and popular culture (the internet, etc.) as a recourse for poetic discourse that is already weak in terms of its own cultural capital. Though I assume he finds poetry (and by extension “progressive” writing, and perhaps by extension “progressive” artwork in any medium) lacking in cultural capital based on the ideas of Bourdieu, he doesn’t make his underlying assumptions clear. Too bad, because I think the way conceptual and progressive writing engages with mass media and digital culture is perhaps the most interesting part of this idea.
So yes, some really interesting propositions, with no engagement, exploration, or even enough revealing of his thinking to build upon, or even really use, in my own thinking. I can only hope that he’ll someday, somewhere, in some form, expand on some of the more interesting ideas here.
The introduction to this book did exactly what any introduction to a selection of poetry should do: made me very, very excited to discover the poetry within. Contextualizing it in the Olsonian projective verse tradition, and then explaining how Johnson’s work evolved into the world-wide concrete poetry movement, before finally emerging into a “big” poem he imagined in the tradition of A, The Cantos, and The Maximus Poems. I was absolutely enticed, and some of my anxiety (that it was going to be all Christian/religious/transcendental poetry, given the title) was relieved.
This book is a selection of the complete poems of Ronald Johnson, a poet I hadn’t heard of before this book. It starts collecting some of his early work, which I actually rather enjoyed against all odds. Influenced by the Black Mountain poets, it is a kind of American bucolic, but without the romanticization of a lost wilderness, etc. And in quite interesting language, peppered with quotations in a collaging gesture that I like a lot.
Then I sort of lose interest for a while – the concrete stuff is interesting, and in general I like exploring the possibilities of concrete poetry, but I’ve been spoiled by the successes of the Portuguese- and Spanish-language traditions of concrete poetry and so found this a little wanting. I loved the idea of an ekphrastic poem for a piece of music (an idea I’ve been contemplating in recent weeks) but didn’t think the concrete form was the best for the idea.
Then, into ARK, the “big” poem, selections of which take up about 1/3 of the collection. It was….fine. I loved BEAM 30, ‘The Garden’ from which the title of the collection is taken. But BEAM 21, 22, 23 which includes a kind of acrostic of the Psalms, grew tedious. And the ARK poems didn’t hold my attention either. The nearly randomly juxtaposed lines didn’t open to possibility in the way I’d hoped for. There was something almost arbitrary about them.
Anyways, I’ll be discussing this book with some friends later today so perhaps my understanding of it will change based on their insights. I loved a couple of poems in the collection: The Unfoldings, and BEAM 30. I found some absolutely stunning phrases and ideas peppered throughout. But as a whole I felt something ineffable was lacking.
This summer I’m once again teaching a course of my design at my alma mater, UMass Boston. Go Beacons! (Ok, that may be the lamest mascot ever, but since I never cared about sports, I just think it’s funny.) The course starts in a little under a month, and frankly, I’m feeling a tad panicky. But the good, stage-fright kind where I’m so excited about the course, and have so much I want to do that I’m panicking that we won’t have time to do it all. And so I have to leave some of it out, but what? It’s all so great!
Anyway, it’s been a lot of fun putting together the syllabus for this course, and it’s alerted me to a number of areas of interest and overlap in new media. Because this time, I’m co-teaching the course with my husband, Matt, who also did his BA at UMB. It’s where we met. And returning there to teach, even adjunct, feels again like a kind of really special homecoming. Last time, the students were every bit as incredible as I remembered them being when I was there, and even though it was the summer, a lot of my faculty mentors were around. Catching up with them, being back on campus, it was absolutely joyous And last time I was teaching a course on literary translation (the experimental kind, no less!). Which made me slightly less nervous, I think, because it’s what my first MFA is in, and I can just talk and talk and talk about it.
With the Art of Stealing we’re broaching some new territory for me. This is the kind of class I wish I could have taken as an undergrad, or even a grad student, but was never offered. It’s a hybrid class, looking at creative appropriation in artistic production across mediums and genres, high art and pop culture, and most importantly, digital culture. I’ve never formally studied these things, per se, but I’ve been deeply fascinated with appropriation as a translator (which might not make sense at first, but trust me, it comes up, especially as you get more and more experimental with translating methods).
So it’s very exciting to put this syllabus together, but I keep wondering how much convincing I’ll be doing. The question I keep coming back to is will the students need to be persuaded that appropriation is a legitimate method of artistic production (and some might and do argue that in our time the only legitimate method of artistic production)? Or will they have been so convinced by the Romantic/capitalist view that is dominant in most discussions on art that they are completely beholden to the notion of “originality” as the only method of articulating “genius”? I wonder, not merely idly, but because it could really change how fast and how far we go in the course.
Has anyone else taught a course like this? Any insights, as I’m finalizing my syllabus?
So in the past few years I’ve done some pretty wonderful travel, thanks to some great opportunities and my amazing husband. This year we’ve been in the process of a huge transition, and though things are finally coming together and we’ll be moving into our more-permanent apartment in June, the thought of planning and taking a big trip (much less applying for research funding, etc.) has not been overly appealing. For the first summer in my academic career, we’re staying put. Mostly.
We’ve found ourselves back on the east coast, where we are both from. And one of the things I’ve always wanted to do is go up to see the Bay of Fundy. I’ve been to Toronto and Montreal, but I’ve always been more of a city-destination person and it’s only been since meeting Matt that nature has started to play a bigger role in our choosing destinations. So I think this summer we’re going to take a road trip – up to Nova Scotia. Which is great because it will be lower-stress than some of the bigger trips we’ve taken in the past few years, and I still get the joy of planning a trip.
Here’s the real thing: I love buying and having guide books. I keep them for places I want to go (hello, Egypt) and places I’ve been. I read them for pleasure, discovering all the amazing things in the world that I hope to someday see myself. But I’ve never found a favorite “brand.” My dad swears by the Fodors. For years I was a Lonely Planet girl, but last summer in Peru it seemed a bit low-end (i.e. gross) and not as interesting as it had been in other countries. I once used a Moon guide, and liked it, but didn’t have strong feelings about it. I often get two or three. I’ve done Eyewitness in combination with Fodors, Lonely Planet in combination with Rough Guide. Frommers on top of Moon. And I still don’t feel like one “brand” has consistently met my interests and needs.
I’ve used Fodors and Lonely Planet the most, but I have reservations. Sometimes the Lonely Planet people seem too snarky and “cool” to delight in the (perhaps popular, but for a reason) tourist-destination things; sometimes the Fodors seems too afraid to dip their toes into the local scene. So, has anyone out there found a consistent favorite among the travel guides? Or is it just a matter of each brand has different strengths, and to round them out you need a few?
This complicated little book is actually two in one – a poem and an “overflowing” of the poem, a poem and its poetic exegesis. The first section is an ekphrastic poem written by Virginie Laluq and translated by Sylvain Gallais, written in response to a photograph of the Mexican guerilla and counterfeiter moments before his execution by firing squad. I have not seen this photograph (in fact, when I googled it while writing this, the page refused to respond, and asked me several times to “kill” the page), and it is not reproduced in the book, an important point I think for the approach to this poem. The second half of the book is a poetic exegesis by Lean-Luc Nancy, translated by Cynthia Hogue, in which the poem is reproduced page by page in whole or in excerpt followed by a close reading of the text. “The poem, its duplication, its overflowing.” It’s an astonishing work, and really so delightful that I can’t imagine why we don’t see more books of poems published alongside an exegesis.
The poem, already so fantastically explored within its own book, begins in a fairly typical ekphrastic mode, confronting and exploring the photograph. But it swiftly moves into something else, something more philosophical, perhaps, and certainly more interior. At some points the poetic voice is clearly Sámano’s, and then it shifts back to Lalucq, blurring the position of the poem between poet and subject, observer and observed, dead and living. Its form shifts over the course of the book, occasionally using slashes that editorially would represent elided line breaks, but which create a kind of jumpy staccato, mimetic of the click of the shutter over and over attempting to capture something in this moment that can still be seen by the poet, almost a hundred years later.
There are moments of exquisite detail in the poem, an examination of flowers on the ground, the wall behind Sámano. A photograph stops time, records it in a seemingly concrete way, extracts a moment from a continuum, merely implying the moments that precede and proceed from the captured one. A photograph is a kind of violence to the motion of time. A cutting off, as an execution cuts off a life, the trigger cuts of a continuation, the shutter cuts off the continuation. Poetry exists through time, and the expansion of a single frozen moment into a poem is one of the great feats of ekphrasis, because it creates a continuity that doesn’t exist in static representative art. And so Lalucq restores past and future to the eternal present of the photograph. More than that, she restores voice to the silencing of photography and execution, she restores action to the passive object, and interaction to the observed.
Fortino stares at the firing squad, the firing squad (we imagine) stares at Fortino. The camera is outside of this, staring only at Fortino. We, viewers from the perspective of the camera, are staring at Fortino, and the poem is staring with us, at Fortino. We are alienated in time, in attention, in space from the happening of the photograph. And so Lalucq does not merely (or even actually) describe the photograph, inscribing another representation of a representation of a moment of time. She explodes it, in time, in space, in person. The poem allows entry into the photograph, restoring immediately the movement of time, the movement of body, the movement of flowers. The poem restores our humanity in this way.
It is not a political poem, about the Mexican guerrilla fighters and their rightness or wrongness, about execution as a governmental practice, about even the ethics involved in photographing executions and then displaying them at museums for spectatorship and commentary. Rather it involves us in the experience of the image, the experience of the time of the image. She herself doesn’t know why.
Why do we see him, why do we feel the di-
rect intuition of simultaneity? Why when
I’m here — am I under bombs falling at
the same time on two separate stages?
Why this voice that seems to be asking,
“everything all right”?
The exegesis here expounds, explores further:
No one is quit of the question: where does this moment in the present and its spitting into two or more than two come from? Notice here that Virginie is speaking philosophy: “direct intuition of simultaneity.” … “Intuition” is the slippery word here that provokes such slipping, which “direct” anticipates in sharpening the cadence and striking a brisk beat before the sibilant hiss and sinuosity of the words that follow.
And so the poem’s overflow of theory leads me to think that these murmurs of concepts aren’t less audible in the philosophical text, despite all the efforts this text makes to resolve them into a composition of idealities.
The photograph overflows into the poem, the poem, which duplicates inaccurately (more accurately?) the photograph, overflows into the exegesis, which duplicates incompletely (more completely) the poem. The exegesis overflows into English, which duplicates the original poem which is an overflowing of the original unduplicated photograph (faithfully? as faithfully as the poem can duplicate the photograph into a new language of words), the unduplication of the poem, its overflow into the exegesis, adding another duplication to the chain. The exegesis is no longer the final word on the poem, it has itself overflowed and been duplicated. And it continues to overflow as I write this, this modest response is itself an overflowing of the chain of overflowings and duplications.
/ STOP / I’ll stop you / and in reverse / devour /
language / I’ll make you / speak / STOP / as
others / make one / sing /I won’t leave you /
alone / STOP / floor / by / floor / hard palate /
after / soft / STOP / I will make you speak
I must understand that, in effect, the poem — and this is why it overflows — makes us speak more than it says. … A poem that does nothing but speak in front of us and at us, without forcing us in turn to speak, has not overflowed and has missed the mark.
The philosophical exploration of the poem makes these gestures at times, to define what poetry is, as opposed to philosophy, how it comes into being, what its ends are. It does it compellingly through an exacting and nuanced, extremely attentive (almost ekphrastic) reading of the poem. This is a philosophical treatise on art that could not be read without the art it refers to, and becomes in that way an essential part of the art’s existence in the world. What I come away from this book most strongly with is a sense of the interdependency of these forms, of these voices, of theses overflowings. Art of any kind cannot be created without an overflowing that both precedes and follows it. Here we have the evidence of it, and so can go deeper ourselves into the experience of the poem which overflows in us, implicating us in its own creation.
If you feel the need to, look at the photograph. It’s in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, though not on display in the museum, it is available online. But try to wait until after you’ve finished the book. I did, and the book changed the way I engaged with the photograph.
File this under the category of things I shouldn’t say aloud. Opinions I’ve been crucified (metaphorically) for having. I don’t like pie. Or free jazz. I don’t care for The Beatles. Salinger irks me. Not a fan of Junot Diaz. Still trying to figure out what is worth reading in Whitman. And Pound.
First section – untitled, “The Tree” to “Au Jardin”
“—the thing is banal.” Pound says to Williams of the fourth poem in Personae, and so far as I can tell it could stand to be said of almost all of the poems. Full of uninterestingly recycled Yeats and Swinburne, on trite and anticipatable themes, and in relatively flat language, I just don’t see what the point is. The composition seems studied, for certain, but that honed nature of it makes it soulless to me. As though these poems were composed by following formula, but all came out empty. What really surprises me about these is the diction, the “thy” and “-eth” and “-est” tacked on everywhere. Seems to be an attempt to elevate the relatively boring flat language into poetic diction, but sounds to my ear false and archaic, a gesture without substance. Also the occasional inverted syntax, which in other poets I don’t cringe at when it seems absolutely necessary for the rhythm and rhyme scheme. But here it just comes off twisted to no end. I mean, clearly it is to an end, its to some conforming impulse to either rhyme or meter, but it seems unnecessary, like some kind of affectation intended to make the lines sound more poetic. “But drink we skoal to the gallows tree!”
Ok, so it’s pretty clear by now that I’m not a fan of Pound. At least, not his own poetry. His translations, sometimes, are fabulous. Sometimes. The ones in this section are just more of the same, and this time in full on ABAB rhyme!
And as the book progresses a few interesting phrases start popping in. It’s almost as though reading all the unpublished (and dare I say unpublishable) poems that a poet has to write through to get to the occasional great one. There is, I allow, an occasional great one, but drowning in the sea of banality and tortured lines it’s hard to see.
I think part of what irks me is all the bombastic praising of idealized women – women that are merely their beauty, a mirror upon which Pound can reflect his verse. The simplistic praise, stuffed with hyperbole and poetic cliché, is clearly meant to evoke the ideals of courtly love. But why? I don’t understand why this would seem an interesting thing to do. It seems as though women, nature, heroes, dead poets, are just poetic themes that can be selected and composed upon without any kind of specificity or actual engagement. Foils for “prettily composed” but essentially empty verse.
I’ll admit the possibility of me mis-reading satire and parody as serious poetic intent. In fact, reading them aloud (a few, just to see), they seemed quite funny. Whether or not that’s their intent, and unfortunately I suspect not.
And this thing about it being revolutionary because he was breaking away from strict metrical form…it reminds me a bit of the Lyrical Ballads. A breaking without actually breaking. Pound returns to the very subjects (courtly love, Nature, Heroes, etc.) that the Lyrical Ballads broke away from, but without the meter. It seems strange, this backwards and forwards gesture.
This is where things get a bit more interesting for me. The strangeness of “A Girl” (which evokes the Apollo & Daphne myth to me), and the density of “The Seafarer” are far more interesting than anything that’s come before. The shift in tone, in subject isn’t all, it’s a shift in the density and sonority of language. It makes me almost revise my earlier harsh condemnation.
And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass.
This might seem like wisdom poetry of the lowest common denominator – in fact, many of the online interpretations I glanced through treat it that way: life goes by taken for granted, we can’t hold onto life, life is too short, too fast, etc. But that’s not what this says to me. Not that we the readers ought to examine our own lives and make sure we’re ‘using our time fully.’ Here I find a genuine expression of wonder at the expanse of the world – the terrible excess of possibility, the expanse of life. Which may be is only a slightly different reading. Maybe I just like the image of the mouse in the grass…
Ok, so I couldn’t get through the rest of it. I tried, tried, tried, but found myself half of the time bored and half of the time offended by his sexism, misogyny, inexcusable exoticizing reduction of other cultures, and self-important condescension. I’m glad to be leaving this fascist jerk behind, though I’m sure I’ll have to return to him again, someday. Like Whitman.